Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Mr. Dynamite - The Rise of James Brown (documentary movie)

Aptly titled, this documentary tells the tale of James Brown rise to stardom and his creation of his own sub-genre of soul - funk. Produced by Mick Jagger (who is also interviewed here), the story unfolds via conversations with the musicians in his band and archival footage of the man himself.

Abandoned by his parents, James grew up in a whorehouse and, like many others of his generation, sang in church before he moved into the secular world as the "hardest working man in show business". He hit big with "Please, Please, Please" but then went a few years without any hits until "Try Me" and then "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and his Live at the Apollo album broke it all wide open.

The dialogues with the musicians are especially enlightening as when we find out that Brown at one point had five (!) drummers and there was a revolt and the best two forced the others out and broke it all down until the created the funk beat that became Brown's calling card.

His rise to popularity was synonymous with the civil rights movement and his style and his music reflected the times, especially when he gave up his processed hair-do for an Afro and when he came out with the anthem "I'm Black and I'm Proud". Of course they re-tell the famous story of when he played Boston the night that Martin Luther King was murdered and kept the crowd under control and helped to quell what easily could have been a riot, making Boston one of the safest cities in the country that night. Brown did become somewhat involved in politics, not only endorsing Hubert Humphrey but also becoming a friend and confidant to Nixon.

Back on the musical front, the movie talks of Bootsy Collins' time in the band and how much he and his guitarist brother, Catfish, molded the evolution of the James Brown sound. Of course, this leads into Brown's influence on rap and hip-hop, down to the song "Funky Drummer" becoming the template - and sound byte - for innumerable hip-hop numbers.

The film doesn't really go much past the early 70's, but is a terrific document with amazing footage and photos (ya gotta love his scuffed knees on every live show) and incredible anecdotes from his friends and bandmates (including his drummer pulling on gun on him when James was getting out of line!). Certainly not the definitive biography of the man, but it is dynamite indeed!