My husband and I went to see "Get On Up" on our date night and absolutely loved this film.
I have read that we cannot interpret the present without understanding our past, for we are the sum of all that came before us. In this generation of "here and now" I hope that the importance of James Brown in music and the industry is not lost on our youth today.
When my husband and I arrived to the 9:05 showing, we and one other person were the only ones in the theatre for about five minutes. I thought to myself…"this is sad that no one else is here." Then within about 10 minutes the theatre was full.
I was very pleased that the usual format of doing bio pics in a chronological narrative was not used, maybe because his Southern Georgia accent many people are unfamiliar with will be lost during the story.
My grandmother was from Augusta, Georgia and often when she was excited or upset her tone and volume of her voice would become higher in pitch. So, I understood almost everything that James' character says during the movie. I bring this up because after the film was done, my husband and I spent about 20 minutes discussing and explaining certain moments of the film with a South-African woman who was seated in front of us.
Chadwick Boseman is James Brown! I cannot imagine anyone else playing him on screen. Every nuance of Mr. Brown's voice and presence is in every frame of this movie. Chadwick is a brilliant actor. I loved Jamie Foxx in "Ray" but I believe "Get On Up" blows it away. It moves much faster and gives more of a history lesson.
If you know anything about the history of James Brown you will notice the parts of his career that were omitted. Like his collaboration with Afrika Bambaataa, his big comeback hit "Livin' In America", the Soul Power Kinshasa Zaire Concert in 1974, and the agency in charge of finding samples of his work. But I was so pleased they showed his power and influence during the riots in Boston after Martin Luther King's assassination.
There were some very prominent scenes that really give you some insight into what life used to be like for African-American recording artists. But of course there are also some pure fiction moments and liberties taken to move the story along. Example: Dan Aykroyd plays James' manager, Ben Bart. There's a scene at Bart's funeral where James is affected by his death. According to the real life son of Ben Bart, James Brown was not at his funeral. But the symbolism of what Bart meant to James' career shows that had he not been represented by the "white devil" that Little Richard described he would have never crossed over.
But the character that stuck out for me was the "Aunt Honey" character played by Octavia Spencer. Like Richard Pryor's grandmother she takes in the abandoned child and nurtures his need for love and security. Now, growing up in a brothel is not the ideal situation for a young child but I'm pretty sure it gives you an education that most kids don't get. As a child who was forced to grow up a lot sooner than I was supposed to, I totally understood where James and Richard were coming from. And Viola Davis' portrayal of James' mother really struck a chord with me as well. Being the son of a drug addict, I identified with the abandonment issues that James felt. But what I think is really important is the coalition between the pain and suffering that figures like James Brown and Richard Pryor used to create their art.
The problem with a lot of today's artists is that they have it too good. They think a big break is just a few YouTube views away or a few clicks on some social media site. Perhaps a stint on a show like American Idol would send them over the top.
Legends like James Brown, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Richard Pryor, Tina Turner, Dorothy Dandridge and so many more had many obstacles to get over to make the impact that they did on the world. I hope that young audiences of today will look at this film and realize that the title "Hardest Working Man In Show Business" was definitely earned.
The concept of "funk" was birthed in the head of James Brown. Tired of record companies white-washing R&B, James would take the same song and re-tweek it into something that no white artist could reproduce. And that is why his music has stood the test of time and influenced so many like Michael Jackson, Prince, Bootsy Collins, George Clinton and Rick James. Even anti-James Brown songs like "James Brown Is Dead" tell of his influence by declaring that it does not have a sample of his music.
So, I highly recommend this film as required viewing. It is so good to see the untold Black History being told. Thank you Mick Jagger for producing this gem. And thank you to all the people who are working on getting our history out there. I hope and pray that we in the gay community will start doing the same. So many stories to tell and so much history to share. Because when we share our past we insure our future.