Saturday, April 18, 2015

Please, Please, Please Mister Brown-The James Brown Story- Get On Up   

DVD Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

Get On Up, starring Chadwick Boseman, a Jagger Production, yeah Mick Jagger the guy with the James Brown moves on the concert stage so you know the James Brown we are talking about, 2014  

Hear Me Out. In the beginning was the word. Hear me out. Yeah, probably it was the gospel word, but in certain quarters, in certain off-beat corners that word needed fortification, needed something (besides Eddy’s home-made liquor come Saturday night, that would come later) to sanctify it up good and so some very high heaven gospel songs praising high holy Jehovah and begging him (assuming it was/is a him) to come and free his benighted people. Good old gospel singing getting through the rough spots of slavery and then Mister James Crow’s go heres and go theres. And from the gospel out in the country, out in the Delta (and not only the Delta but let’s use that example here), came the first inkling of the blues, the blues to put a man-make name to the miseries, Mister’s plantation miseries (or really his Captain’s, the overseer), that James Crow thing, a good woman on a man’s mind, or a bad man or woman who done somebody wrong. Then the blues got dragged to the cities in the great migration, got some electricity to reflect the faster pace and from there it was only a short haul to rhythm and blues and its off-shoot, now called the classic age of rock and roll. All of this to introduce the subject of this biopic, Mister James Brown, in the Mick Jagger production of Get On Up.              

See I needed to trace the roots, the roots of what James Brown was all about, all about what for lack of better name became the genre of soul music. No just because he was the “godfather” of that type of music but because when he came on the scene in the 1950s with Please, Please, Please he brought something new to the American songbook. Not classic rock and roll, no way it was a different beat that we grabbed onto, surely not folk, not be-bop jazz then in its heyday, none of those things but something more primitive, good roots primitive, going back to some mist of time Mother Africa beat that got passed on through the generations to Mister James Brown. So that was how rooted he was, that roots stuff was the stuff that was running through his brain as he tried to take that beat in his head and make people jump, to celebrate, at first mainly blacks down South and then once white kids got hip to his sound the whole freaking world, the world that counted anyway.           

From the biographical flash-back scenes interspersed with the music presented in the film it was a very close question about whether an uneducated (formally anyway) black kid growing up in the post- World I South, out in the country, in the countryside outside of Augusta, Ga, an Army town (oh yeah, and the town where the then very white Masters Golf Tournament only is held), to a derelict wife and child beating father and a ill-fit mother would make it to twenty-one never mind becoming a world famous celebrity. But see Mister Brown carried that beat in his head, carried it right to the end and he never let go of that notion. Of course there are many stories about musical performers who almost had it but for some ill-omened reason fell short so some luck was involved. Finding a big time friend, Bobby Byrd, who got him out of jail and a guy who knew enough to latch onto James’ wagon and go as far as he could with him despite his own considerable lead singer dreams. Being at the right place at the right time when the first record producer insisted to his bewildered boss that he knew what he was doing by letting James let it rip his own way on Please, Please, Please and the rest is history.  Although not without the problems of keeping high-strung musicians satisfied, drugs, financial difficulties, martial problems, and loss of friends and fellow performers for lots of reasons, mainly because he was number one and there was no number two really in his company. No question Mister James Brown had a very clear perception of who he was, how he wanted to handle everything from finances to his image and stage presence that came through in Chadwick Boseman’s performance.          

A couple of personal points not directly connected to the film but since James Brown is part of the scenery of the life of my 1960s generation they can be tacked on here. First a few years after James Brown released his Please, Please, Please in the 1950s I was at a high school dance where the DJ played that song and I, spying a girl I had been eyeing all night until my eyeballs were sore, when over to her and lip-synched  James’ song and it worked. Second, after Eddie Murphy had started his “Free James” campaign when Brown was in jail I was working with a group of young college students who I had assumed would not necessarily know who he was when I shouted out “Free James” to see if I would get any reaction. Jesus, all of a sudden there was a hall full of kids shouting back “Free James.” Yeah, get on up.          

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