Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Get on Up
What do you do if you want to make a biopic of James Brown? The easiest and most obvious approach is to recreate a compilation of his greatest hits, sprinkled with anecdotes of his life. That was exactly the director Tate Taylor did. In a sense that is enough. It might have been even better to just do a fake concert movie with his recordings, re-enacted by actors, one song after another. James Brown's songs are sufficient to carry a movie all on their own.
The only somewhat distinctive but not entirely successful feature of this movie is to sprinkle the life anecdotes out of chronological order. The messages and themes, however, are no different from most other ordinary biopics of geniuses, especially but not limited to music geniuses. It's always about what egoistic womanizers they are. That is also not entirely wrong, because they do tend to be egoistic womanizers. Still, it is also a trope. Another trope is the tortured genius, whose childhood emotional trauma has driven him to the road to success.
Why is it so difficult to depict the life of an artistic genius that seems realistic and fascinating? The play "Red" about Mark Rothko might be the closest to believability that I have seen. It is hopeless when it comes to musical geniuses, however. We all seem to be more interested in their bedrooms drama than the grinding rehearsals in studios. Are filmmakers themselves not interested in how creative sausages are made or, more likely, they think the audience are not interested in the unglamorous hard work? But I am interested! The best scene in the movie is precisely a rehearsal, in which Brown schools his musicians on rhythms and syncopation. Its writing is not particularly credible, but is nevertheless all about working rather than fake and superficial psychoanalysis or wasted glimpses at women.
I did not begin to appreciate funk and old-school R&B until only recently. I wonder why it took me so long. It seems that when it comes to music I am just really slow.
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