The problem all music biopics have – good, bad or different – is what do you do with the unique, powerhouse music of the originals, many of whom are way beyond inimitable and all the way up to immortal? (As pop music goes, anyway.)
It’s the music that caused the film in the first place so there’s little in the world more difficult than replicating it (or, sometimes, more senseless than trying to do so). No matter how successful a Ray Charles pretense a Jamie Foxx can mount, there was little point for the James Brown biopic “Get On Up” asking young star Chadwick Boseman to simulate the voice of the Godfather of Soul.
For that matter, studio musicians pretending to be the Famous Flames would be an equally insurmountable task. So the solution for “Get on Up” is not only to let James be James but to find some concert performances for the film that were previously unreleased – “Please Please Please” and “It’s a Man’s World” from an April 1966 performance in Tampa.
What you’ve got there, then, is one of the most astonishing performers of his or any other time in American popular music giving you those screams and wails and blasts of pure soul energy that captured the world. “Night Train” and “Caldonia” harken back to previous generations of R&B, “Get on Up,” “I Got You,” “Papa’ Got a Brand New Bag” and “It’s a Man’s World” were a whole new breed of R&B intensity called soul. It was based in Jackie Wilson and Screaming Jay Hawkins, among others, but it’s all James Brown, through and through, for an audience doing its call and response to “I’m Black and I’m Proud.”
Consider this a Greatest Hits Package Plus, with electrifying stuff released for the first time. Part of you WILL move before it’s over. Not sure which part but part of you for sure.
“Get On Up: The James Brown Story” (Polydor/Universal)