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'Mr. Dynamite' Appears to "Please, Please"
October 26, 2014  | By Jonathan Storm
 

I feel good. I knew that I would when I saw that HBO was coming out with a documentary on James Brown, produced by Mick Jagger. It's Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown, and its first HBO showing is Oct. 27 at 9 p.m. ET

I've been a fan since the '60s, when, to the chagrin of my white suburban parents who didn't get it, I'd join the racially mixed audiences at Philadelphia's Uptown and New York's Apollo, and many other venues in less segregated areas, to marvel at this man who screamed and moved like nobody before him and to marvel at the way he moved my soul.

When "young Jim Brown," as the clueless Ed Sullivan introduced him, got his first national exposure on TV's top-rated variety show May 1, 1966, millions of people like my parents didn't know what to think. "It was like watching something from outer space for them," says Alan Leeds, Brown's longtime road manager.

When Brown took "Please, Please" beyond the million-dollar mark, and then managed stagecraft, complete with a flashy cape and a handler whose sole job was to wield it artfully over his shoulders, as Brown collapsed in sorrow and pain only to bounce back again and again -- overcome, Good God, by some inescapable force, "It was like going into another dimension," Leeds says.

The film is full of Brown's performances, almost all truncated, which is always a disappointment in these sorts of documentaries. Even the famous "Are you ready for star time?" intro on the 1963 "Live at the Apollo" album that really launched Brown's career is cut.

But the film is also full of amazing interviews, some new, some archival, that provide insight into the music and the man. There are stories of his ruthlessness, his unrelenting demands and lack of generosity with his band, as well as his gift for channeling an astonishing succession of rhythm & blues, jazz and funk innovations that are at the foundation of so much of today's music.

The film shows how, with a smile as wide as Broadway and hair higher than the Empire State Building, he stole the legendary 1964 "T.A.M.I. Show" (left) from huge new stars Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, though Jagger has a slightly different take on the matter.

And, as it progresses, Mr. Dynamite chronicles Brown's importance in the Civil Rights Movement of the late '60s, helping to mold black self-identity in America. "Say It Loud -- I'm Black and I'm Proud" "…literally changed the social dynamic of the United States," says the Rev. Al Sharpton, whom Brown befriended as a young man.

Of course there's footage of the Boston Garden performance April 5, 1968, complete with him shooing cops away when some rowdies rushed the stage. It was beamed on television that night and kept the city calm when others throughout the land were erupting in violence after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

Not purporting to be all-inclusive, the documentary leaves Brown in the 1970s, wrapping with comments on, and examples of, his legacy that continue in music to this day. It's a great show for a fan, but should also please (please, please) anyone with an interest in black history or the history of music and pop culture.

 
 
 
 
 
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