The saying about time flying is very true. As I waited for the film “Get on Up” to start I thought back to July 4, 1987. That afternoon I was on assignment to cover a Vietnam Veteran Benefit Concert. As I waited backstage, hoping to sneak my mother back so she could meet Neil Diamond (don’t ask) I ended up in a small room. In the room with me were none-other than the hardest working man in show business and his current wife, Adrienne. I took a couple of pictures (with their permission) and made some small talk (one thing that stood out to me was when Brown noted that, unlike him, most of the acts appearing on the bill had NEVER visited the troops in Vietnam) and 27 years later I still kick myself for not asking for an autograph. Though this event is not covered, James Brown’s USO tours to Vietnam are, and they make up an important part of a legendary life chronicled in the new film “Get on Up.”
We first meet James Brown (an amazing Boseman) in 1988. A visit to one of his businesses sets off a chain of events that lead to an arrest by local authorities. As the film progresses, we are transported to many of the important events in Brown’s legendary career. His troubled childhood, early problems with the law and the brashness with which he promoted his talents are all highlighted. In a time when a black man was often mistreated, the one thing James Brown wanted was respect. He expected to be addressed as “Mr. Brown,” be it by a member of his band or the head of a record company. When told that he would NOT be the closing performance of a television broadcast he smiles slightly and then brings down the house. As the chosen closers, making their first appearance in the states, take the stage all Brown can say to them is “Welcome to America.” What he’s really saying is “top THAT!” That the group in question happens to be the Rolling Stones only makes his challenge better.
Boseman, who was so good last year as Jackie Robinson in the film “42” is a revelation here. So good is he at capturing and displaying the trademark moves and speech of James Brown that it’s almost scary. This is not an impression. This IS James Brown. Boseman is surrounded by a top notch group of Oscar-nominated performers, including Viola Davis, Dan Aykroyd and Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer. Aykroyd, who appeared on screen with Brown in “The Blues Brothers” over three decades ago, continues to do solid supporting work. Sharp-eyed fans can even catch Mick Jagger in a quick cameo. Jagger served as a producer on the film and also oversaw the film’s music. He has served up some of Brown’s best songs and deserves some credit for what I hope is a successful box office showing.
If I have one complaint it’s that the film runs a little long. Obviously it’s hard to squeeze seven decades of life into two hours but there were a couple scenes I felt could have been omitted without hurting the film. Just a thought!