James Brown Onscreen Retrospective: He Really Is the Hardest Working Man in Show Business
By: Ellis Nassour
One and only Soul Man with the Most James Brown gets a salute from the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Even though FSLC is getting all prepped to roll out New York Film Festival 52, it’s taking time out to get on up and get down with funky soul. Through Monday, September 1, FSLC is programming James Brown: The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, all film, at the Walter Reade, Lincoln Center.
"What a Labor Day weekend it will be!" says FSLC programming coordinator Dan Sullivan. "We’ve got the goods! And it will all be up on the big screen. We’re celebrating the entertainer who was a musical and visual force of nature, James Brown, arguably the 20th century’s most enduringly relevant musician. The films in which he appeared, scored, and documented his athletic and impassioned on-stage performances cohere to yield a transfixing portrait of an artist who was both unapologetically political and incomparably funky."
The crown jewel of this retrospective salute is a rare, authorized screening of Steve Binder’s The T.A.M.I. Show (1964), considered "The Holy Grail of concert films" where the betrayed, sweaty, Funk King Brown displays amazing funkadelic and erotic style and endurance in an 18 minute performance "with the bone-straining urgency of a man who feels his soul is on the line" – showing guests the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, Leslie Gore, Smokey Robinson, the Supremes, and notably Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones how it’s done, how to get on up.
Screening are Larry Cohen’s Black Caesar (1973), a "Blaxploitation" reworking of the Hollywood gangster film, features Brown’s furious theme song; John Landis’s cult comedy The Blues Brothers (1980), with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi at the height of their comedic powers fleeing cops and Nazis but not the Godfather of Soul, who’s not only "preaching to the choir" but also leading it; Jeffrey Levy-Hinte’s documentary Soul Power (2008), about the Zaire 1974 music festival, features Brown’s scratch-heavy, bongo-driven funk set; and Leon Gast’s controversial documentary on the "Rumble in the Jungle" [Ali/Foreman] and reflection on the responsibilities and demands of fame, When We Were Kings (1996), with commentary by Spike Lee and Norman Mailer and appearances by B.B. King and Brown, who makes a passionate appeal for black empowerment.
Also showing are: Rocky IV (1985) with Brown’s ring MC and dynamic "Living in America" opening performance at the revenge match between the Italian Stallion and Russia’s "mountain of muscle" Ivan Drago; and Alan Rafkin’s Ski Party (1965), a prime slice of ’60s youth-movie Frankie Avalon cheese with Brown [splitting his pants] and the Famous Flames heating things up.
Screening digitally: James Brown Performance Compilation, a 75 minute truly one-of-a-kind assortment of clips of the Godfather of Soul, in his element and performing onstage, that spans his career. Featured archival footage includes Brown on The Ed Sullivan Show and Soul Street.
Tickets are $10; $7 for students, seniors (62+) and Film Society members and onsale online and at the Reade box office. For synopsizes and schedules, visit www.FilmLinc.com.