Rhodes: 'Get On Up' is accurate depiction of James Brown's life

Almost every where I went Friday morning people who knew that I went to the Augusta premiere of Get On Up the night before were asking me, “Well, how did it go last night?”


Let me put it to you this way:

I would rate it five out of five stars! Do not miss this one!! James Brown, for sure, is back on the good foot with an incredibly lifelike portrayal by South Carolina-born actor Chadwick Boseman.

You know you have seen a great movie anytime a full-house audience claps and cheers and whistles for a musical performance on the big screen and claps and cheers and whistles as the final credits are rolling.

Get On Up succeeds on so many levels.

First of all, Anderson, S.C.-born actor Boseman nailed Brown in his speech patterns, physical movements, looks and, most importantly, dance moves.

It is Brown’s original recording vocals for the most part that are used, but Boseman has the lip-syncing down to perfection with every note.

Very importantly, Boseman has perfectly copied Brown’s self-confident attitude and aggressive swagger.

Secondly, the movie is not just about a poor kid who finds riches and fame in the music world by realizing that show business is about the show (electrifying stage performances, fancy and colorful costumes, strong band, etc.) and about the business (being on top of the financial end of making money through recordings, bookings, related business ventures, etc.)

It is about several story lines that are fascinating to follow.

One is about a man who really did have an enduring friendship with a fellow musician named Bobby Byrd that spanned four decades.

Actor Nelsan Ellis brings the late Byrd back to life in Byrd’s own likeable way. It was Byrd and Brown who co-wrote Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine with Ron Lenhoff. The movie’s title comes from Byrd’s repetition of saying “Get on up” during the song.

And like the movie shows, Brown and Byrd had their ups and downs with separations over royalty rights and other issues. But in Brown’s final days, they were back together recording and performing.

Another story line is about a man dealing with his childhood demons and rising above abject poverty. Here director Tate Taylor played with the truth a bit when it comes to Brown’s mother, Susie.

She did leave the family for New York but not like shown in the movie. Close sources have said she left fearing for her life after violent beatings by her husband, Joe, and after threats he would hunt her down and kill her if she took young James from him.

Guess who Susie is really buried next to now in Augusta? Yep, Joe.

And she didn’t just appear at Brown’s Apollo dressing room unannounced like shown in the movie. It was really Brown’s second wife, Dee Dee, as she herself has said, who tracked Susie down in New York, where she was working as a seamstress, and got them back together.

Brown did grow up without a mother and was raised by several aunts (not just “Aunt Honey” as shown in the movie).

Very disconcerting visually for those who knew Brown’s third wife, Adrienne, is that in the movie Dee Dee looks more like Adrienne with her humongous head of frizzy hair and heavy weight.

Dee Dee, when married to Brown and living in Augusta, was very slim, with model good looks.

Adrienne is not even mentioned in the movie, even though she was with him throughout his prison years and helped him stage his successful comeback.

Other story lines include Brown’s political activism without actually being a politician, his sexual philandering, his own violent nature under drug abuse, his close relationship with his white manager Ben Bart (played by Dan Aykroyd) and his unique musical talents in knowing what was just right for him.

You can quibble about the inaccurate small things in the movie, such as:

• Brown never shot a gun in his office complex when he did in reality one day get upset over someone using his private bathroom. He did have a gun with him when he threatened people at an insurance conference but didn’t fire it.

• His father served in the Navy and not the Army.

• His son Teddy was buried in Toccoa, Ga., and not Augusta.

• He and some of his band members and backup singer Marva Whitney did perform at several locations in Vietnam, but his plane engine never did catch fire.

• The movie spent too much time on Brown’s greedier and sadder times and less on his generous and happier ones.

With all that being said, this is a wonderful and important movie full of incredibly talented actors.

If you love toe-tapping music and a well-directed movie filmed with imaginative visual touches, then get yourself on up and get to a theater near you when it opens nationwide on Friday, Aug. 1.

Augusta Chronicle music columnist Don Rhodes is the author of Say It Loud! My Memories of James Brown, Soul Brother No. 1, which was reissued nationwide in paperback on July 1 as Say It Loud! The Life of James Brown, Soul Brother No. 1.

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