New HBO Documentary ‘Mr. Dynamite’ Traces the Rise of the Godfather, James Brown

James Brown performs at Olympia Hall in Paris in September 1971.  -/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
James Brown performs at Olympia Hall in Paris in September 1971.

The HBO film, Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown, looks at the musician’s roots in jazz, his rhythmic changes to popular music and his influence on hip-hop.
The two-hour documentary premiering Monday on HBOMr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brownchronicles the career of the Godfather of Soul, from his ascension in music at the height of the social revolution of the 1960s through his impact on hip-hop and pop music.

Filmmaker Alex Gibney begins and ends this fine documentary with an iconic performance by Brown’s second major band, with Bootsy Collins on bass, at Olympia Hall in Paris in 1971, midway through Brown’s most influential period. The rhythmic force that was his musical signature is heard on “Soul Power” as Brown explains the meaning of “soul music.” Having to live with the word “can’t” and “the extra hard knocks of the black man” are at the root, he says.

As he sings “Georgia” at the same show, his early life is given mythic resonance through images of a lone ramshackle house in the South, accompanied by text that gives the outline of his early life: After Brown, who appeared to be stillborn, was brought back to life by an aunt breathing into his lungs, his mom abandoned him when he was 4. His father, an uneducated laborer, took him from “turpentine country” when he was 6, the two of them walking 40 miles from Barnwell, S.C., to Augusta, Ga.

At age 9 he went to stay with an aunt who ran a bordello. He sang and “buck-danced” for soldiers, shined shoes and hustled johns to the house of prostitution. Al Sharpton later recounts that Brown once told him he’d see churchwomen who would sell their bodies by day and go home to cook dinner for their husbands by 5 p.m.

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Source: The Root | 

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