Director: Poull Brien
You know I really don’t care all that much for Charles Bradley’s music – as I said here he’s a shouter, a belter, and I don’t believe him. It’s pastiche, pantomime-funk, it’s grubby rather than gritty, it’s a bit shitty, actually. But I still wanted to see this film and I’m glad I did. Because it’s very good. Let’s face it – the story of a singer who struggled all his life, living just above the breadline, sometimes on the other side of it even, and then finally getting his big break right near usual retirement age: that’s always going to be a winner. That’s a proud tear-jerker doco moment; you could claim that there’s a subtle manipulation there, the story sells itself but the twist is that the only real interest in the story is knowing it has an emotional payoff. In other words: documentary gold.
And sure, that’s an obvious thing to say about Charles Bradley: Soul of America. But timing is a wonderful, important thing – and this film captures the rise. It works as a promotional vehicle then as now. Back when it was made it sold the story – it promoted the first album and anything that was happening. Since album number two (the one I really didn’t care for at all) this film will continue to sell Bradley’s sound and story – his upcoming visit to New Zealand for the Arts Festival will mean this DVD gets rented a bunch of times. And fair enough too. But the timing of it – capturing that nervousness around committing to a first album-release show, and all of the baggage that comes with that, means that there is an honesty here – there’s something in this story.
And then there’s a whole lot of people – just about everyone else from what I can tell – that really do see Bradley as some living embodiment of James Brown’s message and Otis Redding’s sound. I can’t hear that myself, but it’s a no-brainer that fans of Bradley’s music will want to see this film; will dig this film.
For what it’s worth I liked it too. Makes me want to see the gig – maybe then I’ll afford him some real-deal status but I still can’t hear that just yet. Not from the records.