Fiche Film
LONG Métrage | 2014
Mr. Dynamite – the rise of James Brown
Pays concerné : États-Unis
Durée : 115 minutes
Genre : musical
Type : documentaire


« Un homme noir encaisse tellement de coups, on lui met tant de barrières, que lorsqu’il a la possibilité de chanter le sentiment qui l’anime, ça sort avec puissance ». Quand il parle de la soul, James Brown n’oublie jamais de relier la condition des Afro-Américains des années 1960 avec le sentiment de libération insufflé par la musique dont il devint le « Godfather ». Puissance esthétique et physique du funk, expressivité maximale de ses titres phares (« Papa’s got a brand new bag », « Sex machine », « Please please please », etc.) sont à mettre chez lui en parallèle avec sa volonté indéfectible de pouvoir, d’argent et de gloire. Le film d’Alex Gibney est avant tout l’histoire d’une ascension sociale et artistique météorique qui dépassa le cadre du show-business : ou comment un petit cireur de chaussures, élevé dans un bordel, révolutionne la musique black et devient un porte-parole courtisé par les hommes politiques.

Tyran magnifique

Par le biais d’archives inédites et de nombreux témoignages (dont ses musiciens de l’époque, ou le rappeur Chuck D) Mr. Dynamite : le triomphe de James Brown retrace une carrière à la richesse quasi insurpassable sans passer sous silence ses zones d’ombre. De tempérament aussi volcanique que ses déhanchements sur scène, James Brown se montrait perfectionniste jusqu’à la tyrannie, mais aussi pingre et violent avec les femmes. Ce génie, au final très seul, qui avait du mal à accorder sa confiance à quiconque, exorcisait ses démons en public. Mais avec une puissance de fascination sidérante, à laquelle ce documentaire très complet rend grâce. (source : Arte)
Résumé pour les catalogues officiels : Retour sur la mirifique carrière du « parrain de la soul », véritable légende internationale, admiré pour sa fureur scénique, il fut l’instigateur de la musique funk. Entre révolution musicale et soutien à la lutte anti-raciste, un portrait vibrant et précis d’une personnalité tourmentée mais flamboyante.


Pioneering the journey from rhythm and blues to funk, James Brown forever changed the face of American music. Mr. Dynamite follows the journey of Brown as he escaped his impoverished Southern roots to become the biggest name in soul music, and one of the most important music talents of the 20th Century. The film utilizes never-before seen concert footage and photographs, interviews of Brown from a variety of sources (including vintage TV series like The Mike Douglas Show and Soul Train), and recent insights from band members and others who knew and were influenced by the singer, to tell the remarkable story of this supremely gifted and enormously influential American musical icon. Among the James Brown personal and professional milestones chronicled (note: stories of Brown’s later years, including his incarceration in the late 1980s and his death in 2006, are not covered):

– Brown’s early life in South Carolina (where he was abandoned by his mother at age 4) and his 40-mile move (by foot) to Georgia at age 6, where he eventually was raised by his aunt after his father also left.
– An early stint in jail for stealing clothes, after which he was befriended by a musician named Bobby Byrd and joined his band, eventually rising to become the front man of « James Brown and the Famous Flames. »
– The early influence of Louis Jordan and, later, Little Richard on Brown’s musical tastes and style. Brown was hired to impersonate the latter star during a tour, developing a Little Richard-inspired shriek he added to his own work.
– His first hit, « Please, Please, Please, » and the evolution of his iconic stage routine in which an emcee (usually Danny Ray) draped a cape over the seemingly spent Brown, only to have it thrown off by the miraculously revitalized singer.
– Brown’s many performances at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, where he often recorded shows and released an LP within days. His 1963 Live at the Apollo reached #2 on the Billboard charts, an unheard-of feat for a live recording.
– His performance at the 1964 T.A.M.I. Show in LA, stealing the spotlight from white rock acts like the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones (led by Mick Jagger, who first caught Brown’s act from the balcony of the Apollo).
– His 1966 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, which brought Brown to the attention of millions of white fans.
– The evolution of his signature (and revolutionary) « on the one » groove, in which the downbeats occur on the first and third notes of a measure. By contrast, downbeats in traditional jazz occur on the second and fourth beat.
– His pivotal role in the civil-rights movement of the mid-‘60s, including a 1966 concert in Jackson, MS following the « March Against Fear, » and a Boston concert in the volatile wake of Martin Luther King’s 1968 assassination.
– His endorsement of Richard Nixon, which cost him fans and influence after the 1972 election.
– The unfortunate chain of events that led members of the Famous Flames, including the brothers Maceo and Melvin Parker, to leave the band in a compensation-related conflict (Brown promptly replaced them).
– The influence of Brown’s music and dancing on rising 1980s performers like Michael Jackson and Prince.
– The unexpected impact of a later Brown tune, « Funky Drummer » (not a big hit when it was released) on the fledgling rap movement, which used the song as the foundation for numerous top rap tunes.

Rev. Al Sharpton, who met James Brown as a 17-year-old and remained friends with the singer through his life, recalls how Brown used the hardships of his early years as fuel to aspire to greatness. « He would always tell me, whatever you do in life, be you, be different, » says Sharpton. « What was his negative may have ended up being his strength. »

Credits: Directed by Alex Gibney; Produced by Mick Jagger, Victoria Pearman, Peter Afterman and Blair Foster; Edited by Geeta Gandbhir and Maya Mumma; Executive Producers, Alex Gibney, Dan Brooks, Mike Singer, Eric Wider.
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