Sydney Film Festival Review: Mr. Dyanmite: The Rise of James Brown (USA, 2014)

Entertainer James Brown shows off some of his signature moves during a Chicago concert on May 29, 1968 at Soldier Field. Proceeds from the event were used to further the work of Dr. Martin Luther King's Operation Breadbasket. (Norman L. Hunter/Ebony Collection)

Get on Up was the entrée, a biopic on the inimitable, James Brown. But Oscar-winner, Alex Gibney’s documentary, Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown is the more substantial, main course. For over two hours the audience is treated to a film that is full of music and flamboyance, from old performances on stage and TV as well as a look at the complicated musical icon.

Both Get On Up and Mr Dynamite were produced by Mick Jagger who appears here as a talking head describing Brown’s incendiary performance on the T.A.M.I Show. He is joined by the Reverend Al Sharpton and Ahmir Khalib Thompson (Questlove) (who was influenced by Brown) as well as the Godfather of Soul’s tour manager, Alan Leeds. The long-suffering bandmates of Brown are also featured including: Clyde Stubblefield, Melvin Parker, Maceo Parker, Alfred ‘Pee Wee’ Ellis and Bootsy Collins (Parliament-Funkadelic). Bobby Byrd- the man who took in Brown after his arrest at age 20 and introduced him to The Famous Flames also appears here.

This film is not a warts and all documentary nor is it pure hagiography. The documentary lives up to its title in that it pays more attention to the glory days and rise of Brown and does not mention his later decline into drug addiction and additional jail time. It means there is no real muck-raking but at the same time the filmmaker is at least honest enough to reference Brown’s brutal childhood in the segregated South where he was abandoned by his parents and living with his aunt in a brothel (where she brewed moonshine) as well as Brown’s distrusting and violent nature.

James Brown was a man of many contradictions. He commanded strict discipline and respect from his band and fined them for mistakes even though he often failed to pay them. He was an activist who helped galvanise support for the black power movement but then alienated this same audience when he supported Richard Nixon’s political campaign. The man was difficult and an enigma but his performances were certainly magnetic with his singing and dancing like a thousand watts of electricity.

Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown is no more perfect a film than its subject was a perfect man. There are some things left unsaid but the good outweighs the bad and this often adds to the mystery and mystique of this wonderful, soul man. James Brown was larger than life and worthy of a big documentary and for the most part this film does that as it’s a fitting reminder of his power and influence and shows one of the few people worthy of the title, “musical genius”.


Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown premiered at the Sydney Film Festival on June 7. It screens again on June 11. For more information and tickets please click HERE.


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