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Charles Bradley: Soul of America

SXSW 2012 film review

Charles Bradley: Soul of America

Director: Poull Brien The incredible late-in-life rise of 62-year-old aspiring soul singer Charles Bradley, whose debut album rocketed him from a hard life in the projects to Rolling Stone magazine’s top 50 albums of 2011. (World Premiere)

Film Synopsis (from SXSW.com)

WHO'S IT FOR? It will help a tremendous amount if you like soul/funk. Otherwise, this is a very touching story of a man trying not to give up hope under difficult circumstances.


The first thing I wrote down was "James Brown wig." It was seconds before I found out Bradley is a 62-year-old James Brown impersonator. That's what he is when the film starts, but that's not where his hopes lie. His voice, his face and his sweat show the years of effort he has put in. I was worried this documentary would feel staged. After all, the timeline is leading up to a record release (his first ever). Those feelings went away and instead I was filled with feeling Bradley's experience even though I have nothing to compare it to in my life.

Bradley is a simple man, under-educated and struggling to support his mother. At first, that seems nothing but noble. Eventually you hear about his childhood and wonder if he shouldn't have had a different path. After all, his current escape in life is going down to his mother's basement and sleeping on an old mattress with older blankets.

That's not the escape that truly matters in this documentary. It's the soul (music) that transports, invades and breathes life to our soul. At first he sounded like something Quentin Tarantino would discover for a retro-vibe in one of his flicks. It's more. At first it sounds like he's just doing James Brown. It's more. The good people of Daptone Records made sure of it. I loved watching the band interact with Charles. They help craft the songs, the lyrics and the expectations for Charles to make it.

His dialect includes saying, "gentlemens, and peoples" and it only adds to his charm. So do stories like the song "Take It To The Limit" having a sincere impact on his life. My favorite was when he spoke of his childhood pet. Sure, there are gaps of confusion, like any life story captured on film. For me, it was from 1977 to 1994 when Charles was on the West Coast, sick, allergic to penicillin, so he came home. Yep, that's all we get from that time period.

Charles makes up for those gaps with his live performances. When he sings, "I Love You" to the audience, you believe it with all of your heart. After seeing this film, I wanted to hear more music, and I'll buy the album. That's a good compliment. I would have been devastated if I wasn't able to hear more. That's a better compliment.


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