Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Review: Cadillac Records

Cadillac Records is timely as it complements the current celebration of the 'non-stereotypical' black imagination, seen in the Black Rock Coalition, the Urb Alt genre, and Afropunk movement to name a few. Its reminders of the origins of rock music, and how incorrect the mass perception is that rock music's cultural place is somehow strictly European, is dispelled with scenes that depict early European rockers like the Rolling Stones so inspired by Muddy Waters that they named themselves after one of his songs, the Beach Boys hijacking their hit song without even a chord change or note deviation from Chuck Berry's original song Sweet16, and of course the way that was paved for Elvis to be crowned "king" with his rendition of what others who were not white, had originated and exacted with much stronger command.
These are reminders not bitterly expressed, but presented as a matter of fact, a matter of course even, in that era, though times have not so much changed in respect to the lack of respect originators of arts have received in the mainstream.

The movie did unfortunately rush through the stories too swiftly for the magik that was in the film to really settle into the mind or heart of a viewer for long. There were magnificent scenes, and outstanding performances, especially with Jeffrey Wright's impeccable capture of Muddy Waters (Wright is a master, simple and plain--- this movie would have failed without him), Gabrielle Union's conjuring of the earthy Geneva Wade, Columbus Short's command of the erratic fire in Little Walter, and Eamonn Walker's most strikingly impressive and at times gentle Howlin' Wolf. These performances alone gave the film the power it needed to endear, but key areas of the film that required depth were lacking at the wrong moments and were too full at others, mostly where Beyonce Knowles' performance of Etta James is concerned, and sadly with the lack of screentime given to Mos Def to truly impress his role of Chuck Berry upon the viewer.

Beyonce Knowles came through as a powerhouse in her initial scenes, but there was a feeling lacking in the character portrayal that the film badly needed at certain points. Her manneurisms, and gestures were not Etta's, but Beyonce's. Unlike Jeffrey Wright who studied the manneurisms of Muddy Waters, getting them down to a science, Beyonce didn't grab tightly enough to the rough exterior that was necessary for Etta James, as a true protective mechanism to defend her heart against the early shadows that haunted her childhood into adulthood. Some of this fault lays with the movie's timing, in fairness, as some scenes could have stood a rewrite, or a replacement with other key moments that would have better resonated with the storyline.
Adrien Brody's performance was endearing at times, and though not wholly believable, it did help bring out Beyonce's Etta, especially in their last scene together.
The film was beautifully complemented by Knowles' second to last scene; one that so moved me to tears, the earlier rough spots in the film are barely memorable.
As unsure of its direction as the film did seem to be at times it paved the way to a finale that provided necessary wisdom in remembrance for the present time of the bridges between ourselves, the youth, and our beautiful ancestors, whose spirits are responsible for our survival, and whose struggles, though the worst seen in the human experience both in intensity of agony and duration, did not stop their wings from spreading, or the gifts they meant for us from being passed into our hands that we must honor with a fierceness which cannot be taken by any 'machine' designed to do so, because we are one, and nothing can change that. Not even illusion itself.

I give Cadillac Ranch a grateful nod and a B+.

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