Saturday, December 06, 2008

Cadillac Records

I had to see this one since it's about the music I grew up with and have listened to for well over 50 years now. It was okay, but I'd hoped it would be better. The problems start with the story. Either there's not one or there are too many of them. Take your pick. You might think it would be the story of Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody), and it is, but only in a way. The first hour is mostly about him and his record company, Chess, and Muddy Waters. Leonard's brother, Phil, is pretty much forgotten in the movie. But Howlin' Wolf (Eamonn Walker) and Little Walter (Chistopher Short) play big roles. Then Etta James (Beyonce Knowles) comes along and takes over the movie. Did I forget Chuck Berry (Mos Def)? He's in there too, though not for long. The movie tries to do too much and comes over more as a series of anecdotes than a coherent story.

Another problem is anachronisms. Or maybe just the mixing up of the timeline. Elvis in the army when the Beach Boys had a hit with "Surfin' U.S.A." and when Chuck Berry went to jail the first time? I don't think so. There's way too much of that kind of thing in the movie for an Old Guy who remembers those times. It's only a movie, I know, but that stuff aggravates me. And we don't even find out how a song called "Ida Red" became "Maybelline."

Nothing wrong with the performances, though. Everybody's good, even the players in minor roles. Mos Def does the best he can with Chuck Berry, but nobody could really capture him. I didn't think Mos Def's duck walk was all that good. The movie makes it seem that Berry's career was pretty much over at the point of the first arrest. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

And the soundtrack is great. Beyonce is the standout with her version of Etta James' tunes, and she gets by far the most screen time for her singing (maybe because she's executive producer of the movie). My suggestion, however, after having listened to the double CD soundtrack is that you seek out the original recordings. They're even better.

This all reminds me that Steve Mertz was working on a crime novel about Muddy Waters and Little Walter. I even read a bit of it. Somebody should publish it. Now's the time.

9 comments:

  1. Anonymous11:01 AM

    I'll definitely see it, though those anachronisms really bother me too. Elvis was in the Army from October 1958 to March 1960. Chuck Berry was in jail from 1960-1963 and "Surfin' USA" was released in March of 1963.

    And yes, it does matter. If you're doing a "true story" get it right!

    And stay off my lawn!

    Jeff

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  2. Anonymous11:03 AM

    The first time Chuck was in jail was 1944-147, by the way.

    Jeff

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  3. Gerard2:38 PM

    I tried reading Spinning blues into gold : the Chess brothers and the legendary Chess Records but only got as far as the photograph sections.

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  4. Anders E3:06 PM

    Bill, it seems to me this movie is for you what 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE was for me.

    Btw, aren't all biopics like this just a string of anecdotes? I think it would be basically inevitable.

    Word verification: tiothor. Probably a character in some Wagner opera.

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  5. Anonymous12:53 PM

    I do recommend American Hot Wax. Even though I know it's not really the Alan Freed story the music was great and the whole recording studio set piece felt real.

    And any movie that starts "I'm Alan Freed and this is rock & roll" and segues into Little Richard doing "Tutti Frutti" works for me.

    Jeff

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  6. Yeah, I like that one. Also, another movie about Chess Records, WHO DO YOU LOVE?, was supposed to open last week but didn't. I'd like to see it, though.

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  7. Word up: Setrolin. That must be some kind of old medicine.

    Did Mertz finish his novel, Bill?

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  8. And now they are "spoungs". This is fun! (Well, maybe not to Bill...)

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  9. I think it was finished. Maybe he'll check in. Maybe not.

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