Saturday, December 06, 2008

Cadillac Records--quick review

I rarely go to see new movies the first day. Sometimes the first weekend, but not often one the opening night. Tonight I went to see "Cadillac Records," which is loosely based on the legendary Chess Records.

There are lots of excellent stuff in the movie, but lots misses the mark. It could have been a really great movie, but it falls short. The chronology is all mixed up, the narration by Willie Dixon/Cedric the Entertainer doesn't work, there's more melodrama and formula than art at times. One of Chess Records founders--Phil Chess--is erased. The conflict between Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf is fit into a political framework that I'm not sure is at all historically accurate.

The acting is often better than the script--by a big margin

Most of the music is done by the actors. Beyoncé is great as Etta James, Jeff Wright as Muddy Waters and Eamon Walker as Howlin' Wolf are great. Mos Def is not so convincing singing Chuck Berry.

The main thing is the music, we shouldn't forget. If the movie reconnects the younger generation of black and whites to the great legacy of African-American music, it will be a success. If you buy the soundtrack, there's a CD of the Chess originals you should pick up as well. If you can only buy one, get the originals. And if you're really into the music, read the Spinning Blues into Gold history and get the fine documentaries on Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.

At my showing in Wichita, there was a good representation of African Americans--and some brought their youngsters. If you object to foul language, I wouldn't advise that. But if you like blues and early rock, I heartedly recommend the movie, despite its shortcomings.

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