Charles Bradley: Soul of America

By: Addison WylieCBposter

It’s hard to find dislikable qualities in Poull Brien’s crowd pleaser Charles Bradley: Soul of America.  Whether you attend a screening of the film because you like Bradley’s music, funk/blues music in general, or a good underdog story, Brien’s doc will have you leaving the theatre with a giant smile plastered to your face while you bob your head to the funky tunes streamlining through your cranium.

The doc quickly lets movie goers know that Charles Bradley, a 62-year-old dedicated and emotional musician/former James Brown impersonator, has a debut album slated for January 2011.  We’re then taken through Bradley’s life 50 days prior to the release party of his mainstream breakthrough.  During these days preceding the big event, Bradley performs in front of wide audiences, rehearses songs with his committed songwriter, and gets acquainted with old friends and acquaints the movie going audience with his complicated upbringing.

As far as its documentary format goes, Charles Bradley: Soul of America is traditional.  It doesn’t take on a boring “talking heads” display, but it doesn’t break outside the mould of generic documentary building blocks.  It isn’t bad, but there isn’t anything new to it as well.

It refrains from being a concert film for the first half or so, but luckily Brien embraces the concert film format and happily shows extended performances and the devotion Bradley commits on stage.  These performances add so much more to Bradley as a musician and movie goers end up getting an intimate view of the gifted singer as well as his entertaining stage portrayal.

While it may appear that I’m expecting Brien’s musical flick to reinvent the documentary wheel, it actually quietly does.

Charles Bradley: Soul of America executes a filmmaking tactic that adds a visceral sensation to the experience in the sense that the film acts as a cinematic version of the proficient performer.  When we see Bradley sing on stage, that emotion he exudes transcends through the screen and affects us.  We feel that excitement he earns during his show-stopping set.

The same can be said about his other emotions.  Bradley likes to storytell – it’s a crucial step in the songwriting process, as we learn.  When Bradley tells a light-hearted or heart-wrenching story, we feel that weight in his words.  It’s a clear sign that Bradley is a great storyteller.  When he spins those stories into musical lyrical gold, those feelings resonate and will give you chills every time.

For that feeling alone and how Brien can flawlessly and consistently show Bradley as a talented and compelling individual makes this documentary soar as high as those docs that are innovative with their narrative.  It’s memorability skyrockets because of this strength.

Poull Brien’s doc clocks in at 74 minutes, but doesn’t feel like that at all.  Many fans of Bradley’s commend him and tell him that they wish they heard more of him on stage.  The ironic thing is Brien could’ve actually gotten away with more concert footage giving movie goers that fulfillment to see more of Charles Bradley performing.  What the film offers is a good amount of music, but audiences won’t be complaining if an upcoming extended edition of the film happened to feature more of these magnetic scenes.

Bradley’s childhood will have you transfixed by how bothersome the living conditions became for the musician as well as the saddening events that occurred during Bradley’s youth.  The way Bradley and his Mother tell these points in the timeline add to the fascination.

We’re almost halfway through 2013 and it’s already been an extremely strong year for the documentary genre, but this is also one of those times where movie goers will find themselves purchasing the film’s soundtrack or any of Bradley’s albums as soon as they exit the theatre.  Hell, by the credit crawl, you won’t stop tapping your feet.  This is a great piece of work!

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