If I keep writing about movies, people are never going to believe it when I tell them I rarely see a movie. But here I go again
Friends told me I should see "Ray," the 2004 movie about the life of Ray Charles, a truly greater singer. Naturally, I didn't follow their advice [–] until recently.
I picked up the DVD at the Champaign Public Library, and I am glad I did. I thought the movie was terrific, and the acting by Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles was excellent, just off the charts brilliant.
If you didn't know better, you'd think he was Ray Charles.
I am a big Ray Charles fan. I find his voice mesmerizing and many of his songs, like "Georgia," "I can't stop loving you," "Your Cheatin' Heart," "It's Crying Time Again," terrific. But this movie is about much more than his music, it's about inexplicable talent.
This amazing story follows a child raised in the depths of poverty and racist oppression in Florida who loses his sight at age seven and still rises to become one of the greatest musical stars of modern-day America. He started his professional career in Seattle, of all places, and rises to the height of fame as a Los Angeles musician with a multi-million-dollar music contract.
Interestingly enough, Charles started out as a carbon copy of Nat King Cole, a legendary crooner. The problem for him is that the musical public didn't want another Nat King Cole, and it was then that Charles charted a new course, combining gospel music and blues in the 1954 hit "I've Got a Woman."
Ultimately, he pursued jazz, country, and a form of rock 'n' roll I interpret as soul. I'm getting in over my head here because I'm not an expert on music. But I do know what I like, and I liked much of what Ray Charles produced.
Here's an irony. I saw Charles perform at the Krannert Center on the University of Illinois campus a number of years ago. I was bursting in anticipation of a great evening but didn't really enjoy the show much. I guess he just played the wrong songs that night.
But it's obvious that he was a musician of astounding creative ability, in terms of arranging, performing and singing. One striking scene in the movie occurs when he's recording with three female singers, one of whom is angry with Charles because of a romantic disagreement.
Finally, in exasperation, Charles kicks the women out of the studio. Asked who will sing in their place, Charles replies that he'll do all three performances himself and the studio guys can dub them in. Then he does.
It was not for nothing that he was called "The Genius," a nickname given to him by Frank Sinatra. Shortly after the movie was released, he died at age 73.
The movie is long, 152 minutes in the theater. The DVD has an extended version with scenes not included in the theatrical version. It also includes extra cuts from the movie's production, including Charles and Foxx performing together.
The ultimate question, of course, is just how much of the movie is true and how much is fluff created to make a more compelling film. Obituary descriptions of Charles' life indicate that moviemakers, not surprisingly, embroidered their story somewhat.
So you have to take the film version of Charles' life with a grain of salt. But it looks like they told the truth, mostly, and it's a heckuva story that made a really good movie.