James Brown: The Man, the Music & the Message

Of the three things promised by the title, James Brown: The Man, The Music & The Message scores on two. The music of James Brown comes off beautifully in this 1990 syndicated TV special, available on home video just after Brown’s release from prison Feb. 27. The wealth of concert footage, mostly from the ’60s, is strong enough to make you want to squeal, shout, and shimmy across the floor.

As for Brown’s message, witnesses —] including broadcaster Donnie Simpson and new jack swinger Bobby Brown — are articulate about the singer’s impact on black culture and pop music. But the best evidence is a 1969 clip of the Jackson 5 from their pre-Motown days: 10-year-old Michael’s live-wire dance routine is pure Brownian motion.

Unfortunately, the tape isn’t at all revealing when it comes to the man himself. Host-interviewer Dick Cavett lobs some good questions, including a few about Brown’s legal and marital problems, but he doesn’t receive enlightened answers. As riveting as the music in this show can be, we never get to the heart and soul of James Brown. We see him break into a cold sweat, but we don’t know why.

James Brown: The Man, the Music & the Message
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