Monday, February 1, 2016


(October 2004, U.S.)

The closest I ever came to being a fan of Ray Charles was on only two movie occasions. The first is Ray's cameo in THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980) and his performance with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. The second is the hilarious moment in PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES (1987) when John Candy is driving in the middle of the night and seriously getting into Ray's "Mess Around", which nearly results in a fatal auto accident (really, how can anyone not think of John Candy when listening to this song?)...

That in mind, one has to wonder just how interested can one be in a film biography of an artist you're not particularly into in the first place? Well, first there's the reputable film career of director Taylor Hackford that includes great films like AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN (1982) and THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE (1997). Second, Jamie Foxx. One only need watch the original trailer for RAY to see that Foxx nails it cold! So whether you're a fan of the music of Ray Charles or not, to simply watch Foxx take the character to extraordinary cinematic limits is worth the price of your time and a ticket.

To know Ray Charles well is likely to really only know his music and what it means to you. For a screen biop, we get to see his life as the child Ray Charles Robinson, raised on a sharecropping plantation in Florida and slowly going by the age of seven after witnessing his younger brother drown. Inspired by a fiercely independent mother who insisted he make his own way in the world and not be judged a cripple, Ray finds his gift and his calling at the keyboard of a piano. Like most successful artists, Ray has to pay his dues not only with the physical limitations of his blindness, but also the cheap, crooked characters that all to often corrupt artists and the world of show business. As time passes, Ray not only gains recognition and notoriety, but also develops an incorporation of rhythm and blues, rock and roll, gospel, country, jazz and orchestral influences into his unique style. As I suppose no true story about any famous musical artist is not complete without a healthy does of severe drug use and infamous womanizing (but then again, musicians do manage to get all the pussy!). Although the film only hints at two children, it seems the real Ray Charles had twelve children with nine different women (WOW!)! His addiction to heroin is made very clear in the film and one can only wonder how he managed to live to a somewhat ripe old age even after he gave up the junk. When we watch Ray the man, and not the musician, we see a tormented soul that cannot escape the horrors of watching his younger brother drown and ultimately feeling responsible for it. However, there is this one brilliant moment in the film when Ray experiences a dream in which he cannot only see, but is also forgiven by his brother and his mother for all the sins of his past. This is actually the moment where the film comes to a conclusion, as we're meant to understand that Ray Charles gave up his drug addiction upon having this disturbing dream. Whether or not it's true may almost seem inconsequential because the moment works so well on film, and as previously mention, Jamie Foxx brings it all home with amazing charisma.

One interesting fact that I learned about Ray Charles (according to the film, anyway) was his apparent refusal to play the state of Georgia or any other state that promoted segregating during the 1960s. For this act, Ray was actually banned from ever playing Georgia until the 1970s, when the act was not only rescinded, but also when his song, "Georgia On My Mind" became the official state song. I suppose all of the decades civil rights leaders would have been proud of that one!

Finally, since this was a posting of a film of a popular musical artist, let me dedicate this post to all the popular musical artists that have passed away in just the first month of this new year; they include Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Glenn Frey of the Eagles and Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship. Thanks for all that you gave us!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Ray Charles: "You're the ones who taught me that making a record is business and find the best business deal that you can. Now seventy-five cents of every dollar and owning my own masters is a pretty damn good deal. Can you match it?"
Ahmet Ertegun: "Ray, we would love to match it, but we just can't. That's a better deal than Sinatra gets. I'm very proud of you."

1 comment:

  1. It's been too long since I commented on a post, not because I'm not interested, just because I'm often in the wrong place when reading. Today, I'm at my desk and can take a minute to talk about this film. I frankly love biopics, but I especially love biopics of musicians. The drugs and womanizing angles reflect the hurly burly world that the characters develop in. So while it is a cliche, it is also the truth. It's hard to distill someones life down to two hours, much less make it compelling and interesting, but Taylor Hackford did it with this movie. If you were not inspired to go out and listen to some Ray Charles music, you must be deaf. I knew a little more about Ray because I grew up in the 60s and 70s and heard him on the radio. Still, that moment in Planes,Trains and Automobiles pops into my head whenever I hear someone mention his name. He must have been a favorite of John Hughes because it is a Ray Charles song playing in Christmas Vacation as well when Chevy Chase is looking at the old home movies. Jamie Fox nailed this film and it helped immensely that he did not lip synch the songs.