Also in Slate, read Douglas Wolk on the how Get on Up gives short shrift to James Brown the musician, Aisha Harris on James Brown’s social activism, and Eliza Berman on the ways in which the film strays from Brown’s real-life story.
In Tate Taylor’s new James Brown biopic Get On Up, star Chadwick Boseman recreates Brown’s signature performance style and dance moves with aplomb. Still, nothing can compare to watching Soul Brother No. 1 himself. Below, we’ve rounded up a few of the readily available iconic performances restaged in Get On Up. Watching them, you can see how the movie didn’t need to exaggerate a thing.
T.A.M.I. Show, 1964
Many future legends performed at the Teenage Awards Music International Show, filmed in front of a live audience, including Marvin Gaye, Chuck Berry, and the Supremes. But it’s James Brown’s electrifying performance (with his original backing vocalists the Famous Flames) that is probably most remembered from the show today. Watching the full set, it’s not hard to see why the Rolling Stones were hesitant to follow him.
Ski Party, 1965
Confused as to why Get On Up features a scene with Brown and the Famous Flames performing “I Feel Good” in “white boy sweaters” at a ski lodge? Well, it really happened: The group filmed the cameo for Ski Party, a winter-fied replica of the infamous Beach Party series, starring, of course, Frankie Avalon.
Live at the Boston Garden, 1968
Unsurprisingly, the film includes a recreation of snippets of this historic performance from April 5, the day after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. The televised concert almost didn’t happen: Black city councilman Tom Atkins had to convince Boston mayor Kevin White that Brown’s concert needed to go on as previously scheduled in order to lower the chances of rioting. Above, in full, is the nearly 90-minute performance.
(Brown comes on stage around six minutes in. The moment when Brown affectionately chastised the crowd for trying to rush the stage, as portrayed in the film, comes at the 1:29:30 mark.)
Toward the end of the film, we get a great medley from one of Brown’s concerts in Paris in 1971. By that time, the Famous Flames had been replaced with new backing band the J.B.’s, featuring brothers Catfish Collins and Bootsy Collins (later members of Parliament Funkadelic). The scene also features Boseman wearing a funky gold bell-bottomed unitard. I couldn’t find any clips of Brown performing in that same extraordinary outfit, but the performance above, filmed at the Olympia, was likely its inspiration. (Brown does don a less flashy, but no less funky navy blue bell-bottomed unitard.)