Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown

Jagged Films, Inaudible Films, Jigsaw Productions in association with HBO Documentary Films.

Like “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” or “Cold Sweat,” Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown doesn’t so much start as explode, immediately establishing a rhythmic momentum that doesn’t waver, doesn’t quit. It’s a documentary you could almost dance to, so sure and steady is its pulse. But that’s only one facet of its achievement. Director Alex Gibney and his editors immerse the viewer in the R&B/funk superstar’s life and times and in the cultures from which he distilled his art, showing how he learned not only from Louis Jordan and Little Richard but from Duke Ellington and the wrestler Gorgeous George. The film stitches together a vibrant mosaic, drawing on electrifying performance footage, vintage publicity stills and posters, and evocative archival photos of sharecropper shacks, “chitlin” circuit clubs and Jim Crow signifiers. Annotation comes from archival interviews with the enigmatic Brown himself and fresh conversations with band members such as Maceo Parker and Danny Ray, Brown’s “cape man” through countless “Please, Please, Please” finales. They also illuminate Brown’s social activism, demonstrating how he absorbed the political zeitgeist of the era of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Richard Nixon as surely as he soaked up musical influences. For its admiring but clear-eyed appraisal of a truly revolutionary musical figure and his legacies, his relationship to America and American culture, to funk, to hip hop, to racial politics, to American history and music history, Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown receives a Peabody Award.


Executive Producers: Alex Gibney, Dan Brooks, Mike Singer, Eric Weider. Produced by: Mick Jagger, Victoria Pearman, Peter Afterman, Blair Foster. Director: Alex Gibney. Cinematographers: Maryse Alberti, Antonio Rossi. Supervising Editor: Geeta Gandbhir. Edited by: Maya Mumma, Geeta Gandbhir.