Sunday, November 28, 2004

Austinites: See 'Ray' at the Alamo

Here's a tip for Austinites: See the movie Ray at the Alamo Drafthouse at the Village Shopping Center, and show up 45 minutes ahead of time. Instead of the usual array of previews, they ran long clips from a 20+ year-old concert with Willie Nelson and Ray Charles performing together, including one of my favorite country songs of all time: their duet performing Seven Spanish Angels. (The concert originally appeared on network television, and I vividly remember watching it live back in junior high. Likely others will, too.) The version of the song from that live performance was actually better, IMHO, than the overproduced version recorded later in the studio.

Plus, it's the Alamo, so you can order a beer and a burger while you watch, and 45 minutes early you get your pick of seats. Sweet. Kudos to the management for providing that wonderful and unexpected added value.

As for the movie, Jamie Fox did a fine job as Ray Charles. Frankly I don't care for his comedy, which is his main bag, but he gave this role the respect and diligence of approach that it deserved, and offered a more-than-believable rendition of the great musician, far superior to any of his prior work.

A quibble with the script, though (note: stop reading here if you don't want the storyline revealed): The movie is sort of the R&B version of Sid and Nancy or The Doors with an upbeat conclusion -- why does every movie biography of a musician have to focus so exclusively on the struggle with drug addiction for a story arc? There's a lot more to it than that, but Ray gets off drugs and the story is over -- THAT'S the happy ending, with basically a footnote tacked on stating that he enjoyed 40 years of performing excellence thereafter.

Don't get me wrong, it's a small quibble. The movie definitely highlighted Charles' substantive contributions to a variety of musical genres and his stance against Jim Crow, which caused the state of Georgia to ban him from performing there for 18 years. (In 1979, those rights were reinstated, and Georgia On My Mind was made the state song.) It revealed a lot about his childhood and early background I didn't know, and overall was a very strong script and film. Perhaps it did everything one could possibly expect for a mass-distribution vehicle. I just thought the choice of ending was unfortunate.

Go see the film, though. If you're in Austin, see it at the Alamo-Village, and go early.

Jamie Fox as Ray Charles


Jeb said...

So, where would you have ended the movie?

I'll agree that the movie ended kind of abruptly, but I'm not sure how else they could have done it. It is already long (although it doesn't seem so), and some of the subplots already get short shrift (particularly his break with his long-time assistant).


Gritsforbreakfast said...

Well, part of the reason the movie ended where it did, and you're right, seemed to logically, is because the script writer chose Ray Charles' drug habit as a primary story arc. One could have just as easily chosen others based on different aspects of his relationships or career.

I actually think what really bothered me, though, more than just the ending -- perhaps what I was too inarticulate, or lacked the perspective to say -- is what this reviewer was saying when he gave the movie a less than stellar grade. It made the movie feel hackneyed and preachy, predictable in a way that its subject was decidedly not, that the rest of the movie was not -- too neat, for such a messy life to be tied up with a bow.

If the linked reviewer's information is accurate, scenes of the real Ray Charles with a glass of gin, perhaps puffing a joint if you want to get racy, and watching shots from this movie screened for him might have been a nice ending, now that I think of it! I saw Jamie Foxx on inside the Actor's Studio last night, and he said Charles approved the script and was around for part of the shooting.