A ‘Ray’ of light into music
What didn’t surprise me about “Ray” was how it made me question how little I knew about Ray Charles; what did was the way it made me think about music.By the time I was aware of Ray Charles – the middle ground between my Motown-appreciating mom and my country-loving extended family in South Carolina – he wasn’t Ray Charles the musical pioneer so much as Ray Charles: icon, national treasure and Pepsi shill.
It might be a wildly inappropriate analogy, but more than anything, “Ray” reminded me of the time when I was about 15 and I stopped hearing about Neil Young and actually heard Neil Young for the first time. My best friend and I used to watch “Saturday Night Live” musical guests strategically, channel-surfing when we expected, say, CSNY-style four-part vocal harmonies. We neglected to tune out “Rockin’ in the Free World” and discovered something loud and powerful enough to sound-blast the “legend” patina right off a musician.”Ray” does something similar, and it goes beyond casting Jamie Foxx, Ray Charles’ 36-year-old doppelganger, as the singer. In taking viewers to the bare roots of Charles’ music – and probably his personality as well – and putting them in context, it makes them seem bolder and more vibrant, especially to those of us whose first exposure came in the form of “Georgia On My Mind” or (heaven forefend) a Pepsi commercial.That Foxx, a former musician, seems uncannily well-prepared to play Charles (try to tell which one is in the pictures just before the end credit) shouldn’t take anything away from his performance. The script remains as adamant about depicting Charles as a perfectionist, workaholic, ruthless businessman and heroin addict as it is in conveying his more endearing attributes.
But it’s evenhanded and realistic: broken homes and broken friendships stay broken with no deus ex machina to come and save them, and neither Charles and his friends nor his rivals come off as good or evil. Even without canonizing Charles, Foxx makes him a compelling and likable character – if an enigmatic one – without pulling any punches.As good as Foxx’s virtuoso performance is, the real star of “Ray” is Charles’ own music, with some masterful sound editing squeezing out every mote of blues, jazz, soul, rock and country.
Kimberly said she’d welcome a movie about the next 40 years of Ray Charles’ life. But after “Ray,” I think I’m ready to stop listening to stories about the singer and start listening to Ray.The first Red Rocks show Dan Thomas saw was Neil Young in 2001.
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