This past weekend was the opening for the low rated film, Cadillac Records. It’s the story of the famed Chess Records and its groundbreaking impact on American music and its far -reaching influence around the world. A friend and I (the same friend that went with me to the Cornel West lecture) checked it out on opening night Friday. He’s such a cool guy!
(Shout out to Sam for being such an awesome best friend!)
Uhm, ok. Back to the review.
Chess Records was founded in Chicago by Leonard Chess and his brother back in the mid 1950s. The record label featured Black artists and catered primarily to Black audiences until the arrival of rock and roll pioneer, Chuck Berry and other artists. The movie specifically pointed that out as well as made sure it credited the proper musicians for initially creating a sound that was manufactured and commercialized.
Before Elvis wiggled a hip or did a pelvic thrust, there was Little Walter, Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters. To that end, the movie mentioned a lot of the historical aspects of that era but didn’t dig deeper. For instance, Etta James’ drug abuse was skimmed over for the most part with the exception of a well-acted scene by Beyonce (Etta James) and Adrien Brody (Leonard Chess). Also, it gleamed over the troubles that Chuck Berry, played by Mos Def, had with underage girls, but did cover his well-publicized arrest.
My guess is that the film was done on a small budget; but nonetheless, the actors did a superb job and many of the newcomers showed a lot of promise. Jeffrey Wright (Muddy Waters) is one to watch, in my book, and Columbus Short (Little Walter) made me wonder why did he ever do movies like Stomp the Yard or Accepted. He clearly has a greater range and I would love to see him in more high level roles—now that I know he can really act.
Even Sasha Fierce herself (Beyonce) was a very convincing Etta James–she tapped into that sassy, cursing, druggie persona quite well. I mean, I enjoyed Beyonce in Dreamgirls and would like to see her do more acting and spend less time trying to come up with Girl Anthems.
I don’t want to spoil the movie for you. Do yourself a favor and go check it out for yourself. It was a great effort from female director Darnell Martin (I Like It Like That) and I expect to see more of her work in the coming years. Unfortunately, Hollywood is still not completely sold on financing good Black stories or supporting good Black directors, whether male or female. So, I may be holding my breath. Anyway, Cadillac Records had me tapping my feet and I’m sure you will too.
If you’ve seen it, let me know your thoughts.