The roots of Rock-n-Roll, they used to change depending on your skin color and who was telling the story, but I believe the argument is pretty much settled. So many of the accomplishments of Black Americans have been glossed over and left untold by the mainstream education system and media. So it a good thing that movies like Cadillac Records (2008), however factually challenged, at least shine a partial light on what was once obscured by the darkness of lies and outright omissions.
Written and directed by Darnell Martin (Law & Order: Criminal Intent) Cadillac Records, chronicles—insofar as Hollywood possible—the birth and rise of Chess Records (Cadillac) and it recording artists including Blues guitar legend—and Father of Chicago Blues—Muddy Waters (Jeffery Wright ~ Ali, Angels in America, Casino Royale), harmonica myth Little Walter Jacobs (Columbus Short ~ Stomp the Yard, Studio 60 on Sunset Strip, This Christmas), vocalist Howlin’ Wolf (Eamonn Walker ~ Oz, Justice, ER); one of the fathers of Rock-n-Roll, Chuck Berry (Mos Def ~ Something the Lord Made, 16 Blocks, Lackawanna Blues) and the incomparable Etta James (Beyonce Knowles ~ The Pink Panther, Dramgirls).
Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody ~ The Pianist, The Village, King Kong) an immigrant from Poland started Chess Records on the south side of Chicago in 1950. Cedric the Entertainer (The Steve Harvey Show, Be Cool, The Honeymooners) portrays double-bassist, vocalist, songwriter and record producer Willie Dixon, who narrates the story. Muddy’s girlfriend Geneva Wade (Gabrielle Union ~ 7th Heaven, Love & Basketball, City of Angels), and Leonard Chess’ wife Revetta Chess (Emmanuelle Chiriquí (Entourage, In The Mix, Women in Trouble) round out the cast.
I thoroughly enjoyed Cadillac Records. The music, the acting, the directing, the little tidbits and nuggets of actual fact made this trip down memory lane worth the trip. I am fully aware that Hollywood plays fast and loose with the truth for “artist” reasons, so I kept Wikipedia and other sources handy throughout the move in order to do my own fact-checking.
I am happy to report the Cadillac Records wasn’t too far off the factual mark in how it depicted the circumstances surrounding the founding of Chess Records on the south side of Chicago in 1950. What the movie omitted, for whatever reason, is easy enough to fill in via other credible sources.
The ensemble of (mostly Black males) actors did an extraordinary job recreating (channeling) some of the best “Rhythm & Blues” performers of their day, which only goes to prove once again that the cadre of talented Black actors in Hollywood is deep, hungry, and able to step into any role. Even Beyonce must be given her due for her portrayal of the very volatile and troubled, but ultimately very talented, Etta James whose given name is Jamesetta Hawkins.
The music throughout Cadillac Records is outstanding; it is so vigorous, infectious, and essential that at times it leaves the drama unfolding around it seem unfocused in comparison. Who knew, based on her current repertoire, the Beyonce was capable of producing such beautiful vocals. Yes we heard some of her more eloquent vocals in Dreamgirls (2006), as a member of a group, but in this movie her voice stands alone and what she delivers is pure magic. Her renditions of the Etta James’ classics At Last, I’d Rather Go Blind, and Trust In Me are stirring and her best “musical” work to date. Beyonce’s acting wasn’t half bad either.
And not to overlooked is the very versatile and talented Mos Def who portrayal of Chuck Barry is right on the mark, while Jeffery Wright turns in a tight vocal performance as Bluesman Muddy Waters, and Eamonn Walker vocals are chilling as he channels Howlin’ Wolf. The music this movie brings to the light of day is reason enough to see it, and it is given added gravitas by the actors who largely perform it.
By the time the credits rolled I fully engrossed in Cadillac Records and I wanted more; two hours is not nearly enough time to tell the story of how this quintessential style of American music came into being. We were treated to a mere snippet of the music and musicians who created, produced, arranged, and performed (and were largely unpaid) the most influential music in the last half the decade just past.
The influence of the Blues that sprang from the Black American experience in segregated America is still making its presence felt across a broad spectrum of musical genres, and is in many respects timeless. Cadillac Records was just the beginning of our musical journey into these very interesting and influential (Black) American lives.
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age
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Cadillac Records is a 2008 musical biopic written and directed by Darnell Martin. The film explores the musical era from the early 1940s to the late 1960s, chronicling the life of the influential Chicago-based record-company executive Leonard Chess, and the singers who recorded for Chess Records.
The film stars Adrien Brody as Chess, Cedric the Entertainer as Willie Dixon, Mos Def as Chuck Berry, Columbus Short as Little Walter, Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, and Beyoncé Knowles as Etta James. The film has been rated R by the MPAA for "pervasive langauge and some sexuality". The film is set for release in North America on December 5, 2008.