With “Mr. Dynamite,” HBO promises “a definitive documentary biography” of the James Brown story from 1933 to 1974: from his rural Southern childhood and his musical ascension to his iconic performances (including the Apollo Theater) and his civil rights impact. (Promo video below.)
But we won’t see the troubles that befell the late-career Brown, who gained ’80s infamy for drug abuse, domestic violence, gun charges and a three-year prison stint. “Mr Dynamite” premiered as a work-in-progress at Tribeca earlier this year, where John Anderson reported: “That would have been a different subject. And would have made for a different movie, a movie whose content would inevitably distract from the things Gibney is clearly out to celebrate, notably Brown’s importance as Soul Brother No. 1, and what he meant to black empowerment.” (The HBO premiere is the film’s first play since Tribeca.)
Featuring historical footage, exclusive archive materials and more, “Mr. Dynamite” will span James Brown’s early friendship with singer Bobby Byrd, the influence of Louis Jordan and Little Richard, Brown’s first hit “Please, Please, Please,” his breakthrough performances, his MLK Jr.-era activism and the subsequent Nixon endorsement that cost him fans.
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For a dramatized portrait of Brown and his later years, seek Tate Taylor’s biopic “Get On Up” starring Chadwick Boseman. Gibney, meanwhile, also wrapped another music doc this year, “Finding Fela,” centered on Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, which premiered at Sundance in January and played this summer from Kino Lorber. (Our interview here, Indiewire feature here.)
The film debuts on HBO Monday, October 27 at 9pm ET/PT.