Ba-lop-bam-boom, shaddup!
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Get On Up **

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Chadwick Boseman had the gargled speaking voice, foot slides, lip synching, and scrotum-smooshing splits down cold, but director Tate Taylor (The Help) countered by keeping his camera close and the unfeigned emotion at arm’s length in the James Brown biopic, Get On Up, a film Lickona favored a bit more more than I.

Any mention of the Godfather of Soul’s notorious drug abuse is confined to one shot (twice repeated) of an unrolled joint and bag of white powder. As for hot-tempered Brown being the hardest working wife-beater in show business, only one punch is thrown. For as much as it sticks to the facts, they might just as well have called it The Last Temptation of James Brown and cast Celine Dion in the lead.

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Little Richard Royal Crown Hairdressing Commercial

A fancied meeting between Brown and Little Richard (Brandon Smith) provided a much-needed breather from the lionizing and boundless inpouring of Boseman’s veracious tribute-band performances. Even then the film falls short. When it comes to rock’s origins, we all owe Richard Wayne Penniman everything. Little Richard poured the foundation. It is he, and to a large extent Chuck Berry, who remain the architects of rock. These two — not that bloated hound dog who OD’d on the crapper — have rightfully earned the appellation King of Rock N’ Roll.

No one recognized Richard’s impact more than James Brown. Blues singer Etta James remembers, “He used to carry around an old tattered napkin with him because Little Richard had written the words ‘Please, Please, Please’ on it, and James was determined to make a song out of it.”

Brown met his idol when Richard was washing dishes in Macon, Georgia. LR performed at local venues on the weekends and was known to throw swingin’ after-hours shindigs in his hotel room. According to Get On Up, it was at one of these parties that Brown took a ride on Richard’s shark-skin coattail. While the King and his band was off enjoying a smoke break, Brown and his Famous Flames took to the stage and proceeded to tear the house down. If it didn’t happen, it should have, if for no other reason than to give the film its best moment. The scene is followed by Brown grabbing a late-night snack at the hash house where the once-and-future King worked. The filmmakers, trolling for cheap laughs, have Richard come on to Brown.

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Celebrity WoF (1994): Weird Al, James Brown, Little Richard, Lee Greenwood

The film’s most egregious factual blunder is housed like a bedbug in Little Richard’s headdress. This was the ’50s, a time when the only things allowed near Richard’s hair would have been a tin of Royal Crown Hair Dressing and a marcelling wand. The film’s key hair stylist, Shannon Bakeman, should have looked further than a year-round Halloween store for a fright wig with which to form a cotton candy coiffure. The Gillette Dry Look was 20 years down the road. At the time, Richard’s hair had more chemicals in it than Lake Erie. It was so greasy hair spray slid off it.

Richard’s friendship followed Brown to his grave. What better way to celebrate a lifetime of combined artistry that with a charity appearance on a TV game show? Here in its entirety is a 1994 episode of Wheel of Fortune featuring LR, JB, Lee Greenwood, Weird Al Yankovic, and Vanna White Devil. For those who can’t wait, Richard lets loose with his patented “Shut up!” at 16:27.

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