“It was… good,” he says carefully, with a little chuckle. His diplomatic appraisal isn’t without a dash of self-preservation: Mick Jagger, a co-producer of the Tate Taylor film, also co-produced Gibney’s latest film, Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown, a documentary about the great performer’s musical and social impact that will debut Monday, October 27th on HBO.
Gibney, the Oscar-winning investigative director (Taxi to the Dark Side) who has also made films on Ken Kesey, Hunter S. Thompson and Fela Kuti, simply prefers to keep it real. “It’s hard to substitute for the real thing when it’s so spectacular,” he tells Rolling Stone.
And Mr. Dynamite lives up to the title. Focusing on the sheer willpower that made Brown one of the great musical innovators as well as a key figure in the Civil Rights struggles of the Sixties, the film features thrilling footage from the 1966 March Against Fear, superb shows at Paris’ Olympia Theater and previously lost footage from Brown’s historic 1968 Boston concert in the aftermath of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.
The film includes interviews with many of Brown’s most important sidemen, including indispensable bandleader Pee Wee Ellis, Fred Wesley, Bootsy Collins and Clyde Stubblefield, among others, as well as archival interviews with the bandleader himself.
In this Rolling Stone exclusive clip, Brown’s band members describe how he commanded their radical sound experiments despite his lack of musical training. Ellis recalls how the classic vamp of “Cold Sweat” emerged from the singer’s “grunts,” and drummer John “Jab’o” Starks rolls his eyes as he tells a comical story about taking Brown’s direction in the studio.
“Ultimately he made everything his own, and he denied anybody had anything to do with it except him,” says Gibney.
Brown’s story, he says, follows a similar pattern to another cultural icon who is the subject of the director’s next big project: Steve Jobs. “It was the way they pushed people,” Gibney says. “Steve Jobs was not an engineer. He just kept pushing people until they delivered. The parallels seem striking to me.
“We wanted as much as possible to have him speak for himself,” added Gibney, noting one segment in which Brown defines the meaning of “soul” for a reporter: When somebody tells you that you can’t do something, the singer explains, that’s when you dig down deep – to figure out how you can.