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09 March 2010

Ray (2004)

  1. Mess Around
  2. I've Got A Woman 
  3. Hallelujah I Love Her So 
  4. Drown In My Own Tears
  5. Night Time Is The Right Time
  6. Marianne
  7. Hard Times
  8. What'd I Say 
  9. Georgia On My Mind
  10. Hit The Road Jack
  11. Unchain My Heart
  12. I Can't Stop Loving You
  13. Born To Lose
  14. Bye Bye Love
  15. You Don't Know Me 
  16. Let The Good Times Roll 
  17. Georgia On My Mind
The producers used original recordings for Ray's music action scenes and soundtrack, but it's not always clear which versions were used. Some were studio tracks, some come from live concerts, and Georgia probably comes from a re-recorded version which Ray produced in the late 1980s, which was never released.

Film DVD: Universal B00005JND5, 2004 (2005-01).
Soundtrack CD: Rhino (R2 76540, 19 October 2004).
Soundtrack CD + Documentary DVD: Rhino 8122 76541 2 (2004).
The film was re-released several times in de luxe-editions.
See IMDb for many more data on the biopic.

Clips from the film are frequently shared on YouTube and other video sites.


Mess Around:

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington. Supporting actors: Regina King, Clifton Powell, Harry Lennix, Bokeem Woodbine, Aunjanue Ellis, Sharon Warren, C.J. Sanders, Curtis Armstrong, Richard Schiff, Larenz Tate, Terrence Howard, David Krumholtz, Wendell Pierce, Chris Thomas King, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Rick Gomez, Denise Dowse, Warwick Davis, Patrick Bauchau, Robert Wisdom. Directed by: Taylor Hackford.

Also read this to assess some of the liberties the script writers took.

In a bonus to the DVD releases Taylor Hackford and Jamie Foxx explain the process of 'becoming Ray Charles'. Entertaining, and moving, is the documentary footage of Jamies "auditioning" with Ray at RPM Studio in July 2002. They play a blues together, and share some notes from Mess Around and Going Down Slow. It also has a sequence where Jamie tells how he trained Ray's talking voice (a.o. by listening to an interview with Ray by Dinah Shore - probably from this 1970s show, or maybe from this one).

Ellis Hall teaching Jamie Foxx:

David Ritz:
It's a Shame About Ray - Why must biopics sentimentalize their subjects?

Foxx stays true to Ray
Ray, the new biopic directed by Taylor Hackford, satisfies in some wonderful ways: Jamie Foxx miraculously embodies Ray's soul; Ray's own musical voice sounds bigger and better than ever; and several of the supporting performances—Sharon Warren as Ray's mom and Regina King as Margie Hendricks—are heartfelt and powerful. The problem, though, is that Ray is a saccharine movie while Ray himself was anything but a saccharine man. He was a raging bull. Sentimentalizing his story may make box office sense, but, to my mind, it trivializes the compelling complexity of his character.
For example, the film focuses on Ray's relationship with his mother, Aretha. Yet the truth is that Ray had two mothers. According to what Ray told me and insisted we include in Brother Ray, an autobiography that I co-authored in 1978, two women dominated his early years: his biological mother, Aretha, and a woman named Mary Jane, one of his father's former wives. "I called Aretha 'Mama' and Mary Jane 'Mother'," wrote Ray. After her 6-year-old son went blind, Aretha fostered his independence, while Mary Jane indulged him. For the rest of his life Ray was as fiercely self-reliant as he was self-indulgent. Two dynamic women, two radically different approaches to his sightlessness—you can imagine the impact on his character. Ray ignores this phenomenon completely.
Ray tries to explain Ray's blues—the angst in his heart—in heavy-handed Freudian terms. At age 5, Ray helplessly watched his younger brother, George, drown. The film insists that the guilt Ray felt for failing to rescue George is responsible for the dark side of his soul. Once the guilt is lifted, the adult Ray is not only free from his heroin habit but is liberated—in a treacly flashback—from his emotional turmoil. George's death was certainly traumatic for the young Ray, yet the only time Ray suffered what he termed a nervous breakdown had neither to do with the drowning nor the loss of his sight a year later. "It's the death of my mother Aretha," he told me, "that had me reeling. For days I couldn't talk, think, sleep or eat. I was sure-enough going crazy." That the film fails to dramatize the scene—we learn of Aretha's death in a quick aside from Ray to his wife-to-be—misses the crucial heartbreak of his early life. It happened when Ray was 15, living at a school for the blind 160 miles from home. "I knew my world had ended," he said. The further fact that Ray fails to include a single scene from his extraordinary educational experience is another grievous oversight. It was at that state school where he was taught to read Braille, play Chopin, write arrangements, learn piano and clarinet, start to sing, and discover sex. Ray shows none of that. Such scenes would have been far more illuminating than the unexciting story, which the film does include, of Ray changing managers in midcareer.
The minor characters are another major problem. Take David "Fathead" Newman, the saxophonist who, for over a decade, was Ray's closest musical and personal peer. In Ray, David is portrayed as little more than a loudmouthed junkie. While drugs were part of the bond between David and Ray, the key to their relationship was an extraordinary musical rapport. In real life, David is a soft-spoken, gentle man of few words. As Ray was boisterous, David was shy. Both were brought up on bebop. Like Lester Young/Billie Holiday or Thelonious Monk/Charlie Rouse, they complemented each other in exquisitely sensitive fashion. We neither see nor hear any of this in Ray. And while Hackford features a great number of Ray's hits, he ignores the jazz side of Ray's musical makeup. There's virtually no jazz in Ray, while in real life jazz sat at the center of Ray's soul.
If Fathead is painfully misrepresented, Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, owners of Atlantic Records, suffer a similar fate. Among the most colorful characters in the colorful history of the music business, they are reduced to stereotypes. We don't get a glimpse of their quirky sophistication, sharp intellect, or salty wit. Same goes for Mary Ann Fisher, the first female singer to join Ray's band. Mary Ann was an engaging character—sometimes endearing, sometimes infuriating. In Ray she's just a manipulative tart.
Finally, though, Ray is about Ray, and its attempt to define his character. In many ways, the definition is accurate. Foxx brilliantly captures Ray's energy and contradictions. Yet those contradictions are not allowed to stand. The contradictions must be resolved, Ray must live happily ever after. The finale implies that, for all his promiscuity, he is back with Della, the true love of his life, and that, with his heroin habit behind him, it's smooth sailing ahead. The paradoxical strands of his life are tied up into a neat package, honoring the hackneyed biopic formula with a leave-'em-smiling Hollywood ending.
The truth is far more complex and far more interesting. Ray's womanizing ways continued. His marriage to Della ended in a difficult divorce in 1976. And while he never again got high on heroin, he found, in his own terms, "a different buzz to keep me going." For the rest of his life he unapologetically drank large quantities of gin every day and smoked large quantities of pot every night. While working on his autobiography he told me, "Just like smack never got in the way of my working, same goes for booze and reefer. What I do with my own body is my own business." Ray maintained this attitude until his health deteriorated. In 2003 he told me that he had been diagnosed with alcoholic liver disease and hepatitis C. "If I knew I was going to live this long," he added with an ironic smile, "I would have taken better care of myself." Whatever Ray was—headstrong, joyful, courageous, cranky—he was hardly a spokesman for sobriety.
The producers of Ray make much of the fact that Ray himself endorsed the movie. That's certainly true. He wanted a successful crossover movie to mirror his successful crossover music. He participated and helped in any way he could. In one of our last discussions, Ray reminded me that the process of trying to sell Hollywood began 26 years ago when producer-director Larry Schiller optioned his story. Since then there have been dozens of false starts. It wasn't until his son, Ray Jr., producer Stuart Benjamin, and director Hackford stayed on the case that cameras rolled.
"Hollywood is a cold-blooded motherfucker," said Ray. "It's easier to bone the President's wife than to get a movie made. So I say God bless these cats. God bless Benjamin and Hackford and Ray Jr. Weren't for them, this would never happen. And now that it's happening, maybe I'll have a better chance of being remembered. I can't ask for anything more."
Jamie Foxx accepting Academy Award for Best Actor: here. NBC interview with Foxx from 27 October 2004, with a sequence where Ray shows Jamie how he plays the piano: here.

Chuck 'the Movie Guy' interviewed Jamie Foxx (c 2004):

The film already had a long history before it was actually produced. I remember seeing full page bleed announcement ads in Variety in 1987 or 1988. This is the text of an article by Patrick Goldstein in the LA Times from 26 February 1989:
Ray Charles' Life to Get the Hollywood Treatment - Hollywood has rock 'n' roll fever.
Tinseltown has already made "The Buddy Holly Story," immortalized the King ("This Is Elvis"), documented Chuck Berry's life ("Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll") and rediscovered Richie Valens ("La Bamba"). This summer Orion Pictures will celebrate The Killer, with Dennis Quaid starring as Jerry Lee Lewis in "Great Balls of Fire."
Who's next? A few hints: He's black. He's blind. He's a dynamic keyboardist and sensual singer who's had dozens of Top 40 hits.
If you guessed Stevie Wonder, you're... wrong.
It's none other than Ray Charles. The R&B legend's life and music will be dramatized in "The Ray Charles Story," a just-announced film project being produced by rock managers Mark Hartley and Larry Fitzgerald. The film is the first project due from New Visions Pictures, a new production company headed by Taylor Hackford, who says his production slate will offer "at least one" music biography each year. (New Visions has acquired the rights to the life of Linda Creed, an influential '70s-era black songwriter.)
"I wanted our first New Visions picture to really stand out," explained Hackford, a pop aficionado who produced "La Bamba" and directed "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll." "To me, Ray Charles is the greatest living figure in black music. His music is the meeting place of R&B, rock, pop, jazz and country & Western. He's a wonderfully complex character, a guy born into awful poverty.
"Ray struggled against unbelievable odds to become one of the major pop music icons of the last four decades. And to me, there's something inherently dramatic about the distance one travels in American society - and Ray went all the way."
Though Charles experienced many traumas along the way, including a period of heroin addiction, Hackford insists none of the rough spots will be smoothed over. "We're telling the whole story-- the tragedies and the triumphs. Ray doesn't want anything covered up."
No writer or director has been chosen yet. But Quincy Jones - an old Charles associate - will be on board as a musical consultant. Hackford says he's looking for several unknown actors to play Charles at various stages of his career. As for the music, Hackford says it will probably be a combination of old material and re-recordings. "I'm certainly not going to re-record Ray's voice," he said. "No one sounds like him - and no one ever will."
In 2005 Universal Sudios released a special edition of the film (Universal 16045). It contains all items from the regular DVD, and the DVD More Music From Ray, but also sequences where Ray accompanies Jamie Foxx on piano: Route 66, Straighten Up And Fly Right, and Driftin’ Blues.*

On 1 February 2011 Universal Studios Home Entertainment released a new Blu-ray version of Ray. It's reviewed here. Among the extras:
  • Featured commentary from director Taylor Hackford.
  • 9 complete uncut musical performances with an introduction by Jamie Foxx.
  • 14 scenes not shown in the theatrical version with commentary by director Taylor Hackford.
  • A behind the scenes look at Jamie Foxx's transformation into Ray Charles – including a jam session between the actor and Ray Charles himself.
  • Friends and fellow musicians remember Ray Charles.
  • A look at the real women in Ray Charles’ life, as well as the actresses who play them.
  • Ray - An American Story; an in-depth view of the life of Ray Charles featuring cast and crew discussing the making of the film.
  • A look at the music legend's journey and the making of the film.
  • An interview with director Taylor Hackford and his producing partner Stuart Benjamin on their 15-year journey to portray Ray Charles’ musical genius and bring their vision to the screen.
Dialogue script here.

*Based on remarks made by Joël Dufour. 

More Ray album
In October 2004 Atlantic/WEA surprised with an album offering additional sound track materials: More Ray. It contained tunes like Let's Go Get Stoned left off of the first collection, plus some non-movie songs said to inspire the film. The surprise is in three 2003 live-in-the-studio takes: of Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand and Drown In My Own Tears/You Don't Know Me by Charles himself, film dub tracks for which no other appropriate recordings existed. The guitar solo on Baby was delivered by Slash (see below).
Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand ends abruptly. You Don't Know Me/Drown In My Own Tears contains bits of interfering dialogue. Every Day I Have the Blues interrupts the set for a cover song that is sung by Chris Thomas King (accompanied by Ray on piano). Don't Set Me Free and Carry Me Back To Old Virginny are take-outs from the Ô Genio video.

Atlantic/WEA, 29 October 2004, ASIN: B0006SSPIK.

Disc 1
  1. Leave My Woman Alone
  2. Lonely Avenue
  3. Rockhouse, Parts 1 & 2
  4. I Believe To My Soul
  5. Losing Hand
  6. But On The Other Hand Baby
  7. Baby, It's Cold Outside
  8. Danger Zone
  9. Busted
  10. Makin' Whoopee
  11. Let's Go Get Stoned
  12. Drifting Blues
  13. Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand
  14. You Don't Know Me/Drown In My Own Tears (partial renditions for film, resp. 1:41 and 1:17 long) 
  15. Every Day I Have The Blues
  16. Heaven Help Us All
  17. America The Beautiful
Disc 2
  1. Don't Set Me Free
  2. Carry Me Back To Old Virginny
  3. [Original Trailer]
Slash interview (CMW 2010):

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