There haven’t been many high profile biographical movies that have scored both critical and commercial success. I was a big fan of Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin biopic with Robert Downey Jr. but it bombed with audiences. “Malcolm X” by Spike Lee was, for all it’s pretense, a fairly powerful (if uneven) portrait of the slain civil rights leader. There’s something about condensing a life down to two to three hours that strips some essential soulful or essential element out of it’s subject and leaves them neither sympathetic nor entertaining.
But “Ray” may be different. Talk of an academy award nomination for Jamie Foxx has already begun and many early reviews tag this movie as an entertaining but fair and unvarnished look at the life (or at least it’s high points) of the music legend. The movie caps off a busy period of post-humus activity for Charles that also saw the release of his final album as well as the publication of his autobiography.
Ray Charles’ face is amongst the best known in music history so I’m glad they didn’t go with a straight-ahead portrait of the late singer. Instead, Foxx’s profile is sort of outlined in white against the black background. This design is fairly generic so it can be transferred easily to the cover of the soundtrack and any other related materials.
As I said before, we all know what the real Ray Charles looked like and Jamie Foxx seems to have that down pat. This isn’t some caricature as we’ve been subjected to by countless non-talented “comedians” but a genuine impression in the best sense of the word. We are shown the setup as a young Charles learns he’s going blind, see him hit a few career high points and battle personal demons. All of this is standard fair but Foxx has a very engaging looseness to his performance that seems to show he didn’t just approach this as another role but genuinely wanted to pay homage to his subject.
This is hands down the best movie-related website I have come across since beginning to write this column. The features and depth to the site are not to be believed. Compared to the incredible superficiality of sites for big-budget releases like Alien Vs. Predator and Shark Tale this is friggin’ Tolstoy to their Danielle Steel.
When you first bring up the site a pop-up appears promoting a tribute program on television, hosted by Foxx, the same day the movie opens.
At first the site appears to be rather thin Flash-based material. Ray Charles’ music plays in the background (a great way to ensure people stick around at the site for a while) and there are only a few visible section heads. But wait until you start drilling down into those.
“Trailer” sounds like it will just have the trailer but contains in addition to that, three “TV Spots“, all of which are shorter than the trailer and focus on one particular theme. They’re all pretty solid but not as well-rounded as the trailer itself. Three “Clips” offer one-to-two minutes of footage from the film that are extensions of scenes found in the trailer. Finally, “A Look Inside” is a three-minute or so long video press release type of segment that involves a lot of glad-handing by the cast and director about how great they and the material are. It’s the weakest of the video-based features and seems like the kind of thing that’s too fluffy even for a show like Entertainment Tonight.
A link to the online store selling the companion soundtrack is all that is found when you click the “Get the Soundtrack” link. “About the Film” contains the usual Production Notes and Story recap (someone really needs to figure out something new to do with these two concepts). Cast and Crew bios can be found in the “Who’s Who” section and “Downloads” gives you access to AIM icons, desktop themes and screensavers. “Video” is simply the same content we’ve already seen in the “Trailer”section. About 30 photos can be found in the “Photo Book”. Finally, “Ray Testimonials” has brief blurbs praising Charles by musicians both classic (Sinatra, James Brown) and contemporary.
The next section is labeled “About Ray Charles”. I expected a brief biography that would play up the same moments dramatized in the movie. Instead what I got was sent to a whole new site which focused on Charles’ life and work.
A more in-depth biography, as well as an excerpt from his auto-biography can be found in “The Man”. “The Music” really explores what it was he did that was so groundbreaking musically and contains a full discography. More examination on the impact Charles had in the music industry can be found in “The Legacy” and “The Movie” expands on the Story/Production Notes concept by really explaining what approach the filmmakers took in creating the film. “News” gives you the latest updates on what’s happening with all things Ray.
I’m really quite impressed with the quality of not only the materials making up the campaign but, at least from the previews and snippets of footage, the film itself. The trailer is well put together and plays to the strong selling point of Jamie Foxx’s performance as well as the timeless and incredible music Charles produced. The poster is understated and classy. It doesn’t play to Foxx’s face as a drawing point while still touching on his performance which has drawn so much critical praise even before opening.
The website especially is great. Not only does it provide a great deal of information on the movie, but also on the man himself. By using the opportunity and flexibility provided to them on the web to expand on the biographical examination of the subject they are both admitting and making up for the inherent shortcomings of the movie format. This is a great site and should be checked out by anyone who enjoys movies or simply Ray Charles. The secondary site serves as a great personal site for the man both in conjunction with and even independent of the movie.
As moviemaking costs increase, the pressure to successfully market those movies becomes greater. In an attempt to show how marketers are trying to put the most hinders in the theater seats, Chris Thilk breaks down why some movie campaigns work and some don’t. The posters for “The Rocketeer” and “Unforgiven” remain two of his all-time favorites. For Chris’ ongoing movie journal and other various musings, visit his Random Thoughts blog.
Posted on October 27, 2004 in Features by Chris Thilk
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