Film/TV Dec 4, 2008 at 4:00 am

Cadillac Records: Forget Beyoncé



Charles, you are my favorite whack job at the Stranger.
How can a dumbass like Beyonce play someone amazing like Etta James. Barf on the studio exec who made that decision.
O.K., I'll see it, but the choice of Beyonce for the Etta James part deserves some scrutiny. I'm NOT going to forget it. Casting is as important to film-making as editing, and in the case of this movie it would be like casting Kate Moss in the role of Janis Joplin. It was a stupid, cynical, and ultmately anti-feminist choice based on Beyonce's power to draw at the box office (Ok, and her ability to sing). No crime there--movies need to make money--, but hardly one that elicits a nuanced characterization of Etta James.
Not that i'm a Beyonce hater, her brand of pop is great. But she's a rote perfomer, talented yes, but she never connects to what she's performing. There's a big difference between singing it soulfully vs. real feel. Soulful is learned, one can be taught soulful, one can imitate soulful. There's no faking feeling. Etta James had soul because those songs were hers, not written for her, tailor made to fit her and her life. They were her, they came out of her and her experience. Etta James sang naked and raw, you saw it in her perfomance, you heard it in that voice. Beyonce's songs are a dress she puts on. She can try and get them skintight, but it's still just her trying to fit the the clothes. Etta deserves more than Beyonces best and she wont even get that from this tribute. That's the shame here.
I saw it tonight and I'd like to say that it wasn't as bad as all that, budds. Yes when Etta heard of the casting choice, she said "I don't think she looks like me," which I'd take as a serious burn because looks aren't the half of how Beyonce and Etta are not alike. But B is an actor-of-sorts, and she didn't impose her own persona on the role. Her versions of "All I Could Do Was Cry" and "Trust in Me" were moving. But Mudede is right that the men really carry the picture. The Howlin Wolf portrayal is a revelation.
Oops I'd also like to add that female pop stars always seem to be much more scrutinized in their crossover roles than their male counterparts... Mos did a good job as Chuck Berry but I personally still looked at him- as people look at B- and thought, "That's Mos Def." Just saying.
the movie was a lot better than advertised and promoted. it gave you a good sense of music history. Short played a very good role as Lil Walter, same for Wright. Saying that Wolf was had the complete sense of his black maleness is absurd. Or his body movements parallel a tiger is way too much. Quite offensive in my mind.
Go see the movie, enjoy the unknown history and appreciate it. The review by the columnist doesn't give it justice.

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