LIFF26 - Charles Bradley: Soul Of America - Cinema Review

'Spearing soul ballads and pumped up R&B riffs mark out a man who is both out of his time and has found his moment.'

An uplifting documentary about one man's rise from near-poverty to an album release at age sixty-three, Charles Bradley: Soul Of America is a successful depiction of achieving one's dreams, rising from the bottom to the top, beating the odds and several other clichés in between. The kicker? It's actually very good.

Soul singer and James Brown impersonator Bradley starts the film on the cusp of his first album release. Poull Brien's documentary charts the month or so before his record hits the stores, whilst simultaneously examining his life up to that moment, building towards a finale at Bradley's album launch party, which you suspect from very early on will be triumphant.

What actually emerges is suggested by the subtitle. This isn't just the story of Bradley - engaging, interested and talented though he is - but a look at those with broken dreams full stop. At sixty-three, the existence of Bradley's album on its own makes a great case for the argument that it's never too late. The American Dream, The Soul of America, is alive and kicking in Bradley's spirit.

And what spirit. From homelessness and the death of his brother to life in the projects, the artist's history is chequered and drama-ridden. His good humour and never-say-die attitude hide a streak of defeatism that springs to the surface only rarely, and never when he is in the company of his music. Spearing soul ballads and pumped up R&B riffs mark out a man who is both out of his time and has found his moment. The music and man are infectious.

The story that emerges is one of the good ones about one of the good ones. Bradley's honesty and humble nature make him easy company and Brien's presentation leaves room for tears and smiles in equal measure. It might not be revelatory, but as an underdog story, it is hard to imagine it being done to a better degree. Would make a perfect double bill if watched with Benda Bilili.

The 26th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 1st November to 18th November at venues around the city. Programming includes several UK premières, the popular Night Of and Day Of The Dead and a selection of competition films in the Official Selection.

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