Manya spraic’s “Ray Charles America” is a thoughtful look into the life of a musical pioneer and revolutionary.
Manya spraic’s “Ray Charles America” is a thoughtful look into the life of a musical pioneer and revolutionary. Presented in Spraic’s organized and pleasing composition, the film follows Charles’ success. Although split into various sections—”Dirt,” “Sin,” “Politics,” etc.—”Ray Charles: America” appears to focus on one goal: to portray Charles as “a man who lived the American dream by rewriting it.”
Ray Charles’ life is used as a foil against which the documentary reflects on greater issues of humanity. Charles was able not only to create and reform music, but to revolutionize and rename culture. His creativity and perseverance gave a new name to society’s underrepresented and unprivileged.
The film insightfully explores Charles’ staple of genius as his creativity, and not his blindness. At a time of segregation, his blindness came as a sort owf advantage—he was seen as less of a threat and allowed to stay in hotels and do other things that most African Americans were not. Starting out musically, his blindness might have been a kind of advertisement, as the film shows an old poster headed “Blind Musician.” But this sort of recognition quickly fades.
It wasn’t until Charles composed his own genre—which combined the rhythm of gospel with the lyrics of the blues—that he really broke out as an individual artist of soul music. This theme of creativity continues throughout the movie, culminating in Ray’s motto: I can do anything you can do—I just have to look at another way of doing it.
The film is shot in typical documentary style: The interviews are glamorized, with black backdrops; photographs are used sporadically; music other than that of Charles himself fades in and out at just the right times; and a narrator is used sparingly. This is what viewers can expect of any major documentary, so it is naturally a comforting composition. Yet, in some ways, this style loses authenticity through this generic format.
But unlike many other documentaries, it features a relatively large pool of interviewees, ranging from Ray’s popular friends and fans such as Bill Cosby, Tom Waits, Reverend Jesse Jackson and the director of “Ray,” to less known but no-less-contributive voices such as Charles’ valet driver and childhood friend from the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind.
The documentary successfully covers all the major facets of Ray Charles’ life— the Cinderella story of a poverty stricken-life as a blind, near-orphaned black teenager growing up during segregation and the Jim Crow era, his rendition of the style of soul and his continuing legacy—yet only touches briefly on the things that may have contributed to Charles’ downfall into what one interviewee describes as the saddest man she’d ever known.
His personal struggles, such as his addiction to heroin and unstable love life, are mentioned in passing but never explored. Perhaps this is to continue the movie’s initial argument that Ray Charles represents the American dream—or maybe no one else seemed to think that these obstacles affected him much in the end. The film somehow manages to keep up its theme, suggesting that the American dream is to be unconventional. But does this unconventional success in the case of Ray Charles still lead him to a life of sadness? And if so, does that mean that the American dream is always a tragic one? ?