James Brown

I Got the Feelin' [DVD]

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This triple-DVD set is the mother lode for James Brown fans, especially those devoted to his work from the 1960s. Shout! Factory has licensed three (really two) separate yet thematically (and chronologically) related works and bundled them together into an overpowering set, probably at a lower combined price than anyone would have been able to sell them for individually. And they loaded it up with extras that enhance the featured program and, sometimes -- for quality -- outstrip it.

The centerpiece of I Got the Feelin' is the documentary The Night James Brown Saved Boston, built around his historic performance at the Boston Garden on June 5, 1968, which went a long way to keeping the city from exploding the day after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There is, of course, extensive concert footage (in black-and-white, the only way it was preserved), framed by documentary accounts setting the scene and painting a grim picture of the country that day (and that year), and interspersed with the concert are interviews with various participants and onlookers. Everyone involved rises to the occasion -- for scholars such as Dr. Cornell West and the Boston residents who didn't see their city burn, this is no surprise; but even the Rev. Al Sharpton, for once, lets his guard down in front of the cameras and comes off as real and genuine. The real highlight among the interviews is in the bonus section, when singer Marva Whitney and drummer John "Jabo" Starks recall at length Brown's approach to performing during this period, and what it meant to him. The 70-minute documentary, letterboxed to about 1.85-to-1, is given over 100 minutes of bonus features, all of which are worth checking out and making this a very full platter by itself. The only minor flaw might be in the chaptering of the film, which is limited to a seemingly paltry nine chapter markers.

But for those who just want the Boston Garden show from that night, there's a separate disc with that performance complete. This show was widely bootlegged in the decade prior to this official release, but take it from someone who has suffered through two of those bootlegs, this disc runs circles around them in terms of sound and picture (which is full-screen, 1.33-to-1). Inevitably, there will be some flaws in a 40-year-old video master of a live, on-the-spot event -- especially one that was never envisioned to be the source for a high-resolution video release -- but most of these have been fixed and the rest can be overlooked. The same can be said -- with an additional caveat -- about the content of the third disc, "Live at the Apollo." Preserved from shows broadcast in March of 1968 (and this time in color), there are some gaps and flaws that intrude on the image (full-screen, 1.33-to-1), more than the sound. But this is still first-rate, classic James Brown at his best. And just to add to the appeal of this disc, those performances have been augmented with killer-quality clips from The T.A.M.I. Show (the best quality seen yet from that film) and the Paris Olympia in 1966 and 1967, respectively. Each disc opens to a simple dual-layer menu that's easy to navigate around and is hooked to some great music as well, and the whole package is one of the finest classic soul documents yet seen in any commercial video format.

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