Cadillac Records chronicles the rise of Leonard Chess' (Adrien Brody) Chess Records and its recording artists including Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Little Walter (Columbus Short), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), Willie Dixon (Ce... more »dric The Entertainer) and the great Etta James (Beyonce Knowles). In this tale of sex, violence, race and rock and roll in Chicago of the 1950s and 60s, the film follows the exciting but turbulent lives of some of America's greatest musical legends.« less
5 Stars for the music- 3 stars for the story- Cadillac Recor
K. Cooper | Phila. area | 12/23/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"So it averages out to 4 stars then. The music is just great with many key blues performances from Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Etta James, Howlin'Wolf and Willie Dixon recreated. The story is a blend of fiction and fact and one wonders why the half truths and lies had to find their way into the story. Just a few of the "mistruths": -There were 2 Chess Brothers, not just one and both had a strong involvement in the company. - Len Chess died 2 months after he sold his company not just after stepping foot outside the door. -Etta James did not record "I'd Rather Go Blind" in Chicago although she did record her composition for the Chess label. -Etta had already been a star for 5 years prior to joining Chess. -Len Chess did actually serve as a session musician if the situation demanded it. -The Chess company recorded many other musicians and styles during their career. -Whether Chess ever dated Etta James is debatable. She had a boyfriend who was writing some of her best material at the time. - Chess operated in a few smaller buildings before moving to 2120 South Michigam Ave in 1955. A thorough account on what is true and what is not would no doubt reveal countless other mistruths. The question is why does Hollywood have to falsify and dress up the facts when a simple report on the facts would have been so much better. Still, the music in this movie is a blues fan's dream and credit must be given for that."
Robin Friedman | Washington, D.C. United States | 12/08/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"An outstanding new book, Ted Gioia's "Delta Blues" (2008) tells the story of "The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters who Revolutionized American Music." Much of Gioia's book is devoted to the blues singers who left the Delta in the late 1940s and relocated to other American cities, including Chicago. With Gioia's book fresh in my mind, I was eager to see "Cadillac Records", a new movie which tells of transplanted blues, early rock and roll, and Chicago -- and of the association of many great blues artists with Chess Records and Leonard Chess. The movie offers compelling portraits of Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf, of the Mississippi Delta, together with Little Walter, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry, guitarist Hubert Sumlin, and Etta James together with its portrait of Leonard Chess. The movie is directed by Darnell Martin.
Gioia writes: "Like Muddy Waters, the Chess brothers were outsiders trying to establish themselves in Chicago." ("Delta Blues, p. 216). Leonard and Philip Chess (born Lijzor and Fiszel Czyz) arrived in the United States in 1928. Leonard progressed from working in his father's junk shop, to opening a liquor store and nightclub, the Macomba Lounge on Chicago's South Side, to establishing the Chess record label to record black artists in the areas of blues, gospel, doo-wop, and rock. Philip Chess does not appear in the movie. But Leonard receives a tough and accurate portrait from Adrien Brody in "Cadillac Records" as a new American determined to make a success of himself.
Muddy Waters was born McKinley Morganfield as a sharecropper in the Mississippi Delta. In 1943, Alan Lomax visited Waters, as he was already known, and made a celebrated series of blues recordings with Waters singing and playing acoustic bottleneck guitar. The movie opens with an excellent scene between Lomax and Waters in Mississippi (filmed in Louisiana). Shortly thereafter, Waters moved to Chicago and changed Delta Blues and music when he electrified his instrument. Waters would make several efforts to adapt during the course of a long career. Much of "Cadillac Records" is told in his voice and through his eyes, portrayed by Jeffery Wright.
Howling Wolf, born Chester Burnet, also was a musician from the Mississippi Delta. A physically large and formidable man who resembled a linebacker more than a musician, Wolf was already middle-aged when he came to Chicago. He was old enough to have known early Delta blues singers Charlie Patton and Son House. Wolf, portrayed by Eamonn Walker in "Cadillac Records", arrived in Chicago from Memphis, with a surly sharp temper and more of a head for business than some other rural singers. Wolf and Waters, and the sometimes jealous relationship that developed between them, is well portrayed in this movie.
The movie also offers excellent portrayals of Little Walter, (played by Columbus Short) with his drinking and fighting and unmatchable artistry on the harmonica. His own tendencies to attract and to give violence are graphically portrayed. Chuck Barry (Mos Def) is portrayed as the founder of rock and roll, a style that would for a time displace Chess's bluesmen. We see him "crossing over" to white audiences in this movie, in the face of a heavily segregated Chicago, and serving jail time for contributing to the delinquency of minors at the height of his career. The movie shows other white rock groups plagiarizing from Berry. Songwriter and bassist Willie Dixon (Cedrick the Entertainer), like Wolf a large man, wrote and helped produce much of Wolf's and Water's material. The vulnerable, troubled, foul-mouthed and greatly talented Etta James was added to Chess's artists when the label thought it needed a woman performer. James is portrayed by Beyonce. She makes a stunning presence in this movie with her passionate performance of James's classic "At Last". (The violinists in the studio raise their heads from their instruments in disbelief as James/Beyonce wails in recording "At Last", creating an unforgettable image of what needs to be said about this song.)
The movie suggests that James and Leonard Chess became romantically involved. This is likely incorrect. Many of the details of the story are also probably historically inaccurate. But the film is a story rather than a documentary and should be judged for its own effectiveness and for the way it portrays its characters and its times. And here I thought it succeeded admirably. The movie captures the blues as it moved from the Delta to Chicago. These musicians have only recently received some of the recognition that their artistry deserves. Leonard Chess, with his mixture of paternalism, insight, ambition, and probable exploitation of his talented musicians, is aptly portrayed. The difficult transition from their rural roots that Waters, Little Walter, and the other musicians experienced in Chicago, and their struggles with alcohol, violence, promiscuity and racism, are properly emphasized in the movie. And the soundtrack brings "Cadillac Records" to life. The songs are not performed by the original artists, but the performances especially Beyonce's as Etta James, are captivating.
"Cadillac Records" is a gritty portrayal of blues, rock, Leonard Chess, and the record company he founded. The movie tells of a unique American art form, developed by outsiders and immigrants, which continues to make large contributions to American culture.
Running time: 107 minutes
Robin Friedman "
Sex, Guns, Rythmn & Blues, and Payola
Jym Cherry | Wheaton, IL United States | 03/16/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Cadillac Records is the story of Chess Records opened by Leonard Chess in Chicago in the late 40's, and which quickly became a successful and influential record label (would Rock `n' Roll have existed without Chess?)
The movie is narrated by Willie Dixon (Cedric The Entertainer) and he tells of Chess' (Adrian Brody) beginnings with a bar and a club on the south side of Chicago. The main players in the movies are Muddy Waters (Jeffery Wright) and Little Walter (a standout performance by Columbus Short) who are respectively the best guitar and harp players in Chicago. Chess discovers them when they crash his club and show up the band that is playing. Through the fortuitous burning down of his club Chess opens Chess Records and seeks out Waters, records him, and starts touring him in the south. Chess insures radio airplay with a little payola and Waters career takes off and so does Chess Records. When the money comes rolling in Chess pays Waters with new Cadillac's. New artists join Chess Records, Little Walter, the movie features Columbus Short singing My Babe that is such a standout it would be on MTV as a video if MTV still played videos. Willie Dixon comes on board as a writer/producer for Chess, Howlin' Wolf (Eamonn Walker), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), and Beyonce as Etta James.
The movie is shy about the financial liberties Chess took in paying his artists. Earlier in this review I mentioned that Chess bar burned down and their seems to be the inference that Chess could have done it for the insurance money. Chess' habit also of paying his artists in Cadillac's in lieu of cash, unfortunately he never asked his artists if that's how they would like to be paid. He also kept Waters on a short leash parsing out money to him and keeping him coming back to Chess for money. Chess rationalized this convincing himself that he was "taking care" of his artists, this paternal and essentially plantation mentality had to fuel some resentment between Waters, who had come from the cotton fields of the south, and Chess. Howlin' Wolf is one of the few artists at Chess that asked for and received his money. At one point Chess offers Wolf an advance and he refuses because he knows it isn't good to "borrow against the store" a way workers were kept in debt to companies.
I read some of the previous reviews which mentioned some inaccuracies and events out of order. You have to remember movies are only the highlights of a life, in two hours you don't have time to show the events without a little license taken, events get compressed, characters combined into one, fictional scenes added to illustrate unknown or disputed periods in a life. One thing I did notice though is the anachronism in the time line in the movie. The Rolling Stones (some actors who look very little like The Stones, you only guess they're The Stones by their haircuts) come to pay homage to their idols, and Chuck Berry hears The Beach Boys on the radio and a couple of scenes later we see on TV a 1950's era Elvis on the TV.
All the performances of the movie are good, I just found the presentation a little to typical of the genre. I liked how the ending links the music created at Chess Records with music that has come after Rock `n' Roll and Rap, it's a nice segue from the events in the movie to the present.
The bonus features are disappointing, there's some deleted scenes, and two featurettes that I almost missed. The first is the actors talking about their characters and how they fit into the history of Chess Records, and the second is about the production design of the movie."
Could Have Been Much Better
RJM Music Man | Philadelphia, Pa | 04/13/2009
(1 out of 5 stars)
"What happened to the Chess Brothers? Was it just Leonard Chess? NO it was not. Can't stand when right from the start they get it wrong. At least mention the guy. And speaking of the guy - what happened to Buddy Guy and Bo Diddley? I guess Phil Chess took care of them. I would have liked to see some complete performances, especially of Muddy Waters. There are too many musicians represented here that deserve a movie of their own. How can so many movies be made this way. They know the facts, but refuse to make it right. What bothers me is that someone makes a conscious effort to do so.
I like the music, but I'm not grading the music, I'm grading the storyline - 1 star."
Cadillac Records - A Very Good Movie, Despite Continuity Iss
Mark | East Coast | 04/05/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
Cadillac Records is a very good movie that brings to life the early years of Chess Records, the Blues and Rock and Roll. It takes some artistic license with music history. But it succeeds in creating a compelling story that introduces younger audiences to the lives of music legends like Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry and Etta James. Movies based on real events are always a challenge. Problems with timeline continuity may irk those who are already well educated on the music. Yet writer / director Darnell Martin deserves praise for all of the accurate history that this movie succeeds in squeezing into two hours.
For those wondering if they should see this movie, my answer is an unequivocal "yes." Those who are interested in the special features and more details on the history, please read on.
The story of Chess Records hinges on the relationship between two key characters, Len Chess, played by Adrien Brody, and Muddy Waters, played expertly by Jeffrey Wright. When Chess decides to record Waters, the history of music is forever changed and Chess Records is put on the map.
Columbus Short is great as Little Walter, the volatile harmonica player and Blues singer who, at the young age of 17, started playing with Muddy Waters. Even at that age, he was already a master of his instrument having been a street performer before his teens. He first appears on Muddy's recordings but eventually becomes a hit recording artist for Chess Records on his own.
Eamonn Walker also puts in a great performance as legendary blues singer Howlin' Wolf. He clashes with Muddy over women and band members. We also get to see the record label grow into a major force with artists who cross-over to mainstream radio, such as Chuck Berry, played by Mos Def, and Etta James, played by Beyonce Knowles. Mos Def puts in a good performance as Berry, but Beyonce really shows her tremendous growth as an actress.
The legendary song-writer Willie Dixon is played by Cedric The Entertainer, who is mainly the narrator and has limited screen time. Even as a fan of Cedric the Entertainer, I think it was a stretch to cast him as Willie Dixon. He is simply too old to portray a young Dixon during the 50s, and I found his accent distracting.
The success of Chess Records is bitter sweet, as some of its artists succumb to their demons and over time more of their music is copied by other artists. Still, we get a clear picture of the tremendous influence that early Blues musicians had on Rock and Roll.
Musical tastes vary, and to many people no re-creation of any blues classic could ever live up to the original. Yet I really think that the music of this movie is very well done, considering that not all of the actors had formal training and they produced this film with limited time and money. Steve Jordon produced the music for the movie, directing the actors on their singing and arranging for professional musicians to re-record the arrangements.
In addition, Terrence Blanchard lent his accomplished hand to the score of the movie. While the score mostly blends into the background, that is a sign of how well made it is. The music is a central character in this movie and they made the right choices here by employing two incredible musical minds.
There is a standard production feature included that has interviews excerpts from the director and cast members. There are some valuable insights into the technical aspects of the production, including sets, wardrobe and makeup.
Deleted Scenes: There are some interesting deleted scenes included here. In one, Len introduces Phil Chess to Muddy. Many think Phil's character wasn't in the movie at all because this scene was cut. Played by Shiloh Fernandez, Phil actually does still have some other scenes in the movie: one where he introduces Etta to Len and a few others in the recording studio. But while Phil at least has face time, the Great Bo Diddly is unfortunately not in the movie. There were just too many characters to cast, it seems. Other deleted scenes include one of Len and his wife, played by Emmanuelle Chriqui, an alternate take of the scene where Howlin' Wolf threatens Muddy, and two different versions of a scene where musicians are locked out of Chess studios.
DIRECTOR COMMENTARY: While I religiously watch special features, I rarely enjoy the director's commentary as much as I did with this movie. Director Darnell Martin communicates just how tight the budget was, including: ** The scene where Len Chess pays Vincent Dinofrio, a radio DJ in the movie, to play Muddy Waters record was shot on a set that had been built that day while the paint was still wet! ** Because they couldn't budget for wigs for the actors who played the Rolling Stones, several were cast for hair alone. ** Perhaps most incredibly, many of Columbus Short's scenes were filmed in one take. The company that insured the film put strict limits to avoid any cost overruns due to filming delays.
THE HISTORY (*** SPOILERS ***)
The director admits in the commentary that there was no evidence of any of the intimacy between Len and Etta that is portrayed in the movie. She stands by the story that Chess did ensure that Etta was returned the deed to her home upon his death. She also seems to play on the fact that Len resisted Etta's affections because of race. One other interesting fact: she reiterates it was likely that Minnesota Fats was Etta's father.
The conflict that arose between Wolf and Muddy over guitarist Hubert Sumlin was indeed based upon real events. Muddy did take Hubert for his own band, and Wolf did threaten Muddy over it. Hubert Sumlin was an extra in the movie and vouched for the scene where Wolf stands up to Len.
Also of note is the story that Little Walter killed his impersonator, which according to the commentary was based on Sonny Boy Williamson's account. Sonny played with Walter and knew him well.
There are several issues with chronology in the movie. Some changes add drama to the story. Yet even giving the director the creative benefit of the doubt, it is very difficult to tell what year it is as the movie wears on. Some facts seem to suggest it's 1957, then people from 1964 show up and suddenly we are back in 1960. While the significant timeline errors don't make this a less enjoyable movie, they do ensure that anybody who studies the history of this music will either be incredibly annoyed by the inconsistencies or feel the need to study the movie to find them all.
It seems strange that Chuck Berry discusses the Beach Boy's copying his hit "Sweet Little Sixteen" before he is arrested. It's a significant continuity issue since he eventually served 5 years under that conviction, and in the movie there is barely a mention of the time that elapses before he re-appears.
There are similar chronological changes made to introduce Muddy Waters and the Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones did actually record at Chess Studios during their 1964 US tour, though I am not sure if they met during that original recording session. The Stones didn't yet have a hit in the US. Muddy toured in the UK and Europe in the late 50s, but here they imply the Stones set up his first UK tour in the late 60s. It also seems strange that introduce them before Elivs Prestley.
No flaw takes anything away from the great performances by the cast, the very good direction by Darnell Martin and the wonderful music that has been recreated so well for this movie. I definitely recommend this film to all fans of music history. And if you are a Blues fan, I would guess you likely have already seen the movie. Don't let a critical eye prevent you from enjoying this movie for what it is. This is a film that is well designed to introduce the music of the Blues and early Rock and Roll to a wider audience than ever before. And that is something that I definitely think deserves praise.