Comingsoon.net on "Ray"

Official Website: Raymovie.com

Roger Ebert on "Ray"

Review by David Poland

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"Some False Notes in Ray's Accuracy"

Ray debuts on DVD on February 1, perfectly timed to capitalize on its six Oscar nominations, most notably for Best Picture and Best Actor. Jamie Foxx's pitch-perfect portrayal of the legendary Ray Charles has earned raves. But how much of Ray is real and how much is, well, legend? A little research reveals that some of the film's key moments are pure Hollywood fiction.

Q. Did the state of Georgia really ban Ray Charles from ever performing there after he refused to play at a segregated concert in Augusta?
A. The 1962 ban, and its later reversal by a repentant Georgia state legislature in 1979, provides a key emotional storyline in Ray. But there's a problem. It apparently never happened.

The Augusta Chronicle did some digging after the film was released, and found no evidence that a ban against the singer ever existed. They combed through the Georgia State Archives. Nothing. The records of the state legislature? Nothing. The archives of the newspapers whose front page coverage of the ban are depicted in the film? Nothing. Even Charles's own memoirs make no mention of it, and in fact, describe some concerts in the state during the alleged ban.

But the storyline isn't completely fabricated. It is true that Charles refused to play at a segregated concert In Augusta after a plea by young civil rights activists (though in the form of a telegram rather than the street protest shown in the film.) And the Georgia State legislature did invite him to sing "Georgia on My Mind" on the chamber floor in 1979 when they proclaimed it Georgia's official state song. It was a great moment, I'm sure. But despite what the film's end credits tell us, it wasn't coupled with an apology for a ban that never existed.

Q. Did Ray's younger brother drown in a washing tub? And did the experience haunt Ray, eventually leading him into drugs as the film suggests?
A. Yes. And no. Ray Charles was five when his brother drowned, and certainly the experience traumatized him. But he insists in his 1978 autobiography (the frank, unsparing, and fascinating Brother Ray) that he began and continued heroin use for no other reason than, well, he wanted to.

While the film shows a repentant Charles going through an agonizing withdrawal, the real Charles was never very apologetic about his heroin addiction. After sixteen years of shooting up, he did kick heroin completely in 1964 (though he continued using marijuana through the end of his life.) But he implies in his autobiography that it was mostly to avoid going to prison after his arrest for possession.

Q. How did Ray manage his blindness so well?
A. Glaucoma robbed Ray Charles of his sight at seven, and though the film passes over the following eight years, he spent them cultivating self-reliance at a school for the blind. He may have learned it too well. His autobiography gleefully recalls riding bikes blind in his hometown, and driving motorcycles or the occasional car, aided by sighted friends helpfully calling out directions.

Q. Did he meet a very young Quincy Jones in Seattle?
A. He did. Both were teenagers at the time, but their friendship and collaboration would span decades.

Q. Was his big hit "What I'd Say" really created on the spur of the moment?
A. Yes. The movie captures that electrifying evening on tour, when the room exploded and shook to his improvised new piece. He continued to work on it through the rest of the tour before returning to New York to record it.

Q. Did Ray have an illegitimate child with one of his backup singers?
A. The affair with Margie and her subsequent pregnancy was real, though by Ray's account he never pushed her for an abortion. He welcomed all his children, and there were lots. Three with his wife and nine more with various other women around the country.

While the film does show many scenes of Ray pursuing women, it exercised restraint, for in actuality there were far more affairs and one-night stands. Ray rhapsodizes about women-and sex-in his autobiography. He remembers his first sexual encounter taking place when he was thirteen, the girl nineteen. He muses at one point that he's rarely gone a day without sex. Just about every chapter, including the one describing his wedding to Bea and the birth of their first son, mentions that he had no capacity-and little desire-to stay faithful to one woman. "I Got a Woman," might have been more aptly titled "I Got Lots of Women."

Q. But didn't Bea stay with him regardless?
A. Film biographies usually leave audiences with a sense of uplifting closure, which means inevitably that some fudging takes place. Unlike the messy, unresolved lives we all actually lead, lives in the movies have neat, rounded edges and a clear beginning, middle, and end (and a cool soundtrack as well.) Since Ray was still alive and performing when the film was made, the ending has to be somewhat artificial.

I won't reveal how the movie closes, but it does subtly misrepresent the fate of his marriage. His wife Bea did not stay with him forever. Fed up eventually with his long absences, his drugs, but most especially his countless affairs, she finally left the marriage in the mid-1970s.

Q. Where can I read more about Ray Charles?
A. The man's own inimitable voice comes out in Brother Ray. But if you're shocked by raw language and sex, I'd recommend a nice biography of Pat Boone instead.

By Cathy Schultz, Ph.D. Daily Southtown, 11/1/04 sec. C, p. 1

Ray Charles? Or Jamie Foxx?

© 2004 History in the Movies