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Music

Black History Month: Eleven films to watch in February and beyond

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Jamie Foxx channels Ray Charles in Ray.


Black History Month is a great excuse to watch some of the best music-related films there are. Those of you who haven't seen these gems will thank me forever.

1. Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll
(1987, Taylor Hackford)
Chuck Berry celebrates his 60th birthday with a show at St. Louis' Fox Theater with a dynamite backup band and illustrious guests, including Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Julian Lennon, Etta James, and others. Far from a hagiography, this is a revealing, unadulterated look at a key figure in rock music. Besides the terrific performances, it offers an irresistible treat in a tense scene wherein Berry tells Richards and the filmmakers to stop fucking with his amp. Priceless.

2. Bird
(1988, dir. Clint Eastwood)
Eastwood won a Best Director Golden Globe and Forest Whitaker a Cannes Best Actor award for his intense portrayal of jazz genius Charlie Parker. The movie won an Oscar for Best Sound, and it is arguably Eastwood's best. Key line: "I owe Dizzy [Gillespie] everything ... except a phone call."

3. Ray
(2004, dir. Taylor Hackford)
Jamie Foxx achieved greatness with his dead-on portrayal of Ray Charles, which earned him a Golden Globe and an Oscar for best actor. The movie also won an Oscar for best sound mixing, but this is all about Foxx's performance of a lifetime.

4. Wattstax
(1973, dir. Mel Stuart)
On August 20, 1972 (seven years after the Watts riots), Memphis' Stax Records organized the Afro-American answer to Woodstock by pulling together artists from across its roster (The Staple Singers, Rufus Thomas, Isaac Hayes, Albert King, and others). The Rev. Jesse Jackson provided the invocation kicking off the seven-hour concert at L.A.'s Memorial Coliseum and the documentary was nominated for a Golden Globe. But just as good as the performances are the interviews, which give you a sense of a proud community struggling to recover from its recent past. Richard Pryor steals the show with his hilarious but accurate observations on police brutality: "How do you accidentally cap a nigger six times in the ass?" he asks. We wonder.

5. Soul Power
(2008, dir. Jeffrey Levy-Hinte)
Despite its release date, this is actually a must-see documentary on the music festival organized as part of the 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" that matched then-champion George Foreman and challenger Muhammad Ali in Kinshasa, Zaire. The festival united James Brown, Sister Sledge, The Spinners, the Fania All Stars, and others. Seeing African Americans and Afro Latinos inspiring Africans to dance by taking their music back to its real home is a chilling experience with artistic and political undertones.

6. Hairspray
(1988, dir. John Waters)
Make no mistake: no matter how much you liked the 2007 remake, nothing beats this original that proved once and for all that integration is great and chubby girls are sexy (see Ricki Lake as Tracy Turnblad). Hearing the great Divine (as Tracy's mother) exclaim, "Our little Tracy's too busy ratting her hair and doing the 'Ubangi Stomp'" is a treat in and of itself.

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