The life of Charles Bradley is the epitome of a Cinderella story and, at times, is almost hard to fathom. Having gone through homelessness, tragedy and abuse, the 63 year-old soul singer’s triumphant rise to success might read like a script but not even the most skilled actors can portray the emotion that Bradley emotes in real life, onstage and in Poull Brien’s documentary, Charles Bradley: Soul of America.
After offering to direct a music video for Bradley, Brien and producer Alex Brough sat down with the singer as he regaled them with his incredible stories, leaving the pair with no other choice than to pursue a full-length film.
“I remember thinking how cinematic the whole thing sounded,” Brien tells The Singing Lamb. “Alex and I took Charles to dinner one night and pitched him the idea of shooting a documentary and luckily he was a little tipsy and had no idea what he was signing up for.
“I’m sure if he knew I’d be following him obsessively, making him endure freezing weather to get that pointless b-roll shot of him walking into or out of a building and sneaking up to his rood to steal shots at 5 a.m., his reaction might have been different.”
The result is a film that depicts the hard times of Bradley and takes a look at his journey from the rough neighbourhoods of New York to the doors of Daptone Records but, more importantly, is entirely underlined by an uncanny sense of hope and optimism that’ll strike a chord with audiences.
“He’s always in the moment and is generally bursting with enthusiasm, surprise and childlike wonder,” explains Brien. “He says he’s going through the childhood he never had right now and you really see that when you’re with him; it’s endearing, beautiful and totally entertaining.”
Having followed Bradley around leading up to the release of his debut album, No Time For Dreaming, Brien and Brough must’ve been apprehensive about the success of the entire project. What if Bradley didn’t succeed? What if that CD release show didn’t sell out and no one cared? Thankfully, for them and for us, Bradley’s career took off immediately, capturing the hearts of soul lovers everywhere and even through the skepticism, Brien and Brough knew it would all work out.
“We all knew this was something so unique and positive that it had to be done,” says Brien. “And that ultimately it would pay off.”
So, what was Bradley’s reaction to watching the film?
“It was beautiful – hugs and tears, laughing and crying,” says Brien. “It was basically like taking an entire theatre full of people and jamming the collective intensity of all their reactions through one incredibly enthusiastic 63-year-old man-child.”
Catch a screening of Charles Bradley: Soul of America tomorrow night at the Open Roof Festival with a performance from Army Girls preceding the film. Tickets are $15, doors are at 7:30PM.