When Ray, Taylor Hackford's Ray Charles biopic, hit theaters last summer, critics and fans alike lavished praise on Jamie Foxx's stunning performance as Charles, and rightly so. The performance seemed beyond authentic, as if the soul of the man had simply inhabited the actor playing him on the screen.
Wonderful as Foxx's performance was, what really stuck with me about Ray was the portrayal of Ahmet Ertegun, the Turkish immigrant who founded Atlantic Records and became one of the great catalysts in the emergence of rhythm and blues in the 1950s and soul in the 1960s. I've seen lots of pictures of Ertegun through the decades, and read a number of interviews, mostly conducted in the '80s and '90s. He didn't come off particularly well in any of them. Usually, he was asked to pontificate about his role in the evolution of African-American music, or make some sweeping statement about music, race, and culture. These are not easy questions to answer, especially when you aren't a professional pundit, and you know the interviewer is basically fishing for platitudes.
In any event, he's always come off as arrogant and self-aggrandizing, which is unfortunate because he's neither; he's just not very good at intellectualizing something that's instinctive to him—the lifelong connection to African-American music that began with haunting D.C.-area jazz clubs in college and later inspired him to sign and record some of the greatest artists of the 20th Century, such as Ray Charles, Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker, Clyde McPhatter, the Coasters, the Drifters, Ben E. King, Solomon Burke, and Aretha Franklin.
But how much of that connection was true passion and how much just a keen ear for hot new sounds and records that would sell? I like Ray's take on Ertegun, which favors the passion, portraying the young Ertegun as a goofy music freak, sheepishly offering Ray Charles "Mess Around," the frenzied R & B raveup he'd written that would become Charles' first hit record in 1952. The song isn't much in Ertegun's hands—the voice too thin, nervous, and giddy, the piano too clean, and the lyrics ("Everybody was juiced, you can bet your soul/They did the boogie-woogie, with a sturdy roll") too pale an attempt to evoke jumping black juke joints. Charles is amused, but he also gets it. It's a magical moment, and not just because it captures the birth of a magical sound—more to the point, it conveys just how magical the moment was for everyone involved.
I'll take the giddy music-freak Ertegun over the shrewd businessman or puffed-up elder statesman any day. I'd also love the records he produced whether he loved them or not (check out the mind-blowing Atlantic Rhythm & Blues 1947-74 box set sometime), but I love them more knowing that his passion for the music preceded its profitability for him. Ertegun himself touched on the same topic in a graduation speech he gave at Boston's Berklee College of Music in 1991: "There are people that love nothing passionately. They get into whatever makes them the most money. The person who loves the theater but works as a clerk has a very different quality of life than a person who loves literature and teaches it at a university or is a book editor or literary critic."
As I try to explain EMedia's recent transformation into EventDV to people outside the business (like friends and relatives I visited over the holidays), the thing I have the hardest time conveying is how much many videographers love what they do. I see lots of great videography these days, with the samples and demo reels of the distinguished studios we profile, and the brilliant videographers who grace EventDV with their columns.
But most of the people I know have seen a lot of bad videography too, and share the widespread perception (one that we can be thankful is beginning to go away) of the wedding videographer as a clumsy, intrusive presence who follows the photographer around and produces shadowy VHS video cluttered with cheesy effects and overdubbed soundtrack schmaltz. (That's the kind of perception problem that esteems event photography far above event videography.) It's easy enough for them to grasp the idea of, say, indie filmmakers (read: true artistes) who may do the occasional wedding to pay the bills, but they can't seem to picture event videographers as seasoned, talented shooters dedicated to their own art.
I suppose I'm fortunate, with the company I now keep, that that's nearly all I see. Which probably goes a long way toward explaining why the video I see is so doggone impressive: because the people who create it love and respect their craft, even if others often don't.
A conversation I had with one prominent videographer at last year's WEVA Expo cut to the heart of the problem—and the passion. He mentioned that he had added photography to his services a few years back, and I asked him why. "Because I was sick of the photographer getting all of the bride's money before I got to any of it," he replied. He qualified the statement, adding that he enjoyed photography and was working hard to develop his skills in that area. "But what I really love," he said, "is shooting wedding video."