DVD Rating: ****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Read Josh Morrall's film review of Ray

Director Taylor Hackford's contribution is surprisingly modest for a man who has dedicated himself to this project for years. It's one of the better commentaries for that very reason.

He is informative, self-deprecating and quick to praise the talents of others. What might have been a puff piece on difficulties overcome, thanks to the genius of a few, including the director (naturally), is an honest and thoughtful perusal of the film.

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Being relatively low budget and free from studio interference, Ray was able to tackle tough subjects, such as heroin addiction and infidelity, without some suit in the front office, saying, "You can't have your hero do that, it's bad box office."

Hackford used stock footage, even establishing shots from Devil In A Blue Dress, rather than recreate townscapes, or street scenes at vast expense. Hammond, Louisiana, stood in for Seattle and New Orleans for New York. He went to Louisiana, he admits, "because of tax breaks for filmmakers."

He describes the film as 90% factual and then points out where he used a certain poetic licence to help the story along. "I'm proud of the authenticity," he says, without a hint of irony, explaining how set designer Stephen Altman (son of Robert) achieved miracles time and time again.

He says he couldn't have made Ray without Jamie Foxx and when you see the film, you cannot help but agree, because this is undeniably one of the landmark performances in the history of biopics. In supporting roles, too, he was blessed. Seven-year-old C J Sander, who plays the young Ray Robinson, had never acted before. Neither had Sharon Warren, Ray's mother Aretha in the film. Both are outstanding.

For Hackford, this is a musical. "I use the music to tell the story." Actually, it is so much more than that. Aretha tells Ray after he loses his sight, "You may be blind, but you're not stupid." Hackford portrays the man as resolute and single-minded, "with a diamond heart exterior that was very difficult to penetrate."

Ray Remembered: sound bites, talking heads, interesting cast list that includes Quincy Jones, Reba MacIntyre, Jamie Foxx, Al Green, Sharon Warren and Taylor Hackford ("The man was truly incredible - the embodiment of what America is"). Of course, it is a parade of smiley adjectives and gushing anecdotes, but due to the intelligence and stature of those involved the nostalgia trip is worth the ride.

Deleted Scenes: it is the commentary by Taylor Hackford that makes these important, but if you have watched the extended version of the film - you have a choice between Extended Version or Theatrical Version - which includes many of these deleted scenes, it feels like a rerun. At one point Hackford calls Warwick Davies, who plays Oberon, the midget MC, "Warwick Dunne," something that should have been rectified before the DVD was released. However, like the main commentary, there is much of interest here, including the fact that Slash from Guns'n'Roses played on one of the session with Ray Charles.

Extended Musical Scenes: includes Hit The Road Jack and What Kind Of Love Are You sung all the way through. What Kind Of Love is so breathtakingly beautiful, it's worth buying the DVD just to watch and listen to it over and over.

Stepping Into The Part: this goes some way to explaining Jamie Foxx's extraordinary performance, although it cannot come close to the truth, which must remain forever an enigma - how can an actor, or musician, or stand-up comedian be this good. Hackford's total commitment goes so far as to admit, "I couldn't have made it without him," which is easy to say after the event. What the director didn't know was that Foxx studied classical piano as a young man. Even Quincy Jones admits, "Sometimes I couldn't tell the difference between Ray and Jamie." The best bits are the scenes in the studio between the real Ray and the shy Foxx. "This guy has something inside," Charles says, grinning like a shark and trying to hug his celluloid self.

Reviewed on: 13 Jun 2005
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The genius that is Ray Charles.
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Product Code: 8233208

Region: 2

Ratio: 1.85 Anamorphic Wide Screen

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1

Extras: Theatrical and branched extended edition of the feature; commentary by director Taylor Hackford; audio dedsciption for the visually impaired; extended musical scenes; Stepping Into The Part; Ray Remembered; deleted scenes with optional Taylor Hackford commentary.

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