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Cadillac Records is a musical film based loosely on a real life story. The film is told in the style of a biography and it is narrated through flashbacks. The film tells the story of a record company and its charismatic chief executive from the 1940’s to the 1960’s. The chief executive, Leonard Chess, is a white man who decides to open a record label that caters to black musicians. He signs a lot of blues and jazz artists and introduces them to much of America. Some of the artists featured in the film include Chuck Berry and Etta James.

The film is called Cadillac Records because Leonard Chess began his career in the music industry by selling records out of the trunk of his Cadillac, although the real name of the company is Chess Records. His brother Phil also helped him. The movie shows the growth of the company from a small label to an industry powerhouse. We see Leonard and Phil try and get their artists’ careers moving by booking them in small Chicago clubs. The film shows the tensions between the artists as well as they work in the small recording studio and try to come up with music that will sell.

Much of the film shows the challenges that Chess and his musicians faced getting the label started and selling records. This time period was full of a lot of overt racism in the country and many of the musicians had trouble getting gigs or treated with respect. The musicians themselves are not perfect and they get into a lot of trouble with drinking, drugs, and affairs.

In between all the drama, Cadillac Records features a lot of popular, classic music and it is full of musical performances. Many of the actors portraying the musicians are singers in their own right and they can sing many of these classic songs. Beyonce Knowles plays Etta James and she sings the love song “At Last” in the film. The film also shows the birth of the genre of rock and roll. We see Chuck Berry portrayed by Mos Def, begin to fuse country music with blues which gave way to artists like Elvis Presley. The music is very upbeat but the overall tone of the film is one that is serious and gritty. Leonard Chess launched his company during a turbulent time in American history and the film does not shy away from portraying it.

| 2008 | 1 hr 49 min | 7.0/10 | 65/100
Josh Alscher, Tim Bellow, Tony Bentley, Tammy Blanchard
Sony Pictures
Darnell Martin

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