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Owwww!: Prime James Brown on Display Tonight

It’s a shame that more kids today have seen Eddie Murphy’s imitation of James Brown than they have the young Brown himself, as electrifying a concert presence in his heyday as Elvis. If you haven’t seen many vintage black-and-white film clips of the Godfather of Soul in motion, or even if you have, then please, please, please (repeat ad nauseam) stay up late and tune in “James Brown: The Man, the Music & the Message” tonight at 11:30 on Channel 7.

No, it’s not quite the great retrospective special Brown deserves. Host Dick Cavett, at his blandest here, seems to have a muzzle on, and for a truly sociological perspective on Brown’s significance to pop culture--black and otherwise--we need more broad-based historians as interviewees than Dick Clark, Casey Kasem, Bobby Brown, Heavy D and Sinbad.

The interview footage with James Brown (shot last year while the singer was on work-release from the pen) is of limited use in putting his story in perspective, though you do get an elongated defense of why he sped away from those gun-toting Georgia officers, and a duet with his no-longer-estranged wife, Adrianne, that won’t, we can hope, be included in his upcoming boxed-set collection.

But oh (or rather, owwwww ), those film clips. There’s a real wealth of prime Brown on display, from “The TAMI Show” to “Letterman,” including a great, incongruous bit in which he belts out “Black and Proud” surrounded by pale blondes. Though he wasn’t necessarily a master of dance technique, you’re reminded once again that the man could do more mind-bogglingly rubbery moves on one foot than virtually any other R&B; performer before or since on two. Michael Jackson, Prince and M.C. Hammer have all tried, come close and failed to touch this.

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