bayou maharajah
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Bayou Maharajah

4 out of 5 stars

A fascinating documentary on New Orleans piano legend James Booker

Tom Huddleston

Time Out says

It’s like the setup to a surreal joke: a gay one-eyed schizophrenic ex-con junkie piano player walks into a bar… But despite a tendency to refer to himself as the Black Liberace, blues musician James Carroll Booker was no novelty act. As this insightful documentary proves, Booker was a true one-off. A poor New Orleans boy, he went on to back Aretha Franklin, Fats Domino and Little Richard before wowing the European musical aristocracy with rambling live shows incorporating everything from Chopin to Ray Charles.

It takes a fairly skeletal approach to the nuts and bolts of Booker’s life story – friends and fellow musicians fill in all we need to know, and not much more. That leaves ‘Bayou Maharajah’ free to focus on mood and music, balancing wild reminiscences with cherry-picked selections from Booker’s slim studio output and prodigious live recordings, often laid over entrancing old footage of New Orleans in the 1960s and ’70s. What emerges is a sympathetic portrait of a genuinely idiosyncratic, outrageous individual whose towering musical talent never stood a chance against his rampaging personal demons.

Release Details

  • Release date:Friday 8 July 2016
  • Duration:90 mins

Cast and crew

  • Director:Lily Keber
  • Screenwriter:Lily Keber, Aimée Toledano
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