View Full Version : Standing in the Shadows of Motown

John DeSando
12-01-2002, 02:53 PM
As I stood a while ago in Windsor looking across the water at Detroit's hollow Renaissance Center, I thought, `A renaissance about what?' I just didn't know that Eminem would soon help reshape music out of a bleak 8 mile slum, and I had forgotten Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, James Jamerson, and Ivy Joe Hunter would be but a few musicians who had renewed that city in the name of Motown.

Paul Justman's documentary, `Standing in the Shadows of Motown,' brings back original performances of the house musicians, the Funk Brothers, in that dingy Detroit studio called the `snakepit,' and it engagingly lets them talk now about the renaissance then.

The film shows the irony of the Funk Brothers' relative obscurity while they made more number one hit music than that of the Beatles and Elvis combined. Just before his death, otherworldly bassist James Jamerson could get into the Motown 25th-anniversary TV special ironically only by scalping a ticket. Not until Marvin Gaye's `What's Going On' album in 1970 were the brothers credited at all for their contribution.

The film has its weaknesses: the camera rarely stays long enough on the Brothers when they are playing, preferring to emphasize the contemporary singers. The film also has some dramatic re-creations of their road life that would better have been talked about than so visually out of place.

This is music and learning woven through some of the most exciting pop music in the 60's and 70's. You don't believe me? Just think of the opening bass line in `My Girl', an unforgettable riff by Robert White, and you'll get the idea. Adding to your listening recollection might be the horns and flutes of the Four Tops' energetic `I'll be there,' or anything by Smokey Robinson or Marvin Gaye. This documentary gives Detroit respect.

Chris Knipp
12-02-2002, 06:05 PM
Emotionally, this must be the best documentary of the year for me. It's a very touching story, and tinged with sadness, but you get to listen to so much of that wonderful Motown music, and you feel a considerably heightened nostalgia for it now that so much less musical and less winning stuff has come down the pipe since then. I took this music for granted at the time. Now it seems incredibly catchy and memorable. How on earth did they do it? We ordinary mortals will never really know, but the secret lies in that "pit" where those forgotten men worked as a brilliant team hour after hour and made Smokey and Stevie and Marvin and the rest sound so good.

12-04-2002, 12:40 AM
The best part about these guys is how unassuming they are. In stark contrast to the stars they made and the modern stars juxtaposed with them in the documentary (Ndegecello, Joan Osborne, Bootsie Collins, et al) they are just regular guys. Personally I was a bit put off by all the star-focussed camera work. Here we are watching a documentary about musicians who aren't recognized for their major, major contribution to our pop cultural landscape, and at the same time the filmmaker is fixated on the performances by the modern stars assembled. I thought Chacka Khan and Bootsie Collins were great, but Ndegecello, Joan Osborne and the others (cant quite remember who but...) felt a bit flat to me.

Otherwise really enjoyed this one, and I think the best result is that The Funk Brothers will not be forgotten when Motown is remembered.

12-05-2002, 05:42 AM
I'm looking forward to this one after seeing the trailer. i hope The Supremes are featured- I luuuv The Supremes....

12-17-2002, 06:08 AM
Originally posted by Johann
I'm looking forward to this one after seeing the trailer. i hope The Supremes are featured- I luuuv The Supremes....

But do you love the Funk Brothers? That is the question for this movie. Groups like the Supremes benefitted from the sound created by TFB, according to the filmmaker at least. Look forward to your reaction to the film.

12-17-2002, 07:23 AM
I don't know who The Funk Brothers are.

Is one of them Berry Gordy? I always thought Berry started motown. I'm glad these guys are getting thier due (while alive!) I think they had more hits than the Beatles?

12-17-2002, 07:42 AM
Well, you'll have to see the film to know who the Funk Brothers are! So as not to spoil it for you, I wont go into too much detail, but you'll be glad to know them.