Review by: Simon Bell | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Dinner With The Funk Brothers; 'The
Ones That Didn't Make It' featurette; 'At Long Last Glory' featurette;
Multi angle jam sessions; Funk video biographies; Trailer.
THE year: 1959. The place: Detroit, Michigan, and music-maker/
entrepreneur, Berry Gordy, is herding up the cream of the citys
bustling jazz and blues scene for his brand new enterprise: Motown
Over the next decade and a half, the narrator informs us, these
men will come to be known as 'The Funk Brothers', and will notch
up more Number One hits than the combined chart-topping powerhouse
of Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys.
Spool forward to a wintry night in the Motor City of the Year
2000, and you have (almost) the same group of men, gathered to
reminisce about their varying degrees of musical genius, shared
good times and, ultimately, profound sense of lost glory.
In between, of course, is the story of these truly remarkable
artists and how they spurned dancefloor smash after dancefloor
smash, year upon year, until the record company bosses upped sticks
and fled to L.A., in 1972.
Standing in the Shadows
comes from the book
of the same name by Alan Dr Licks Slutsky (who, himself,
is credited as producer/writer and appears with guitar in hand
throughout the piece) and looks to have been inspired by Wim Wenders
Buena Vista Social Club (1999). Maybe not.
But, similarly, were given a collective of unheralded musicians
once at the very forefront of their genre who seem
to have passed into old age and, in some cases, death, without
the riches and global appreciation they undoubtedly deserve.
In fact, a telling sequence near the beginning of the film shows
just how anonymous the members of Hitsvilles house band
really are: Bouncing from one unsuspecting customer to another,
the camera meanders through a record shop soliciting views on
favourite Motown performers and songs.
But when the inquisitor asks for the names of backing musicians,
the response ranges from total bewilderment to pleasantly surprised
acknowledgement of utter ignorance.
Director, Paul Justman, follows this with the intercutting of
warm and humorous anecdote, archive film and stills, musical demo
and even dramatic flashback reconstruction - with up-to-date
footage of the band, plus guests, rehearsing for their reunion
The result is phenomenal: a poignant and affectionate, powerful
and engaging, close-up that makes you realize there was more to
the Detroit dream factory than the glamorous front-line force
of Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross et al.
But although the Funk Bro cats can trade grooves and licks like
they were born to, Justman makes sure the main player of his film
is The Motown Sound: that distinctive drumbeat, those instantly
recognisable basslines, the gobsmacking song titles
Ive waited my whole life for this moment and finally
its here, says percussionist, Jack Ashford, tearfully.
From the first refrains of (Love is Like a) Heatwave,
that more or less opens the documentary, to the closing bars of
Chaka Khan & Montell Jordans fantastic interpretation
of Aint No Mountain High Enough at its back end,
you get the hunch Motowns most dedicated diehards may share