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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: "Standing in the shadows of Motown" (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED)



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#1 of 42 Ronald Epstein

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Posted April 07 2003 - 05:49 AM

Posted Image

Standing in the shadows of Motown






Studio: Artisan
Year: 2002
Rated: PG
Film Length: 110 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: English and Spanish



The best kept secret in the history of pop music


If I asked you who performed the songs Heatwave,
Ain't too proud to beg
and Reach Out I'll be
there
you would probably immediately snap back
with names like Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, The
Temptations and The Four Tops. Okay, so now let me
ask you....do you know what musicians played backup
on these songs? The answer to my question is The
Funk Brothers
, and I would bet that most everyone
has never heard of these musicians who became the
unsung heroes of Detroit's Motown sound.

In a tiny basement, inside one small house, The
Funk Brothers gave life to hundreds of songs
performed by Marvin Gaye, Dianna Ross and the
Supremes, the Temptations, Smokey Robinson, and
Stevie Wonder (to name a few). These were the
local jazz musicians who skillfully combined rhythm
& blues with gospel, and helped Gordy's Motown sound
establish Detroit as Hitsville U.S.A. with a stable
of legends. In one form or another, they played on
virtually every Motown track ever produced between
its founding and its move to Los Angeles in the
early 70s. Some of the names included Earl Van
Dyke, Eddie Bongo Wilson, Benny Benjamin, James
Jamerson, Joe Turner, Joe Messina and many more.
Over a fourteen-year period, the Funk Brothers
created more #1 hits than the Beach Boys, Rolling
Stones, Elvis, and the Beatles combined!

Posted ImagePosted Image

It's sort of sad that after all these years and
all those hits, nobody has ever given thought as
to who the Funk brothers really were -- the greatest
hit machine in the history of pop music. Taking a
backseat to the vocal talent, the Funk Brothers
often found themselves outside the dream looking
in instead of being inside the dream looking out.

Posted ImagePosted Image

Inspired by the book of the same name written by
Allan "Dr. Licks" Slutsky, Standing in the Shadows
of Motown
looks at the careers of each of the Funk
Brothers and features interviews with surviving
members, including keyboardist Joe Hunter, drummer
Uriel Jones and bassist Bob Babbitt, (who replaced
late group founder James Jamerson). This is the
story that took 30 over years to bring to light
and is warmly told through the combination of
interviews, stock footage from the sixties and an
underscore of great music that has become legendary
standards.

Highlighting this remarkable story is a reunion
concert held in Detroit, Michigan in 2000, where
modern-day vocalists such as Joan Osborne, Ben Harper,
Chaka Khan, Montell Jordan and Bootsy Collins sing
the famous songs, showing the influence of the band
in their heyday.

Posted ImagePosted Image

Watching this documentary was an often emotional
experience for me as I personally have so much
inner passion for the Motown sound. This was the
music I grew up on, and to this day, find myself
listening to regularly on my XM Radio. As one who
loves this music so much, I couldn't help but feel
the passions of these musician's stories of glory
and failure, ecstasy and agony. I nearly cried as
I heard the story of Robert White (who wrote the
now famous guitar riff opening for “My Girl”)
who while at a restaurant shortly before his death
heard My Girl come over the PA radio. He
was so ashamed to acknowledge to the waiter that
it was he that was on that recording for fear
he would not be believed. I was moved to a smile as
I heard the stories about all night car drives
to tour gigs where James Jamerson was out of control
or a segment where Johnny Griffith relates a story
of getting $100 a week to spy for Motown. You see,
for the first time, I was actually learning about
the people who were the driving force of the
entire repertoire of Motown’s Detroit period.


How is the transfer?


It's often hard to gauge the transfer quality
of documentary films as its styles and source
materials are often ever-changing. At its best,
this is a highly acceptable transfer that sports
detailed images and well saturated colors. The
concert footage looks exceptional, with its smooth
backgrounds and colors that are exceptionally
well-rendered. Other segments add a certain amount
of grain to represent a certain look, but all of
it is intentional.

The film's soundtrack is presented in 6.1 DTS-ES,
5.1 Dolby-EX or 2.0 Dolby stereo. I found the
DTS-ES 6.1 track (on a 5.1 setup)to be a highly
pleasing listening experience with excellent
dynamics and heavy bass across the front channels.
The only problem I had with this mix is that I
never quite felt myself immersed in the concert
experience. The audio is more front-heavy with
vocals very stable in the center channel and music
and backup singers in the main front channels.
Although there were a few instances where I heard
audience response, the rears seem to give off more
reverb than any specific directional sound. Still,
the quality of the music was so good, I had it
turned way up while I was tapping my feet against
my coffee table. Oh, yes, I promise you'll be
blown way listening to Chaka Kahn perform Marvin
Gaye's signature What's Going On as well
as a remarkable closing number with Chaka and
Montell Jordan on Ain't No Mountain High Enough.


Special Features


One of the few times the studio ever puts out
anything of value, Artisan has released quite an
astonishing 2-disc package.

Let me begin by talking about the 12-page Collector's
Booklet that resides inside the DVD cover. This is
a wonderful little booklet that gives you great
insight into the men that time had almost forgotten.
It begins with a terrific "forward" by Allan Slutsky,
the man that authored the book that is the same name
of the title of this film. It then goes on to give
brief capsuled information (and THEN and NOW photos)
of the 13 individuals known as the Funk Brothers.

Posted ImagePosted Image

Disc One contains the entire film. It also
contains these extras....

A full-length commentary features Director
Paul Justman and Producer/Author Allan Slutsky.
The director mostly talks about how he composed his
images and interviews to properly tell the story,
while Slutsky shows a real feel for the people and
places depicted in this film. It begins with a
rather humorous story involving singer Gerald Levert
and the fact that he shot his concert performance
with his pants on backwards. It's kind of neat
to hear about "the snakepit" and how much it had
changed over the years, and just the fact that it
was still around to be included as a historical
centerpiece of this film. We also learn what a
powerful experience it was for these men to return
there 30 years later. This is a really cool
commentary for the fact that there is so much
history presented here, mostly by Slutsky who
really knows his material. A good listen!

Posted Image

Through the Audio setup menu you have the
ability to turn on the Trivia Track which
appears as text along the subtitle area. Here you
will find interesting posted text that supports the
material being shown on-screen.

How it began sort of gives you the idea of
what elements inspired the book (and later) the film.
The Photo that started it all contains a
1989 photo of the Funk Brothers that author Allan
Slutsky stumbled upon. At the time he was writing
a book solely about James Jamerson, when he started
talking to other members of the group and realized
there was something much bigger here. The video
that started it all
is actually a 1993 short promo
that was put together to sell the idea of this story
to studio executives. A nice bonus is seeing
footage of Robert White shortly before his death.
Each segment features accompanying commentary by
the director and producer.

Performance Selections lets you instantly
access any of the 13 musical performances contained
in the documentary.

A trailer area totally ignores giving us
the film's original theatrical trailer, but instead
offers us a peek at The Tempations as well
as an Artisan DVD promo spot.

DVD-ROM content includes a series of shorts
from BMWFilms including Hostage, Ticker and
Beat The Devil. I would HIGHLY recommend
that anyone who is a fan of Gary Oldman take the
time to watch Beat The Devil. It rocks!

Posted ImagePosted Image

Let's move on to Disc Two where the wealth
of extra content lies....

Posted Image

Dinner with the Funk Brothers reunites the
fellas at a restaurant where they immediately toast
James Jamerson and talk about their reunion and the
many things they miss about being together. What
shouldn't be so astonishing to learn is that these
guys were able to come together and play their
instruments as if they had never been separated from
each other. These are gentleman who played an
integral part in the changing music scene of the
early 60s and they spend some time here talking
about those experiences. There's a great story
here about Marvin Gaye, a shag carpet and a box
of weed that you need to listen to.
(length: approx. 11 minutes)

Multi-Angle Jam Sessions gives you the
opportunity to watch a jam session of Nowhere
To Hide
from different camera and audio
perspectives. I have to admit I had some trouble
navigating through this section as my ANGLE button
on my remote didn't readily change viewpoints. I
have a feeling that viewpoints can only be changed
by the animated remote that appears on the DVDs
program area. You can play this segment in 5.1 EX
or 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo.

Posted Image

There are 15 deleted scenes that contain
reunion footage, in-studio horesplay, concert
footage and interviews that just didn't make the
cut. There's a rather funny look at the "language"
of these musicians that really needs to be seen to
be appreciated.
(length: approx. 28 minutes)

The ones that didn't make it is a look at
the men who are no longer with us: Benny Benjamin,
Eddie Brown, James Jamerson, Earl Van Dyke,
Robert White, Richard Allan and Johnny Griffith.
This featurette gives his fellow musicians the
opportunity to pay tribute to their fallen friends
while we get to learn a little bit about their
personalities and achievements.
(length: approx. 13 minutes)

Posted Image

At long last glory is the moment these men
have been waiting for all their lives. In what
appears to be a premier party for the film, the
surviving Funk Brothers enjoy a little press and
recognition for all their years of effort. There
is also a sort of gloss-over as to what the Funk
Brothers are all about, combined with new interviews.
(length: approx. 7 minutes)

Posted Image

This is really cool! Want to know more about
a particular member of the Funk Brothers? Video
Biographies
lets you view videotaped segments
of the individuals themselves, or from surviving
family members and friends of those deceased. There
is also brief biographies of the filmmakers included
here as well.

Celebrate the legacy of the Funk Brothers with a
cleverly produced Music Video that combines
new and archived footage with a rousing musical jam
session. Lots of THEN and NOW photos here.
(length: approx. 2 minutes)

Bringing up the rear of extras, A Funk Brothers
Discography
gives you pages upon pages of songs
that these men made famous. Honorable Mentions
gives us a look at other musicians who have made
great contributions to the Motown sound but have
most likely been forgotten.

DVD-ROM content includes a groundbreaking
interactive recording studio that allows viewers
to actually compose and record their very own hit
tune by arranging original music from the Funk
Brothers themselves.


Final Thoughts

Posted Image

Standing in the shadows of Motown is an
often touching, inspiring and mostly feel-good
movie that's a celebration of everything that
is Motown. It is an excellent showcase for a
group of individuals who deserve the recognition
they are being given here.

It's nice to see that Artisan, who rarely puts
out anything of quality, has done an admirable
job with both its transfer and supplementals.
Even more worthy is its under $18 price at some
on-line e-tailers.

If you love Motown, this is a DVD you cannot
afford to miss!

Release Date: April 22, 2003


All screen captures have been further compressed.
They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
represent actual picture quality

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#2 of 42 Rich Malloy

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Posted April 07 2003 - 06:33 AM

It seemed there were a host of great documentaries this past year... this one was my favorite! Posted Image
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#3 of 42 Jason Seaver

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Posted April 07 2003 - 06:44 AM

Said it before, and I'll say it again - the only time I've seen a movie audience break into applause in the middle of a movie. I've been eagerly awaiting this one on DVD ever since I saw it at the Boston Film Festival in September.
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#4 of 42 Mark Bendiksen

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Posted April 07 2003 - 06:44 AM


I wish this movie had come to my town during its theatrical run. Alas, it did not. I can't wait to see this disc!

Thanks for the review, Ron.

Posted Image


#5 of 42 Jesse Blacklow

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Posted April 07 2003 - 08:41 AM

Ron, there was talk of a kinda-HD Windows Media version of the film that was also on the DVDs. Is it not included? It would make an interesting addition to the film, technical-wise.
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#6 of 42 Ronald Epstein

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Posted April 07 2003 - 08:49 AM

Jesse,

It is indeed in there.

My apologies for not including it in the review,
but for some ubeknownst reason, I have many problems
viewing DVD-ROM content on my computer.

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#7 of 42 Morgan Jolley

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Posted April 07 2003 - 09:15 AM

I went to a film festival with my class a month or so ago and this film was playing. Didn't get to see it (saw some horrible french movie about people in Africa doing nothing and this one good movie about fat latino women instead). Hopefully I'll rent the DVD or get to see it at some point. Thanks for the review.

#8 of 42 Ken_McAlinden

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Posted April 07 2003 - 09:20 AM

Great film!!! I was fortunate enough to see it at its Detroit premiere followed by a concert at Detroit's Roostertail. If you get a chance to see them in concert this spring, don't miss it! They are touring and dates are available at the film's web site.

I will be picking this one up for sure. If you are the patient sort, there will be a four disc special edition version at an unannounced date in the future that will include the same two DVDs plus two CDs. The first CD will reportedly be the soundtrack currently available in stores. The second will reportedly included many examples of Motown studio tracks broken down and built back up part by part similar to what is done with "Bernadette" and "You Keep Me Hanging On" on the current soundtrack CD.

Some films are worth purchasing twice, though, and for me, this is one of them. Posted Image

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#9 of 42 Robert Crawford

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Posted April 07 2003 - 11:33 AM

This is a great documentary that I had to venture to the Detroit area to see and I cannot wait for this dvd to become available to me. As somebody who grew up on the Motown sound, this documentary brought back some great memories of my youth.




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#10 of 42 RichSL

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Posted April 07 2003 - 11:44 AM

When the specs were first announced for this it seemed to indicate (although it did seem very odd) that three of the BMW short films would be included?
I guess they must have realised how out of place they would seem.

#11 of 42 Jason Seaver

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Posted April 07 2003 - 11:48 AM

I don't think so - you can see "BMW.com presents 'The Hire'" in one of Ron's screenshots.

EDIT: And Ron mentions them specifically.
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#12 of 42 RichSL

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Posted April 07 2003 - 11:54 AM

Many apologies!! never usually check out the DVD-ROM content part of reviews and it would seem they are there.

#13 of 42 Richard Gilmore

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Posted April 12 2003 - 04:25 AM

Thanks a lot, Ron - as another person who grew up on Motown this is a can't pass DVD for me. I had heard of the title but was unaware of the subject. It sounds extremely interesting.

#14 of 42 gregstaten

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Posted April 12 2003 - 07:23 AM

I watched a portion of the HD version on disc 2 at NAB last week. The HD portion is recorded in full 720P and looks fantastic. After looking at scenes from this film and from LOTR with Microsoft's new codec, I have to say that they have a real hit on their hands. It compares very well with higher bitrate MPEG-2 recordings.

I can hardly wait to get this disc and play it on HD in my theater.

-greg

#15 of 42 Dave Scarpa

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Posted April 16 2003 - 04:29 AM

I Just ordered this for the excellent Price of $12.22 at Deep Discount. Greg what is this new Microsoft Codec? Is this what is going to be used for Blue Ray Disks? Is it Mpeg 4 a form of Divx??
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#16 of 42 Dome Vongvises

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Posted April 16 2003 - 04:58 AM

For those in the know, is this anything like Buena Vista Social Club? Cause if it is, I might just get it.

#17 of 42 Glenn_Jn

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Posted April 16 2003 - 07:48 AM

Umm I'm not sure about this. While I'm a big Motown fan (I have just about every song that Motown had a hit with on CD) and would enjoy the "reminiscances" of the Funk Bros, that whole "let's get some modern artists in to do the old songs" part really grates me. I really don't want to hear Joan Osborne doing any Motown song. The trouble is the whole Motown phenomenon was built around that "sound" they created in the studio back then. If you remove that sound all you have left is just the songs and as good as most of them were, without the Motown sound they're just good pop songs. Even the original artists, for the most part, were not able to recreate the sound "live" so how the hell is Ben Harper or Joan Osborne going to do it.
I might just wait till it shows up on HBO or something. Then when Joan comes on I can slip a Four Tops CD on.

#18 of 42 Jason Seaver

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Posted April 16 2003 - 08:22 AM

Quote:
that whole "let's get some modern artists in to do the old songs" part really grates me. I really don't want to hear Joan Osborne doing any Motown song. The trouble is the whole Motown phenomenon was built around that "sound" they created in the studio back then. If you remove that sound all you have left is just the songs and as good as most of them were, without the Motown sound they're just good pop songs. Even the original artists, for the most part, were not able to recreate the sound "live" so how the hell is Ben Harper or Joan Osborne going to do it.
Well, part of the point of the movie is that, to a certain extent, the headlining artists were much less important to the Motown Sound than The Funk Brothers. They are the sound, and part of the exhileration of the performance footage is that, even forty years later, they still have it - the stuff still sounds "right".

And Joan Osborne kills on "What Becomes Of The Broken-Hearted", absolutely kills. It's one of the movie's highest points, and the audience broke into applause after that number, midway through the movie.

(Of course, it was a festival setting and Justman & Slutsky were there. One may be more likely to applaud when you know they're in the audience)
Jay's Movie Blog - A movie-viewing diary.
Transplanted Life: Sci-fi soap opera about a man placed in a new body, updated two or three times a week.
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#19 of 42 TonyD

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Posted April 16 2003 - 08:40 AM

this is great stuff. i just got through most of it and will watch the rest later.
the beginning had me wondering if it was a parody tho' cause of the way it started by asking folks questions in the music store.

so far my faverite part is bootsy collins. that guy is wild looking dude.
any have info on what other bands he is involved with, he looks familiar.
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#20 of 42 gregstaten

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Posted April 16 2003 - 11:19 AM

Quote:
Greg what is this new Microsoft Codec? Is this what is going to be used for Blue Ray Disks? Is it Mpeg 4 a form of Divx??


This new codec is what was previously known as the codename Corona. This codec was one of the big hits at NAB this year and is capable of gorgeous clean images at much lower bitrates than MPEG-2 or MPEG-4. There were all sorts of solutions shown using the codec including a satellite transmission system from one of the larger european equipment companies. (Sorry, the name escapes me at the moment.)

Note: the codec does have some pretty hefty decompression processing requirements, especially for HD-sized images. I've done some playing with it at work recently and get excellent playback results on the systems I've tried it on. Both were dual processor Xeon systems - one was dual 2.4 GHz and the other was dual 2.8 GHz.

---

By the way, I was in error earlier when I mentioned that the images were 720P. The clips they showed at NAB were 720P, but the Standing in the Shadows will be encoded at 1024 x 576 -- in essence widescreen square pixel PAL. I'm still looking forward to seeing it!

-greg