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

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Ronald Epstein, Apr 7, 2003.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Real Name:
    Ronald Epstein

    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
    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!


    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.


    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

    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.


    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.


    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!


    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!


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


    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.


    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)


    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)


    This is really cool! Want to know more about
    a particular member of the Funk Brothers? Video
    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
    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


    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
  2. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

    Apr 9, 2000
    Likes Received:
    It seemed there were a host of great documentaries this past year... this one was my favorite! [​IMG]
  3. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Lead Actor

    Jun 30, 1997
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    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.
  4. Mark Bendiksen

    Mark Bendiksen Screenwriter

    Mar 16, 1999
    Likes Received:
    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.

  5. Jesse Blacklow

    Jesse Blacklow Cinematographer

    Oct 14, 2002
    Likes Received:
    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.
  6. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
    Likes Received:
    Real Name:
    Ronald Epstein

    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.
  7. Morgan Jolley

    Morgan Jolley Lead Actor

    Oct 16, 2000
    Likes Received:
    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. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer

    Feb 20, 2001
    Likes Received:
    Livonia, MI USA
    Real Name:
    Kenneth McAlinden
    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. [​IMG]

  9. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator

    Dec 9, 1998
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    Real Name:
    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.

  10. RichSL

    RichSL Agent

    Jun 22, 2001
    Likes Received:
    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. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Lead Actor

    Jun 30, 1997
    Likes Received:
    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.
  12. RichSL

    RichSL Agent

    Jun 22, 2001
    Likes Received:
    Many apologies!! never usually check out the DVD-ROM content part of reviews and it would seem they are there.
  13. Richard Gilmore

    Richard Gilmore Stunt Coordinator

    Mar 4, 2003
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    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. gregstaten

    gregstaten Supporting Actor

    Aug 1, 1997
    Likes Received:
    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.

  15. Dave Scarpa

    Dave Scarpa Producer

    Apr 8, 1999
    Likes Received:
    Real Name:
    David Scarpa
    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??
  16. Dome Vongvises

    Dome Vongvises Lead Actor

    May 13, 2001
    Likes Received:
    For those in the know, is this anything like Buena Vista Social Club? Cause if it is, I might just get it.
  17. Glenn_Jn

    Glenn_Jn Stunt Coordinator

    Oct 14, 2002
    Likes Received:
    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. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Lead Actor

    Jun 30, 1997
    Likes Received:
  19. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?

    Dec 1, 1999
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    Disney World and Universal Florida
    Real Name:
    Tony D.
    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.
  20. gregstaten

    gregstaten Supporting Actor

    Aug 1, 1997
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