Some movies leave you exhilirated and gasping for breath.
This is often a highly subjective experience, leaving loved
ones scratching their heads at films that moved you deeply,
and vice versa. When I left the theater after seeing Standing
In The Shadows Of Motown, I was thinking that anyone who
isn’t moved by this film must not have a pulse. A few days’
reflection, and I still think it’s a wonderful movie, but
I can see how some discerning viewers might not flip over
it. Those would be 1) people who dislike documentaries on
principle or 2) people who don’t like Motown music.
Guitar doctor Slutsky, a.k.a. Dr. Licks, wrote a book
about James Jamerson, a Motown studio musician widely
hailed as the best bass player there ever was, and about the
other session musicians he worked with. These unsung heroes,
Slutsky claimed, had played on more #1 hits than anyone else,
ever. They called themselves the Funk Brothers. We
never heard of them, and most of us, as the movie’s opening
minutes reveal, never even paused to consider who was playing
the instruments behind “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” “My Girl,”
or “Heat Wave.” It took Slutsky several years to find partners
and financing to rectify this crime against music.
Standing In The Shadows Of Motown interviews several
surviving Funk Brothers, who describe their days at [motown
address]. These recollections are intercut with archival footage,
stills, a couple of re-enacted events, and electrifying performances
of classic Motown tunes with the Funk Bros. playing behind
the likes of Ben Harper, Joan Osborne, Me’Shell Ndege’Ocello,
Bootsy Collins, Chaka Khan, and others.
Some of the reminiscences paint Motown management (read:
Berry Gordy) as a less than benevolent employer. Gordy
hired musicians to spy on other musicians and snitch on them
if they worked gigs at other studios or clubs. He also was
not the most sensitive communicator. The Funk Brothers learned
of the closing of Motown’s Detroit operations when they reported
for work and were greeted by a terse sign on the studio’s
door. But the considerable cooperation needed from Motown
for this film to see the light of day, not to mention the
music rights, prevented too much slagging from going on. In
fact, Motown, in time-honored tradition, is cashing in on
the movie, issuing the soundtrack on Hip-O Records, and sponsoring
In The Shadows Of Motown contest.
There’s frankly not a lot you could do to go wrong with this
material. The movie is a revival meeting for fans of soul
and R&B, and I got the spirit. The songs are instantly
recognizable classics of what Keith Knight calls booty-higher-than-your-head
funk, and the contemporary performers selected to participate
are clearly wide-eyed fans of the Funk Brothers. While enjoyable
for all, the movie is definitely send you if you’re a child
of the ’60s and ’70s (or wish you were).
Thank you Dr. Slutsky. But most especially, thank you, Funk
Brothers, for the soundtrack of our lives.
Includes performances of: “Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” “Heat
Wave,” “You Really Got A Hold On Me,” “Do You Love Me?,” “Ain’t
Too Proud To Beg,” “Shotgun,” “What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted?,”
“I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” “Cool Jerk,” “Cloud Nine,”
“What’s Going On,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. [Jump
to interview with some Funk Brothers…]