"Toe Tappin’ in the Shadows"
What You Need To Know:
STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN takes us into the lives of each of the Motown backup musicians who called themselves the Funk Brothers, via interviews, grainy, black and white recreated vignettes, photos, and live performances with the surviving Brothers paired with contemporary artists covering some of the famous Motown tunes.
STANDING IN THE SHADOW OF MOTOWN is a delightful trip into the past of some of the liveliest music that has ever been made. Watching this movie without toe-tapping and grinning ear to ear is an impossible feat for any viewer, especially for any who lived through the decades that Motown dazzled the American music scene. Rather than just replaying the tunes that captivated a nation; it tells the little-known story of the unknown musicians behind the vocal artists of Motown. The most rewarding part of STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN is not the music, but in the story telling, a unique combination of narration, interviews and recreations. This creative mixture of techniques reveals not just a group of unknown but dedicated musicians, but a group of men, black and white, who loved their work and clearly loved one another.
(BB, Acap, Pa, CC, L, A, D) Moral worldview stressing the importance of brotherhood, friendship, loyalty, and goodness in men with slight anti-capitalist tone regarding the finance end of the music business as well as a few verbal references to the hedonistic pursuits of a few of the musicians, brief scene of exotic dancer (clothed), several serious references to prayer and the spiritual dimension of making music and giftedness, references and depiction of Christian church backgrounds of many of the musicians; several obscenities and profanities; no violence; no sex; no nudity; a few scenes of light alcohol consumption (light) by musicians; and, several scenes with musicians smoking cigarettes and references to drug addictions of two musicians, but with a strong cautionary tone.
STANDING IN THE SHADOW OF MOTOWN is a delightful trip into the past of some of the liveliest music that has ever been made. In fact, watching this movie without toe-tapping to the familiar songs and grinning ear to ear is an impossible feat for any viewer, especially for any who lived through the decades that Motown dazzled and dominated the music scene in America. STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN does the viewer more of a service, however, than replaying the tunes that captivated a nation, it tells the little-known story of the unknown musicians behind the vocal artists of Motown.
Sure, almost everyone knows The Pips, The Supremes, The Marvelletes, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and Marvin Gaye, but does anyone remember Joe Hunter, James Jameson, Joe Messina, Eddie Willis, or Robert White? These were just some of the men behind the big names of the Motown label. They were the backup musicians that laid those famous, innovative riffs and tracks in Studio A in Detroit (also called Hitsville U.S.A.), and they called themselves the Funk Brothers. They came to Detroit from the South, seeking work in the automobile industry after World War II, but ended up returning to their roots and their love for music, banding together, and becoming the tight, sensational sound of Motown.
STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN takes us into the lives of the Funk Brothers, one by one, via interviews, grainy, black and white recreated vignettes, still photos, and live performances with the surviving Brothers paired with contemporary artists covering some of the famous Motown tunes. Chaka Kahn, Bootsy Collins, Joan Osborne, Ben Harper, Gerald Levent, and Meshell Ndegeocello do a mostly great job recreating some of the great Motown hits, each adding their own flair and touch to a great old song. While some renditions are far more successful than others are, all are enjoyable, and it is especially gratifying to see these younger artists appreciating the immense talent, work and dedication of the Funk Brothers.
In fact, the most rewarding part of STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN is in the storytelling, a unique combination of narration, interviews and recreations. This creative mixture of techniques reveals not just a group of unknown but dedicated musicians, but a group of men, black and white, who absolutely loved their work and clearly loved one another. Through good times and bad, these men locked themselves up in tiny Studio A and laid tracks, often in just one take, that brought us “Can’t Hurry Love,” “Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “What’s Going On?” and oh so many more! As the Funk Brothers spin out their often hilarious stories of traveling with the vocal artists, playing together in Motor City jazz clubs at night, and recording together day in and day out, some of their greatest songs tease in the background, but are never fully played – which is excruciating for true Motown fans!
The Funk Brothers did a few tours in their time, but largely stayed in the background, loving and working hard on the music they created together. Their devotion to the music and to each other is palpable, especially as they talk about Funk Brothers who passed on before the making of this movie.
There are substantial references to the church music backgrounds of several of the Funk Brothers, as well as talk about the serious prayer that permeated the studio as the music was made. As the story and the music moves into the late sixties, the story turns briefly to the racial and political struggles of our nation during that time period. Particularly moving is Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” played behind archival video of race riots and Vietnam.
STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN tries to deal with race but is not as effective as it could be in doing so. Most of the references to the mixture of black and white musicians are vague, including some jokes about two black guitarists and a white guitarist looking like an “Oreo cookie” as they played. In one scene, however, the Funk Brothers have to move quickly out of Studio A and into waiting cars in the midst of race riots triggered by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Joe Messina, a white guitarist, was moved to tears retelling the story of how his black friends shielded him on the way to the cars. These are men who deeply loved, and still love, one another.
STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN builds to close with one final cover song, but far more memorable than the song, is the way that each surviving Funk Brother carefully carries out a portrait of a missing band member and places it on the stage. Each Funk Brother, living or dead, are announced as the last song begins, and no one watching can miss or deny the real brotherhood that was and is the Funk Brothers.