"And the winner is..." was something I had really hoped I would hear attached as a prefix to Standing in the Shadows of Motown during the Academy Awards. I honestly felt this film deserved the Oscar for best documentary and believed it to be head and shoulders above the other entries. Instead, the second most heart-wrenching moment of Oscar history occurred when Michael Moore received the Oscar for his often untruthful Bowling for Columbine travesty. Of course, Julia Roberts Oscar for her portrayal of having breasts in Erin Brockovich is still my personal lowest moment in Oscar history. But let us not get into a political debate on Michael Moore and his film and his now infamous acceptance speech. There are more important things to do and I think that Standing in the Shadows of Motown should be given its due credit and buying up lots and lots of DVDs can accomplish that. As a DVD reviewer, I can only hope to inspire my readers into going out at once and buying this title.
I'm sure everybody has heard many songs performed by the Funk Brothers. The vocalists may have changed, but whether it be Martha Reeves or Marvin Gaye, the band that was the true force of the Motown sound was the Funk Brothers. They are responsible for more number one hits than Elvis, the Beatles and the Beach Boys combined and until Paul Justman's documentary was released, the Funk Brothers have never gotten any reward, thanks or recognition for their amazing career. Standing in the Shadows of Motown is the recognition they deserve and it is an excellent telling of their story that celebrates their history and their music. Standing in the Shadows of Motown places a face on the music that has been part of many of our lives. Many of us grew up listening to the Funk Brothers and never even knew their name.
Justman worked with the Funk Brothers for years to catalog their stories and learn of their experiences. He became their friend and their hope that they could find a little fame in their golden years. Justman's respect for the Funk Brothers drove him into making Standing in the Shadows of Motown his lifetime project. It became a personal affair for the filmmaker. Justman's conviction and heart shine through in his finished work and the documentary delivers an appreciation for the music and the men behind the tunes. This decade long love affair captures the heart and the friendship the men have for each other. It is very easy to see during the two-hour running time that the Funk Brothers share a strong bond and that they are all part of a collective group that stayed together for more than just the music. It becomes quickly apparent that the strength of the hits they created was a result of this love and brotherhood and Justman is successful in showing the music and the humanity behind it.
As Standing in the Shadows of Motown was being created, the Funk Brothers had only lost a few of their former members. During the time that Justman worked with the men, a few more had their instruments silenced. The interviews with the remaining members are sincere, heartwarming and funny. Sitting down with the DVD offered a similar experience to attending an old family reunion or War Veteran gathering. The respect and admiration each man had for the others and the stories he told was plentiful enough to make a great film on the Funk Brothers. They talk about those that have passed and those that are still among them and why each and every one was special. Stories of making the music in tight quarters and into the wee hours of the night are mixed in with the tragic stories of drug abuse and alcoholism. They reminisce and they enlighten and each word spoken is worth a listen.
Mixed in with the photographs and interviews are live performances by the remaining Funk Brothers, with vocals supplied by Joan Osbourne, Ben Harper, Bootsy Collins, Chaka Khan and others. Though the times have changed and the vocalists are not the same as those who sung the hits originally, they sound phenomenal and their aural beauty and meaningfulness are still as strong as ever. Bootsy is an act all his own. "Cool Jerk" and "Do You Love Me" are entertaining as ever with his stylings. Osbourne brings soul to "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted" and Ben Harper pays tribute to Marvin Gaye. Each musical selection is well worth a listen and Standing in the Shadows of Motown could have easily been two separate films. One film for the men behind the music and another showcasing these live segments.
Standing in the Shadows of Motown is easily one of the absolute best documentaries I have ever watched. It is a powerful look at the men and the music that became the Motown sound. It is sad that only half of the Funk Brothers are able to enjoy some fame in their later years of life, but they truly deserve it. Director Paul Justman did right by devoting his life to telling the story of the Funk Brothers and I feel he hit just the right note with his documentary. I will forever be puzzled as to why Bowling for Columbine triumphed over Standing in the Shadows of Motown, but years from now I will hear "My Girl" and no longer imagine the artist that sang it, but envision Pistol Allen, Jack Ashford, Bob Babbitt, Papa Zita Benjamin, Bongo Brown, Joe Hunter, James Jamerson, Uriel Jones, Joe Messina, Earl Van Dyke, Robert White, Eddie Willis and the rest of the Funk Brothers.
Artisan has done well into delivering the documentary onto DVD. Shown in a very good 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, Standing in the Shadows of Motown exhibits all the nuances of a documentary, but to good measure. Stock footage used during the filming is very grainy and those sequences shot on home video are extremely soft and lacking in detail. The concert sequences look stunning and are beautifully colored and finely detailed. The newer interview scenes are generally shot at outdoor locations and they too are quite attractive. Colors are nicely saturated and the only color bleeding is a result of old source materials. The digital transformation from film to digital disc was nicely done and there are no apparent digital flaws. Like I have stated, this is a documentary and it suffers from some of the visual problems associated with documentaries, but it looks quite good otherwise.
Standing in the Shadows of Motown allows the Motown to sound better than it ever has before. Offered in 5.1 Dolby Digital, 6.1 DTS-ES surround and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, Standing in the Shadows of Motown delivers the best choices available for sound. The interview/dialogue sections of the film sound good in the multi-channel surround formats, but as is expected, most of the information is delivered by the center channel and the left and right speakers. Where the disc really stands out is the new concert sequences. The sound mixes are used to their fullest extend during these sequences. Highs are crisp and clear and bass is booming. I don't think Bootsy has ever sounded better. You can very easily crank up the volume during the musical numbers and bear witness to a quite pleasing experience. Comparing the formats to one-another, the DTS-ES track is the standout with more pronounced bass and treble response. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is not far behind and it will be just as enjoyable to most. You can sing along with English or Spanish subtitles.
Standing in the Shadows of Motown is a 2-Disc set that features the film on the first DVD and the vast majority of the supplemental materials on the second disc. The first DVD does contain an Audio Commentary with Director and Producer track and a few other supplements. The second disc is chocked full of additional features that augment the information given in the film. Right of the start, Artisan must be given credit for their treatment of Standing in the Shadows of Motown. They have shown this title a great deal of care and attention and this is quickly apparent in the depth of supplemental materials.
The first discs main attractions are the previously mentioned commentary track and a Trivia Track reminiscent of what was started by New Line's Infinifilm line of DVDs. In addition to the commentary and trivia tracks, a quick feature called How It All Began can also be found on the first DVD of the 2-disc set. The commentary track by director Paul Justman and Producer Alan Slutsky shows the passion the men had about the project. The primary focus of the two men's discussion is on the ordeal of the film's production, but they also discuss more about the Funk Brothers and the history of the music. The Trivia Track further adds to the history and background of the band and their music. "How It All Began" shows the short film that was used to generate funding for the film and includes a photograph that served as inspiration for the film's development.
The second disc features over an hour of video supplements that adds to the value of the set. The first and most entertaining bit included on the second disc is entitled Dinner with the Funk Brothers and shows about fifteen minutes of footage of surviving members of the band as they prepare to eat dinner. Watching this footage was like sitting down to eat with a bunch of old friends. Their tales were quite entertaining and I only wish that more time had been spent like this with the men. I imagine the Funk Brothers themselves will enjoy this type of supplement tremendously in the years ahead. After dinner is served, The Ones Who Didn't Make It pays tribute to the fallen members of the Funk Brothers. It is a remembrance peace that offers some stories and memories of those that are deceased and is an enjoyable little featurette. At Long Last Glory is a promotional piece for the film that shows how the Funk Brothers are finally getting their dues after decades of living in the shadow of their music.
Nearly half an hour of Deleted Scenes, three Multi-Angle Jam Sessions and a handful of smaller supplements finish off the offerings of the second DVD. Most of the deleted scenes deal with interview segments that were omitted from the final production. There are a few minor moments where the Funk Brothers are doing what they do best, but it is mostly comprised of interview segments. Some notable scenes involve Martha Reeves and another featuring a young daughter of a Funk Brother. The Multi-Angle Jam session features three scenes with two angles each. These scenes are great little musical features, but the interactive portion of the supplement is very ho-hum. The session features four Funk Brothers and the films director playing instruments. A Music Video Montage, Funk Brothers Video Biographies, Selected Discography and Honorable Mentions finish off the list of supplements.
Standing in the Shadows of Motown quickly became one of my favorite documentaries of all time. I have always been an avid music lover and have quite a few collections of "Oldies But Goodies." I was amazed by the story of the Funk Brothers and how successful they were as a group and their long-lasting career and unity. I was amazed they have never been given their much-deserved credit for the great memories they have provided myself and millions of others. This documentary shows their story and pays tribute to the music they made. Artisan has done the Funk Brothers and their story right by delivering a very nice 2-disc DVD package. The sound and video are superb and the supplements are wide-ranging, plentiful and nicely done. I feel any fan of Motown should consider this title a must own.