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Standing in the Shadows of Motown

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The excellent documentary, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, tells the story of the Funk Brothers who were the studio musicians for many of the Motown hits. It opened this weekend in about 15 cities and will be expanding to other cities over the next few months.

It features interviews with the musicians (many at Motown locations) and footage from a concert in Detroit with new versions of many of their Motown hits featuring Chaka Kahn, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Bootsy Collins, Ben Harper, and others (it has been released as a soundtrack).

It also has some reenactments which aren’t really needed. The stories from and about musicians (including James Jamerson, Earl Van Dyke, Bob Babbit, and Eddie Willis) and the music are all that is needed. These are the kind of guys you’d want to hear play late into the night and then hang around listening to them talk until dawn.

The other weakness is we don’t hear enough of the original recordings. This is probably because the rights were too expensive, but you’d think the copyright owners would realize the documentary will boost sales of the original albums.

Because NPR has blanket music rights, you’ll probably hear more of the original music in this segment that ran over the weekend and Monday’s interview with Funk Brothers Joe Hunter and Jack Ashford on Fresh Air than in the film.

The opening of “My Girl” is played during the story of Robert White who played those guitar notes. Unfortunately, he died before he got the recognition he deserved. This documentary comes too late for him and others, but at least the surviving Funk Brothers are getting their story told.

Eric wrote about keyboardist Johnny Griffith who died just before the premiere of the film in Detroit and also gave more background on Motown and the Funk Brothers.

Also, as the New York Times reported, this is the first of eight independent films which will be digitally projected in 25 cities (including San Francisco) over the next year. It is being funded by Microsoft and BMW (which will play their short The Hostage by John Woo before Standing).

Standing was mostly shot on film (and I saw a preview with a 35mm print), but this could be important for documentaries and movies shot on digital video which could avoid the expense of making film prints.

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  • Eric Olsen

    Great job Steve, really looking forward to seeing it.