Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002)

Genres - Music  |   Sub-Genres - Biography, Concerts  |   Release Date - Nov 15, 2002 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 115 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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In a small basement studio in Detroit affectionately called "the Snakepit," a group of studio musicians called the Funk Brothers created the magical and influential Motown sound. Though the pop songs were number one hits for vocalists Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, and Stevie Wonder, the session musicians went largely uncredited and fell into obscurity. Director Paul Justman brings these unknown artists into the forefront for a reunion concert and reflection on the history and personalities of the era. The warmly humorous personal stories are just as informative about studio recording practices as they are funny, with each bandmember finally getting a showcase of their individual contributions and playing style. In particular, bassist James Jamerson and pianist Earl Van Dyke are shown as powerful presences in the group. In addition to the affectionate recollections, the group reunites on-stage to play the old favorites with contemporary vocalists. Joan Osborne lends her soulful voice to "Heat Wave," Bootsy Collins brings his own interpretation to "Cool Jerk," and Chaka Khan teams up with Montell Jordan for the finale number "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." Suspiciously missing from this reunion is information about the group's relationship to Berry Gordy. Any resentment for lack of credit, compensation, or loyalty is overpowered by the fond memories and the result is left to mystery. Though slightly marred by unnecessary reenactments, Standing in the Shadows of Motown is an entertaining and enlightening portrait of these overlooked musical legends.