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"Standing in the Shadows of Motown"

Directed by Paul Justman.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  12/4/02 


During my visit to LA this weekend, I hung out with Val “B.A.” Brotski and her boyfriend Patrick for some quality time on Black Friday.  (You will note that this is one of the few Black days that is actually a positive!)  After running through all of the movies that I HAVE seen, we all settled on the new documentary “Standing in the Shadows of Motown.”

What a film.  Director Paul Justman’s documentary follows the untold story of the Funk Brothers, a collection of musicians that are credited with creating the original Motown sound of the 1960s.  The film deftly mixes stories on each of the original eight brothers with footage from the Funk Brothers’ reunion concert in Detroit from earlier this year, which featured Motown classics sung by current stars like Gerald Levert, Joan Osborne and—oh yes—Bootsy Collins.  The Funk Brothers apparently created the beats for more #1 Billboard songs than any other entity.

Like the great “Dogtown and Z-Boys” from earlier this year, “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” does an incredible job of drawing you into its subject matter whether you are a fan of the Detroit Motown sound or not.  Sure, you will recognize most of the songs being played right away, but even the songs you don’t know (like “Cloud 9”, a good track that doesn’t get lots of oldies-station radio play) will interest you.  It also helps that the surviving members of the Funk Brothers are all real likable guys.  As they tell story after famous-name-laden story, you laugh along with them as they recount their glory days.  The name dropping in this film is ridiculous—the Funk Brothers worked with damn near every major artist of the era.  “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” also has that beautiful X factor that makes a documentary cool...and, in this film, that X factor is Funk Brother bassist James Jameson, who all of the group members swear is “the greatest bass player who ever lived” and naturally, he is dead and therefore even more legendary.

Patrick noted—and I seconded—that the three or four interludes featuring actors playing the younger Funk Brothers could have been left out, even though they are mostly brief in length.  And for me, I thought the filmmakers did a little too much to discredit some of the creativity of hitmakers like the Rolling Stones or The Beatles by saying they stole the Motown sound.  Undoubtedly many groups were influenced by the Motown beatmakers, but come on—The Beatles didn’t steal their ride to the top, and as with all popular pop groups, catchy lyrics and a handsome quartet never hurt for their long run.

But these minor problems add up to about two minutes of the total running time.  The other 99% is some of the best stuff of the year.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09