Motown is synonymous with music lovers around the world as possibly the backbone of modern-day music. Artists such as Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder are still to this day household names. Behind the sound of Motown were a group of musicians known as the Funk Brothers, for the most part unknown to anyone other than the diehard Motown historians. This documentary has been produced to finally give these men the recognition they so richly deserve.
Known as Hitsville USA, Motown stemmed from Detroit in the late ‘50s and through the use of predominantly black American artists, attempted to establish a new sound on the charts. They incorporated many styles, the mainstays being jazz, soul and blues and in a very short time they were churning out hit after hit. The heartbeat of this new sound, the Funk Brothers, blended together beautifully to create this new and unique sound – funky!
|"And as the years go by we wonder, will anybody ever know who we are or what we did?"|
The Funk Brothers played on more hits than the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley combined but received no recognition for their efforts, until this documentary was made to rectify that sad fact. Through a series of archival footage, photos, interviews with surviving Funk Brothers and recognised musicians and producers, their story is told. There are also several live performances with the surviving Funk Brothers reunited to recreate their sound, fronted by artists such as Ben Harper and Joan Osborne.
This is an interesting documentary that not only looks at the influence of the Funk Brothers but also the history of Motown from its inception in the late ‘50s up until its relocation to Los Angeles in the early ‘70s. Several of the Funk Brothers get extensive coverage such as James Jamerson, labelled as the greatest bass player of all time, Benny Benjamin and Earl Van Dyke, but the focus on particular members is warranted due to their unique talents. The remaining members are not excluded, however, and to give each member the deserved individual coverage would mean a mini-series rather than a movie length feature. The way this documentary is produced is a fitting tribute and apart from its tendency to replicate certain sentiments a little too much, it is a balanced look at the history of Motown.
It is also a delight to see the Brothers reunited to perform after so many years and although the singers used are generally not household names, the majority do a fine job. It is obvious the Funk Brothers are enjoying themselves and truly have a love of the music they created.
This is a terrific documentary and for anyone with a slight interest in Motown or music history should enjoy. Just try to watch this and not have Motown songs stuck in your head for days!
The video transfer for this release varies greatly due to its wide variety of present and archival footage, but really does look wonderful overall. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and 16:9 enhanced, the most recent concert footage is very nice with a reasonably crisp image. Colours are strong, although a vast array is not used. There is occasional grain and some softness in areas, however these are never really a problem. The archival footage used contains all the usual nasties expected such as artefacts and grain, but these were expected and this aged look adds to the nostalgia.
Considering this is a collection of source material consisting of film and video footage, the overall transfer is more than acceptable.
Audio is available in a choice of English Dolby Digital 2.0 or 5.1. As this film is predominantly dialogue-driven, the stereo mix is more than adequate, until the live performances come into play. The stereo mix still sounds good here, but the surround mix really adds to the feel, giving the songs much more oomph. The surround mix is not completely dormant in the remaining areas of the film, giving some subtle rear speaker activity and the occasional directional effect, but it is during the live songs that it is really noticed. Audio is clear throughout with no evidence of synch problems and there are no problems with distortion. The film really is about the music and there is a lot of it so the best suggestion I can give you is to utilise this wonderful 5.1 mix if you can.