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  Directed by
  • Widescreen 1.78:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
    English, Spanish, Commentary - English
  • 15 Deleted scenes
  • 4 Teaser trailer
  • Audio commentary
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • 7 Featurette
  • Animated menus
  • DVD-ROM features - Virtual Recording Studio
  • Multiple angle - Jam Session
  • Discography
  • Trivia track

Standing in the Shadows of Motown

Umbrella Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 104 mins . G . PAL


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.


There are a ton of extras with this release, warranting a second disc.

First up is an enjoyable audio commentary from author Allan Slutsky and director Paul Justman. This is the standard self-congratulatory stuff with both having devoted a large portion of their lives to its production, but when you get past the backslapping it is an enjoyable and informative listen. They discuss all aspects in the making of the film along with interesting accounts of Motown’s involvement. The personal experiences of the pair are also a highlight.

How it All Began
This feature contains two featurettes entitled The Photo That Started it All and The Video That Started it All. Both come with a default commentary that gives great details on the content. The photo segment contains a picture taken in 1989 that inspired the film. The video segment looks at a demo video made to obtain backing for the film's production.

Performance Selections
This feature allows the viewer to select each of the live performance sections individually or to play them all.

Trailer Gallery
There are four teaser trailers in this area featuring the films Calle 54, Bowling For Columbine, Amandla and Nowhere in Africa.

Trivia Track
Through the audio set-up area, you can select a trivia track to add a bit of fun to your viewing of the main feature. It includes some interesting information, not only about the content of the film but also about all sorts of facts you never knew, or maybe never wanted to know.

Dinner With the Funk Brothers
This featurette takes a candid look at the remaining Funk Brothers enjoying a meal. There is a not a lot of valuable information here, but this is still a nice addition showing the guys in a relaxed setting, obviously enjoying each others' company.

Multi Angle Jam Sessions
Contained here are three different tunes recorded by the remaining Funk Brothers. You are given the option of two camera angles with the choice you are not viewing appearing in the bottom corner of the screen. The songs are not great, but again, this is a valid addition.

Deleted Scenes
Contained here are 15 deleted scenes running for a total of 28 minutes. There is a wide variety of material here with some offering some great information and touching footage while others are of little interest.

The Ones That Didn’t Make it
Focussing on the deceased Funk Brothers unable to participate, this featurette pays tribute. It runs for 13:32 and surviving members discuss their departed friends. There is not too much different information here, but it is done in a tasteful way.

At Long Last Glory
Running for 7:36, this featurette looks at the belated joy of the Funk Brothers finally receiving some recognition for their efforts. It also looks again at the making of the film.

The biographies section contains a vast array of information in the form of text pages, video footage, discographies and interviews. With a total running time of almost 57 minutes, this is a terrific inclusion.

Music Video Montage
This is perhaps the weakest extra supplied with this release and simply contains random footage placed over a backing track. It runs for a total of 2:17 and seems fairly pointless.

Funk Brothers Discography
This feature contains a list of songs on which the Funk Brothers played. It doesn’t give enough detail as to who played on what particular track, but is still a welcome inclusion.

Honourable Mentions
This feature contains four pages of text looking at the other players on Motown tracks.

Interactive Virtual Recording Studio
After installing the required software, this DVD-ROM feature gives you an impressive recording studio, which allows you to play around with several supplied tracks. This is a feature that I intend to revisit and have a more extensive play with, but for the purposes of reviewing the brief look I had was very impressive.


There may be another side to this story, but let's focus on that which is offered. The Funk Brothers were the musicians on so many hits throughout history and appeared to have never received any recognition. This documentary is a well produced piece of cinema that tells their story and gives the viewing public a great insight into Motown. It is an interesting story to watch and also includes some terrific live performances. Picture and audio quality are great and there are a ton of extras making this well worth a viewing.

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=3318
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      And I quote...
    "The heartbeat of Motown finally gets some recognition."
    - Adrian Turvey
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