In Standing in the Shadows of Motown, they get plenty of notice in a lot of different forms. Interview clips with singers, songwriters, and surviving Brothers. Goofy and heartbreaking anecdotes. Bios for the deceased, with Benny Benjamin and James Jamerson looming large.
It would have been agreeable enough to let Jack Ashford, Joe Hunter, and the others simply regale us--and each other--with stories for two hours.
Instead, the Funk Brothers share screen time with decent but unnecessary dramatic recreations. Some scenes with the real musicians seem stagy: they wouldn't need to give so much exposition to each other, and who knows if they'd have demonstrated certain techniques without a producer's prodding.
Andre Braugher narrates the film. His descriptive words and phrasing (for example, about the Snake Pit) can get a tad hyperbolic, but it's hard not to get caught up in his fervor. His Shakespearean baritone lends great weight to the historical contexts he serves up.
The moment that everyone's been waiting for--the Funk Brothers' very own live show--actually gets sliced into a dozen pieces that appear throughout the film. It's a joy to watch this musical reunion, and especially to think about how the Funks must have felt about it.
For better or worse, though, the current singing stars that front those performances are the ones who create my lasting impressions of the concert. When the singers are zealous and attuned to the music, like Gerald Levert and Joan Osborne, the segments rock. When the artists are limp like Ben Harper, the segments wash out.
Of course, the movie isn't about them. It's ultimately a warm, reflective, and uplifting experience for the Funk Brothers as well as the viewers. The bitter sweetness of late glory, the gentle cinematic flourishes, the love between the Brothers, and the music, the music, the music--all combine for a transcendent ending that hits hard and deep.
Could they have imagined such ado over themselves decades after the Motown era??
In addition to Funk Brothers videos and CDs with bonuses like vocals-free tracks, DVDs of the movie further enhance our knowledge and appreciation of the band. Special features include deleted scenes, jam sessions, taped and printed profiles of each musician, vignettes from the film crew, and a virtual recording system that lets users rearrange Funk Brothers tracks.
Even without those goodies, understanding the shadow figures of Motown is an important reason for pop-soul fans to see this documentary. The mostly agreeable entertainment and the incredible emotion behind it are just the icing on the cake.