Let me count the ways in which this film is just plain terrific. First off, I consider myself a big music fan but I had never heard of “The Funk Brothers.” Have you? If not, maybe you’ve heard some of the Motown hits they wrote the music for. Little songs like “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “Heat wave,” “What’s Going On,” “Ain’t too Proud to Beg,” “Shotgun,” and “Ain’t no Mountain High Enough.” I’m stopping there merely for concern of word count. The songs these men wrote were countless and classic.
Basically the Funk Brothers were the backing band for Berry Gordy and Motown Records in the 50’s and 60’s. “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” chronicles the life of the band through to their totally unceremonious dismissal from Motown. Yet the film does more than just rehash the story of The Funk Brothers.
The remaining members of the Funk Brothers are reunited for an amazing all-star concert that is the true centerpiece of the film. While MTV has their “Icon” TV show in which fly-by-night acts like Train, Pink and Shakira cover tunes by their idols, “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” shows the crème de la crème of current soul singers sitting in with the Funk Brothers. People like Gerald Levert, Chaka Khan and Me’Shell NdegéOcello are amazing. Ben Harper does a quirky “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” while the incredible Joan Osborne brings tears to one’s eyes with her rendition of “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.” She also flatly nails “Heat Wave.” Even Bootsy Collins’ kitschy “Do You Love Me” comes off due to the amazing talents of The Funk Brothers.
Yes, I am fawning over this film, but I don’t care. It’s that fun and that interesting. “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” also has some cool re-enactments of Funk Brother’s stories that seem out of place in a documentary. However, I prefer the re-enactment to the mere telling of the story through the eyes of a Brother Funk.. This film has plenty of narration and the stories are well acted and funny. This film also isn’t afraid to show the shortcomings of some members as drunks and bad parents.
If you are a music fan, this is a great film to see…and hear. Then again, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who can say they hate Motown music and the film truly swims in the glory of the songs. I also feel this film makes a strong comment on the “forces that be” in film and music and how they pick and choose what happens to artists. “They” decide who works and who doesn’t. While it’s truly sad to see what becomes of the Funk Brothers, you leave this film feeling good knowing their music has moved us all.