standing in the shadows of motownStanding in the Shadows of Motown shines some light on over-looked musicians of the 60s – the house band at Hitsville USA. The Funk Brothers were a revolving band of session players who provided the back-up on every great Motown hit of the 60s straight through to the mid-70s. They didn’t receive credit on the records, and were paid scale for their contributions. Thirty years later they were brought together again to perform and reminisce about the glory days of Motown. Think of it as the American Buena Vista Social Club. The film has its flaws. The re-enactments don’t really work, and guest singer Bootsy Collins is a really bad dancer, but the sheer joy with which these musicians interact and perform overshadows any shortcomings the movie may have.

The Funk Brothers had to wait a long time to get their due. From the late Fifties through to the early Seventies this revolving group of Detroit session musicians defined the Motown Sound – a danceable blend of R&B and pop – by laying down the funk as the back-up band on hundreds of records produced by Hitsville USA. It wasn’t until Marvin Gaye’s 1970 album What’s Goin’ On that the musicians were given credit on a Motown album, and they would have to wait another thirty-odd years for the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown to tell their stories and show their faces. Essentially a concert film with the history of The Funk Brothers woven in, Standing in the Shadows of Motown functions more as a meet and greet with these sadly neglected musicians than an in-depth documentary. The documentary segments – including several ineffective flashback sequences and lots of stock photos – don’t dig deep enough. Sure, there are some funny stories, a few touching moments and a sense of the camaraderie between the bandmates, but the history is often sketchy and there is no explanation as to how the Motown Sound evolved over the years. The musical sequences, however, make up for many of the film’s shortcomings. The Funks play host to a variety of singers, including Joan Osborne, Gerald Levert, Me’shell NdegeOcello, Bootsy Collins, Ben Harper and Chaka Khan. The guests are a hit and miss proposition but the band is always a pleasure to listen to. This two disc set features Spanish and English subtitles, a trivia track, deleted scenes a close-up and personal featurette called Dinner with the Funk Brothers and a touching tribute to the band members who passed away before the movie was made. Despite its failings as a historical document, this DVD has a great beat and you can dance to it…