Starring: Jack Ashford, Joe Hunter, Uriel Jones and Andre Braugher
Rated: PG Documentary, Music
Narrated by Andre Braugher, Standing in the Shadows of Motown is an acclaimed documentary that details the immense and incredible contributions of The Funk Brothers to one of the music industry’s most prolific labels.
While its name may be mentioned from time to time, the members’ individual names are unknown to many. The Funk Brothers is comprised of drummer Richard “Pistol” Allen; percussionist Jack Ashford; bassist Bob Babbitt; drummer Benny “Papa Zita” Benjamin; percussionist Eddie “Bongo” Brown; keyboardist Earl Van Dyke; keyboardist Johnny Griffith; keyboardist Joe Hunter; bassist James Jamerson; drummer Uriel Jones; guitarist Joe Messina; guitarist Robert White; and guitarist Eddie Willis.
These musicians, personally selected by Motown founder Berry Gordy, have largely remained without credit for their outstanding work. Performing on the recordings for the Detroit label from 1959 until 1972, they were essential to the vast and various sounds as well as enduring success of many artists. It was The Funk Brothers who aided in making artists and musical groups such as Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Miracles, The Temptations and Stevie Wonder, legendary.
The group’s work was prolific, having produced more hits than The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley combined!
This film by Allan Slutsky was based upon the book, Standing in the Shadows of Motown: The Life and Music of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson, by the guitarist and author Dr. Licks. It’s title is a spin on the title from a hit single, “Standing in the Shadows of Love”, by The Four Tops. Published in 1989, the biography on Jamerson details the life of the premier bassist and even included the lines on which he played bass for various tracks.
Standing in the Shadows of Motown builds upon the experience of Jamerson and his bandmates. The film was written by Slutsky, Walter Dallas and Ntozake Shange and was directed by Paul Justman. The documentary includes the creation of The Funk Brothers band, archival material such as photographs and performance footage, and interviews.
Also featured are contemporary musicians who performed hit tracks of Motown live, accompanied by The Funk Brothers. These artists included Bootsy Collins, Ben Harper, Chaka Khan and Me’shell Ndegeocello. A soundtrack album featuring the covers of Motown songs by these artists was released on Hip-O Records. In 2004, a deluxe edition CD, In the Snakepit: Naked Instrumental Remixes of the Original Hits, was released.
Receiving much praise, Standing in the Shadows of Motown earned several awards in 2002. It won the “Best Non-Fiction Film” by both the National Society of Film Critics as well as the New York Film Critics Circle. It also won the “Audience Award, Best Documentary Showcase Film” at the Austin Film Festival that year.
In 2003, the critically acclaimed documentary was named the “Closing Night Selection” at the Maryland Film Festival. That year, it won two Grammy Awards: “Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media” and “Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance, “What’s Going On”, Chaka Khan & The Funk Brothers”.
Standing in the Shadows of Motown was released on video and DVD in 2003. It has been heralded as “one of the ten best films of the year” by NewsDay, The San Francisco Examiner, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today.