Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002)

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Released 24-Oct-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Introduction
Menu Audio
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Audio Commentary-Paul Justman (Director) and Allan Slutsky (Producer)
Featurette-The Photo That Started It All, With Commentary
Featurette-TheVideo That Started It All, With Commentary
Informational Subtitles-Trivia Track
Trailer-Calle 54, Bowling For Columbine, Amandla!, Nowhere In Africa
Featurette-Dinner With The Funk Brothers
Multiple Angles-Jam Sessions
Deleted Scenes-15
Featurette-The Ones That Didn't Make It
Featurette-At Long Last Glory
Biographies-Cast-Funk Brothers Video Biographies
Music Video-Montage
Discography
Notes-Honorable Mentions
DVD-ROM Extras-Interactive Virtual Recording Studio
DVD Credits
Easter Egg
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 103:37 (Case: 108)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (51:53)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Paul Justman
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring The Funk Brothers
Case Amaray-Transparent-S/C-Dual
RPI $29.95 Music Various


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (384Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Spanish
English Information
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, the Brothers leave the building.

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    How many musicians can claim to have composed more chart topping hits than The Beatles, Elvis, The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones combined? There is only one group of musicians who can attest to this fact, and that is The Funk Brothers. The group of dedicated session musicians created the Motown sound which defined the 70s and are responsible for countless songs that are known the world over. As session musicians, they received little fame or credit for their work, and this film is out to correct that oversight.

    In the late 80s, musician and journalist Allan Slutsky was conducting research for an instructional tablature book on the bass playing of the late James Jamerson. Through the course of his study he met Jamerson's mother and felt compelled to tell the story of these virtually unrecognised musicians. After many years of pitching the film to numerous studios, The Funk Brothers were reunited 41 years after their inception for a reunion gig, which was filmed as part of this documentary.

    This is an amazing film and as a musician myself I found it inspiring to the point where it gave me shivers down my spine. As well as brand new studio recordings and sublime live material, we have amusing anecdotes and archival material from throughout the Funk Brothers' tenure at Motown Records.

    A revolving door of guest singers grace the stage with the band during their reunion performance, including Ben Harper, Bootsy Collins, Meshell Ndegeocello, Chaka Khan, Montell Jordan and Joan Osborne (who incidentally performs a brilliant rendition of Heatwave which was originally recorded by Martha and the Vandellas).

    Production of the film began in 2000, sadly too late for several band members who passed away while the producers were hunting for funding. Regardless of any shortcomings this film may have, it stands as a proud testament to a group of outstanding musicians who defined the sound of the late 60s and 70s with their amazing innovation and talent. This documentary is a must-see for anyone who is even vaguely interested in music or the grand history behind the bland tripe we know as pop music today.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    A variety of media have been used to bring this story to the screen, lending a wonderful depth and texture to the experience. Standard film stock appears to have been used for a majority of the production, with many segments also shot on video and handycam. Pieces of historically relevant archival footage are also scattered throughout the film serving as a reminder of the era in which this story is situated. I understand that some people may find these inconsistencies in the transfer distracting, but for me the focus of the documentary is the music, and many of the obvious video issues didn't concern me too greatly.

    This transfer is presented in 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. This is close to the original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1.

    With so many media being used throughout the film there are some stark contrasts in quality between certain scenes. Videotaped segments exhibit some extreme grain (84:00) and colour oversaturation at times, combined with a distinct lack of detail. Shadow detail is remarkably good during the live performance scenes that were shot on film - from the big stage to the dark corners of a smoky cafe, band members and equipment can be seen all the way to the back of the dimly lit stage. There are some great examples of solid blacks in the film, however the same cannot be said for the scenes sourced from videotape. Thankfully I didn't notice any instances of low level noise in the transfer.

    There aren't any noticeable MPEG compression problems with the transfer, and apart from the odd speck of dust and dirt this transfer is relatively clean and artefact free. Some very slight telecine wobble exists in the opening scenes of the film, but this is of the mildest variety and isn't overly distracting. Guitar strings are a common culprit for aliasing issues, and there are plenty of examples to be found here. I think I've become so used to seeing aliasing of this kind it doesn't seem to distract me as much as it used to, but it is unmistakably there.

    I viewed more than half of the film with English subtitles enabled and found them to be mostly accurate with a tendency to condense sentences and drop the odd word here and there. For some strange reason the subtitles are activated by default on my DVD player, however I tested the disc in a couple of other machines and found this problem is isolated to Pioneer players only. The stream flowed consistently with the spoken word and didn't present any real problems. There are a lot of titles burned into the video stream, but these are used only for introducing locations and people.

    This disc is dual layered, with the transitional pause placed during the feature at 51:53 in a black, silent and unobtrusive moment that is barely noticeable.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are three audio options on the feature. Our default track is Dolby Digital 2.0 and a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track is also available, as well as a feature commentary. I listened to the 5.1 track in its entirety and sampled the stereo option at various points in the film. Besides the documentary itself, the feature I was most anticipating for Region 4 happened to be the dts-es 6.1 track that is present on the Region 1 release - without this audio feature we appear to have been short changed yet again.

    The quality of the dialogue varies slightly from scene to scene but doesn't present any major issues. The spoken word is always clear and easy to understand despite there being no ADR work performed, apart from the documentary's narration of course. I noticed a few minor audio sync problems during live performances such as a miss-timed cymbal crash at 12:26 and the odd snare hit, but for the most part the audio sync was spot-on.

    The focus of this documentary is the marvellous Motown sound and it certainly doesn't disappoint. I thought I knew a bit about the 70s era until I saw this film for the first time and realised what a vast catalogue of hits the Funk Brothers have under their collective belt. There is not a single song that is unrecognisable in the soundtrack.

    I found a couple of problems with the soundtrack mix that were a bit irritating. There is an awkward edit during an interview segment at 17:33 which causes the background music to skip and comes across as quite clumsy when compared to the smooth editing performed in the rest of the film. Perhaps this was a last-minute edit?

    Another issue that I found mildly problematic is the intermittent shifts in volume between some scenes in the film. During interview segments I found that I often needed to raise my normal listening level, and needed to lower the level once more when a live performance came along. On another note, the tempo of some songs felt much too fast compared to the versions that I am familiar with. At this stage I am not sure if this is due to the adrenaline of the live performances or PAL speedup, but I did notice it.

    The surround channels are subtly used for atmospheric and audience noise throughout the film - although a great, loud helicopter effect swoops overhead at 85:48 this is the extent of the soundtrack's aggressive surround usage. The live performances are front-dominated mixes, with the rear channels receiving only mild echo effects and percussion. The stereo track performed well during the musical numbers and seemed to suffer from less of the volume level problems that were present in the 5.1 track. The two channel track also performed well with Pro Logic II enabled, although the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is obviously the preferred option.

    The subwoofer played a great part in accentuating the lower register of the soundfield, accentuating the kick drum and bass guitar efficiently and effectively.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    The menu system of both discs is 16x9 enhanced and cleverly animated, featuring some very smooth transitions between screens. The audio accompaniment is solely instrumental, which is particularly fitting considering the focus of this documentary. Besides the standard scene selection menu there is also a menu that allows the viewer to play only the musical performances from the feature, skipping the storytelling altogether.

Disc One

Feature Commentary by Director and Producer

    Director Paul Justman and Producer Allan Slutsky start off slowly, but once they loosen up there are some genuinely interesting stories and anecdotes related to the filming process. Actually, for the first half hour there is so little interaction between these two gents that I thought their commentaries had been recorded separately.

    Among the subjects discussed in the commentary are Slutsky's original book that inspired the film and the eleven frustrating years it took to gain funding so that production could begin. Director Paul Justman also touches on the look of the film and the effects he intended to achieve with the right locations and lighting.

Trivia Subtitle Stream

    This is an interesting source for trivia, but does double-up on a lot of information that can be found in the commentary track. There are many interesting tid-bits of information relating to Motown stars and the era in general, as well as some technical music theory that might be too much for some. There are no fancy graphics in this stream - it appears as ordinary text and never overlaps the titles that are burnt into the video stream such as locations and musician introductions.

How It All Began

    This section is comprised of two retrospective portions, detailing how the film came to be. The Photo That Started It All (3:00) is a still photo with a brief story from Allan Slutsky about how the group was first reunited. The Video That Started It All (5:32) features an amateur promotional video - presented in 1.33:1 - that was made when the premise for the film was being pitched to various studios. Included is an introduction by Director Paul Justman.

Easter Eggs

    On the More Special Features screen press the up arrow on your remote to highlight the Motown poster then press enter for some brief text about James Jamerson's Fender Precision Sunburst bass guitar. For some strange reason these menu pages do not contain a 16x9 enhancement flag.

    There is an additional Easter egg to be found on each disc, but these are merely Madman DVD credits.

Trailers (4)

    Included on the disc are brief trailers for the excellent Calle 54, Bowling For Columbine, Amandala! and Nowhere In Africa.

Disc Two

Featurette - Dinner with the Funks (11:38)

    Presented in 1.78:1 with 16x9 enhancement, this is mostly comprised of home video footage. The Brothers sit around a candlelit table and reminisce about the days when they were playing together, sharing many hilarious anecdotes from the past and concluding with a moving toast, made to absent friends.

Multi Angle Jam Sessions

    There are three songs available, each with two selectable viewing angles. These are filmed in the rehearsal studio and the men are not very animated - all the musicians are sitting down. Apart from some minor audio sync issues these are great instrumental recordings, with an awesome Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix and a rather ordinary Dolby Digital stereo option.

Deleted Scenes (28:18)

    Here we have almost half an hour of footage that is interesting, but would have slowed the pace of the film considerably. Most of the material consists of scenes that introduce new people into the documentary, however there is some great jam footage to be found. All material here is presented in 1.78:1, without 16x9 enhancement and accompanied by a Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack.

Featurette - The Ones That Didn't Make It (13:33)

    This is a short featurette that pays tribute to the Funk Brothers that passed away prior to or during filming, including Benny Benjamin, James Jamerson, Eddie "Bongo" Brown (who began working in the industry as Marvin Gaye's valet), Earl "Chunk Of Funk" Van Dyke, spiritual guitarist Robert White, Pistol Allen and Johnny Griffin.

Featurette - At Long Last Glory (7:35)

    Alan Slutsky tells story of how the film was realised and the neglect the musicians have suffered over the years. Now their legacy is certainly assured.

Biographies (16)

    Detailed biographies for each of the Funk Brothers and members of the film crew.

Music Video Montage (2:17)

    This is comprised of a short collection of moments from the film, with instrumental music from the band in the foreground.

Funk Brothers' Discography (1:20)

    This is very fast moving text of every Funk Brothers recording released and who performed the vocal duties on each track. You'll definitely need to use the pause button on your remote if you want to read the passages in detail.

Honourable Mentions

    Four pages of text, covering the musicians and soloists that contributed to the many hits that were produced but are not technically part of the Funk Brothers' band.

DVD-ROM Extras - Virtual Recording Studio

    An interesting feature, there are two brief songs here to mix yourself with ten available instruments using Sonic Foundry software. The installation requires detailed registration info, so be warned.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    As I mentioned previously, the Region 1 release is virtually identical to ours in content, but has a dts-es 6.1 audio option. I am yet to view the Region 1 transfer, but I suspect the musical content of the film would be presented in the correct pitch without PAL's speedup and would almost certainly contain deeper and more accurate bass response. That said, I'm giving this to the Region 1 release based on the dts audio option alone.

Summary

    This is the epitome of why I watch and purchase DVDs. This film is entertaining, entrancing and and contains some simply stunning performances. Had the film have been made years earlier we could have had more input from other band members, but what we have in Standing In The Shadows of Motown is both nostalgic and cathartic - brilliant stuff.

    The audio and video transfers vary quite a bit, but given the many different sources that were used this is to be expected - but where's the dts?

    This two disc package includes a great bundle of extras that become a little repetitive, but they make interesting viewing.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Rob Giles (readen de bio, bork, bork, bork.)
Thursday, November 20, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-525, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TX76PW10A 76cm Widescreen 100Hz. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVR-2802 Dolby EX/DTS ES Discrete
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora lll Mains (bi-wired), Rears, Centre Rear. Orpheus Centaurus .5 Front Centre. Mirage 10 inch sub.

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