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November 15, 2002 - Image 105

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-11-15

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

ously until I won that award. Then I
thought, "There's a movie in this."
That set me up for 11 years of searching
for funding on a full-time basis. It wasn't
part time. Every day I would work on it
from six to 12 hours.

What I've learned in the journey is that
it's a miracle any independent films hap-
pen. Everything works against you.

JN: When you finally got around to film-
ing these musicians, what surprised you
the most?
AS: The musicianship. My biggest fear was
JN: It took that long to drum up interest
whether or not the guys could still play.
or support?
AS: I made over 1,000 pitches during those Half the band's in their 70s. But when they
actually sat down, they were incredible.
years. We got close a few times. But I was a
They're my heroes.
pretty angry guy.
Uriel Jones needed quintuple bypass, -
Do you know the story about how
Schindler's List got made? There was a tailor which he didn't tell me at the time. [Bassist]
"Pistol" Allen [who passed away in the sum-
in L.A., and he would pitch the story to
mer of 2002] was dying of cancer and he
every movie type who came into his place.
didn't tell me about that either. One of the
[No one was interested] until one day
guys had lifelong polio, which was hitting
Steven Spielberg walked in.
him harder in his old age. There were various
Obviously, Motown is not at the level of
infirmities: high blood pressure, diabetes.
the Holocaust, but I knew I had an unbe-
You could just see that they had made a
lievable story and I couldn't get anyone to
conscious decision to get their story out.
listen to me. From hanging out in South
They refused to give in. And that was the
Philly, I got a bit of what they call "Italian
Alzheimer's disease": You forget everything - most amazing thing to me.
but a grudge. So I used anger as a motivat-
JN: There's a moment in the film when
ing force.
the Funk Brothers go to England and
The level of disrespect shown to these
unexpectedly receive the star treatment.
guys! These guys created such monumental
They're considered icons there. But in the
stuff and nobody would give them a break.
U.S., they're almost completely unknown.
What does that say about Americans as
JN: At what point did it start to seem pos-
consumers of pop culture?
sible that the film would actually get made?
AS: If you want to see total adulation, go
AS: Well, I had momentary doubts going
to [the Web site] soulfuldetroit.com .
into the ninth and 10th years. After I won
In England, there's a club called the
the award, I got a certain amount of legiti-
Northern So 11 Movement. It's an obsessive
macy. So for six years or so, I was given
group of approximately 20,000 record col-
carte blanche to run around.
lectors whose only interest is obscure
But after about the sixth year, I became
Detroit music and Motown.
like the crazy aunt in the attic. It was like,
[The Funk Brothers] are worshipped.
"Oh, there's Slutsky talking about his stu-
Motown was always bigger in England than
pid film again." And nobody-ever thought
it was here.
it would happen.

JN: Do you have a favorite moment in the
film?
AS: I have a couple. One of them is in the
end. We're doing "Ain't No Mountain High
Enough," and the choir comes in. There's a
shot where you see both drummers. It's just
before the credits roll.
And you see "Pistol" Allen, who is no
longer with us, and you see the look on his
face. And the look says, "I've waited. my
entire life for this moment and it's here."
He was dying of lung cancer, and his face
radiates the most incredible joy you can imag-
ine. It's as if you can tell in that moment he
knows he might be dying, but he's going to
be remembered. That one hit me the hardest.

JN: In addition to writing the book and
being one of the film's producers, you also
transcribed and adapted the musical
arrangements and played guitar in the
film. How did all these roles overlap?
AS: We all had a gazillion jobs. It being an
independent film, I was holding down
about 12 different jobs. For me, the musi-
cal part was logical because I had tran-
scribed every one of these Motown songs. I
knew every note.
I had to re-teach these guys what they had
played 40 years before. Forty years later,
they're different musicians. But nobody's
interested in what they play like now
It's kind of arrogant to think that I'm
going to teach these masters. But the way
that they had always approached their
music, it was like disposable music.
They each went in, played, got a pay-
check and split. They didn't sit there — like
this white Jewish kid — to obsess on every
note. They played it, and it was on to the
next tune.

Left to right:

Joe Hunter, Eddie
Willis and Joe
Messina in the
original Studio A
— dubbed the
"Snakepit" —
recording "You've
Really Got a Hold
on Me" in
"Standing in the
Shadows of
Motown."

Bob Babbitt, left,
and Eddie Willis,
right, with an
impassioned Ben
Harper, center,
performing
Too Proud to Beg"
in "Standing in
the Shadows of
Motown."

`SHADOWS' on page 74

73

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