Let’s begin with the facts. Motown: The DVD contains 18 vintage clips of Motown artists performing some of their best known songs. Only five of the 18 are actually live performances. Of these, Gladys Knight and the Pips’ performance of “Grapevine” at the 1972 Save the Children Concert and Smokey Robinson & the Miracles doing “Tears of a Clown” on the Andy Williams Show in 1971 stand out. The rest of the clips have been gathered from a variety of U.S. and overseas sources including the Ed Sullivan Show, the Mike Douglas Show, Hullabaloo, and Live from the Bitter End.
Interspersed between the songs are excerpts from interviews with Motown artists. These include Mike Douglas speaking with Smokey Robinson, Motown-founder Berry Gordy on a local Detroit show called Teen Town, and some thoroughly cringe-worthy shtick featuring Lloyd Thaxton with the Temptations. Bonus features include previously unseen footage from the Motown Picnic, circa 1970. Basically it’s the company’s home movies. There are a couple of poignant shots of a young Michael Jackson in this footage. The complete Gordy Teen Town interview is here, as is a 1959 featurette about what was going on in the world in the year that Motown was founded. A Maypo commercial and a trailer for a Brigitte Bardot film are fun, but that is no reason to buy this DVD. Sadly, the 1959 newsreel is the most interesting thing in this package. The accompanying booklet features a nice essay by Stu Hackel.
The music on Motown: The DVD is, of course, above reproach. That said, this disc is as close to non-essential as you can get. Compare it to a really well done documentary on a related subject, Standing In the Shadows of Motown, and it falls far short. While some of the vintage footage is interesting, the whole thing has the feeling of something that was thrown together to clean out some leftovers in Universal’s vault.
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