Reviewed by Jeff McNeal
March 24, 1999
Standard, 4:3 aspect ratio
Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
150 Minutes, RSDL
Not Rated, 1998
One of the great joys of growing up during the 1960s, was bearing witness to a revolution in music that redefined not only musical boundaries, but helped to redefine social boundaries as well. The "Motown sound" took the country by storm, unleashing hit after hit after hit, helping to break down racial barriers in music and introducing the white youth of America to the infectious culture and rhythms of soul music.
The music of Motown was nothing short of a revelation -- sparking a revolution in American pop music in a unique and compelling way. During the 1950s, "race" music was frowned upon by the predominantly white establishment -- yet at the same time, white artists were being sought who could sound black, or at least do cover versions of black artists material, to make the music more palatable to the predominantly white, middle class America. Elvis Presley is a perfect example. Here was a young Caucasian boy, who could sing with the depth and soul usually only associated with black singers. Conversely, many black singers sought to sound more Caucasian in an effort to boost record sales. "Since I Fell For You" by Lenny Welch is one such example.
Motown, for the first time, unleashed without compromise, music that was so good -- so pure in its brilliance and skillful performances, that everyone sat up and took notice. In his "Hitsville USA" recording studios located in Detroit, Michigan, Berry Gordy Jr. systematically assembled some of the most gifted singers, songwriters and musicians in the area. With his vision, determination and the talents of his performing artists, Motown provided perhaps America's strongest counterpoint to the British invasion of pop music.
While the natural inclination might be to diminish THE TEMPTATIONS with a reasoning that implies "well, it must not have been good enough for theatrical release because it was on television...", please don't make that mistake. This is a fine film, featuring solid direction, a talented cast, outstanding music and a compelling story that's well written. I personally missed the television debut of this movie and frankly I'm glad that I did. Watching THE TEMPTATIONS on DVD, with no interruptions, is the only way to go. And this is one beautiful looking transfer. The young actor named "Leon" (one of those guys with no last name) is a real standout, and dominates the screen during his scenes in the same fashion that David Ruffin stole the show during his tenure with THE TEMPTATIONS. His performance in particular, is spectacular. He's not just playing David Ruffin, he is David Ruffin in this film.That's not to take away from the rest of the leads. They're all great.
Written by founding member Otis Williams, this docudrama obviously portrays Williams in a fairly flattering light, but he was not without his faults or regrets. Essentially, he is remembered as first and foremost, the organizer of the Temptations, and then as the mortar who held the group together through some very tumultuous times. What surprised me the most after learning some surprising details about the various members that I never heard previously, was the affectionate portrayal of baritone Melvin Franklin as the humble, gentle and spiritual cornerstone of the group.
After a very slow start, THE TEMPTATIONS have left us a musical legacy of 12 albums and 12 singles that went gold. The Temptations also had 16 number-1 hits on the Billboard charts, won four Grammy awards and were inducted into the rock and roll Hall of Fame.
This is their story.
The film opens in 1958 with 17-year old Otis Williams, giving a narrative about the turning point in his life, when he went to see the Cadillacs perform at a local theater. At that time, the two main choices for young men were either the assembly line or music. Soon afterwards, Williams and his boyhood friend are at the barber shop getting their hair processed and cut to look like Tony Curtis. Williams' stepfather doesn't approve of Otis pursuing a musical career, but the young man's mother gives him encouragement. Soon, Williams and a group of his friends are attracting an audience on the street with their sweet harmonies -- but the crowd around them soon disperses across the street to ogle another quartet of singers -- featuring the rich, deep tones of Melvin Franklin. Otis Williams decides that Franklin would be a great addition to his own group, but it takes him a while to catch up to the frightened baritone, who was afraid of getting beaten up.
Timing is everything, and Franklin joins "Otis Williams and the Siberians", with the approval of his protective mother, "Mama Rose". Soon, the quintet is approached by a local agent, a fast-talking woman named Jonnie May Matthews who gets the group to hastily enter a verbal management contract and changes their rather uninspiring group name to the Distants. Soon, the group is enjoying a small measure of success with a minor hit record orchestrated by Matthews.
At a show in which they're singing their new hit single, the Siberians share the bill with The Primes (Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams) and The Primettes (Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard and Diana Ross who would later become the Supremes). Kendricks and Williams agree that Otis Williams' group has a good sound, but they don't move very well onstage, unlike Kendricks and Williams, who are smooth up there. Berry Gordy Jr.and Smokey Robinson are in the audience and take note of the new talent.
Following the show that evening, the Distants are dropped by their dis-reputable manager -- who not only takes their money, but their name as well. Most of the group's members quit in disgust after being betrayed. Only Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin remain. Soon, they team with Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams to form a new group -- the Elgin's. Hanging outside of Motown, the group finally gets a chance to audition for Gordy -- but only after they come up with a new name -- The Temptations. Paul Williams has choreographed some cool steps for the group, and Gordy is suitably impressed at the audition, welcoming The Temptations into the Motown family.
But the going is far from easy. It would be four years before The Temptations would have their first chart hit, "The Way You Do The Things You Do", written by Smokey Robinson.
Along the way, tempers flare, egos clash, and an original member is fired from the group after knocking Paul Williams over the head with a beer bottle. David Ruffin is hired to replace the fired member after stepping in at the Motown New Years party and knocking everyone out with his dynamite voice.
The "classic" Temptations lineup of Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, and Paul Williams is now complete.
After their first big chart hit, "My Girl" rockets to No. 1 on the charts and launches The Temptations to meteoric heights. Pretty soon, everyone is rolling up to Hitsville, USA in shiny, new Cadillacs -- all except David Ruffin, who shows up in a chauffeur-driven Bentley.
Before long, success has gone to Ruffin's head, he begins abusing drugs and is fired from the group after his ego becomes too difficult to manage. The final straw is that Ruffin insists on performing as "David Ruffin and the Temptations". Many changes take place from this point forward but try as the group might, Ruffin isn't so easy to ditch. He shows up at concerts and leaps onstage to sing his signature songs, desperate to regain his stature. Ruffin finds a sympathetic ear in Eddie Kendricks, who he convinces to leave The Temptations to pursue a solo career. This, after the group dismisses Paul Williams for severe alcohol abuse which rendered him incapable of performing with the group. Ruffin convinced Kendricks that he would "be next" to be let go.
The '70s and '80s bring success to the group, but at a high personal cost to various members who succumbed to their own inner-demons of alcohol and drug abuse, splintered relationships within and outside the group and throughout various personal tragedies. Ruffin and Kendricks teamed up, briefly, and at one point, there were two or three different "Temptations" acts going on at the same time. Finally, there was a reconciliation of sorts, but not a lasting one.
THE TEMPTATIONS is compelling, entertaining and poignant. Even though it runs a whopping 150 minutes, the script moves right along and there's never a dull moment.
Now, lets's see the same treatment applied to other Motown greats -- like Marvin Gaye or Smokey Robinson. Let's hear their stories.
My expectations were handily exceeded with his outstanding transfer. The image is full frame, but zooming in to fill our 119" 16 x 9 screen posed no problems whatsoever. Amazingly, there was no perceptible decrease in resolution or quality of detail with the image magnification -- the real testament to the quality of this transfer. Contrast levels are outstanding, black level is rich and deep, as are the colors which are accurate and well saturated, but never to the point of bleed over. There are no imperfections to be found on this transfer. It looks as close to high-definition as any DVD title we've seen to date. The image is extremely film-like and pristine. What more could we ask for?
the Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track sounds great. There's a nice fat bottom end to it and a rich warmth throughout, with a nice presence in career Surround track during the numerous musical numbers. Dialogue is clear and easily understood throughout. While a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix would have been even nicer to have, the Dolby Digital 2.0 mix gets the job done nicely. A great soundtrack which complements the great video transfer. The soundtrack features eight classic Motown songs including My Girl, (I Know) I'm Losing You, Papa Was a Rollin' Stone, Ball of Confusion, Ain't Too Proud to Beg, Get Ready, Just My Imagination, Cloud 9 a and eight never-bird-before debut songs by Smokey Robinson, "I'm Really Going To Miss You". There's a great mix of lip-syncing, along with new recordings mixed in, enhancing the realism of the performances.
Animated interactive menu with 36 chapters stops
Direct song access menu
Credits, Hits and Awards
Cast & Crew bios and filmos
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