There are plenty of documentaries that delve into the history of Motown, but ‘Hitsville’ is the first to have the blessing and involvement of founder Berry Gordy. Matching the feel-good spirit of the songs the Detroit label produced, it takes a toe-tapping look down memory lane to show just how Gordy and co-founder Smokey Robinson defined a genre.
Starting from the top, directors Gabe and Benjamin Turner weave in archive footage, recordings and images with Gordy and Robinson’s exclusive interviews, which discuss the mechanics of a business inspired by the Gordy’s time working on a car assembly line. From Marvin Gaye and The Supremes to Stevie Wonder and Martha Reeves, this documentary shows how Motown crafted singers into stars before ‘Pop Idol’ and ‘The X Factor’ came along.
There are plenty of fun anecdotes too: Neil Young describing his dancing lessons; how Reeves got to sing ‘Dancing in the Streets’ because of a union dispute and Wonder on coming up with ‘Fingertips Part II’ live on stage are particularly enjoyable to hear.
Sadly, juicy behind-the-scenes gossip – like Gordy’s romance with Diana Ross and the legal disputes with writing trio Holland-Dozier-Holland – is glossed over or omitted completely. It makes the film far more clean-cut than Motown’s origins ever were. Still, if you’re a sucker for the hits of the ’60s and ’70s, this is a nostalgic temptation you won’t want to miss.