In Benjamin and Gabe Turner’s “Hitsville: The Making Of Motown,” Berry Gordy, the founder of the recording company of the title, joins his old pal Smokey Robinson in visiting the original studio, founded in 1959 — a modest house on 2648 W. Grand Blvd. in a residential area of Detroit. There Gordy recalls how he started making money as an entrepreneurial kid selling a local African-American newspaper. Then he got the idea of pitching the papers in a white neighborhood where to his surprise he sold them all. So he invited a friend to join him, but they didn’t sell any. “One black kid was cute,” he laughs. “But two were a threat to the neighborhood.”
That is the philosophy he followed in creating his music empire. He introduced white audiences to the irresistible energy of black rhythm and blues but made sure it was packaged in such a way that it did not intimidate. There would be no provocative politics or unseemly images; just snazzy matching outfits and unforgettable, surging sounds aching with longing and incandescent with joy. He also took a lesson from the then burgeoning Detroit automobile industry and turned the studio into a kind of musical assembly line, operating in precisely orchestrated stages from recruiting talent to promotion and sales.
The system worked; over the next decade Motown produced more than 100 hits that made it into the Billboard Top Ten, from such storied talents as Robinson, the Supremes, the Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, and many others. The music helped define the era and inspired other greats, such as Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles.
The Turners, featuring interviews with many of Gordy’s colleagues and some of the legendary talents who worked with him, offer a generous selection of hits and a look behind the scenes of how they were made. This is essential viewing for anyone who has an interest in the history of popular music or who just wants to enjoy some of the greatest hits of all time.
An excellent complement to Paul Justmans 2002 documentary, “Standing in the Shadows of Motown,” “Hitsville: The Making of Motown” can be seen on Aug. 24 at 9 p.m. on Showtime and on demand.
Frédéric Tcheng’s “Halston” takes a “Citizen Kane”-like approach to the life of the first American designer to achieve superstar status. A fictitious investigator (Tavi Gevinson) explores his rise and fall by poring through the archives and interrogating persons of interest while noirish music plays in the background.
It is an apt device. Like Orson Welles’s character in the classic 1941 film, Roy Halston Frowick rose up out of anonymity, away from the East, to create an empire that would transform America, or at least the way women dressed.
With zesty editing, catchy graphics, and an inspired soundtrack (kudos for including Bryan Ferry and Nico), Tcheng pieces together archival footage featuring the imperiously handsome, tart-tongued designer and interviews with many of his superstar clients, colleagues, and comrades, including Liza Minnelli; model, actress, and fashionista Marisa Berenson; filmmaker Joel Schumacher; and the hilariously earthy designer Elsa Peretti.
First achieving fame as head milliner for Bergdorf Goodman by designing Jackie Kennedy’s trademark pillbox hat, in 1961, Halston branched out to form his own company and label. His elegantly simple designs freed the female form; and with his talent for self-promotion he soon became an international success and celebrity.
True to the Charles Foster Kane template, Halston eventually had his comeuppance, in part from overindulging in the high life of the 1970s but perhaps more so because of his decision to take his hauteur to the hoi polloi by partnering with J.C. Penney. Like his good friend Andy Warhol, Halston turned his artistry into a brand that will live on in the pantheon of pop culture.
“Halston” screens as part of the newportFILM Outdoors series at 8 p.m. on Aug. 22 at Doris Duke’s Rough Point, 680 Bellevue Ave., Newport, preceded at 6:45 p.m. by a performance by Newport Songwriters Showcase and followed by a Q&A with the director moderated by Vanity Fair critic Richard Lawson .
It can also be seen on CNN on Aug. 25 at 9 p.m.
Go to cnn.it/300FDXf.
Anton Yelchin, who died in 2016 at 27 , might be best remembered for portraying the popular Starship Enterprise crew member Pavel Chekov in J.J. Abrams’s revival of the “Star Trek” franchise). But as Garrett Price’s “Love, Antosha” reveals, he accomplished much more than that during his brief, eventful life.
Born in the Soviet Union, he came to the United States when his parents, champion figure skaters, defected in search of better opportunities. Here he showed precocious talent for filmmaking, music, writing, and acting and would appear in over 60 television shows and films, starting with a 2000 appearance as a young patient on “ER.” He was in the black comedy “Thoroughbreds” (2017) and Paul Schrader’s studio-butchered film maudit, “Dying of the Light” (2014; recut by Schrader in 2017 as “Dark”).
Price interviews Yelchin co-stars and friends Kristen Stewart (who says he “kinda broke my heart”), Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pine, John Cho, and Willem Defoe (with whom he discussed his concerns about losing his hair). Price also includes voice-over readings by Nicolas Cage from the many letters and e-mails Yelchin sent to his mother (signed off with the title phrase) and entries from his diary
The latter reveal a dark side, as does his avocation of taking Diane Arbus-like photos at Southern California sex clubs. Perhaps this was because he knew his time was short; he suffered from cystic fibrosis, a progressive, incurable disease which he kept secret. With tragic irony, his life was cut even shorter by a freak accident just as he was beginning to fulfill his promise.
“Love, Antosha” will open on Aug. 23 at the Kendall.
Peter Keough can be reached at email@example.com.