Friday, July 27, 2012

Book to Movie Classics: The Temptations

Everyone who knows me knows I love movies--but my favorite movies always tend to be musicals.  That means heavy on the great acting and heavy on the incredible singing.  So it's no wonder that this month's Book to Movie Classic is The Temptations.  The mini-series, which later was written to DVD film, was produced by Suzanne de Passe, Berry Gordy's right-hand woman in Artist Development, and Otis Williams, the sole surviving original member of the infamous R&B group The Temptations.  The screenplay was based on a memoir he wrote about the group in 1999 and later re-released in 2002 with an additional chapter about the deaths of Eddie Kendricks and Melvin (Blue) Franklin, who were still alive when the book was first penned.

The book manages to be incredibly insightful.  Otis has a way of telling things like they happened without painting anyone in terribly negative or unfavorable light.  There are no real villains or crooks, nor are there any decidely heroic parties.  The tale is spun so impeccably that it's hard to question its validity; Otis clearly has a very vivid memory.  You can almost place yourself in the 1960s on a bus or in a hotel watching these young men become men while developing as chart-topping artists.

There have been some very unflattering depictions of David Ruffin and his domestic and drug abuse.  As a matter of fact, his ex-lover and mother of his only son, Genna Sapia, wrote a book about just that, and her relationship with David.  While her book clearly has some bitterness and hostility toward David and some of his bandmates (and other lovers), Otis' book doesn't do that.  Even when describing his varied relationships (he was married three times), he fails to be more explicit than to say that he cared deeply for one or the other.  His love for each member of the group is evident from start to finish (even those members the movie never mentions or says little about), and never once does he diminish even the slightest bit the talent and asset each was to the legacy of the group.

The movie is truly a sight, and is, again, one of my absolute favorites.  I can't tell you how many times I've watched it or even how well I know the choreography of each song.  Let's just say the music is timeless, and it's truly apparent in this movie.  This clip of "(I Know) I'm Losing You" is one of my absolute favorites because not only does it demonstrate the power and captivation of David's voice, but it shows the precision and showmanship of this incredible group.

Beyond the music, the cast was expected to perform up to standard; anything less and they wouldn't be believable as the Tempts.  Many of the actors cast as the original five do also sing; however, some did not re-record many of the songs in the studio prior to filming because their voices did not sound much like the original singers.  Leon, for example, who plays David Ruffin, could not duplicate such a notorious voice, so his scenes are lip-synched, with the exception of his scene with Otis and Melvin at his apartment as he is singing along to "Aint Too Proud to Beg".

These men create a captivating world riddled with problems from the very beginning.  Members leave the group left and right (again, quite a few are left out of the movie as their parts in the Temptation "movement" were brief and could not be captured in depth on screen), and each is forever aware that no one is indispensible.  No one man would ever be bigger than the group.  And Otis holds to that motto today with the modern day Tempts.  The imagery is fantastic, and, despite its length, the music and depth of character keeps you moving from one scene to the next.

Of course, the way Melvin's death is depicted in the movie is inaccurate, but because his death occurred right before filming of "Temptations" got underway, it was "much too fresh" on their hearts to recreate it accurately.  However, Smokey Robinson's song "I'll Miss You (My Friend)" was actually sung at the real funeral.

 5/5 suns: Both the book and movie are must-have for your collection.  It's not one of my favorites for nothing!

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