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Detroit music was carefully chosen for "Detroit" film

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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The new drama “Detroit” obviously doesn’t forget the Motor City. It embraces the music that was a vital part of the environment when the civil unrest broke out in July 1967.

The film soundtrack, which will be released Aug. 4, is heavy with Motown favorites — though not obvious hits, save for Martha Reeves & the Vandellas’ “Jimmy Mack,” and Marvin Gaye & Tammy Tyrell’s “Your Precious Love.” It also features a new song, “It Ain’t Fair,” by the Roots and Bilal.

“You can’t tell the story without music,” says director Kathryn Bigelow. “That really is in the DNA of that event and the city at that time. Motown ... was really the catalyst that I think galvanized everybody. Not every (song) is very well-known but they add to the tapestry.

“You try to make it as accurate and authentic as you possibly can and yet make it feel real and fresh.”

While most of “Detroit” was filmed in Boston, one short scene shows actors portraying the Dramatics recording in the actual Studio A at Motown’s Hitsville USA headquarters. Another scene depicts a concert at the Fox Theatre, whose real exterior is shown, as a Swingin’ Time Revue show is cut short by the violence going on outside. The Vandellas are depicted performing “Nowhere To Run,” though Reeves notes she, and not the male emcee seen in the film, “was the one summoned to tell everybody to walk out of the theater quietly, that the riots had started and the sirens were roaring, tanks were on the street.”

Reeves says she and the Vandellas were stopped before they could sing “Jimmy Mack” for the first time in public, so its inclusion on the soundtrack album provides some poetic justice.

Peyton “Alex” Smith, who plays one of the Dramatics, says immersing in the music of the time was something of a balm from the dark and violent tone of the film.

“You can’t talk about Detroit without talking to Motown,” he says, “so it was just awesome going back in a time machine and learning about all the music of the period and just being well-versed in all the material. I like to call myself a music nerd, so I just went back and got in my catalog and I listened for months before the project.”

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