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Michael Bolton documentary is a "love letter" to Detroit's comeback

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

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Michael Bolton was a huge Motown fan when he made his 2013 album “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough: A Tribute to Hitsville U.S.A.”

That led to the Grammy Award-winning singer becoming a fan — and booster — of the Motor City as a whole.

A visit to the Motown Historical Museum leading to that album’s release also led to Michael Bolton Presents “American Dream: Detroit,” a 90-minute documentary paying tribute to the city’s comeback from bankruptcy, which premieres in theaters on Tuesday, May 15.

It features a variety of the city’s entertainers (Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, Alice Cooper, Mayer Hawthorne, Mary Wilson and film directors Francis Ford Coppola and Jerry Bruckheimer), entrepreneurs (Dan Gilbert, Christopher Ilitch, Bill Ford, Bruce Schwartz, John Varvatos), politicians (Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan) and residents, all talking about the city’s history and resurgence, creating what Bolton calls “a love letter to Detroit.”

“While we were filming at Hitsville to create a commercial for the album, we had been told there was a major effort to bring back Detroit on a very large scale,” says Bolton, who co-directed the movie with Christina Kline and will be back in Detroit for a special screening of the film on Tuesday at the Redford Theatre. “We made a couple of phone calls and got to meet Dan Gilbert and his people up at Quicken and found they were completely committed to this entire comeback of Detroit. I got to meet some amazing people and got really attached to, it because there’s so many great people in Detroit.

“I realized this story was so much bigger than my album. Hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars are being focused, wisely, on bringing back a community. Like anybody else I heard all of the (bad) things people say about Detroit. I thought someone needed to tell the story about all the good things that were happening there.”

Bolton, Kline and their team came to Detroit more than a dozen times during the five years of the film’s production, occasionally for key events like the first run of “The Motown Musical” at the Fisher Theatre (Bolton sang during a pre-party at the Roostertail) and the opening of Varvatos’ store on Woodward Avenue.

“Every time we came back, there were new restaurants, more office spaces filled, more people living downtown,” says Bolton, 65, who opened for Bob Seger during 1983, his first major national concert tour. “I would meet people at the airport who were excited and would tell me about it.”

Set to a soundtrack that includes both well-known and obscure Detroit songs as well as two new Bolton originals, the resulting film addresses Detroit’s dark image head-on, opening with insults leveled in films such as “Kentucky Fried Movie” and “The Karate Kid.” The densely detailed project also offers a concise history from its glory days as a densely populated industrial capitol through the auto industry bailout of 2009 and the city’s 2013 bankruptcy. The movie’s overarching message, however, is one of resilience, hope and progress.

And while there are plenty of celebrities and major figures among the more than 100 people interviewed for the film, Bolton and company also included upstarts such as Slow Roll founder Jason Hall and proprietors of ventures such as the dPop gallery, the Z garage, Ponyride and more.

“When people say, ‘Hey, what’s going on in Detroit?’ it starts with a lot of great people,” Bolton says. “We covered the stars and the giant entrepreneurs and their commitment. I never want to miss an opportunity to shout out for Dan Gilbert, you know? But it’s more important at a human level, because these are individuals whose live are moving in a great direction, because there’s all this activity going on and someone gave them the opportunity, and they’re doing great things.

“You find yourself rooting for this story, for the success of the story, like you would for a sports team.”

Now Bolton is vested in spreading the good word about Detroit. After the film’s premiere this week he hopes to find it “the best home where it can have the longest life ... between network and cable and streaming.” He also views “American Dream: Detroit” as a beginning of a story that he’s confident will continue to grow.

“It just keeps going,” says Bolton, who’s recording a new album featuring orchestral versions of his greatest hits and will celebrate his 50th anniversary as a performer this year. “Just when I thought we were finished we’d find some other great thing that had just popped up, and were like, ‘We need to include that, and that, and that....’

“So (the film) is saying, ‘Here’s what we have found, and this is just, if not the tip of the iceberg, then just the beginning.’ And I can’t wait to see what else happens.”

• If You Go: Michael Bolton Presents “American Dream: Detroit” live at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 15, at the Redford Theatre, 17360 Lahser Road, Detroit. Tickets are $16. Call 313-537-2560 or visit redfordtheatre.com. The film also will run at various theaters that night. Visit FathomEvents.com for locations and tickets.

Web Site: www.FathomEvents.com

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