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To the guy who questioned the racism in the movie.... you need to do a
little homework, cause that was all truth. Although the movie was a
fictionalized account, the racist elements shown were very much
The idea that it couldn't have taken place in the "60's", of all possible timeframes, is absurd and quite ludicrous. All of the major black acts from the 60's were subject to racism where they were treated poorly when off stage. ALL used the service entrance, or kitchen, to enter the venue in which they played. I'm talking Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, the temptations, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Jackie Wilson, Stevie Wonder.... you name 'em.
The practice of fronting songs recorded by blacks with white groups was commonplace in the 50's-60's. Unfortunately, many racist whites didn't want their music to have a black face on it.
Do your homework prior to debunking historical fact.
The movie is THE all time music themed rags-to-riches film ever made.
By now, every film buff knows the legendary story about the plucky,
tenacious indie filmmaker who maxed out all his credit cards to realize
celluloid dreams. Spike Lee was one of the directors most associated with
the tale, as he completed SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT. Another was Robert
who made the hysterically biting satire HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE, about the
African-American experience in Tinseltown.
Once that film became a surprise success, Townsend finally found himself a respected talent, and chose his next project accordingly. He decided to chronicle the long, hard road to success traveled by a black singing group, through several decades of triumph and tragedy. Using the personal experiences of the legendary R & B group The Dells as a blueprint, (they also served as technical advisers), Townsend hammered out a screenplay with friend and colleague Keenan Ivory Wayans, and THE FIVE HEARTBEATS is the result.
Though the film contains moments so overwrought with melodrama that they threaten to slip into parody, the issues of racism, class distinctions, greed, payola, and the ever-present lure of sex, drugs and excess that accompany celebrity status are never treated casually or simply glossed over.
Whatever plot points the script may sometimes seem to stumble over, the talented cast, lead with steadfast confidence by actor/writer/director Townsend, never miss a note or a beat, especially when helped along by a great soundtrack, supervised by jazz/funk/R&B great Stanley Clarke. Every performance is remarkable, with special mention going to the underrated Michael Wright as Eddie, the group's talented and troubled lead singer, to Leon as the group ladies' man, (whose good looks and talent have landed him in several other similar high-profile roles), and to the overlooked Hawthorne James as the malevolent "Big Red," the epitome of a man who has completely sold himself, body and soul, to the dark side of success.
Townsend also manages not to forget that between the dramatic moments, what makes a great musical is great MUSIC; songs that remind us why even though the concept of people suddenly bursting into fully orchestrated tunes defies logic, the pure, giddy sense of fun and enjoyment we derive from such moments are why musicals are a genre that simply refuse to die.
Nowhere in HEARTBEATS is it more apparent, than when Townsend and actress/singer Tressa Thomas team up on a show-stopping number called "We Haven't Finished Yet," as Duck, Townsend's character, struggles to write a song, getting some unexpected and able-bodied help from his baby sister, who nearly brings down the house! It's moments like this that make musicals memorable, and in a niche that can never have too many well-rendered stories about groups from "back-in-the-day," THE FIVE HEARTBEATS is a genuine classic that can be recommended not just to black audiences, but to moviegoers of any background who love good stories about music and musicians.
Coming from a highly musical family, and knowing the struggle and
hardships that abound, I have to agree with the clichés and other
trappings of fame that this film has to offer. It is a slice of the
American Pie, that no one seems to want to believe. There are other
movies about African-American actors, musicians and entertainers, that
show the same scenarios of racism. Dorothy Dandridge really did have to
use the bathroom in a Dixie cup, and when she stuck her toe in the pool
they drained it and cleaned it. People like Big Red did, and do, exist.
There were people who were hung upside down from the balcony, because
they demanded to be let out of loan shark type contracts, or demanded
to see the books. It still goes on today. To say that this movie just
shows the racist, drug addicted side of the music industry is just
inaccurate. This movie is one group's struggle. The movie is based not
only on The Dells, but on the experiences of many of the groups in that
era. Look at the Frankie Lymon Story. It seems too outlandish to be
true, but it is a true story, and that is just part of life.
I have the stories from my father being on the road with various bands in the 50's and 60's, and there are some things that go on, on the road that can only be understood if you have been on the road. My mother has told me about the late night parties at the studios in the 60's and 70's, and some of the crazy things that happened, and again, only if you have been there, can you understand what happens after hours behind closed doors.
I personally have been on the road, and I have been in the studio, late, recording. There is an energy that happens that cannot be explained. Some people can handle it, others cannot. This movie depicts both. I have known people like all of the characters in this movie, and the portrayals are accurate. Yeah, "Can't nobody Sing, Like Eddie King", but at the same time could you keep the show going, being that high? This movie shows the ups ad the downs. It isn't all gravy. It is life. I thank Robert Townsend for this accurate, at times gritty, dirty, beautiful portrayal, of friendship, talent, commitment, and love. It reminds me of my father and his brothers, my mother and me. It's life.
The movie was not intended to create an atmosphere of racism, but
rather keep the movie in prospective given the era of it's setting.
Many artist in those days were subjected to unfair treatment by the
mainstream record labels in those days. Here are a few examples:
1. Frankie Lyman and The Teenagers were a group that was comprised of numerous ethnicities. One member of the group who Chris Montes (who was latino), was cut from the group by the label's producer because he was too ethnic. Chris Montes did later go on to record a few hits of his own such "Do You Want To Dance".
2. American Bandstand which first in 1952 played mostly Rock and Roll which, was pioneered and played by mostly black artist. However, it wasn't until 1957 that Johnny Nash, Jackie Wilson, and other African American singers performed on the show.
3. The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Dells, and many other such groups were restricted to playing all black venues during the 50's and early 60's in the south. This gave rise to would later become know as "The Chitterling Circuit", as the venues were mostly nightclubs, and juke-joints. These artist received harrassment from local law enforcement agencies, and townspeople on a regular basis whenever they came to the highly segregated south.
As far the scene where the record company brings a white group called The Four Horsemen, that's not really a stretch. Most of the time what would happen is that a black group would write or even release a song to the black audience, while the record company would have that same song "covered" by a white group to be released to the "mainstream" audience. The covered version of these songs were the ones that normally got air play from disc jockeys. The best example I can give of that is the 1955 hit by The Platters "Only You (And You Alone)". This song was released on Mercury Records, while one of their subsidiary labels Dot Records released a covered version of the same song by a group called The Hilltopper's who hailed from Western Kentucky College (all white school...segregation you know.) The Hilltopper's version of Only You hit number eight on the pop charts six weeks after the release of the Platters version. The Platters version however reached number on the R&B charts, and crossed over to the pop charts were it number five. A few months later in 1956 The Platters hit #1 on the pop charts with The Great Pretender, which was covered by Stan Freberg in the same year without the same success.
All of that is to say that the movie has its facts straight about what black artist went through in those days, but it's about much more than that. It's about the rise, fall, and resurrection of a talented group, and the proof that love and friendship can withstand all of life's ups and downs.
The Five Heartbeats was a real, honest, remarkable film. It was packed with emotion. Well acted by all involved. A must see to appreciate! The portrayals on the members in the group were believable. It is my understanding that this is a story based upon the popular singing group, "The Dells". I don't know how true it is. I feel that Robert Townsend not only acted well in this film but, he did a fantastic job in directing it, too. To me, it's one of if not the best piece of work that he has done. I also enjoyed his film, "The Hollywood Shuffle" but the Five Heartbeats is my overall favorite. Kudos to Mr. Townsend for a job well done and may we say his greatest works are yet to come. Thank you Mr. Townsend and I hope to meet you one day!
This film is a masterpiece, it combines an excellent cast, with motown style music, a great story, and a great film all around, Robert Townsend is a genius! after watching this film you get an idea of what it was like for bands struggling to make it to the top, and what happens when they get there, I highly reccomend this film!!!
This is a great film. It displays the passion and purity if music during that time and a real world depiction of the music world even today. Robert Townsend did a wonderful job of taken the story of a great group and telling it in a "cinemagraphic" manner. By far one of the best biographical films to date.
On almost all the comments everyone assumes this film is based on The
Temptations. Which is a fair assumption given The Temps' lead singer David
Ruffin had a serious drug problem,as did the 'Hearts in this film.
This film is actually based on a group named The Dells. The Dells started recording in 1953 (as The El-Rays, and changed to the Dells in '55). They have atleast 3to4 dozen R&B hits in every decade from the 1950s to the 90s. Everything in the Film except for the lead singer being a drug addict is based on their experiences. As with most Hollywood films somethings were embelished for Dramatic effect. The Dells also sang just about every song the soundtrack. The theme song "A Heart Is A House For Love" was a #13 R&B in 1991. Happy to say the Dells are still performing and recording together after 51 years, with no personell changes since 1957. The Dells served as Technical advisors on the film, and at the end of the credits they show a picture of them and the Film is dedicated to them.
I have the DVD of this movie and it is moving. It shows all races black and white that if you want something to keep working toward it and never give up. This movie really touched me and gave me a new outlook on my life and the things that i do. Where are the great writers like the ones who wrote this story? We need to be giving them all of the credit and praise because they are the ones who believed that the world should see how black music began and evolved into what is the most dominant music in America. We have had problems over the years with the really bad music and the really great music. This shows that black people lots of talent and much more charisma and can truly ACT.
Only someone foolish or not of the African-American persuasion would say that black artists did not experience racism in the 60's, when black artist still experience racism today. And, the attempt to masquerade white artists while using black voices is not so outlandish. The recording industry, the music industry, and the marketing industry are three completely different animals. Music, recording, and marketing can be combined to create a synergy that is altogether real or on the other hand you have Milli-Vanilli. If it was done in the 90's I am quite sure it was practiced in earlier years. Everyone that is in business is in business to make money and while there is making music and recording music, it all boils down to money. Marketing - optimizing profits by directing sales toward the market that has the potential to generate the highest earnings. The ideal of a sell out was popularized with the advent of the Hip-hop culture, before that time it was about money and money only, not being accepted into a culture that lauded "KEEPING IT REAL".
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