What’s Going On: The Life & Death of Marvin Gaye & Greatest Hits: Live In ’76 (Collector’s Edition)

Marvin Gaye

Eagle Rock Entertainment, 2008

REVIEW BY: Kenny S. McGuane

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/27/2008

Popumentaries have really gained momentum in the last ten years. It seems like there’s a new documentary about pop and/or rock icons released every week, though most of them skip the theater and come straight to DVD.

That’s because the overwhelming majority of them aren’t very good.

We’re still waiting for a great Marvin Gaye documentary. Even a decent one would be nice. I mean, he’s just as deserving of a high-budget Hollywood treatment as Ray Charles and Johnny Cash, perhaps more; after all, Charles and Cash don’t have albums that regularly show up in the Top 10 of “greatest albums of all time” listings.

Eagle Vision Entertainment has bundled two of their Marvin Gaye releases into one collector’s edition DVD. The marketing phrase “collector’s edition” implies that there is something unique about this package, but there isn’t. They’ve just combined two previously released DVDs into one box. This set includes their 2005 – mediocre at best – documentary bim_ad_daily_vault_print_250
What’s Going On: The Life & Death of Marvin Gaye and a 1976 concert filmed at the Edenhalle Concert Hall in Amsterdam on Gaye’s first European tour called Greatest Hits: Live In ’76.

Let’s start with the concert. Greatest Hits: Live In ’76 is a real treasure. Filmed during the I Want You tour, the concert features a healthy and happy Marvin Gaye who puts on as good of a show as one would expect from the beloved and charismatic Prince of Motown. He covers lots of ground too: “Let’s Get It On,” “Inner City Blues,” “What’s Going On,” “Save The Children” and “Distant Lover,” among others, are all in the lineup. Gaye and his band also perform a rushed Motown Medley (“Pride & Joy,” “Little Darling (I Need You),” “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” etc.) to satisfy all of the audience’s expectations. If the concert falls short in anyway, it’s that all of the songs receive that funked-up, borderline-smooth-jazz,‘70s cocaine-enriched soul music treatment. It doesn’t serve the music well, at least not as well as the Motown format does, but he’d have to bring the Motown house band The Funk Brothers on tour with him to pull that off.

What’s Going On: The Life & Death of Marvin Gaye is a hastily assembled 100-minute documentary that does a pretty poor job of documenting the artist’s life. Look, you’d need a lot more than 100 minutes to say all there is to say on Marvin Gaye, but 100 minutes is still a pretty long time and the documentary doesn’t make good use of this time. Still, the film does feature interviews with Motown President Berry Gordy, his two ex-wives Anna and Janice, the brilliant Marvin Gaye biographer David Ritz, and quite a few others. These interviews are informative but brief. The best feature of the film is the archival footage of Marvin Gaye himself, some from interviews, some from performances. The end result is a short-winded look at one of America’s most gifted, complicated, and legendary talents.

Perhaps it’s asking too much, but I don’t think so. Doesn’t Marvin Gaye deserve more than 100 minutes? It’s Marvin Gaye for God’s sake. What’s Going On: The Life & Death of Marvin Gaye only confirms the need for a dedicated filmmaker to take on the task of documenting, exploring, explaining, and preserving the Prince of Motown’s legacy.

Rating: B

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© 2008 Kenny S. McGuane and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Eagle Rock Entertainment, and is used for informational purposes only.