Hitsville: The Making of Motown (12A, 112 mins)

Directors: Gabe Turner, Benjamin Turner

Stars: Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder

4 stars

Like the title suggests, we’re in Detroit to witness the birth and meteoric rise of the legendary record label in this captivating documentary. This is the story of Motown founder Berry Gordy and the almost literal assembly line he created for his brand - find the talent, mentor them, write the songs that would become the hits and turn them into superstars. The result was an unimaginable roster of musical brilliance that took in Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes and on and on.

The big benefit is that Gordy himself is still around to tell the tales, although he does also serve as the film’s producer, so hopefully any glossing has been kept to a minimum - there’s almost no mention of money, for example. Gordy and Smokey Robinson provide the primary on-screen interviews, and their camaraderie is infectious, but there’s valuable input from almost all the surviving stars, with the notable absence of Diana Ross.

It can settle into a rut of going from song to song, but when the music is this good, that hardly matters. And it’s also able to go deeper to look at the black experience and race relations in Detroit and the country as a whole during the ‘60s, at how progressive the company was in their hiring of women, and how it didn’t matter if you were black or white. Ultimately though, when Smokey sings, you’ll hear violins.