The Temptations (1998)
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But the film's not just dramatic and heartbreaking. The lively dance and singing scenes will have you smiling, tapping your feet and singing along, no doubt. Especially when their video of "My Girl" plays, and the screen fades slowly from black and white into color.
One of the best TV movies ever, as well as a great peek at one of the greatest singing groups in music history.
All that said, the story is surprisingly very strong, the characters fascinating, the performances energetic, and the music is very well presented. The sense of the historical change of context surrounding the characters is also accurate and convincing, although played quietly (actually works better that way).
The first half especially is a treat. A strong effort to do the group, its music, and its history justice.
Adapted from the autobiography by Otis Williams, the group's De facto leader and the only surviving founding member, the film comes from his perspective and focuses a great deal on him and his best friend, the group's bass singer Melvin Franklin. So naturally, we are probably meant to sympathize with him most and Melvin (let's face, nobody sees themselves as a bad person and even when admitting their faults, they'll only make themselves out to be so bad). The once lovably laid back and very funny David Ruffin is predictably portrayed in an unflattering light once his ego inflates to paramount proportions after fame goes to his head, which understandably upsets his family and relatives to the point that they sued Otis Williams and the film's production company, because lets face it, no one likes to see their son/brother/father/grandfather/uncle portrayed in such a way, regardless of what his personal habits may have been. Hell, David Ruffin is more or less the poster child for how fame/success can ruin a man, and his own life became so wrought with problems (ranging from ego management to the painful cocaine addiction that eventually destroyed him) that you could probably make an entire film focused solely on him. It really is a shame that the real Ruffin wasted what little time he was going to have with his ego and personal problems getting in the way of his career, because he was a great singer and a great showman. Also sad to see is the tragic fate that befell Paul Williams, who's alcoholism (brought on in part by sickle cell anemia, which the film fails to mention) also got in the way of both his career and his life, which came to an end at 34 (Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin and Melvin Franklin all made to at least 50).
The film does not really give much focus to Dennis Edwards, the large, powerfully built Contours singer who replaced David Ruffin as the group's lead singer in the late 1960s, leading them through the psychedelic, funk and disco periods, and little is said of the problems that later arose between him and Otis Williams, though they do give screen time to his anger over being asked to sing the first verse of "Papa Was A Rolling Stone", since his own father died really died on the 3rd of September.
Naturally, there are liberties taken to fit the running time. Perhaps the most offensive liberty taking concerns the death of Melvin Franklin - in the film Melvin is shown dying while visiting his mother with Otis, when in reality Melvin died in a hospital after slipping into a coma. This was reportedly done because the miniseries was put together not long after Melvin had died and it was just too personal for them to really face. Another inaccuracy is that Dennis Edwards is shown touring with Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin before the group' reunion tour in the early 1980s, when in reality he didn't start touring with them until after the group was inducted into the rock & roll hall of fame in the late 80s. On top of that, Kendricks and Ruffin didn't start touring together until after the reunion tour. How many other liberties are taken is anyone's guess, though the film remains entertaining and still gives an overall general overview of the group's history while also serving to showcase the group's music to a new generation.
I'll have to agree with some of the other posters on this board; since the book by Otis Williams formed the basis for this movie treatment I'm sure much of what appears is preferential to Williams himself. But over all, the picture seems to offer a reasonable treatment of the diverse personalities that formed the original group and later on, some of the replacement members. For me, David Ruffin is the voice of the Temps, but I never realized how his aura of self importance led to an early departure. Throughout the ordeals the group went through with Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams, I had to admire Otis Williams' philosophy that no one member was bigger than the group.
What was really cool for me was seeing how the early 1960's Motown sound came into being with the backdrop of Hitsville U.S.A. and all those great personalities in proximity with each other, never knowing who would make it and who wouldn't. Martha Reeves working the switchboard, that was a blast! Smokey Robinson coming up with hit after hit and Berry Gordy sizing up the talent. On top of that, you get a sense that the Motown sound helped break down barriers between the races which was a great thing to see.
What I did know at the time but completely forgot about until seeing the film was how for a time there were actually two groups using the name Temptations when Ruffin and Kendricks struck out on their own with new members. The picture doesn't venture into or try to explain any of the legalities involved with copyrights and such, so that would be interesting to research. The other thing, if you were around for the Temptations from the beginning, you'll notice that their big hits weren't presented in chronological order in the film. For example, 'I Wish it Would Rain' was recorded before 'Psychedelic Shack', but the picture used the songs to complement what was going on in the personal lives of the band at times instead of following their release date. That was a small departure from historical accuracy that doesn't take away from one's enjoyment of the picture.
Regardless, if you're a Temptations fan, you really need to see the picture for an inside look at what hopefully is a fairly accurate account of the group. To me, they were the embodiment of the Motown sound and my favorite Motown group, and every time one of their early songs comes on the radio, I just have to join in.