Film "Sparkle" recalls a time when Detroit shined

Thu Aug 23, 2012 10:17pm EDT
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By Eddie B. Allen Jr.

DETROIT (Reuters) - A two-story house on West Grand Boulevard was once a music-makers' paradise, but is now a monument - a museum, really - to a colorful city that, behind new movie "Sparkle", is recalling its past with renewed pride.

The home of Motown Records, which became known as Hitsville USA during the record label's 1960s heyday, looked like many others on its block. But behind its walls, business was anything but usual, and "Sparkle" seems to have captured the magic of the times, city residents told Reuters in recent interviews.

Young men and women, some barely out of their teens, wrote and recorded songs that were the driving force in building the multimillion-dollar label that launched the careers of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and The Supremes, among many others, giving Detroit an identity around the globe.

Last weekend's release of updated 1976 musical drama "Sparkle" brought a wave of nostalgia to die-hard fans of the Motown Sound and Detroiters excited to see their city reflected positively on screen after years of struggle, including an auto industry that had fallen on tough times.

The movie features characters who hark back to a special era, plus cultural landmarks such as Baker's Keyboard Lounge and Cliff Bell's nightclub, which are still in operation today.

Life-long Detroiter Blanche Ussery, who saw "Sparkle" with her family, noted a few omissions and minor inaccuracies, but said the story mostly captured the spirit of the city.

"I thought it was pretty much reminiscent of the times," Ussery said.

Strikingly accurate, she said, was the courtship between "Sparkle" co-stars Jordin Sparks and Derek Luke, which brought to mind a simpler time in Detroit. Luke's character pursued Sparks' protagonist at church, much like Ussery's husband sought her at People's Community parish, where they eventually married.   Continued...

A memorial for 'King of Pop' Michael Jackson is seen on the steps of Hittsville U.S.A, the original Motown Studios, in Detroit, Michigan June 26, 2009. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook