HEARTS KEEP ON BEATING
ROBERT TOWNSEND BRINGS HIS MOTOWN CULT FILM TO MEMPHIS FOR SATURDAY NIGHT SHOWING AT FILM FESTIVAL
When 20th Century Fox introduced “The Five Heartbeats” in 1991, audiences weren’t interested. A period drama about the rise, fall and breakup of a Motown-style vocal group, the film perhaps seemed alien to young moviegoers enthralled with hip-hop and “alternative” rock. And the lukewarm reviews from critics didn’t help.
“The film bombed at the box office,” said writerdirector-star Robert Townsend, in a recent interview from his home — actually, from his car — in Southern California.
“When it came out, we died,” he admitted. “People didn’t really know what it was about. The trailers came out, and people were like, ‘What is Robert Townsend doing? This looks like a music video from the 1960s.’”
But sometimes audiences need to discover a movie for themselves. In the years since its failed theatrical release, “The Five Heartbeats” has become a fixture of cable television, a “mainstream cult” film in the manner of “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Sandlot,” a source for social-media memes and something of a generation-bridging family touchstone, especially in African-american households.
Robert Townsend (center), writer, director and star of “The Five Heartbeats,” will host a 25th-anniversary screening of the film at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Studio on the Square during the On Location: Memphis International Film & Music Fest. Also attending will be fellow actor Leon (upper right).