Saturday, June 29, 2013

Review: 20 Feet From Stardom (Morgan Neville, 2013)

20 Feet From Stardom is a delightful, intelligently constructed commemoration to some of the heroes of music, the supremely talented ladies – mostly of whom are African American – who made a career twenty feet removed from the spotlight by embracing their vital roles as backup vocalists. But, the question is, why aren’t they stars in their own right? In Morgan Neville’s immensely satisfying documentary we are privileged to the intimate tales of Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Táta Vega, Claudia Lennear, Judith Hill, the Waters siblings and others as they reveal their unique experiences as backup vocalists. Neville takes relevant tangents, bouncing between the accounts to not only paint a convincing depiction of their individual value, but comment on the industry as a whole.

While many of us have heard these voices, their contributions undoubtedly vital pieces of every song, how many of us knew where that voice was coming from? This is an insightful study of the enormous spirit of these women and their often under-appreciated role. There is an unwavering enthusiasm to the film, both fascinating and joyously uplifting. The live concert footage is incredible and I knew this was a winner almost immediately when we are shown several clips of ‘Slippery People’ from Talking Heads’ amazing concert film ‘Stop Making Sense’.

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