20 Feet from Stardom Screen 9 articles

20 Feet from Stardom


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  • The movie pays a long-overdue tribute to [the backup singers'] glorious pipes, but also engages with the disconnection between talent and stardom, and while it isn’t exactly an exposé of the music industry, infuriating details emerge.

  • Twenty Feet From Stardom touches on fascinating issues, but too often it does no more than that: That the backup singers profiled are largely black and their employers largely white goes mostly unmentioned, apart from Clayton recounting her struggle to decide whether to sing on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”

  • Their stories are sad, hopeful and far from the rags-to-riches fantasy world of American Idol (one younger singer here, Judith Hill, was even voted off The Voice). Yet, as one participant observes, if they didn’t make it to the top, they didn’t suffer the pitfalls of massive fame either, and their spirit and love for what they do carries the film to a memorable conclusion: Love and her sisters-in-back-up doing a stunning “Lean on Me.”

  • [The film's] a tad hagiographic—only Mick Jagger has the courage to note that some singers, no matter how gifted, simply don’t have what it takes to command a stage from front and center. At the same time, though, the expression on Jagger’s face when he hears Merry Clayton’s isolated backing vocals on “Gimme Shelter” speaks far more eloquently. Documentaries about the rich and famous are a dime a dozen; it’s a treat to see one that makes the case for people who were left standing in the shadows.

  • Yes, Neville moons and fawns over these songbirds, and that climactic jam is cringeworthy, but he nails the sense of joie de vivre these extraordinary artists put into every note—a tribute to doing it for the love of the expression over stardom that provides incalculable amounts of inspiration.

  • [The inclusion of singing imperfections] in the film speaks to the passion and the ambition of these performers, who helped fill out songs in ways that aren’t always immediately apparent. As they point out, their work is almost subliminally catchy; you hum their riffs without even realizing it.

  • I finally caught up with “20 Feet From Stardom,” which is now spreading into broad national release and looks like the sleeper documentary hit of the summer. And it’s no wonder – this is one of those moving, tragic and triumphant secret histories of American culture where the biggest surprise is that no one’s told it before.

  • “Singing background remains a somewhat unheralded position… But that walk to the front is complicated. It’s a conceptual leap,” opines Bruce Springsteen, kicking off director Morgan Neville’s exuberant, hit-studded, full-to-bursting documentary celebrating the black female backing singers who added their distinctive sounds to many classic pop and rock songs but found stardom elusive.

  • By virtue of its subject matters and by showcasing charming and well-balanced people content to derive meaning and enjoyment while among their peers, 20 Feet From Stardom is in its own small way revolutionary.

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