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20 Feet from Stardom: Singing in the shadows

 

 
Overview
 

Genre:
 
Starring: , ,
 
Directed By:
 
Studio: ,
 
MPAA Rating:
 
Release Date: June 14, 2013
 
Length: 90 minutes
 
Directing
6.0


 
Plot
6.0


 
Acting
8.0


 
Cinematography
7.0


 
Total Score
6.8
6.8/ 10


 

Whoa


The documentary has a lot of heart and features many terrific concert performances.

No


The film lacks a structural narrative.


Bottom Line

20 Feet from Stardom is director Morgan Neville’s documentary about talented people who sing in the shadows of superstars like Sting, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John. Neville focuses on the individual stories of several significant singers. While the film’s lack of a narrative could be a bit off-putting, it has such heart and features so […]

1
Posted July 1, 2013 by

 
Full Review
 
 

20 Feet from Stardom is director Morgan Neville’s documentary about talented people who sing in the shadows of superstars like Sting, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John. Neville focuses on the individual stories of several significant singers. While the film’s lack of a narrative could be a bit off-putting, it has such heart and features so many terrific concert performances that the absence of structure isn’t a real deterrent.

The documentary opens with a short interview with Bruce Springsteen, who speaks eloquently about the role of the background singer in rock ’n’ roll and notes that it’s a “complicated” walk to the front of the stage. We find out just “complicated” that transition can be when we hear the story of someone like Darlene Love. While still in high school, Love joined the girl group the Blossoms and sang on records by the likes of Tom Jones, Sam Cooke, the Beach Boys and Elvis Presley. But her group was always under the control of uber-producer Phil Spector, who often didn’t give her proper credit or enable her to make a significant living. So she walked away, leaving the music business altogether. She eventually returned in the 1980s and actively tried to get the credit she never received, going on the Late Show with David Letterman to perform “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” Eventually, Love was even inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame in 2011 (a tearful Better Midler did the honors), but her story is the exception.

The more typical case is that of Judith Hill, a singer who was part of Michael Jackson’s backing band. After his sudden death, she performed at his funeral and received overwhelming critical acclaim. She signed a record deal in the wake of that attention but has struggled to make a name for herself, something she admits has been frustrating. She was also a contestant on The Voice, but was voted off before making it to the final round.

Artists like Sting and Mick Jagger suggest the art of the backing singer is a lost one in this day and age of auto-tuned vocals and electronic sampling. The rousing vintage performances we see make us wish this wasn’t the case.


Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected]


One Comment


  1.  
    Matt

    Dang it…I want to see this. Bummed that I missed a screening here (apparently?). Great review — thanks for the perspective!





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