Twenty Feet From Stardom -- a Film Review
Directed by Morgan Neville
Featuring Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill, Tata Vega; Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Bette Midler, Mick Jagger, Chris Botti
Fans of the knockout lineup above can't help but relive their slacker youths, those early doobies, the wasted years lying around on someone's scruffy flokati in a haze of equally adrift bro's and such, as one worked out patterns on the pressed metal ceiling above one's half-lidded eyeballs.
Millions know their voices, but no one knows their names. In his cardiac-tissue new doc, Twenty Feet from Stardom, director Morgan Neville has an easy and enviable task: Run around the studios down south and music venues up north, then spotlight the untold true stories of the doo-wop and forward backup singers behind some of the greatest musical colossi of the 21st century. Exuberant and heartbreaking in equal measure, the film is both a tribute to the unsung voices and talent that brought texture, rhythm and color to our popular music, and a reflection on the conflicts, sacrifices, and rewards of a career spent harmonizing with others entailed.
Always on call, but out of the hot and monied limelight. No one gave them velvet rope exceptions in the starlight room, or privileged access to the toney corridors of fame. One famous fogey once opined that he hated his fame, once his face became known. But these stars never got the chance to decry the burdens of going to a 5-star restaurant and being hounded by autograph seekers and celebrity bounty hunters.
These gifted artists span a range of styles, genres and eras of pop music, but each has her (mostly hers in this capture of the great unknowns who made the known greats) uniquely fascinating and personal story to share of life spent in the superstar penumbra. Along with rare archival footage and a peerless soundtrack, Twenty Feet boasts candid, intimate interviews with Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger, and Sting among many. Here, these world-famous figures take a back seat to the flamboyant array of backup singers whose lives and stories take flight after lives spent in well-regarded, infra dig, but unrecognized shadows.
A movie easy to like on its own merits, terrific listening, heart-filling glimpses into the idolized, but indispensable if you want the larger canvas of those behind-the-scenes goings-on that colored so many growing-up years, before you planted your flag in responsible pretend working-stiff adulthood.
No big messages. Hardly a political potboiler. But this kind of bonbon can unite the tops and bottoms, the reds and blues, the whizziwits and whazziwats.
Go alone. Go together. Either way, you'll be just a couple of theatre rows from your personal, hummable bygones. Rather, <sigh>gones.