Monday, January 13, 2014

Back up (or move on)! Morgan Neville's 20 FEET FROM STARDOM shows the life of backup singers

If you were lucky enough to catch the little-seen documen-tary titled THIS TIME, either on DVD (it made its debut in 2011) or the following year when it had a very limited theatrical re-lease, you're already one-up on this year's popular docu-mentary 20 FEET FROM STARDOM, which arrives on DVD and Blu-ray this coming week. While the former film de-tails the lives & near-careers of a group of hopefuls trying to reach the pinnacle of their respective music professions (rock, gospel, cabaret, and variations) or in some cases make a comeback from their earlier success/subsequent disappearance, 20 Feet... deals with mostly the career/plight of some back-up singers who've worked with the very best (The Rolling Stones, Elvis, etc) and who in some cases are hoping to light out on their own, though in another -- the whop-pingly talented Darlene Love -- are just trying for a kind of comeback.

Directed by Morgan Neville, shown at right, the movie is full of music and rhythm, heartache and semi-triumph, as it recounts the past and present and allows us a glimpse of the maybe future of some of these amazing singers. Ms Love's career, in particular, is given a large swath of time and exposure -- from her misuse by the crazy and talented Phil Spector to her near-rise, obscurity (cleaning houses in Los Angeles!) and resurgence. One of the ultimate cabaret experiences of TrustMovies' life came some years back when he saw a show (at the now defunct Fein-stein's at the Regency) of Ms Love paired with Freda Payne (yes, love & pain!). Both women were terrific, but Love was off-the-charts amazing. That voice, the energy, the absolute focus and freedom of voice, feeling, movement this woman possesses!

Neville's movie -- via interviews with stars, from Springsteen to Jagger to Midler and back, as well as work-a-day musicians and these young (or not so) women themselves -- shows us both how talented these performers are and how difficult it is to go from being a terrific backup singer to breaking out into one's own sphere of stardom.

As the movie moves along, you become aware that one young woman -- Judith Hill, below -- is going to keep attempting this, while another -- the equally,

perhaps even more talented  Lisa Fischer, shown above, may just stay put, in back of the "stars." And yet it is also clear that this position -- the titular 20 feet from stardom -- ain't so bad in many regards. The singers are hugely prized by some of the stars (Jagger is effusive in his praise) and audiences knows and love them, too.

The movie also lets us hear from performers like the great Claudia Lennear (below) and Merry Clayton, along with Táta Vega and The Waters family -- all of whom have had fine careers. Even if some of them didn't, perhaps, maximize their potential, all of them have a lot to show for their time in (or at least near) the sun.

It's Ms Love, however (shown below), who seems to hold things together here, whether she's reminiscing or belting out her signature Christmas number. As the credits roll, you'll probably stay in your seat, tapping your toe to the rhythm and maybe even singing along. If the movie doesn't quite jell in the way that This Time manages, or probe as deeply as it might (it's mostly a feel-good fest), it succeeds in giving us a good, musical time.

20 Feet from Stardom -- running 91 minutes, from RADiUS/TWC, and appearing on DVD and Blue-ray via Anchor Bay Entertainment, hits the streets this Tuesday, January 14.

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