20 Feet From Stardom

September 15, 2013 at 6:53 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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This is one of those films that is very hard for me to rate because I can see the value in it, even if I did not particularly get much out of it.  As much as I enjoy music, I don’t have an ear for it.  I could not tell you when a person is singing in-tune or out-of-tune; it all sounds the same to me.  Honestly.  So, what do I do?  Do I rate it based on my experience or on what I think other’s might feel?  I’ve decided to split the difference.  What I can tell you is that this documentary had some amazing singing in it.  Director Morgan Neville wants to teach the lay person about all the great work done by African American backup singers over the last 50 years.  We get interviews with some of legends in the field.  When I say legends, I mean that they are well known, respected and adored by the music gods we are all familiar with.  It is interesting to hear that people like Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Merry Clayton, Tata Vega, Judith Hill, and The Waters Family (none of whom are known at all outside of music circles) are big names who are highly sought after by artists as big as David Bowie and Ray Charles. Some of those artists (Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Bette Midler, Sheryl Crow) were also interviewed for the film. Here’s the problem: these women’s stories are never given to us in enough detail to be truly interesting.  They clearly struggled, faced depression, poverty and discrimination but, unlike last year’s brilliant “Searching for Sugarman,” we don’t get any one person’s story enough to feel the impact.  When the film let’s its singers sing, it is at it’s best. This is especially true when the mesmerizing Lisa Fischer is on the screen. However, the rest of the time, it drags a bit. In the end, it lacked narrative and, without that, it was just a series of beautiful songs sung by a series of beautiful and under-appreciated women.

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