’20 Feet From Stardom,’ reviewed by Marshall Fine


It’s hard to imagine another documentary this year that will be as uplifting, entertaining and moving as Morgan Neville’s “20 Feet From Stardom.”

A sensation at this year’s Sundance festival, “20 Feet” looks at a group of people who normally don’t feel the spotlight’s heat – the backup singer. They labor behind the star, filling in the sound, enriching it, giving it heft and depth, all without any of the attention that’s focused on the headliner.

Neville covers a lot of ground in the course of his film, bringing several of the biggest name in background singing to the fore: Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Claudia Lennear, Lisa Fischer and several others. He tells their stories, but also examines the benefits and pitfalls of the background role.

As Bruce Springsteen, one of the biggest names in the film, says at several points, it’s a thankless role, but one that some people are most comfortable with. While there are singers who do backup work as a way to get discovered and start a career of their own, it takes a certain combination of drive, talent and luck to make that leap to the foreground.

Singers like Clayton and Lennear talk candidly about the disappointments that came from recording solo albums that didn’t sell, relegating them to what they viewed as the obscurity of backup singing.

This review continues on my website.

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