Review of 'Twenty Feet from Stardom'

20_feet_from_stardom.jpg This is an interesting documentary talking about the often overlooked talents of black female backing singers that have supported most major musical acts from the last 50 years or so featuring numerous interviews and archival footage. The history of the backing singer is explored beginning with the first inklings of racial integration in the middle of the century to the point where their talents are undeniable in the current day with many major talents appearing in this film attesting to their talents (Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Bette Midler, and many more). Several stories of when these talented backing singers attempted to “go solo” in a musical career ended up a huge failure despite their amazing abilities because while though they could undoubtedly sing they are not necessarily entertainers. In fact, very few, if any, such individuals every successfully make the transition from the back to the front of the stage. May backing singers featured freely indicate they are very happy being where they are with no inclination to move to the front the stage - content to do their singing without the other trappings of stardom.

A really interesting, though often disjointed, documentary about these unsung heroes of the music industry though it is not for lack of those featured trying to explain this. Though the stories are often compelling they never really draw us in as they aught to. Interesting, absolutely, enthralling, no. What is incredible is to actually hear their vocal talents from a number of short concert snippets included in the film - These singers are often superior to those that stand in front of them…twenty feet away. But, it seems, that is where at least some of them prefer to be. The documentary does take a lot of confusing leaps forwards and backwards without any seemingly coherent narrative except the times when one of the singer's stories are being told. Having said that, the point of the documentary is clear very early on and the rest drives this point home, featuring some amazingly good singing and coming to a satisfactory conclusion at the end.

It could be suggested that perhaps the scope of the film could have been expanded to focus on the underappreciation of ANY backing singer but that, perhaps, would be to miss one of the key points here which is the struggle that not only black singers had to go through to be accepted but black FEMALE singers who faced not only the racism but sexism as well.

An amazingly enlightening documentary about an underappreciated group in the music industry that is not afraid to show this off. To be sure, there are many sequences that leave you breathless at the wonder of the incredible talent on display.

Rating: “Really good but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2020-12-12

Directed by: Morgan Neville

Studio: Gil Friesen Productions

Year: 2013

Length: 91 minutes

Genre: Documentary