Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Bruce, Mick, Sting (and Darlene): 20 Feet from Stardom

It’s unusual to see a rock music film in which Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger and Sting are not the front and center stars but rather the genial patriarchs praising their backup singers and ruminating on the fickleness of music success.

That is just one of the turnabouts in Morgan Neville’s great new documentary about the men and mostly women who have shaped modern musical history from the back of the concert stage and recording studio.

The film grabbed me a few minutes in when Darlene Love joined the original Blossoms in an empty studio and broke into song:
I met him on a Monday and my heart stood still
Da Do Ron Ron Ron, Da Do Ron Ron.

Time has not stood still for Love, and her golden-voiced fellow singers, Merry Clayton, Claudia Lennear, Lisa Fischer and Judith Hill; their ups and downs would make for many a blues song. As tempting as it is to try and recount their fascinating (and frustrating) careers, I won’t spoil it. Just go see it.

Okay I can’t resist. Here are some of my favorite highlights
--Luther Vandross singing backup for David Bowie
--Billy Preston playing organ for Ray Charles (and the Raylettes)
--Tina Turner & the Ikettes

Finally there are the album covers serving here as means of preserving history and used creatively to track the careers of the singers, the groups and our personal history, which seems inextricably benchmarked by the music we grew up listening to.

20 Feet from Stardom manages to chronicle the era, tell some wonderful human stories and showcase the music they gave us…all at the same time. The blending of vintage clips with modern musical reunions is flawless.

Do see this in a theatre as the Dolby Surround Sound alone is worth the price of admission.


  1. I've heard quite a bit about this film and am looking forward to seeing (and HEARING) it.

  2. Thanks for the review. It's on the list of films to see and this is additional motivation.
    Sounds terrific.

  3. Update-We saw it this afternoon and loved it. A great piece of work.