14/10/2013

LFF: Twenty Feet From Stardom

Morgan Neville's brilliant, funny, and poignant documentary about the women who've shaped popular music for half a century will have you listening to your favourite classics in a very different way. Almost every song featured highlights the contribution you probably haven't noticed before even though it's highly likely you've spent many a hour trying to sing along with the vocals powerful enough to blow your hat off.

It begins with Darlene Love (Trish Murtaugh to most of us), the most famous backing singer ever, a woman whose voice was honed in church and along with The Blossoms brought black culture to the mainstream with their emotional harmonies and faultless vocals. Watching them flick through everything they've sang on immediately makes you wonder why these singers aren't household names, but therein lies the point of the film. By definition they're supposed to stay in the background and while most of them tried to break out with their own albums with varied success, it proves that becoming a star has almost nothing to do with vocal ability.

Archive footage, original recordings and intimate interviews with the singers as well as some of the artists they worked with/for (Springsteen, Jagger, Sting etc) are expertly edited to become a fascinating and somewhat necessary look at the unsung heroes of our favourite tracks. Neville had the difficult task of narrowing down which singer to speak to but Love along with Merry Clayton (the stonking voice on 'Gimme Shelter'), Lisa Fischer (the soulful voice alongside Luther Vandross), Judith Hill (the young voice backing Stevie Wonder) and Tata Vega (the powerhouse on EVERYTHING), he gets a nice mix of experiences and stories. Each female is entertaining and interesting in her own right and amazingly there's absolutely no back-stabbing, bitching and cat-fighting going on. It's a massive cliche, but these ladies are all about the music.

Sadly there will be no more screenings of this at LFF but it's out in March 2014 and you should definitely see it.