Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Netflix Instant Queue Movie Review: "20 Feet From Stardom" (2013)

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Movie"20 Feet From Stardom"
Director: Morgan Neville
Year: 2013
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 31 minutes

Some of the most heard and most recognizable voices are those sung by people you may have never heard of. The back-up singer plays a very important but often very thankless role in the music industry. Despite often singing the most remembered parts of some of the biggest songs by some of the most renowned artists in music, most back-up singers wouldn’t be recognized if you passed them on the street. They often remain in the shadows, never reaping fame and notoriety from their efforts. We meet and learn about the lives of these unheralded talents as they talk about their experiences in the music business. Some of these highly talented harmonizers dream of being in the spotlight themselves while others are more than content to merely be in the background. We also hear from many world famous artists these back-up singers have worked with, such as Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow, Bette Midler, and Sting, just to name a few. These musicians speak of the importance these back-up singers were to their success.  

This film won the award for Best Documentary at the 86th Academy Awards this past year. It was certainly one of the best of the bunch. It is a rather informative piece of cinema and as fans of music, we often never stop to think about the plight of the back-up singer. In fact, until we watched this movie, we never even gave them the proverbial second thought. So much of your attention goes to the lead vocalist and even the band itself when listening to a piece of music that the back-up singer is almost always forgotten entirely despite their often singing the hook. We had no idea that back in the 50's and 60's, many back-up vocalists were given the "Milli Vanilli" treatment. Many artists who were actually the primary singers on a track were left uncredited, leaving the general public to believe that "their" song was sung by the person on the cover of a record.

Through footage of concerts, various musical tracks, and interviews with musicians and back-up vocalists alike, we get to hear the voices of these back-up singers left in the dust. Many of the people who were screwed over by the music industry simply lacked the "it" factor to become stars. Some of the back-up singers were simply denied their due based on prejudices of the times. Other had careers that never really went anywhere. The story, however, remains the same: these women struggled for long enough and deserved to have their thoughts and feelings discovered, their stories told for all to see. These women are featured on some of the very best songs music has to offer, songs you would know and could whistle off the top of your head. And yet, until now, they have remained unknown, overshadowed, simply unrecognized for their talent and the fruits of their labor. This documentary sheds some light on the matter and puts the faces to the voice. Though frustrating and unfair for many performers interviewed here, other back-up singers relish the role they play in musical history as they get to do something they really enjoy for a living, even though they continue to lurk in the shadow of main performers. They get to travel with rock stars, sometimes around the world, yet get to keep their anonymity so they are not hounded in public. Many other back-up singers feel like they have been overlooked and not given proper respect and commendation.

This documentary is well paced, well researched, and quite enlightening. It puts a spotlight where there once was none.

My Rating: 8.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 99%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!


  1. I watched it last night and loved it! The story of how one woman was asked to record with "some British group, The Rolling...someones" in the middle of the night, and showed up in her jammies was one of my favorites!

    1. It's crazy to think that some of our favorite songs were mainly sung by people who WEREN'T the "face" of the song in general! That story about the lady in her jammies was a favorite, too!