|Darlene Love, Tata Vega, Merry Clayton, Judith Hill, Lisa Fischer|
It's an amazing film about pop music's back-up girls -- and even some back-up boys. A definitive chronicle of our pop history, Twenty Feet from Stardom is flawlessly edited as it weaves its story together from the usual talking heads, stock footage plus electrifying live stage and studio performances.
A smorgasbord of songbirds, a bevy of beautiful voices, an embarrassment of riches, TFfS fascinates right to the end credits. With few drops in engagement with its audience, it is a cultural time capsule of seven decades, from the mid-20th to the 21st century. It is not just the story of rock and roll, it is the story of Western culture and the struggles against racism and sexism. Many viewers don't remember the time when back-up girls were all white and how revolutionary it was, culturally and sonically, when ~ to paraphrase Lou Reed ~ the colored girls went "doot da doot...." And it is theorized that music and the popular culture lent support to the burgeoning civil rights movement.
TFfS also explores the relationship of church and gospel music on back-up singers and on rock, generally. In the documentary, we hear the testimony of Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Cindy Mizelle, Claudia Lennear of The Ikettes, Gloria Jones, Judith Hill, the Waters Family and many more. We also hear from the stars whom these people "back up," including Bruce Springsteen (particularly articulate and thoughtful), Bette Midler, Mick Jagger, Sting, Stevie Wonder and Grammy Award-winning producer Lou Adler.
Darlene Love, certainly, provides the focus and the apotheosis for this film. She is reunited in TFfS with the other members of The Blossoms, Fanita James and Jean King, and joined by her sister, Edna Wright of Honey Cone ("Want Ads," "Stick Up"). And, of course, it is she who steps out from the background and the anonymnity of singing lead vocals under various group names, largely under her producer, Phil Spector, and finally becomes a recognized star.
Buddy Beaverhausen is hoping Twenty Feet from Stardom will snag the Academy Award come March 2nd. Not just because I'm a fan of girl-groups and divas but because this is such a breathtaking, exquisitely pieced together chronicle of background singers and, more broadly, the evolution of our society. In any event, a must-see.