20 Feet From Stardom

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 07/12/13 13:45:47

4 stars (Worth A Look)

Though names like Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Claudia Lennear and Lisa Fischer may not be familiar to a large portion of the listening public, practically everyone heard their backup vocal contributions to many of the most famous recordings in rock music history and in the new documentary "20 Feet from Stardom," they and others get a chance to step into the spotlight for themselves.

Through their eyes, not to mention the recollections and observations of such superstars as Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder and Sting, we get to hear any number of fascinating behind-the-scenes stories ranging from the contentious (such as Love discovering that Phil Spector was releasing songs that she recorded for him under the name of other artists on his label) to the hilarious (the most memorable being the one where Clayton tells how she was roused from bed in the middle of the night--while quite pregnant at the time--to go down to a studio to sing lines about rape and murder for a little tune called "Gimme Shelter") to the poignant (mostly involving how they never quite made it to the stardom that they deserved--Love recounts her low point being hearing one of the songs she recorded for Spector's Christmas album playing on the radio in the home where she was working as a maid).

From a filmmaking perspective, this is hardly a groundbreaking effort by any means but the stories are so interesting, the performers and their insights are so compelling and the music is so powerful (we get to hear Clayton's original "Gimme Shelter" performance all by itself and it brings a raw power to the song that it hasn't possessed in a long time) that few will mind. Admittedly, "20 Feet from Stardom" may not have the instant narrative hook of something like last summer's feel-good music documentary "Searching for Sugar Man" but I would say that this is the superior film both as musical history and as entertainment.

Oh, if you do go, be sure that your iTunes account is paid up because after you see this film, you are going to want to go home and buy a lot of music--a [i]lot[/i] of music.

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