Sunday, January 20, 2013

Are documentaries supposed to be this much fun?

Director Morgan Neville along with backup singers
Tata Vega, Judith Hill, and Lisa Pearson.
It's no surprise that director Morgan Neville introduced his documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom  by noting that it had already been sold to Harvey Weinstein just a couple of days into the festival.  Because unlike a lot of the serious documentaries that show up at Sundance, Twenty Feet from Stardom is a boat load of fun.  That doesn't mean the movie isn't an in depth, smart film. If you, like me, have ever fallen in love with the backup singers at a favorite concert, then you'll want to find your way to the nearest theater showing this movie.  And since it's been sold, there's a good chance you'll get to do just that.

This movie tracks some of the most important, influential backup singers in history.  I say that as if I've always known there were important, influential backup singers.  I didn't know that until I saw this film.

Starting in the fifties and sixties, black women began influencing music in ways that were previously unimagined, frequently from the back of the stage.  They didn't get a lot of credit for their talent.  This movie hopes to change that.  Morgan Neville made a lovely movie.  This is a documentary that's shot more like a feature film.  Neville also pays special attention to the music.  Which means for much of the movie you want to sing along or even get up and dance.  It also helps that Twenty Feet from Stardom features front men and women who sing the praises of the backups.  There are interview with stars like Sting, Bette Midler, Mick Jagger, and Bruce Springsteen talking about some of their favorite backup singers.

But the real stars of the film are the backup singers.  You fall in love with their ability to make songs go from something enjoyable to something amazing. The movie also shows how hard it is for even the best female vocalists to walk the twenty feet from the back of the stage to the front.  That's why I'm so happy this movie does such a great job celebrating the power of the backup singer.

One quick side note: if you want to be a backup singer, I'd suggest finding a father who is a preacher.  Because a whole lot of the world's best backup singers grew up as the daughters of a preacher man singing in gospel choirs.

You'll be able to see this movie in theaters or in your home.  What you won't be able to see is some of the backup singers featured in the movie singing during the Q&A.  That's something you can only see at Sundance!

No comments:

Post a Comment