Movie Mondays ~ Monday, October 21, 2019

Movie Mondays ~ Monday, October 21, 2019


Once again, I find myself venturing into Documentary-Land. And I find it very interesting that this week’s lone film viewed has a connection to last week’s documentary (albeit, it may seem like a bit of a stretch but I will explain). I hope that if you are quite the music fan that you will check out this week’s #MovieMondays film review. Rock on…and as always, thank you for reading. ~ Chris K.


FILMS VIEWED WEEK OF 10/14/2019 – 10/20/2019

 *click on the photos to enlarge them



101. 20 Feet from Stardom

Documentary, Music, Biography (2013)
Lou Adler, Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Claudia Lennear, Judith K. Hill, Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega, Mick Jagger, Sting, Bruce Springsteen,  Stevie Wonder



I wasn’t sure if this film would keep my interest after the first fifteen minutes, but as we delve deeper into the backgrounds and work by a handful of some of the more well-known back-up singers in early rock and roll, it becomes totally fascinating to learn how interwoven these talented women’s lives were with some of the greatest rock and roll artists ever. Much of the film follows a group of singers spanning contributions from the early 60s through the 90s. Some of the more well known back-up singers featured include now Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Claudia Lennear and Judith K. Hill. Love is most likely the most recognizable of the group by face and name, but I soon learned about women who I had always loved listening to as key contributors to famous rock and roll backing vocals but I didn’t know who these women were. One in particular who we meet that just fascinated me — Merry Clayton, a super talented singer you may or may not know by name (I didn’t) but if you’re a Rolling Stones fan like me, she is THE soulful voice who tangles with Mick Jagger in probably one of the best Stones songs ever “Gimme Shelter” belting out with such passion and pain “Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away!”

Aside from meeting these women who spent their careers supporting such talented acts as Ray Charles, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, Joe Cocker and so many more as well as touring with artists around the world, we as viewers get to learn what that it’s like trying to break out of the box of supporting singer and attempting to create your own solo career. You hear the sadness, anger, disappointment and acceptance all rolled into one as they tell their stories, and as many of them convey, this is how things were done then. One quote that really stuck with me was “they already had one Aretha.” So it didn’t matter how masterfully you may sing, if there already was one talented African-American woman zooming up the charts, it became clear how difficult it would be to do the same in a male-dominated industry. And though many fellow backup singers heaped heavy praise and shock that their colleague Merry Clayton never made it bigger as a headliner given that big, passionate voice, it is also repeated again and again just how difficult it was back then to persuade both the people who hired you to sing backup as well as their studios to see you as anything more than that incredible backing vocal. I felt such empathy for these women who in a way had a very different kind of glass ceiling.

The music is great, and there are a number of major artists who contribute their thoughts about the artists and their musical memories, from Bruce ‘the boss himself’ Springsteen and Sting to Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger and Rick Wakeman. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about each of the backup singers, including the youngest of the group Judith K. Hill, who other TV fans like me will remember from “The Voice.” Hill has an unusual distinction. At the time of this film, they mention how her career was really going to take off as she got handpicked to support Michael Jackson on duets for a concert residency he had scheduled in London in 2009, the one that didn’t happen because he died shortly before it would launch. (Ironically, I’ve since learned after doing a little more research since seeing the documentary that Hill also happened to be one of the last people who worked with and spent time with Prince before he died, as it appears the two had become very close friends. I have to think the coincidence of being close to two iconic music legends like that and their losses must have truly shaken up the talented singer. I got a chance to see Hill perform live as a supporting vocalist on a past Josh Groban tour. She is the real deal, so talented, and I do hope she is able to shatter that backup singer ceiling and become the headliner her voice commands.)

In my introduction to this review, I alluded to the similarity between this film and the last one I reviewed HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY. I find it interesting that the last film focused on people who made a significant impact on their chosen art form (in their case, film – in this documentary, music) even though many of the viewers may not know their names. The value of their talents is embedded in the final product. In much the same way, we can look at the musicians, songwriters and backing vocalists who contribute key elements to the songs they help create yet often it is just the single artist or band who takes the credit for that beautiful package that is dreamt up, performed and delivered.

I have always been a worker bee. I suspect I will always be a worker bee for without us, no hive could there be. Power to the people who get the work done. That’s always been my point of view. I recommend this film for those who appreciate music and all of the people who make the magic happen.

Score: 85






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