20 Feet from Stardom

Movie Information

In Brief: Tickets are now on sale for two screenings (7 p.m. Thu., Sept. 17 and 4 p.m. Fri., Sept. 18) of 20 Feet from Stardom at the Fine Arts Theatre, which is co-sponsoring an appearance by Lisa Fischer who will also be performing at the Diana Wortham Theatre on Friday, Sept. 18. In addition to the screening, there'll be a Q & A with Ms. Fischer. Morgan Neville’s look at the world of backup singers is not the deepest documentary you’re likely to come across — in fact, it’s not deep at all — but it may well be one of the most enjoyable. It probably isn’t Neville’s fault that the film isn’t any more in-depth than it is (though he may never have intended it to be). More likely, the film’s tone was dictated by that of the featured singers — Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill, Claudia Lennear, Darlene Love and Tata Vega. If you’re hoping they’re seething with resentment or wanting to dish the dirt on the stars they’ve performed with, this isn’t your movie. Oh, there’s a trace of bitterness here and there — especially when it comes to the way Phil Spector had a tendency to credit whomever he was promoting rather than who was actually singing — but resentment is not in their makeup. It’s as if complaining would be a waste of energy that might be better spent singing.
Genre: Music Documentary
Director: Morgan Neville
Starring: Lisa Fischer, Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Judith Hill, Mick Jagger, Bette Midler
Rated: PG-13




Talking about their experiences is another matter. Some of the anecdotes are tinged with a little regret, but more typical is Claudia Linnear — shown performing backup on “Wah-Wah.” She talks about how special it was to be a part of George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh. If she harbors any ill will against Harrison or Eric Clapton or Ringo or Leon Russell for being the stars, you’d never know it. Of course, she might just have too much class to kvetch, but she sounds genuine.




Some of the sequences are very telling. The most extensive coverage is probably given to Merry Clayton recording the famous “Rape, murder! It’s just a shot away” for the Rolling Stones on “Gimme Shelter.” (Lisa Fischer now tours with the Stones and performs this part.) The film never quite answers why these women — with the exception of Darlene Love — never had the careers or the credit they ought to have had. Probably it’s unanswerable, but it’s nonetheless a treat — and a kind of validation — to see and hear them here. The decision to end the film with Darlene Love singing Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” was a masterstroke that imbues the proceedings with an emotional resonance unlike anything in the movie.

The Fine Arts Theatre will host screenings of 20 Feet from Stardom on Thu., Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. and Fri., Sept 18 at 4 p.m. Lisa Fischer, who is featured in the film, will be in attendance and will be available for questions after the screenings. Price for the screenings is $10. Ms. Fischer is also performing at the Diana Wortham Theatre on Friday, Sept, 18 at 8 p.m.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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