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20 Feet from Stardom

20 Feet from Stardom, director Morgan Neville's documentary about talented people who sing in the shadows of superstars like Sting, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John, focuses on the individual stories of several significant singers. While the film's lack of a narrative could be a bit off-putting, it has such heart and features so many terrific concert performances, the absence of structure isn't a real deterrent.

The documentary opens with a short interview with Bruce Springsteen, who speaks eloquently about the role of the background singer in rock 'n' roll and notes that it's a "complicated" walk to the front of the stage. We find out just how "complicated" that transition can be when we hear the story of someone like Darlene Love. While still in high school, Love joined the girl group the Blossoms and sang on records by the likes of Tom Jones, Sam Cooke, the Beach Boys and Elvis Presley.

But her group was always under the control of uber-producer (and reported asshole) Phil Spector, who often didn't give her proper credit or enable her to make a significant living. So she walked away, leaving the music business altogether. We see her eventually return to singing in the 1980s and actively tried to get the credit she never received, going on the Late Show with David Letterman to perform "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." Eventually, Love was even inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame in 2011 and we see clips from the ceremony that took place that year in Cleveland.  

In the film's final sequence, artists like Sting and Mick Jagger suggest the art of the backing singer is a lost one in this day and age of auto-tuned vocals and electronic sampling. The rousing vintage performances we see make us wish this wasn't the case. The film opens on Friday at the Cedar-Lee Theatre.


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