Saturday movie review: '20 Feet From Stardom'

I once dreamed of being a backup singer. You know, the bluesy gals offering up the doo-wops and doot da doots that add depth and sing-along-ability to many a pop — and non-pop — song. After watching the spectacular documentary 20 FEET FROM STARDOM, I'm glad I never attempted pursuing such a creative path for it seems marked by heartache and continual seeking but rarely achieving recognition and success in one's own right.

Twenty Feet From Stardom 

20 FEET FROM STARDOM — the 2014 Academy Awards Best Documentary Feature winner — highlights the stories of some of the most powerful voices ever recorded. Women on par with Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston. Women responsible for the doo-wops and waa-waas for the legends, from Ray Charles to Rolling Stones to Sting, Michael Jackson and more. Voices we've all sung along with thousands of times throughout the years never giving a single thought to the owner of the powerful vocal instruments. Which is exactly the problem director Morgan Neville brings to light in his illuminating film: the anonymity of the women behind the unforgettable voices.

20 FEET FROM STARDOM makes viewers want to sing along... then cry along. The singers try and try again to hit the big time as solo artists, yet over and over again they fail to reach even moderate success. "I felt like if I just gave my heart to what I was doing I would automatically be a star," said Merry Clayton in the film (and in the trailer above), words that perfectly and painfully sum up the theme of each of the backup singers' career path.

Despite the difficulties the backup singers such as Darlene Love, Merry Clayton and others face, 20 FEET FROM STARDOM inspires and warms the heart. I was thrilled to see footage from Darlene Love's much deserved and long overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And I sang along with the backup parts of each and every song (as well as a few of Mick Jagger's riffs as well). And I chuckled when, at the start of the film, an explanation was given for Lou Reed's line about "and the colored girls go 'Doo do doo do doo do do doo....'" Noooow that line makes sense!

Plus, there are interviews with some major players, including Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, Mick Jagger and others, all of whom seem to sincerely cherish their backup singers.

Since seeing 20 FEET FROM STARDOM, I'll never listen to a song again without wanting to know more about the backup singers. These women who have made us so very happy with their shoop-shoops and such have walked such desperate roads. The slights, sorrow and sheer desperation. Yet they still keep singing — proud, powerful and determined to not give up. So inspiring.

20 FEET FROM STARDOM (rated PG-13 for "some strong language and sexual material") is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digitally (Jim and I watched it on Netflix streaming). Find out more about the film, the backup singers, additional videos and more on the film's official website and Facebook page.