Twenty Feet from Stardom

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“A picture that elicits gasps of disbelief, spontaneous applause and tears.” — Phil Gallo, Billboard

Director: Morgan Neville
Year: 2013
Country: USA
Running time: 90 mins

Producers: Gil Friesen, Caitrin Rogers
Photography: Nicola Marsh, Graham Willoughby
Editors: Jason Zeldes, Kevin Klauber
Colour and B&W/DCP

With: Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Táta Vega, Judith Hill, Claudia Lennear, the Waters Family, Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Bette Midler

Twenty Feet from Stardom sets out to right an old wrong, as a kind of ‘history of pop music’ documentary told from the point of view of the backup singer. And my god what a point of view it is. Director Morgan Neville highlights a small cluster of backup singers (among them the legendary Darlene Love, Merry Clatyon, Lisa Fischer, and Judith Hill) who have profoundly altered the pop music landscape by their mere presence. Uncannily, Neville interviews the big shots they often sing for – people like Bruce Springsteen, Sting, and Stevie Wonder, who are totally appreciative and just as in awe of these amazing performers as we are. (Sobs were heard throughout our screening.) 

In one incredibly powerful moment, Neville plays the raw audio track of Clayton singing the ‘Rape, murder’ section of ‘Gimme Shelter,’ both for Clayton and then, Mick Jagger. The vocal, raw and unencumbered by the rest of the song’s ornate sonic embellishments, is something close to transcendent, and it’s a hoot to see both Jagger and Clayton draw the same conclusion… An unexpectedly moving, often joyous triumph, Twenty Feet from Stardom proves that history isn’t just made at the front of the stage.” — Drew Taylor, Indiewire

“Most of the time, the music-buying public had no idea whom they were listening to, but the industry folks certainly did… The film reveals fresh details many might not already know about songs they’ve heard countless times, reinforcing its points with sound bites from Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder and Sting… This rousing group portrait should [be] leaving satisfied audiences everywhere listening with new ears.” — Peter Debruge, Variety