Morgan Neville / USA / 2013 / 91 mins
If there’s one thing that this millennium’s X-Factor machines have shown us, it’s that talent is seldom the key to success. Many supporting staff live in shadows of the spotlight: the golf caddies that inform the swing, the technicians that bring a play to life, the backup singers that give feeling, energy and memory to music. Morgan Neville’s incredibly uplifting documentary travels back to the 60s and brings forward the likes of Darlene Love, Claudia Lennear and Lisa Fischer, among others, who broke into a largely White occupation of shoo-whapping and completely transformed it.
These superior voices worked on tracks with Bowie, Zeppelin, The Stones, Sting, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and countless of the rock and soul artists that defined entire generations of music. To hear all the classic songs, and the politics of what really went on, is completely euphoric. Not only are the men and women who sang at upstage mics for much of their careers huge personalities, they bring with them stories that only a tiny group of artists can dream of. 20 Feet captures the on-stage fun that Scorsese finds in The Last Waltz or in Paul Justman’s motown marvel, but discusses the music industry today, the decline of the backup singer and the psychology of what it takes (or doesn’t) to be ‘a star’.