Wednesday, July 03, 2013
"20 Feet from Stardom": for musicians and artists, a mediation on the limelight and on humility ("imagine me clothed")
“20 Feet from Stardom”, directed by Morgan Neville, is an informal documentary that presents the world of backup singers, all the way from before WWII until today. (An alternative spelling is "Twenty Feet from Stardom".)
Backup singers stay out of the limelight and make much less money than the visible solo stars. In one scene, a woman with such a job as a domestic in a movie star’s home in Beverly Hills hears the song she helped record come on the air on Christmas Day. Then she moves to New York to pursue a more personal career.
The film does present some of the past superstars, especially the androgynous David Bowie (remember “The Man Who Fell to Earth”, by Nicholas Roeg, in 1979) and Mick Jagger. There is an emphasis on traditional “Rock and Roll” and the film ends with a ceremony at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum (link) in Cleveland, which I visited grounds in August, 2012.
Why do some people make it big and others “follow” without recognition? One backup singer, a male, says it’s a lot about luck and fortune, more than talent, and singers have to deal with it. It’s not about “fairness”.
But in the film, the female singers (often African-American) say that it takes a certain personality to want the limelight, to place oneself naked (at least imaginatively or figuratively, if not literally) in front of the public. It takes an ego, a certain kind of pride. It often takes youth and physical fitness.
The official site (TWC) is here.
Many modern pop star singers (especially young men) have backup instrumental bands (guitars and electronic instruments) behind them but not backup singers. That’s how the beloved songs in “Modern Family” work. It seems that Justin Bieber often has “backup dancers”, too. Often, backup instrument players are shown. In the film, backup singers sometimes appear before the audience physically, and sometimes not. In the distant past, radio singing was more important.
I saw this film at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA on a rainy night. I was the only one in the audience. As was the case with “Kids in America” a few years ago at an AMC theater, this show was just for me.
Pictures: Mine, Aug. 2012 (that's me in the second picture)