Indies With Allie: What life is like 20 Feet From Stardom

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: 20 FEET FROM STARDOM

20 Feet From Stardom (2013)

The big name is front and centre. The pop sensation of the moment is getting all the attention. The spotlight is honed in on her, following her every move. The crowd is screaming her name. But wait — what's that? There are other people on stage. The background is alive; dancing and singing along with the show. No, they're part of the show. They are so close yet so far... 20 Feet From Stardom.

American director Morgan Neville takes a look past the focal point of the concert, past the bright lights and star power, to those in the background. The singers and dancers, literally the backup to the star, and examines both what their lives are like as well as what the show would be like without them.

Take for instance Merry Clayton, who is responsible for singing the hook for the most popular song by what is arguable one of the most popular bands of all time: “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones. You're probably never heard Clayton's name before. In fact, it probably never occurred to you before to wonder who that voice belonged to.

It occurred to Neville. It also occurred to Neville to wonder about Darlene Love, who by all accounts should have all the fame and fortune in the world. Love sang for everyone from Doris Day to The Beach Boys to Marvin Gaye and even the king himself Elvis Presley. At least, 20 Feet From Stardom points out, Love was recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but not until 2010, a long while after her legendary career began.

And what about the backup singers and dancers who made something of themselves? What of Sheryl Crow, who used to sing behind Michael Jackson? Or Luther Vandross, whose vocals can be found on an old Bowie track? Perhaps you've wondered about them and how they made that leap.

So, Neville wondered about these people behind the stars. The ones who were so close to fame, who performed to sold-out crowds every night, yet who slipped away into anonymity after every show was over.

20 Feet From Stardom is a short yet sweet documentary that examines the lives of a select few backup singers and dancers, giving you an inside look and what life is like for those few who are so close to fame. The independent little flick is charming, it's touching and, above all, it's insightful and empathetic. For some, like Love, there were struggles and tough times. For others, the tantalizing prize of fame and fortune is so close they can taste it.

Maybe you've never wondered about the backup singers and dancers of the music and entertainment business, but you should. They all have lives, stories, hopes and dreams. For some, they get what they want, what they so richly deserve. For others, they live vicariously through their famous frontmen, wishing each and every day that they could trade places.

So, if you're looking for an insightful piece of documentary cinema, if you're obsessed with music and all its facets, or if you're just interested in the people most of us forget about, check out 20 Feet From Stardom, playing until October 3 at Hyland Cinemas.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5