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Don't Miss Feminist Music Doc '20 Feet from Stardom'

Photo of Meredith Brody By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood June 7, 2013 at 4:29PM

The irresistible, affecting, crowd-pleasing "20 Feet from Stardom," about largely anonymous and prodigiously talented backup singers, premiered at Sundance in January, where it was nominated for both the Grand Jury Prize in documentary and the editing award, and was acquired by Weinstein Co. boutique label RADiUS out of the fest. The film hits theaters June 14. (Clips below.)
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"Twenty Feet From Stardom"
"Twenty Feet From Stardom"

The irresistible, affecting, crowd-pleasing "20 Feet from Stardom," about largely anonymous and prodigiously talented backup singers, premiered at Sundance in January, where it was nominated for both the Grand Jury Prize in documentary and the editing award, and was acquired by Weinstein Co. boutique label RADiUS out of the fest. The film hits theaters June 14. (Clips below.)

I caught the film opening night at the first ever Louisiana International Film Festival. "20 Feet from Stardom" features Merry Clayton, Darlene Love, Judith Hill, Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega, and Claudia Linnear, all of whom aspired to solo careers and released albums, but somehow never achieved the kind of stardom of the singers they sang backup to, including Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, who also appear, singing the praises (pun intended) of their lesser-known but equally gifted colleagues. It's moving both in its story-telling as well as the astonishing performances, shown in both vintage footage and scenes shot especially for the film.

Singer Judith Hill, who sang with Michael Jackson, has been pushing her solo career and working the talk show circuit (she's on Jay Leno Friday night June 7), see clip below.

Over a plate of charcuterie and drinks at New Orleans' Cochon Butcher, director Morgan Neville told me that his first film was 1995's "Shotgun Freeway: Drives through Lost L.A." Though Neville's impressive filmography includes movies on subjects including John Steinbeck and Los Angeles' modern art scene, he's most known for his many music films, including ones on the Brill Building, Leiber & Stoller, and Burt Bacharach, many produced through his Los Angeles-based  company Tremolo Productions.

After the movie, Clayton (famed for her collaboration with Mick Jagger on the iconic "Gimme Shelter") gave thanks to the late Gil Friesen, famed music executive who produced "20 Feet from Stardom" and died suddenly at the age of 75 a month before its premiere. She then sang "a song written and given to me by Leon Russell," "A Song for You," to a recorded backing track, and followed that with a moving a cappella performance of "You Are So Beautiful" by Joe Cocker, for which she brought her sister onstage to sing alongside her, dedicated to Alan Abrahams.

The film also played the San Francisco Film Fest. 

 


This article is related to: Reviews, 20 Feet From Stardom, Reviews


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.