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July 25th, 2017

20 Feet From Stardom **

 

The Movie That Won the Oscar for Best Documentary (But Shouldn’t Have)

Back-up singers seem to have life figured out.

They get to hang out with super talented artists and record wonderful songs. They go on amazing business trips where they get to see the world. They get to meet beautiful and interesting people and share stories, sex, and/or drugs with them.

They get to enjoy the perks of being a rock star without actually being a celebrity. That’s a perfect situation, because celebrities have their lives ruined by fame.

Celebrities must be stressed by the pressure to look good and behave well all the time because there is always someone watching, listening, and taking pictures. Celebrities must be heart-broken and lonely because celebrity marriages always seem to end in divorce.

“20 Feet From Stardom” is a surprisingly bland documentary about a handful of fortunate women who worked in show business but never had the misfortune of becoming famous.

The film introduces us to the ladies who you have sung along to in your car but have never really thought about.

We meet The Blossoms: a trio of black women who changed the sound of pop music in the early 60s. It’s their voices you hear in the background of The Monster Mash, Do Run Run, The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss), and Frank Sinatra’s That’s Life.

The documentary takes us into the late 60s, when the British rock and roll world enlisted American backup singers to spice up their tunes. We meet the women who performed and toured with The Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker, and David Bowie.

Director Morgan Neville did a fine job of convincing me that his subjects are talented people who made pop songs sound cooler.

Neville did a lousy job of expressing the purpose of his documentary or convincing me that his subjects are interesting or memorable.

He seems confused and even a little angry about the fact that none of the back-up singers became stars even though they had flawless voices.

It’s obvious to me that being a pop superstar is not and has never been about having the greatest voice. If it were, Britney Spears wouldn’t be famous.

Superstars have a combination of great looks, natural charisma, and an unteachable knack for creating pop hooks that neither Neville nor the back-up singers seem to recognize.

They (and you) should watch the amazing video for Katy Perry’s song “Dark Horse.” I’m sure that all the back-up singers in this movie could sing the vocals. But they couldn’t begin to duplicate what Katy Perry did to make the song a #1 hit.

But, again, the back-up singers should be grateful that they never made it big. Just knowing that people have heard and appreciated their music should be reward enough.

The movie is a little educational and a little entertaining. But in a year when it was up against important powerhouse films like “The Square,” “Dirty Wars,” and “The Act of Killing,” I am disappointed that “20 Feet From Stardom” won the Oscar for Best Documentary.

 

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