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Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013)

PG-13 | | Documentary, Music | 26 July 2013 (USA)
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Backup singers live in a world that lies just beyond the spotlight. Their voices bring harmony to the biggest bands in popular music, but we've had no idea who these singers are or what lives they lead, until now.

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Won 1 Oscar. Another 20 wins & 26 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
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Himself
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Herself (as Stevvi Alexander)
Patti Austin ...
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Todd Boyd ...
Himself (as Dr. Todd Boyd)
Carole Childs ...
Herself
Amy Christian ...
Herself
Greg Clark ...
Himself
Kyliyah Clayton ...
Herself
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Herself
Susan Collins ...
Herself
Charlotte Crossley ...
Herself
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Herself
Chris Darrow ...
Himself
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Himself
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Storyline

The backup singer exists in a strange place in the pop music world; they are always in the shadow of the feature artists even when they are in front of them in concert while they provide a vital foundation for the music. Through interviews with veterans and concert footage, the history of these predominately African-American singers is explored through the rock era. Furthermore, special focus is given to special stand outs who endeavored to make a living in the art burdened with a low profile and more personal career frustrations, especially those who faced the very different challenge of singing in the spotlight themselves. Written by Kenneth Chisholm (kchishol@rogers.com)

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Meet the unsung heroes behind the greatest music of our time.

Genres:

Documentary | Music

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for some strong language and sexual material | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

26 July 2013 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

A 20 pasos de la fama  »

Box Office

Budget:

$1,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$54,596 (USA) (14 June 2013)

Gross:

$4,946,250 (USA) (13 June 2014)
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1.78 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The film was a financial success, grossing over $5 million internationally on a $1 million budget. See more »

Connections

Featured in The 2014 Film Independent Spirit Awards (2014) See more »

Soundtracks

Lean On Me
Written by Bill Withers
Performed by Darlene Love (uncredited) featuring Judith Hill (uncredited), Lisa Fischer (uncredited) and Jo Lawry (uncredited)
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User Reviews

 
Boy, do I feel cheated.
5 October 2014 | by (New York City) – See all my reviews

I watched this movie last night and enjoyed it. This morning I came to write a glowing review, but I decided to read a few other reviews first. Imagine my shock when I saw several informed reviews criticizing the film for its blatant fabrication of facts. So I paused to do some research on my own.

The worst fudging seems to be regarding the career of Darlene Love which, to me was the most interesting part of the documentary. It's interesting because Darlene makes the claim, backed by documentarian Morgan Neville, that Darlene was the real lead singer on several songs which ended up being credited to other artists. It blames Phil Spector (you know, the guy who is currently serving 19 years for 2nd degree murder of actress Lana Clarkson) for maliciously manipulating Darlene Love and tricking her with promises of a solo career but instead crediting other singers for Darlene's work. Journalists were unable or unwilling to reach Phil Spector in prison to check facts; the world would much sooner believe a poor victimized singer who is forced to clean houses for a living than a rich & powerful murderer.

The truth is convoluted (if you're curious, there's a pretty credible analysis on songfacts.com, search for the song "Da Doo Ron Ron"). The official record stands that Darlene Love has since retracted her claim that she sang lead. Last year the NY Times issued a correction to its article which had praised this film, stating that Darlene Love did NOT sing "Da Doo Ron Ron", but maintained that Darlene sang backup on it. But the real truth is that Darlene's voice wasn't on that song at all. The backup singers were Fanita James, Gracia Nitzsche & Cher.

There's more, but you probably get the point. Not only is this documentary inaccurate, it may be deliberately fraudulent for the sake of weaving an underdog story that never was. It's really sad that the film screwed up on that account, because there's plenty of other things it could have focused on instead of claiming that these singers were cruelly manipulated.

Like the far superior documentary "Standing in the Shadows of Motown", this film could have focused on the inspirational story of musicians who are simply proud that they helped make musical history--regardless of if they became superstars. In "Shadows" we don't get a weepy pity party for anyone; instead we get a triumphant revelation that the greatest session musicians were just ordinary Joes & Janes who never craved the spotlight. In "20 Feet From Stardom" we get conflicting messages: on one hand that the backup singers are content to remain in the background, on the other hand we get the picture that these backup singers were cheated out of stardom by sleazy producers. And lo & behold, those claims aren't even true.

So, like my title says, I feel horribly cheated and manipulated myself. I had come here ready to write a rave review of what I thought was a polished & informative documentary deserving of its Academy Award (make no mistake, the cinematography and intimate studio footage are excellent), but 10 minutes researching the truth showed me that this documentary can't be trusted.

Check out "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" instead. If you like other styles of music (like metal, for example) check out a wonderfully heartwarming & unintentionally hilarious documentary called "Anvil! The Story of Anvil". The music world is full of interesting stories without documentarians needing to manufacture them.


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