20 Feet from Stardom

DOCUMENTARY; 1hr 30min

DIRECTED BY: Morgan Neville

Making tracks: Love (left)

They are generally unheralded heroines and the very best at what they do, belting out backup to a constellation of singing stars. The names Merry Clayton, Darlene Love, Claudia Lennear, Tata Vega and Lisa Fischer might mean nothing to the masses but industry insiders are in awe of them and their formidable sisters in film-maker Morgan Neville’s exuberant shout-out to the 20 Footers. As Bruce Springsteen, who knows the entertainment industry ropes every which way, succinctly puts it, the journey from backup to the front-stage, solo artist’s spotlight “can be a long walk.”


Neville takes that trip from the 1960s on, via performance footage and interviews with industry pundits, stars (Sting, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger…) and, primarily, the backup singers themselves. The gutsy, vibrant women remember past peak times like they were yesterday, and why wouldn’t they when the music they made back when is still alive and tour de force fabulous? But highs consistently come with a flipside and in confronting the fickleness of time, 20 Feet also underlines how volatile and chancy walking that stardom walk can be.