This year's go-to documentary crowdpleaser – tailor-made for those who enjoy "musical underdog" docs like Searching for Sugar Man and Standing in the Shadows of Motown – 20 Feet from Stardom takes a reverent look at the talented black women who sang backup vocals on hit songs, from the early '60s through modern times.
There are revelations: behold Merry Clayton's spine-tingling shrieks on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter"; learn that Darlene Love and the Blossoms originally recorded the 1962 hit "He's a Rebel", only to have Phil Spector pull a Milli Vanilli on them by having The Crystals lip-sync and take credit for their work. There are sad tales of thwarted solo stardom. There is much pop culture history to feast on. And finally, and happily, there are lots of scenes where we get to see these ladies belt out some stunning tunes.
Expertly crafted by seasoned music documentarian Neville, and with a soundtrack to kill for, 20 Feet from Stardom is for pretty much everybody. Despite the plethora of talking heads and grainy photographs, this is one doc that begs to be watched – and especially heard – in a darkened theatre. These women may be relatively anonymous, but they are superstars, and their work deserves to be enjoyed in the best venue possible.