Sunday, August 4, 2013

20 Feet from Stardom [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  Rolling Stone Magazine (3 1/2 Stars) (4 Stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

Rolling Stone Magazine (P. Travers) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (S. Adams) review

20 Feet from Stardom [2013] is a documentary directed by Morgan Neville that a lot of people from many walks of life ought to see and contemplate. 

And among those who ought to see the film are Religionists, People of Faith who may at times believe that the world is going (or has already gone) to "Hell in a hand-basket."  I'm writing this because the film is in so many ways a vindication of many of the more positive professors that I've had in the Seminary both in the United States and in Italy: God may really be (and if we believe IS) smarter, more clever, and certainly more positive than we are.  A SURPRISING yet REPEATED theme in this film is the UNDERCURRENT of the GOSPEL SERVICE present in the contemporary Rock and Roll art form.  Say what? 

Well almost every one of the backup singers interviewed in this documentary about the backup singers to the star acts began ... in church choirs and almost all of them were daughters of African-American preachers.  With that background they all learned that music is about harmony, working together, yes "giving glory" but NOT necessarily about being in the limelight.  And then there's the structure of a rock and roll concert on stage.  As Bruce Springsteen, one of the stars interviewed in this film pointed out (Would there be ANYBODY who knows anything about Bruce Springsteen who'd be surprised that he'd LOVE BEING PART OF A FILM CELEBRATING ROCK & ROLL'S BACKUP SINGERS? ;-) ... at a Rock Concert "There's the 'preacher' giving 'testimony' and then there's 'the choir' behind the preacher 'singing amen.'" 

Now let's face it: the 'testimony' given at a rock concert can go all over the place and even be pretty lousy (Rocker Ozzy Osborne famously bit off the head of a bat at a concert back in the 1980s ...).  BUT isn't it fascinating that a Rock Concert could still be compared to a Gospel Service? 

I smile from ear to ear as I repeat here the words of the Psalmist: "Where can I run from your Spirit?  From your Presence, where can I flee?  If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, there you are. If I take the wings of dawn, and dwell beyond the sea, Even there your hand guides me, your right hand holds me fast." (Psalm 138:7-10 best known to us American Catholics through the hymn by Dan Schulte named You Are Near).  We think we can run away from God, but we can't.  He could be smilin' ear to ear even at Rock Concert ;-)

Anyway, if you like music and perhaps if you're somewhat irritated by / skeptical of the pretentions of the Stars (of the "Rock Gods" of the recent past...) this film may be for you ;-) because THIS FILM is a celebration of the voices BEHIND THEM and it helps one realize HOW IMPORTANT THOSE VOICES ARE.  One of the interviewees noted that most of the 'hooks' from the songs that we remember are ACTUALLY THE LINES OF THE BACKUP SINGERS ;-).

A priceless interview in the film is of Merry Clayton and Mick Jagger talking about how she, six-months pregnant and with hair-curlers-on was nonetheless called at 3 AM to a Rolling Stones recording session for Gimme Shelter and with that baby bump and those in hair curlers she absolutely nailed the lyrics to that haunting Rock and Roll anthem.  When you're good, you're good ... ;-) 

Anyway, I found the film to be a joy and a celebration of EVERYONE who's not necessarily "front and center" in life.  We're all Children of the Same God and we're all Part of a Team.  And without ALL OF US, ALL OUR VOICES, this world (God's Creation) remains diminished.

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