If you love music, you'll love this film too.
This is a full length documentary about the stars who aren’t stars, the backing singers. Anyone who loves music has heard them over the years on many, many records, hit or not, but not many of us can name them. This film strives to put this right and also to put the spotlight on a group of mainly African-American singers and how they coped with their talent and their lack of recognition.
The stories of the various backing singers across the running time of this film are fascinating, sad and funny but I was not really sure what message I was supposed to get from the meandering film. The music is the most important thing, yet nearly all but one the backing singers featured seemed to want to be a big star and have a solo career. Most of them tried but did not succeed. In the end they still had successful backing singing careers.
Sting, Bruce Springsteen et al add their views on film and everyone interviewed in the ‘business’ know that backing singers have great voices, great talent and deserve to be famous but to be successful as a pop-musicians talent does not always mean you will make it.
Thanks for that but non-in-the-know members of the general public having been saying that for years as tuneless, off-key and toneless ‘artists’ rack up hit after hit. Also when a ‘vocal contractor’, a job title never explained, gives us an anecdote about a record producer needing time to ‘tune-in’ the backing vocals, rather than just using backing singers, you know that pop-music really is a manufactured money-making business and little else.
The most balanced singer throughout the film is probably the most talented, Lisa Fischer, who just wants to sing and could not give a fig about fame, stardom and lorry loads of cash. I like her. This neatly brings me back to something I found out about this particular documentary post-viewing, to include it in a film review after I watched the film without knowing about it seems a cheat and bit churlish but it puts a big question mark over the whole integrity of the story telling.
Apparently, Darlene Love, one the singers featured heavily and frequently in the film, did not sing on tracks she claims she did and seems to have bent the truth to the point of breaking throughout the film. After filming, Morgan Neville was contacted and put right on some of the ‘facts’, he apologised but for some reason left all the ‘exaggerations’ in the final cut. Maybe because the story of an underdog with talent being manipulated by a now convicted murderer makes for better box-office than a singer who wants to be a huge star not quite making it.
There in a nutshell is the problem with this film. With some great archive footage, some great music business anecdotes, story of backing singers contributing to some the greatest music in the world regardless of fame and fortune could have been uplifting and inspiring, instead it seems more like a whinge-fest about how some of them are not famous and stinking rich despite their talent. Well the space at the top of the ladder is very small and the club they are in is very, very, big. Not only that but most of them did contribute to some great hit records, earn a living doing the thing they love, and seem to be well respected in the industry if not with the public. More upsetting is perhaps the saddest and probably most upsetting story of the film is fabricated. Excuse me if I do not burst into spontaneous tears and applause.
So once again we seem to have got a good film with an interesting narrative and interesting characters but as a truthful and insightful documentary not so much. Not the first time that the viewing public has been led by the nose to the truth, only the find out that ‘the truth’ is what the film maker specifically wants you to see and not actually might have been what is actually there to be seen.