20 Feet From Stardom: 2014′s Music Documentary Oscar Hope

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Can the world’s most soulful backline repeat Searching For Sugar Man’s golden statue win?

20 FEET FROM STARDOM, Morgan Neville’s documentary charting the lives of some of music’s greatest background singers, picked up an Oscar nomination earlier today. Its makers are hoping to recreate the success of last year’s Best Doc winner, the uplifting Rodriguez film Searching For Sugar Man.

Like …Sugar Man, 20 Feet From Stardom isn’t short of crossover potential, having already taken $5 million at the US Box Office. Its cast of singers wear their hearts on their sleeves and prove that music’s real stars aren’t always those standing at the front.

20 Feet From Stardom – Oscar nominated, out in the UK on March 28.

20 Feet From Stardom – Oscar nominated, out in the UK on March 28.

The women behind the powerhouse voices include Darlene Love (the often-uncredited star of Phil Spector’s ’60s productions), Merry Clayton (that gut-wrenching vocal on the Stones’ Gimme Shelter? That’s her), Lisa Fischer (the Stones’ lead backing singer since 1989 and the person responsible for this mind-blowing vocal), Judith Hill (booked to sing with Michael Jackson at hisz ill-fated O2 comeback shows and now singing with Stevie Wonder), Tata Vega (touring with Elton John and the voice behind the soundtrack for The Color Purple) and Claudia Lennear (Ikette, member of Joe Cocker’s legendary Mad Dogs And Englishman band and one-time Jagger squeeze).

Their stories – each peppered with heady successes, plummeting failures and some serious hard graft – are bonded by a simple desire to serve the music, to stay out of the spotlight and to maintain concentration on what they describe as “the blend”.

Whether 20 Feet From Stardom can follow the success of …Sugar Man will be decided at the Oscars ceremony on March 2. UK readers will be able to catch it when it’s released on March 28. Until then, check out the trailer below.

Ross Bennett, January 16, 2014

The National Debut Two New Songs on ‘Fallon’

The National

The National

The National visited Late Night With Jimmy Fallon last night and debuted two new songs off their forthcoming album, Trouble Will Find Me. The Brooklyn indie-rockers played a new song “Sea of Love,” and also the mesmerizing “I Need My Girl.”

The National have staked out a sterling reputation for smartly brooding indie-rock anthems. And no other band makes dark and stormy seem like ideal weather. Despite touches of wry humor, the material previewed so far from Brooklyn band’s upcoming album Trouble Will Find Me refines that strategy more than departs from it. That was particularly true in the group’s appearance last night on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, where they passionately performed two songs from the May 21 album, joined by elegant trombone and trumpet. On air, the crew romped through “Sea of Love”, which contains the album’s title phrase. As an online exclusive, they turned down the tempo for urgent, atmospheric ballad “I Need My Girl”.

Trouble Will Find Me is out May 21. “When we started, we weren’t exactly a cool band like the Strokes or Interpol… For years, we tried to prove we weren’t boring white guys,” singer Matt Berninger told Rolling Stone this month. “This time around, we didn’t have to prove anything.”

The band is also the subject of the new documentary Mistaken for Strangers, which opened the Tribeca Film Festival last week. Shot by Matt Berninger’s younger metalhead brother Tom, the film offers a light-hearted perspective on a band known for serious music.

Documentary by singer’s brother follows indie-rockers on tour

With The National’s tour documentary Mistaken for Strangers  which opened the Tribeca Film Festival on April 17th, the band has released a trailer for the movie shot by singer Matt Berninger’s metalhead younger brother, Tom.

Here, Tom goes behind the scenes and shows how different he is from Matt – who’s nine years older – as he follows the National from a roadie’s perspective. Tom shoots hilarious, intentionally out-of-touch questions at the band, like, “how famous do you think you are,” “how fast can you play” and “what kind of drugs and how many drugs have you done?” Tom comes off at times like an irritant, in typical little brother fashion, but his love for Matt is apparent, and his freewheeling spirit adds another perspective to a band known for serious, somber music.

Sources: Hulu, Tribeca Film Festival, Google, The National, Spin, Rolling Stone

Music Documentary vs Concert Film

Get inside YOUR human condition

Boxer album by National – Get inside YOUR human condition

The Music Film Grows Up

It’s not enough, these days, to simply release a concert film. There’s nothing exciting about a gaggle of paint-by-numbers cameramen shooting the guitarist, singer and drummer from a variety of tasteful angles. No one’s going to be thrilled by a single crane shot over the crowd, not in this era of 24/7 music television.

And so bands are turning to filmmakers who aren’t just TV producers. There’s Martin Scorsese, whose Rolling Stones documentary is in cinemas across Britain. Sam Jones’ I Am Trying to Break Your Heart was a revealing portrait of Wilco at one of the most delicate periods in their career. And this year REM released a series of off-the-cuff films shot by French director Vincent Moon.

Moon in many ways exemplifies this “new” kind of music video. His Take Away Shows have followed bands such as Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens and Stephen Malkmus through streets, rooftops, lifts and subways, always a single hand-held camera and a whole world of spontaneity. He even convinced REM to play along, shooting the band as they squeezed into a car and drove singing through hometown roads.

This May we’ll see the most complete picture yet of how Moon and his partners in crime imagine the music documentary via the melancholy Brooklyn band, the National. A Skin, A Night is a movie about the National, filmed during the recording of Boxer, their fourth album. But the press release makes it clear this won’t just be an indie-rock version of Behind the Music.

“A Skin, A Night is less a movie about the National than a movie about how music is made today,” it says. “Not with classic rock bravado, or debauched indulgence, but through novelistic attention to detail, a collective implosion of personality, and worried worried nights …”

“If the National’s lyrics seem to take us inside the human condition, Vincent Moon’s images take us outside, documenting the beauty of the sounds made by our human skin.”

Admittedly, it sounds a little precious. But at the heart of it, our relationship with music can be a precious, over-earnest thing. Not all of us have listened to a National album straight through, but most of us have stayed up late listening to a record on repeat, drinking a little too much from the bottle of whisky on the table.

A Skin, A Night will be released by Beggars Banquet on May 20, along with a bonus EP of unreleased, demo and live National tracks. Completing the synchronicity of influence, the National have been tapped to open part of REM’s upcoming American tour. The Editors and the Guillemots play the part when REM hit the UK in August. 9 April 2008