Morgan Neville’s popular, award-winning, but shallow documentary about a handful of wildly talented backup singers (mostly black female artists active in the Pop and R&B world of the ‘70s & ‘80s) never gets past a by-the-numbers PBS American Masters vibe. Hosts of famous music industry types (frontmen & session guys) are so busy with blanket encomiums, telling us how great, decent, wonderful everyone is, the motivating idea of the film (where’d these gals go?; why didn’t they strike out/strike sparks on their own?) gets lost. The film doesn’t seem to pick up on one obvious answer: half the musical acts we know & love were led by shits. Maybe that’s what these gifted singers lack, the self-regard & calculated cool that can make the music all but irrelevant to commercial success. Of the profiled singers, Darlene Love is the obvious exception. But her missed opportunity was more likely the result of deceit & mismanagement after signing on the dotted line with legendary producer (and real life Mephistopheles) Phil Spector.* The film is slickly made, with beautifully sourced, sharply restored archival footage; it's bound to make a lot of viewers happy. But it's also something of a wasted opportunity.
DOUBLE-BILL: You can see what’s missing in here by checking out STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN/’02 which has less happy talk, but plumbs deeper looking at Motown’s default backup recording band, the Funk Brothers.
LINK: *Or possibly not. Check out some fascinating comments @ IMDb on some debatable facts behind the official Darlene Love story.