I really like to watch documentaries. Independent Lens, American Masters, POV are some of my favorite programs on PBS and the documentary track at film festivals is what I find myself not wanting to miss. I don’t know that I can even explain why I like them so much, but I do and when I watch ones that are really good, I like to talk about them. And I just watched two that were exceptional.
The first, “Twenty Feet From Stardom”, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2014. Director Morgan Neville takes us inside the world of backup singers and gives voice to those who sing behind the stars. Neville interviews backup singers Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Claudia Lennear, Tata Vega and Lisa Fischer about what it was like to sing with artists such as Joe Cocker, David Bowie, Tina Turner and the Rolling Stones. The singers tell their stories through interviews and clips from five decades of recording history.
The second, “Muscle Shoals“, explores the creative genius of Rick Hall, the founder of FAME Studios, one of two competing recording studios, (Muscle Shoals Sound is the other), in the small Alabama town of Muscle Shoals. Songs recorded at FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound include “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “Mustang Sally,” “Tell Mama,” “I’ll Take You There,” “Patches,” “I Never Loved A Man the Way That I Loved You,” “Brown Sugar,” “Kodachrome,” “Freebird,” “Mainstreet.” Hall brought black and white musicians together in the segregated south beginning in 1961. Through interviews with Hall and recording greats, first-time director Greg Camalier chronicles the sound that formed the backdrop of much of the last half-century. Camalier weaves the beauty of the region with the magic of music made in this remote southern locale.
The Iowa City Public Library has a fantastic collection of documentaries. There are documentaries that will make you laugh, some that will make you weep, others that will make you angry. “Muscle Shoals” and “Twenty Feet from Stardom” made me sing out loud.