“20 Feet From Stardom” (PG-13, 90 minutes, Radius-TWC): For fans of the musical instrument that is the unaltered human voice, this look at backup singers is a rare treat. The film also is an engaging look at the nexus of art and commerce, talent and hard work. It’s a story of standing out and blending in, sometimes at the same time. Several musical superstars are interviewed throughout the film by Morgan Neville, a producer and director of music documentaries. Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Stevie Wonder and others do more talking here than performing. Oddly, Bette Midler is practically the only woman of their stature to be interviewed by the director, which may say more about the music industry’s sexism than Neville. All of the background singers who are profiled in depth – and who are the movie’s real stars – are women: Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill, Claudia Lennear, Darlene Love and Tata Vega. The distance alluded to in the title, which is taken from a comment made by Springsteen near the beginning of the film, is both literal and metaphorical. The journey from anonymous edge of the stage to the spotlight, he says, “can be a pretty long walk.” Contains some obscenity and sexual material.
“Greedy Lying Bastards” (PG-13, 94 minutes, Disinformation): The newest entry in the growing list of global warming documentaries opens with dramatic footage of lightning storms, floods, wildfires and drought-strangled fields. The statistics come later, suggesting that extremes of climate are, in fact, occurring more widely and frequently and that they’re the result of human activity. There is plenty of sobering evidence presented to support the film’s thesis that a) climate change is real, b) it’s our fault and c) a bunch of bad guys have prevented us from getting a handle on it. Filmmaker Craig Scott Rosebraugh seems to take a perverse glee in hauling out the worst offenders for public shaming. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., is singled out for repeatedly referring to global warming as a “hoax.” For true believers, the threat of global warming is no laughing matter. Contains some obscenity.
“The Contradictions of Fair Hope” (unrated, 67 minutes, Shelter Island): The first feature documentary from S. Epatha Merkerson (“Law & Order”) examines a little- known aspect of American history, when newly freed slaves in the South formed “benevolent societies” to serve as informal welfare networks. The early years of the Fair Hope Society, founded in 1888, are an inspiring story of independence, tenacity and ingenuity from a community of people once believed to be lesser humans. The community survived Reconstruction, but sadly, the civil rights movement led to an exodus of its young adults from rural Alabama to cities near and far. Fair Hope remained, and its elders continued its religious customs. But in time its annual meeting evolved into an anything goes (prostitution, gun and drug sales) “Foot Wash.” And the good people of Hale County seem a little bewildered by what they have wrought. The film benefits from Whoopi Goldberg’s steely narration and Grammy winner Christian McBride’s original music.
Also: “Rewind This!”; “Our Nixon” (Super 8 film by Richard Nixon’s White House aides is resurrected.