' Cinema Romantico: 20 Feet From Stardom: Discussing the Kylie Minogue Diss

Saturday, August 10, 2013

20 Feet From Stardom: Discussing the Kylie Minogue Diss

As longtime (and eternally frustrated) readers know, Cinema Romantico never fails to find an excuse for a forced Kylie Minogue reference. But believe me when I say I desperately wish I did not have to make this reference and to type this post. Alas, I do.

"20 Feet From Stardom", which is one of the best films of the year, features the story of several famed (at least, in a certain context) and exceptionally talented backup singers. One of these singers is Judith Hill, a protege of the late Michael Jackson and recent contestant on "The Voice." A particular passage in "20 Feet From Stardom" chronicles an ebb in Ms. Hill's career. Director Morgan Neville, working with editors Douglas Blush, Kevin Klauber and Jason Zeldes, cuts to Judith Hill singing backup for a Kylie Minogue performance on The Tonight Show.


Context, of course, is everything and the transition Neville makes elicited laughs in the audience at the screening I attended.

The point of the sequence is to demonstrate how Hill, desiring starring singing gigs of her own, was forced to resort to backup gigs to pay the proverbial bills. It's a point - a sad point - that needs to be made and could just as easily have been made by, say, having Hill relay this information - which she does at a later point - and then cut to the Kylie Minogue performance footage.

But no, Neville chooses to cut straight to the Kylie Minogue performance and then offer Hill's explanation and by doing it this way the scene works to evoke the following: Minogue is not worthy of Hill. Look at how degrading it is for Hill to have to sing with this poser. Hill is a quality singer. Minogue is not.

Well, Minogue is not as good a singer as Hill. Of course, she isn't. But she has never claimed to be as a good of a singer as Hill, and others like her. This isn't to say Minogue can't sing. She can, and anyone who says she can't or doesn't sing live has never actually seen her live. It's simply that Minogue's music is different from the sort of music that best utilizes and/or illustrates what Hill does best.

One of the points that beautifully, brilliantly reveals itself as "20 Feet From Stardom" progresses is that music means different things to different people. This was covered in my proper review but the singers featured reflect on how they choose to view a certain line sung in Lou Reed's "Walk On The Wild Side." Other singers take the stance that singing backup on Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" may mean one thing to the band and the listeners, but something else to the backup singers themselves. Some singers might suggest the harmony means just as much as the lead, some singers might suggest the opposite.

Well, Kylie Minogue's music means a lot to me. And in the end I wish that but for one brief second Neville had recalled this theme of his own film rather than employ the music of someone I hold very near and very dear just to make a fucking joke of it.

4 comments:

Bob Turnbull said...

Interesting...I don't think I caught the dig at Kylie - I saw it more as "being stuck singing backup for yet another artist that isn't her style", but I'm even more curious to see the film again with your context added.

Though I never thought much of Kylie either way (no diss on her, she just wasn't really someone that made my radar), I suddenly became somewhat of a fan when I saw Michel Gondry's video for her song "Come Into My World" - not only is it a great video (with Gondry's wonderful creativity), but the song is terribly catchy (in the best way) and there's something about Kylie's performance in the video that just exudes, um, well something...Something life affirming is the only way that I can really think of saying it.

As for Twenty Feet, I mostly can't wait to see it again for Merry Clayton's rendition of "Southern Man". Good lord was that incredible - especially with that funked out groove-a-licious band behind her.

Nick Prigge said...

Part of me has wondered if it was simply the audience reaction that agitated me. People at my showing definitely did laugh. Maybe with a different audience I wouldn't have felt the way I did. I'm not entirely convinced of it though. Something about the way it was presented just rubbed me the wrong way. I get and agree with the point they're trying to make by showing it, I just can't help but feel they could have cut it differently.

It's really just a little thing, too, in what is a truly great film, but it upset me so much I kind of had to write this post to exercise the demons. Maybe on another watch - which I'm looking forward to - I'll have another reaction.

By the way, I love this: "Something life affirming is the only way that I can really think of saying it." That's pretty much what her music does for me.

Bob Turnbull said...

Certainly an audience reaction can intensify a feeling, so I'm sure that didn't help matters. However, a personal reaction is a personal reaction - you can't be wrong about it. It can shift and morph as you revisit, but I always like to hear that immediate feeling a movie (or scene) provides. I know I've been "talked down off the ledge" a few times after a gut reaction (as the scene or movie is placed into a different context, etc.), but it doesn't change that initial feeling...

So now I'm really curious to see that Kylie Minogue scene again. And I'm all ready to be pissed off with you...B-)

Andrew Van Dort said...

Actually, there was a comment in the film about auto tuning and the next scene is of Minogue on Letterman with Hill as backing singer. I thought that was shady!