Movie tip: The Movies – Documentary series

 By Alice Burke

As part of its ongoing series of documentary screenings, The Movies (Haarlemmerdijk 161, Amsterdam) has some great offerings coming up.
On May 1st and May 8th, there’s another chance to see the Academy Award winning 20 Feet From Stardom, a fascinating insight into the world of backing vocalists and their often-unacknowledged contributions to some of the most famous songs in the world. As well as winning the Best Documentary Oscar in 2014, the film also won the Music Documentary Audience Award at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam.

Directed by Morgan Neville, this 2013 documentary features incredible footage of backing singers who worked with The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Ray Charles and Michael Jackson, to name but a few. Merry Clayton, who provided the haunting, powerful backing vocals on The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter, weaves a fascinating story of how she ended up creating some of the signature sounds behind that song, and also Lynrd Skynrd’s Sweet Home Alabama.

Also featured is Darlene Love, a protégé of infamous producer Phil Spector. Ms. Love’s complex journey through the joys and perils of musical stardom are explored in detail, at a fast and fascinating pace. The film holds your attention at every turn, and present new facts about old songs in a truly engaging manner.

Lisa Fischer, a singer who has toured with The Rolling Stones since 1989, is a key face in the movie. She’s also worked with such legends as Tina Turner, Sting, Luther Vandross and Aretha Franklin. It’s frankly astonishing to realize the wealth of raw talent that hums just behind the frontline of almost every concert and recording, heard but not seen in the same way as the rest of the band. Backing singers occupy a separate space on stage, but as Lisa Fischer herself put it in a New York Times interview: “When you start listening for us, honey, we’re everywhere.”

The Movies’ documentary season continues in May with Citizenfour, a gripping documentary that explores the story of Edward Snowden and the NSA privacy scandal that shocked the world in 2013. This will screen on May 29th and June 5th. The Movies itself inhabits a beautiful Art Deco building and is the oldest functioning cinema in Amsterdam; its initial incarnation opened up in 1912. It’s a wonderful place to take in one of the many art-house and independent films on offer, and also to grab a drink at the atmospheric bar.