By Bill Dudley

My Top 2 films of the year are about very divergent subjects, yet but both are about indentured servitude, in far different eras. One film is about the subtle act of the music industry, just not paying or recognizing talent they profit from. The other is about the most forbidden acts of the 1400s through 1865, the true American torture of human beings that “owners” highly profited from, slavery.

2. “20 Feet From Stardom”: The life of a successful back-up singer is an interesting mix a lot of work, not much $, and little or no recognition. Director Morgan Neville has put together possibly the best music documentary I have ever seen. ’20 Feet’ turns the spotlight on some great ladies we have heard all of lives, on other artist’s songs.

Darlene Love was the voice of The Crystals and many other groups produced by Phil Spector. She never got top billing, or the financial receipts she was promised. The court battles have continued for 50 years, but so has her quest for recognition of her great talent. She’s done Broadway, acting, and many concerts to finally establish herself to the plateau she has long deserved. Darlene sings “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home” every season on ‘Late Night With David Letterman.’ Darlene will also be headlining the final season of ‘The Palm Springs Follies’ in the spring of 2014.

Merry Clayton who sang on The Rolling Stones “Gimme Shelter,” and Lisa Fischer who has been touring with the stones since 1988, are also featured in the film. I’m told all 3 will sing at this years Rose Bowl. Success at last, and ’20 Feet From Stardom’ has helped. It should be nominated for Best Documentary of 2013.

1.“12 Years A Slave”: This is a film I did not want to see. 400 years of slavery is not a feel good subject. But, I did see it, and with its young black and British director, Steve McQueen. (no relation to the actor of the same name). Steve is one of the most down to earth people I have ever met. The film is set in Louisiana circa 1842, when a middle class (Solomon Northrup) Sarasota New York musician, carpenter, husband and father is kidnapped and sent to the South. Solomon has the perfect family, and no apparent knowledge of what life is like below the Mason-Dixon for other blacks. He learns quickly, and brutally.

The slow moving story develops with the horror of whippings, rapes, lynchings and abuse, amidst the beautiful scenery of a tranquil background. The violence and torture are  very difficult to watch, but are not used in a way that will make you want to leave the theater.

You care about Solomon, Patsy and the other slaves, and want to see them free. An excellent soundtrack of the roots of American Gospel play all during the film. “12 Years A Slave” would have never been made, if Steve McQueen had never read the book. That’s right, there was a book published in 1853 telling the entire  true story by the main character, Solomon.

His long lost book is the document of a 400 year era of shame in America, yet the author died in obscurity, no-one knows when. How could this have happened without anyone ever hearing about it until 2013? And why did it take a British director to make this honest American film about slavery, when over 400 films have been made about World War II?

The fact that this film was shot in 35 days with only one camera, by a film-maker who had only released two other features, easily makes it a masterpiece, and the best film of the year.


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