Favorite music documentaries

Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by PaulKTF, Aug 27, 2010.

  1. bostonscoots

    bostonscoots Forum Resident

    Boston, MA
    So far as I'm concerned, the best music documentaries are those where the band or the artist don't have editorial control or final cut - Crossfire Hurricane stands out as a wasted opportunity because the film needed tougher questions and a sharper focus than the Rolling Stones were willing to offer. Conversely, Netflix' Keith Richards doc was far more satisfying because it asked Keith questions about his music (the scene where Keef demonstrates how he created the distorted acoustic guitars on "Street Fighting Man" crystalizes everything that's been missing from Stones docs to date).

    OK...that was a minor rant disguised as an editorial. Back to the subject at hand...

    My favorites, in no certain order:

    Soundbreaking: A terrific mini-series about the history of music production. The heavy hitters are all here - George Martin, Rick Rubin to name two - and the series isn't tied to one genre, bouncing from Sinatra to Aretha to the Beatles to Dr. Dre. We know why people make music...this is the how.

    Who Is Harry Nilsson and Why Is Everybody Talking About Him?: Some of docs I've enjoyed most were about artists I knew very little about. I knew who Harry Nilsson was - the familiar hits, John Lennon's drinking buddy - but was less aware of his brilliant, erratic, and eccentric career. It's hard to come away from seeing this not feeling for Harry, a man blessed with talent and cursed with an independent and self destructive streak. That Harry was aware of what they cost him at the end of his all-too-brief life is only of the heartbreaks the film richly details. The movie also backs up the claim that Nilsson was truly ahead of his time - creatively using television instead of live performance to reach an audience and recording an album of standards long before Rod Stewart and others found the gold in them there songs. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay the film is when it's over, you'll go looking to get yourself some Harry.

    Gimme Shelter: Of this movie, entire white papers and essays have been written so I'll just say this is the Rolling Stones smack (no pun intended) dab in the middle of their Imperial Era, making killer albums (that's them in Muscle Shoals cutting what would be Sticky Fingers) and reclaiming the concert stage. These days when the Stones tour it's like the circus rolling into town, but in 1969 they were dangerous. They didn't just bring the wrong element into town - they were the wrong element, a statement Altamont drew a line underneath. The performances captured here are ragged, but the music has the edge and energy that made the Stones "The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band".

    And yes, Charlie's good tonight.

    All Or Nothing At All: Finally, someone steps up and gives Frank Sinatra a worthy documentary. Alex Gibney's film is a trove of Sinatra performances, rare interviews and keen insight from critics and fellow artists. The Sinatra family also chimes in and their remarks are refreshingly candid - at one point Gibney asks Frank Sinatra, Jr. why he keeps referring to the elder Frank as "Sinatra" and not "Dad" or "Father" and Junior's oddly distant reply speaks volumes about their relationship. Even the late Nancy Sinatra - FS's first wife - gets in a little truth of her own by calling Ava Gardner "a bitch". The candor isn't only reserved for the family - the doc wades into Sinatra's mob ties, his volatility, and career lows (Frank sporting beads and a nehru jacket to join the Fifth Dimension for a few songs during a TV special is both hysterical and painful). That's life...at least Sinatra's, anyways.

    Thelonious Monk - Straight, No Chaser: Thelonious Monk...before the madness took over. Monk's long, slow withdrawal into himself would start not long after the footage that comprises this doc was shot, making this timepiece just that much more valuable. Not that the signs aren't there in the film - Monk dancing in an airport or on stage, dancing around his piano - but at the time, it was Monk being...well, Monk. The upside is this doc features plenty of Monk also being Monk, playing his wonderfully playful yet complex music for enthusiastic audiences. A genuine artifact of jazz history.

    Michael Jackson's Journey From Motown To Off The Wall: "The Making Of..." album docs are mostly standard operating procedure for any band or artist looking to freshen up the release of a "Deluxe Edition" - and they can range from insightful (the to-date three Springsteen docs) to just shy of an EPK. This one though...is special. Like Monk, Michael Jackson would also begin a long, slow retreat into mental illness (my diagnosis - not theirs), paired with substance abuse and - ahem - "questionable behavior". Director Spike Lee doesn't waste his - or our - time navigating the awkward conversation of Jackson's post-Thriller life. Instead, Lee focuses on a surprisingly rich period for Jackson - the run up to and making of his solo album Off The Wall. There's some necessary backstory of the child prodigy and his band of brothers, but it frames how bold Jackson's moves would be during this period in his life - leaving Motown, the fight to not be seen a novelty act by Epic Records (their new label) and Michael's emergence as the star of the Jacksons, giving him the push to make his first true solo album. I'm sure someone will attempt to tell the fuller, sadder story of Michael Jackson's life...but Lee makes a strong case for these being Jackson's best days, when he was full of youth, talent, and the will to break down barriers for himself and his music. If only he had stayed there.
  2. stepeanut

    stepeanut Forum Resident

    Lech Kowalski’s D.O.A.:


    I hadn’t seen it in 25 years. Bought the new Second Sight BD last weekend. Delighted to find it’s just as funny and vital as I remember. An essential punk document.
    Fastnbulbous, Saint Johnny and Tanx like this.
  3. johnnyyen

    johnnyyen Forum Resident

    I couldn’t understand that choice. It is indeed terrible.
  4. matthew2600

    matthew2600 Forum Resident

    Lawrence KS
    Just watched the Library Music Film and Italo Disco Legacy over the long holiday weekend. I thought both were really interesting, would recommend both for fans of the genres.
  5. Chris DeVoe

    Chris DeVoe Forum Resident

    I haven't seen it in years, but my wife saw Urgh, A Music War in the theater a few months back and loved it.
    Saint Johnny, vince and Quadboy like this.
  6. keefer1970

    keefer1970 Metal, Movies, Beer!

    New Jersey
    Some of my faves:

    Last Days Here (Bobby Liebling/Pentagram)
    End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones
    Scorpions: Forever and a Day
    All Things Must Pass
    (Tower Records)
    The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years
    I Am Thor
    We Are Twisted F***ing Sister!
    The Wrecking Crew
    Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage
    L7: Pretend We're Dead
  7. garymc

    garymc Forum Resident

    Not sure about a full concert film. But I did enjoy the documentary and it has quite a bit of live performance mixed in.
    Mad Dogs & Englishmen (film) - Wikipedia
    cgw likes this.
  8. cgw

    cgw Forum Resident

    Upstate NY
    Help - I'm caught in an endless loop.
    Louise Boat and Synthfreek like this.
  9. Synthfreek

    Synthfreek Please label the photos you post

    Austin, TX
    Another reason not to start duplicate threads. When they eventually get merged you get confusion like this.
    Louise Boat likes this.
  10. FredV

    FredV Forum Resident

    The Shmenges - The Last Polka

    Jazzmonkie and Bill like this.
  11. Eric Weinraub

    Eric Weinraub Forum Resident

    The new Jeff Beck documentary Still on the Run .....truly must see
    Slack Babbath likes this.
  12. Eric Weinraub

    Eric Weinraub Forum Resident

    There are some great live performances.
  13. jeffrey walsh

    jeffrey walsh Forum Resident

    Scranton, Pa. USA
  14. cgw

    cgw Forum Resident

    Upstate NY
    I watched The Slits documentary on Hulu.
    A good documentary.

    I didn't know we had Hulu until I saw it on the credit card bill. We also have Starz (I found out). The only documentary of note I saw on that was the Big Star doc which I have already seen.
  15. skisdlimit

    skisdlimit Forum Resident

    Bellevue, WA
    A dozen favorites that readily come to mind, plus a few more referenced in brief commentary:

    Elvis '56
    - this may have been superseded by Elvis: The Searcher, but the narration by Levon Helm here makes it a classic for me
    History of Rock 'n Roll - this along with its PBS counterpart, Rock 'n Roll, were both really well done, and are recommended as comprehensive overviews
    Lemmy - made me a fan, 'nuff said!
    The Wrecking Crew - nice to see a doc about these relatively unsung musicians; makes a nice companion piece with Muscle Shoals
    - more of a behind-the-scenes look at the non-musical aspects of the business, focusing specifically on Shep Gordon
    Five Years - best Bowie doc I've seen; hopefully the upcoming First Five Years will be better than the comparatively disappointing Last Five Years
    - I'll add my voice to the choir of requests for this superb Rolling Stones doc to be released on DVD/Blu-ray
    Metal Evolution - Sam Dunn is clearly a fan, and his enthusiasm for this labor of love makes it all the more entertaining
    The Beatles Anthology - I also liked the earlier Compleat Beatles, but actually think The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash beats them both! :winkgrin:
    Classic Albums - take your pick, this entire series is mostly good to great
    Hail! Hail! Rock 'n Roll - Etta James stole the show, but that bit where Chuck needles ole Keef is priceless, as are interviews with now deceased stars
    Running Down A Dream - I agree with all the above comments praising this excellent Tom Petty doc; it's one of the best, period.

    Great thread! :righton:
    Chris DeVoe likes this.
  16. musicfan37

    musicfan37 Senior Member

    The Beatles Anthology
  17. x2zero

    x2zero Forum Resident

    Brooklyn USA
    I just watched this:

    Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don’t Know Me (showtime)
  18. x2zero

    x2zero Forum Resident

    Brooklyn USA
    ...and this:

    Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape (amazon prime)
  19. Veggie Boy

    Veggie Boy still trudgin'

    Central Canada
    I caught this one last night. Offered me insight to Slowhand's life I wasn't or was only vaguely aware of. A must see for rock fans.

  20. All Down The Line

    All Down The Line Forum Resident

    Gimme Shelter
    Crossfire Hurricane
    25 x 5
    Don't Look Back
    Rolling Hotel
    Goodbye Cream
    Yardbirds (1991)
  21. BluesOvertookMe

    BluesOvertookMe Forum Resident

    Houston, TX, USA
    Good one!

    Iggy Pop: You know the difference between Dionysian and Apollonian art?
    Tom Snyder: I'm not too good on that...
  22. Slack Babbath

    Slack Babbath Forum Resident

    Seven Seas Of Ryde
    Apologies if it’s already been mentioned ,but the documentary about Bill Withers - Still Bill is essential viewing in my book.

    Such a heartwarming, humble and down to earth human being with gift for writing brilliant songs . Found myself in tears in parts of it - something that doesn’t happen when I usually watch music docs ! .

    Do yourself a favour and watch it .


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