My Top Music Documentaries
It’s finally 2021 and apparently not much has changed. Los Angeles is currently the epicenter for COVID-19 so we must stay in our homes as much as possible – and when we are not working, find various things to do to keep ourselves busy. With the pandemic raging on and every closet organized, and you’ve seen everything that is streaming, including binge watching a TV series you somehow missed from the 90’s, what do you watch next? I suggest music documentaries! Here are some of my favorite music docs to watch while avoiding contact with the outside world and this dreaded virus:
Fantastic film that follows John Lennon and Yoko One as they made his 1971 album Imagine. When John left the Beatles, Yoko Ono, a true free spirit and artist, was demonized as the cause but here you see that she was, in fact, his muse and collaborator. If we didn’t live in such a sexist, racist world perhaps she would have lauded for inspiring and aiding this incredible artist evolve. A story for anyone who believes in twin flames.
So maybe only a dedicated music fan can hum a Nick Cave song, and this may not be at the top of your list, but this is a portrait of how a true artist and song writer lives. The idea? A day in the life of the musician with a therapist’s questions and a visit to a voluminous archive propelling this dramatization of a day in the life of musician and cultural icon Nick Cave.
We saw it when it came out but it’s worth another look. Archival footage and personal testimonials present an intimate portrait of the life and career of British singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse. Gone way too soon.
Julien Temple’s film is a fitting tribute to one of Britain’s most influential and best-loved musicians, Joe Strummer, best known as the front man of The Clash, who mellowed in later life into fronting his new band, the Mescaleros.
Don’t write this off as a movie about the Saturday Night Fever, hairy chested Disco kings. Brothers Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb were in fact able to ride the musical wave of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s adapting and changing, even adopting a high falsetto voice to change their sound and eventually becoming songwriters and producers for many other pop stars. Following the bros from Australia to London, where they found early fame in the 1960s in the trail of the Beatles, they went on to write over 1,000 songs, including 20 No. 1 hits. There is no better portrait of a family of musicians as they navigate the complexities of working together and adapting to each new decade.
A look at how musical groups such as The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, and The Mamas & the Papas birthed the beginnings of the Laurel Canyon music scene and how the echo of these artists’ creations reverberated across the world.
Docuseries which tells of the unbreakable bond of trust and friendship between music legends Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, two street-smart men from different worlds who together defied traditional wisdom and transformed contemporary culture in the process
What began as an observation of Kurt Cobain, an investigation into his tragic death and his romance with Courtney Love took a different turn when Love intervened and tried to stop writer Nick Broomfield from investigating his life and death. Instead what it produced was this often hilarious story of how Nick Broomfield is thwarted in his attempt to make a movie about Generation X’s most famous lovers, the people he met and the powers that tried to stop him along the way.
Creating a unique mix of punk, emo and trap, Lil Peep is set to bring a new musical genre to the mainstream when he dies of a drug overdose at just 21 years old.
At the height of his stardom, Michael Jackson began long-running relationships with two boys, aged 7 and 10, and their families. Now in their 30s, they tell the story of how they were sexually abused by Jackson. Harrowing to watch and think that the self titled ‘King of Pop’ was able to carry on this abuse in plain sight.
Another wonderful and very polished Nick Broomfield documentary. This is a portrait of Whitney Houston’s poignant life story with insights from those closest to her. With much new information on her mostly kept secret relationship with her female best friend this doc follows the life of a woman who made millions of dollars and had more consecutive number ones than The Beatles, but she was never free to be herself.
Don’t eat the Yellow snow. An in-depth exploration of Frank Zappa’s private life and his rich, often controversial musical career. Featuring unfettered access to the Zappa vault and a deep cache of archival footage.
Singer Aretha Franklin performs gospel songs at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles in 1972. Her father was a preacher so her incredible talent was fostered in the church. Just let yourself ride into this one because it’s kind of like being in church with one of the greatest singers of all time. Watch for cameos like Mick Jagger, who stands in the back of the church to experience the Queen of Soul in her natural habitat.
I watched this film knowing nothing about pop singer Taylor Swift and was intrigued to watch her as she reveals intimate details of her life while showcasing backstage and onstage concert footage.
An exploration of Miles Davis’ archival photos and home movies. Even if you know nothing about Jazz this is a good one.
I was never a fan of Leonard Cohen, I remember seeing him play at the Wiltern and being bored beyond belief. This film however is fascinating and touching and and will turn you into a fan. Following Leonard through his journey from poet to monk, it is the ultimate love story where the hero and heroine do not end up together.
And a bonus (not strictly music) London the Modern Babylon – All about London by famed British video director Julien Temple.
I hope these bring some joy and positivity to your life as we ride out this storm.