It’s well known that the Stitely staff loves music, so its probably a no-brainer that we love movies about music as well. But given the extensive list of films made about musicians over the years, how do you find the good ones? Here are just a few of the historically significant music documentaries that have been released in the past 60 years. Stay tuned for part two in which we recommend our personal favs.
There are two kinds of music documentaries: rockumentaries and music documentaries. In rockumentaries, the film is primarily focused on concert footage and how a band sounds live, while a music documentary deals with the musicians personal struggles in addition to their music.
Below are five Music Docs that historically rock.
1. Don’t Look Back -1967 by D.A. Pennebaker
Don’t Look Back is one of the original music documentaries. In 1998 it was selected to be preserved in the U.S. National Film Registry for being artistically significant to our country’s film development. In this doc, Pennebaker follows Bob Dylan around on his 1965 European tour. He shows the music, Dylan’s manager and friends, and also covers the entirety of his romance and break-up with Joan Baez. The film starts with a music video for Dylan’s song “Subterranean Homesick Blues“. This beginning became one of the first music videos ever produced and changed the whole way people experienced music.
2. Woodstock – 1970 by Michael Wadleigh
A national and critical hit, it was nominated for Academy Awards in several categories including Best Editing and Best Sound. It also won the award for Best Documentary. In 1996 the film was selected to be preserved in the U.S. National Film Registry. Even though it was made with a small budget of only $600,000, it became a smash hit in theaters grossing over $50 million dollars, making it the 6th highest grossing film of the year.
3. The Last Waltz – 1978 by Martin Scorsese
The Last Waltz tells the story of the The Band’s farewell concert and includes interviews of the band about their musical experiences. Special guest stars such as Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr, Muddy Waters and Neil Young really helped The Band go out with a bang. The film is still hailed today as one of the greatest concert films ever made.
4. & 5. The Decline of Western Civilization, 1981 & The Decline of Western Civilization Part 2: The Metal Years, 1988 by Penelope Spheeris
We combined these since they are part of a series about the changing music scene in Los Angeles during the 1980s. The first film looks into the punk rock scene of LA and the second covers heavy metal. There is a third chapter made debuted in 1998 that follows gutter punks, but it was never released to the general public after going through the festival circuit.
The first film features both live concerts and interviews with the bands, punk magazine publishers and fans. These interviews show a well rounded experience of the punk rock movement and the bands that came out of it such as Black Flag, X, Circle Jerks and Fear. These bands helped to shape the sound of punk rock, hardcore punk and music in general.
The second film follows the Metal scene of L.A. focusing particularly on Glam Metal. Less concerned with concert footage, this film features more interviews conducted between band members and an editor of Screamer Magazine. It also shows footage of the musicians dealing with their drug and alcohol abuse and vanity issues like celebrity status. Some of the bands & musicians featured are: Aerosmith, Kiss, Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper and Megadeath. Music buffs now mention the film as partially responsible for the death of glam rock and the rise of thrash metal and grunge. Fans were disgusted by the excess used by the rockers and decided to turn elsewhere.
The films were well received and jump started Penelope Spheeris‘ film directing career, giving her multiple job opportunities. Although she turned down the offer to direct This is Spinal Tap because she thought it was impossible to make fun of heavy metal she later directed the music comedy Wayne’s World. How’s that for a turn of events?
That’s all for this post, stay tuned for part 2!