Like Dylan in the Movies

10 Of The Best Musical Documentaries

Thursday 5th October 2017

Following on from our post about rock biopics, we turn our attention to the more factual approach and look back at the history of the music documentary. A quick spool through some music documentaries you may or may not have seen.

'Dont Look Back'
Echoing through popular culture since its release in 1967. From Belle & Sebastian's song 'Like Dylan in the Movies' with its lyrical reference,"And if they follow you, don't look back, like Dylan in the movies, on your own", and of course the words that almost certainly seeded the title of an Oasis hit in the mind of Noel Gallagher. 'Dont Look Back' is perhaps best known for its often imitated "Subterranean Homesick Blues" sequence in which the young Bob Dylan holds and discards cue cards containing pertinent phrases and words from the song. The sequence became a promotional trailer for the film, with many considering it to represent one of the earliest examples of what would become the music video.

Directed by Mat Whitecross, who also directed the Ian Dury biopic 'Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll', 'Supersonic' documents the rise of Oasis from their council estate beginnings to their eventual stadium-filling status and Knebworth triumph. As one might expect its viewpoint rests predominantly on the Gallaghers' infamous rivalry and the tensions that would ultimately break up the band, though Whitecross chooses to stop the story before the inevitable split creating a positive ending for the film.

'The Clash: Westway To The World' 
Directed by Don Letts, 'Westway To The World' was made in 2000 from the band's personal footage filmed in 1982 when The Clash went to New York City. Interviews with the band include Joe Strummer's account of being present from the first brick thrown at the 1976 London riot that brought an end to the Notting Hill Carnival that year, and inspired the song 'White Riot'. Listen to our Don Letts Playlist here.

'The Kids Are Alright'
Released shortly after, but completed just before Keith Moon's death, 'The Kids Are Alright' inadvertently became a marker for the end of a chapter in The Who's history. As well as live concert footage and notable clips of television appearances that highlight the band's madcap hotel wrecking reputation, the film includes Ringo Starr interviewing each member of the band in their homes, including the then recently passed Keith Moon.

Showing that a documentary can give a distorted view of the truth, as much if not more than any biopic can, 'Dig!' gives an account of the American alternative scene of the 1990s, specifically around The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Although critics liked Ondi Timoner's edited highlights and lowlights of footage of the antics displayed by the band members over a period of seven years, the bands themselves considered it to be a somewhat sensationalist piece. The Brian Jonestown Massacre's Anton Newcombe and Dandy Warhols' Courtney Taylor-Taylor were both critical of the film which they claimed gave a biassed and negative impression of them as individuals, and even leading some viewers to assume that The Brian Jonestown had split up when in fact this was not the case. Listen to our Anton Newcombe playlist here

'The Filth And The Fury'
Julien Temple's second film about The Sex Pistols was released in 2000, preceded 20 years earlier by 'The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle'. The later film seeks to remedy the faults of the former which was criticised for being biased in favour of Malcolm McLaren. 'The Filth and The Fury' brings together outtakes from the earlier film together with other footage and interviews with the remaining members of the Pistols to tell their side of the story, contextualised against an overview of the state of 1970s Britain. Listen to our playlist with John Lydon here

'Gimme Shelter'
As the title suggests, 'Gimme Shelter' follows the Rolling Stones around the period of 1969 with the band touring America and releasing 'Let It Bleed'. Recording the events of the period as they unfolded, Albert and David Maysles came to document what was described at the time as rock's darkest hour, when the Altamont Free Concert descended into fatal violence and accidental deaths. 

'The Punk Singer' 
A film about the often overlooked American cultural figure, Kathleen Hanna, who as a central figure in the Riot Grrrl movement and fronted the bands, Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. Directed by feminist filmmaker Sini Anderson the film looks at Hanna's own feminist activism, her role in the American alternative scene (including her coining the phrase "smells like teen spirit" with Kurt Cobain") her marriage to Beasty Boy Adam Horovitz and her battle with Lyme's disease.

'Standing In The Shadows Of Motown' 
Paul Justman's film tackles the story of Motown's unsung heroes, The Funk Brothers. The house band that gave backing to the likes of The Temptations, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops and Stevie Wonder to mention but a few. Based on the book of the same title by Allan Slutsky, the film claims that The Funk Brothers "played on more number-one hits than the Beatles, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys combined".

'Gimme Danger'
Jim Jarmusch's film about the relatively short, yet influential career of The Stooges, released in 2016, features extensive interviews with the band around the time of their 2003 reunion, including the always charismatic Iggy Pop.

'Cobain: Montage Of Heck'
Brett Morgen's film uses archive footage as well as artworks, notebooks and voice recordings by Kurt Cobain to tell the story of Cobain's childhood, the formation and rise to fame of Nirvava, and of course his drug use and suicide. The film release was augmented by the publication of a book also featuring Kurt Cobain's previously unseen artworks, and a soundtrack album.

Read our recent post about some of our favourite musical biopics here.

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