DIG! (2004) The stunning Dig! is the perfect example of a rock documentary so beautifully constructed and constantly fascinating that whether or not you like the bands being documented is a moot point. Director Ondi Timoner tracks the long standing love/hate relationship between two bands – the shamanistic, crazy and artistically “pure” (read: poor) Brian Jonestown Massacre, and the hip, glossy Dandy Warhols, who stole BJM’s unconventional moves and cleaned them up for mainstream consumption – and the manner in which it infects and destabilises both of their careers. Filled with great music, big personalities, and unforgettable moments, Dig! is not just a great rock documentary, it’s a great movie, end of story. CLICK FOR TIX
LIVE FOREVER (2003) In the mid-nineties, the British music scene was in a moribund rut, running on the fumes still wafting around from the more fervent eighties. But that all changed when a bunch of bands, led by the cocksure swagger of Oasis and the arty insouciance of Blur, captured the nation’s imagination. The term Britpop was coined, perfectly encapsulating the bands’ mix of British pride, musical heritage (The Beatles hover over everything) and cunning sense of the now. This wildly entertaining doco is like the hangover you get after a great night out: sure, the evening before was still fun, but when seen through bleary eyes, the ragged edges start to show. Live Forever brilliantly captures the highs and the lows.
THE FILTH & THE FURY (2000) Seminal punk group The Sex Pistols – the violent, cussing, angrily destructive creation of fashion designer and general provocateur Malcolm McLaren – were nothing short of a rock’n’roll explosion, damaging everything that they came into contact with. This maudlin, occasionally upsetting documentary from Julien Temple (a man long associated with the group) is driven by contemporary interviews with the band’s surviving members (whose faces are blacked out as if they’re – take your pick – perpetrators or victims who need to hide behind a veil of anonymity), who lay out their rapid rise and horrific, blood-stained fall (including the drug death of punk icon Sid Vicious) with cold, often embittered honesty.
THE RAMONES: END OF THE CENTURY (2003) Along with The Sex Pistols and The Stooges, New York band The Ramones were one of the true cornerstones of the seventies punk movement, with their cartoonish image and hard driving but melodic songs influencing a multitude of groups. This raggedly effective documentary by Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia paints a fascinating picture of this profoundly odd rock band, charting with precision not just their pioneering approach to music and rise to success, but also their loopy personalities. The band was pulled and twisted between the personal poles of guitarist Johnny Ramone (an icily efficient right wing demagogue) and frontman Joey Ramone (a gentle, quirky soul beset by all manner of problems), which is ultimately what gave the band its mighty kick.
DIXIE CHICKS: SHUT UP AND SING (2006) When The Dixie Chicks – the loveable, chart topping Texans who well and truly owned the space marked “country sweethearts” – glibly declared at a London concert that they were ashamed that President George W. Bush was from Texas, they opened up a political can of worms that they could never have envisioned. In America’s redneck heartland, they were suddenly Public Enemy # 1, inspiring public CD burning and multiple death threats. This upheaval in their image – and sudden politicisation of their public persona – is captured with great skill by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple (Harlan County USA), who reveals the high price paid (and surprising rewards reaped) by America’s honkytonk angels. CLICK FOR TIX
BIGGIE AND TUPAC (2002) British documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield is known for his daring choice of subject matter (serial killers, prisons, brothels, bondage parlours, the US Army, white supremacists, Margaret Thatcher), but it’s when he turns his attention to the music world that he really shines. Kurt & Courtney is a classic, but Biggie & Tupac is an even more chilling (and occasionally hilarious) investigation, as he digs around amongst the seediness and violence of the murders of hip hop superstars Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, uncovering a web of police corruption, botched detective work and ingrained gang violence. He also unearths a compelling ersatz villain in the form of rap impresario Suge Knight, who emerges as a comically chilling figure.
METAL: A HEADBANGER’S JOURNEY (2005) As the title suggests, this is not a streamlined, chronological look at the history of heavy metal. Rather, it is the personal documentary journey undertaken by the highly engaging, always genial and strikingly intelligent Sam Dunn – a hardcore metal head and qualified social anthropologist – into the heart of the most derided and misunderstood of musical genres. A passionate defender of metal, Dunn dissects the reasons behind the invective so often directed at it, while travelling the world to talk to metal luminaries like Lemmy, Tom Araya, Bruce Dickinson and Ronnie James Dio (a particular highlight) and also to the homes of metal’s various sub-genres, most notably a creepy visit to Norway, the birthplace of Satanist “black metal.”
THE PIXIES: LOUD QUIET LOUD (2006) After splitting up in acrimony on the back of a fistful of sonic masterpieces and quietly changing the face of indie music forever, it looked like The Pixies would never get back together. But in 2006, this vital, bruising quartet regrouped and hit the road. Though the reasons behind the reformation are never made clear (guitarist Joey Santiago christens it “The Sellout Tour”), seeing these four together again piques near delirium. This doco focuses on the group’s odd on-the-road dynamic, from their basic lack of communication through to the more damaging personal problems of bassist Kim Deal and drummer David Lovering, who both deal with addiction. Fascinating at every turn, and full of highlights, loudQUIETloud is a truly great tour film.
JOE STRUMMER: THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN (2007) A comprehensive biography of the late former Clash frontman Joe Strummer, director Julien Temple’s The Future Is Unwritten is soured by a turgid opening act which muddies the fascinating waters of the singer’s early life. But the film eventually moves down the path of infectious, giddy reminiscence with folks like Johnny Depp, John Cusack, Bono, Flea and former Clash-mates, amongst many other famous and otherwise friends, showing up to pay tribute around a literal (and metaphoric) campfire. Inexplicably inter-cut with footage from 1954’s animated Animal Farm and highlighted by audio from Strummer’s later life radio programme, the film is a multimedia experience and a fitting send off.
METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER (2004) In the early 2000s, Metallica was putting the finishing touches on St. Anger, its first album since 1997. Still amongst the biggest bands in the world, the group’s darling status had already been derailed by a much-publicised spat over internet downloads, and its membership was increasingly fractious, with bassist Jason Newsted exiting acrimoniously and frontman James Hetfield battling personal problems. For a cultural entity of the scale of Metallica to not only permit, but endorse the transparent, unapologetic vision present in this fly-on-the-wall studio doco is itself a testament to the terrific creative vision from award-winning directors Joe Berlinger and the late Bruce Sinofsky (Paradise Lost).
ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL (2009) The bands with the most interesting stories aren’t always the ones that hit the big time. Canadian heavy metal band, Anvil, have been slaving away for years, punching out their music to small crowds in grimy clubs all over the world. Though known to metal connoisseurs as early innovators (Slash and Metallica’s Lars Ulrich passionately sing their praises), record companies rate them as little more than a nuisance. Director, Sacha Gervasi (a longtime fan of the band), joins Anvil on a ramshackle tour of Europe, in the studio cutting a new album, dealing with record company execs, and at home with their often bewildered but touchingly supportive families. The result is a doco bursting at the seams with honest-to-god pathos and genuine warmth. CLICK FOR TIX
THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON (2005) Jeff Feuerzeig’s The Devil And Daniel Johnston is an intensive, probing personality piece on cult figure Daniel Johnston, a bi-polar musician and artist associated with the Austin, Texas alternative scene. While Johnston himself will likely never make the charts, he is a touchstone inspiration for dozens of more famous musicians, and a character study in his own right. Less lurid and sadder than his reputation, Johnston is more than just a “kooky, crazy guy” – he’s an indelibly tragicomic figure, full of personality flaws, stymied ambition and an unforgettable, mystifying genius.
I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART: A FILM ABOUT WILCO (2002) Photographer Sam Jones’ brief and unobtrusive documentary on Wilco was, for many fans, a first window into the lives of a private and somewhat mysterious rock band, fronted by a private and somewhat mysterious musician in Jeff Tweedy. Released in 2002, it details the recording of the group’s breakthrough album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and openly displays the ongoing tension between Tweedy and guitarist Jay Bennett, which led to the latter’s departure from the band. The film also famously holds Warner Music and the entire record industry up to scrutiny for a bewildering array of missteps and indecisions with regards to the finished album.
THE FLAMING LIPS: THE FEARLESS FREAKS (2005) Written, narrated and directed by Bradley Beesley (Okie Noodling), a filmmaker who grew up next door to The Flaming Lips’ iconic frontman Wayne Coyne, The Fearless Freaks is an expectedly personal excursion into the life and times of one of the most curious pop music acts in recent history. Stacked with early video of the five Coyne boys playing backyard football in Oklahoma City, the film enters the lives of the three permanent Lips (Coyle, bassist Michael Ivins and drummer Steven Drozd), their families and a half-dozen former members, depicting tragedy, addiction and blood ties with an uncommon combination of familiar warmth and surgical incision.
MARLEY (2012) Two-and-a-half hours is barely enough time to examine the many strands of Bob Marley’s life, work and significance, but director, Kevin Macdonald (Touching The Void), manages it impressively. It’s all here, starting with the early years of poverty in rural Jamaica, and revelations about the father – an English marine – who Marley barely knew. Then there’s the move to Kingston with his mother, to Delaware and back…and of course, the the evolution of The Wailers’ music, and their eventual snowballing international stardom. The final section is, inevitably, concerned with Marley’s decline and death from cancer. You needn’t be a reggae fan to enjoy Marley. Despite its straightforward linear structure, it avoids all the pitfalls of cliched music docos, and it’s a fascinating, absorbing – and well-nigh exhaustive – study of a pivotal and contradictory man. CLICK FOR TIX
20,000 DAYS ON EARTH (2015) British visual artists, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, created something far different from the usual rock doco for their first film, 20,000 Days On Earth, which provides a fascinating glimpse into the mind of the great Nick Cave. Courtesy of the titular concept, a fictionalised day is presented as the sum of Cave’s achievements to date. He collaborates with Warren Ellis on new music; spends time with his family; drives in the company of Ray Winstone, Blixa Bargeld, and Kylie Minogue; and reflects upon his life less ordinary to his therapist. His narration contemplates why his career came to be, and how he navigated sex, drugs, and rock and roll to emerge older, wiser, but not completely unscathed. The man, the myth, and the music could only have been captured in this way, in a revealing, thrilling doco-dramatisation hybrid that’s part portrait, part peering into the artistic abyss. CLICK FOR TIX
COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK (2015) On the back of the game-changing Nevermind album, Kurt Cobain – the ultimate outsider – was suddenly an idol, and Cobain: Montage Of Heck charts that dichotomy with an incisive sense of illumination. It’s an extraordinary cinematic portrait of a deeply complex man. Along with new interviews and bundles of never-before-seen footage, Cobain: Montage Of Heck is threaded with Nirvana’s music, and Cobain’s voice and lyrics radiate through from first to last. But it is the final section of the movie that is the most surprising and confronting, featuring intimate home movies of Cobain with his wife and fellow rock star junkie, Courtney Love, and their daughter, Frances. They are tender in their humour and affection, but disturbing and sad in their depiction of the couple’s obvious drug use. CLICK FOR TIX
GOMA’s “Get What You Want: Music Cinema” programme runs from September 2-October 2.