April 28, 2014 ()
Five Rock Documentaries You Need To See Right Now
For some fans, listening to music and attending concerts is more than enough, but for those who want to delve deeper into the stories behind those satisfying sounds, nothing beats a good rock documentary.
While there is no shortage of artists that have tried their hand at the big screen, many of these productions result in less than satisfying, often self-promotional films. There are a few, however, that go beyond glorification to explore the inexplicable magic of certain places that spurned new movements and genres, or the pressures associated with success in the wake of new found stardom, or rare moments that forever shaped music history, nearly lost but somehow discovered on film.
In short, a lot of rock documentaries miss the mark, but there are a few that you absolutely must see right now.
1) The Last Waltz
Without hesitation The Last Waltz is number one on this list and remains a must-see for any self-respecting folk rock fan. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film centres around a band simply known as The Band, one of the most important, influential, and relatively unheard-of rock groups of 60s and 70s. The film covers their final show, at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom — which included guest appearances by the likes of Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Joni Mitchell, Ronnie Hawkins, Ronnie Wood, Neil Diamond and countless others — broken by interviews discussing The Band’s history, from backing Bob Dylan in the ’60s right up until their decision to play their final show and part ways. My only complaint about the documentary is that it focussed too heavily on guitarist Robbie Robertson, whom the film portrays as the band’s leader, in spite of the fact that The Band had prided itself on being leaderless (as described by Levon Helm, The Band’s late drummer/vocalist, in his memoir This Wheels On Fire).
2) Sound City
To any hard core rock fan, Dave Grohl is a god, if not for what he accomplishes on stage and in the studio than for the contributions he regularly makes to the music industry and culture at large. He is a man of many talents — drumming, playing guitar, singing and songwriting — but he added a new point to his lengthy resume last year when he released his directorial debut, Sound City. The film centres around a little known music studio where inexplicable musical magic happened on countless occasions. Groundbreaking hits like Nirvana’s Nevermind, The Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s One Hot Minute, Neil Young’s After The Gold Rush and Elton John’s Caribou regularly poured out of this tiny LA studio before its close in 2011. The film includes interviews with musicians that explore quintessential moments in music history, such as how Mick Fleetwood teamed up with Stevie Nicks to create Fleetwood Mac, how Tom Petty rose from obscurity to rock royalty, and how the dilapidated old building managed to create one of the most perfect acoustics environments for recording music. The film ends with Grohl purchasing the studio’s Neve 8028, a rare and discontinued mixing board, transporting it to his house, and whipping up an instant classic with Paul McCartney and former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic.
3) Muscle Shoals
Speaking of a random place that facilitated an explosion of groundbreaking music, Muscle Shoals takes viewers on a journey down the Tennessee river to a small 12,000 person town along the Alabama border where impossibly good music was produced. Throughout the documentary artists ranging from Alicia Keys to Keith Richards speculate on why so many phenomenal, career making, genre defining, earth shattering records are made in that particularly small corner of the deep south. In the early days the town was credited with ushering in the birth of southern rock through bands like The Allman Brother’s Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and helped a struggling Aretha Franklin produce her first hit record. In the later years, musicians like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, The Rolling Stones, U2 and Rod Stewart allowed the tiny town in Alabama to rival traditional recording behemoths like LA, New York and London.
4) Festival Express
As a Canadian I’m a little biased towards this film, because it takes place in my home town and various other cities across my home and native land, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that it is one of the most fascinating and unique rock documentaries of all time. One could previously only imagine the musical mayhem that would result from packing Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, The Band and various other rockstars on a train to play a series of shows across the country in 1970, but in 2003 music fans got the opportunity to glimpse it first hand. From all night parties and jam sessions to fights and riots, Festival Express is a non-stop ride that at times seems almost too real to be true.
5) It Might Get Loud
Though they previously existed in vastly different worlds, revolutionizing vastly different guitar techniques and becoming legends of vastly different rock and roll styles, there is no denying Jack White, Jimi Page and The Edge’s contributions to rock guitar. So when filmmaker Davis Guggenheim crammed them all in a room together for 2008’s It Might Get Loud, the documentary had a little bit of something for everyone. Aside from allowing the musicians a unique opportunity to discuss their legendary careers and do a little bit of face-meltingly epic jamming together, the movie also takes viewers through the Edge’s overwhelming guitar pedal collection where U2’s unique sound was born, Jack White’s farm where he can turn just about anything into a musical instrument, and on a tour through Jimi Page’s extensive record collection that helped inspire early Led Zeppelin classics.