In COVID-19 isolation people have lots of time on their hands and the telly is on A LOT! And this is good for Audiophiles to catch up on binge worthy TV, but particularly of a music kind. You start watching that Netflix 10 parter about some horrendous murder, to wonder why you’ve invested in it emotionally when it turns into a turkey after 5 hours. Not to mention the appeal of watching it late at night, just in preparation for a good night sleep. So we all want to know about best music documentaries online…..
So I’ve chosen; some interesting and vicariously looking into peoples lives, others more about music and stories. Here is my pick of ten from ones I’ve watched (not in any order of preference);
1. Fyre (Netflix) – 2019
This first one is not so much a music documentary, more a funny flick on a really messed up music festival that goes spectacularly wrong. And as I have a sense of humour……Promoted by an extremely poorly organised ‘get rich quick’ cocky young entrepreneur, who ends up in prison for fraud. This is an amusing watch where, fuelled by social media, young fashionistas and trendies are sold the dream of going to a Bahamas island to party with super models. In the process, thousands of dollars in tickets go south.
You can’t help think they haven’t paid for their multi thousand dollar tickets – the bank of Mummy and Daddy has. But whatever, watching the participants be conned badly on these gullibility stakes, to sleep in tents with mattresses for example, ranks almost as amusingly as the total F–k up that is the event organiser and Fraudster, Billy McFarland. Essential cringe-worthy TV and funny to boot.
2. Supersonic (Netflix) – 2016
You get a real feel for how naughty and just, well, how ‘themselves’ the Gallagher brothers are, in this 2016 documentary about Oasis. You live with them on this journey of Cigarette and Alcohol fuelled rockstar boyishness, by the way the film is over dubbed by the main protagonists, without the pieces to camera of conventional music doco’s.
You see the Gallagher’s on the way to the ubiquitous Knebworth concert where they played to 250,000 over two days and where, apparently, 2.5 million applied for tickets. This is escapist TV at its best – we all want to be rockstars and throw TVs out of hotel windows perhaps. For anyone that was part of the Britpop era, or has come to it since, this is essential viewing.
3. Amy (Amazon) – 2015
Lots of them have left us at 27 – Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, and Amy Winehouse too. To be so talented but flawed is an affliction of the brilliant, the mythical musical talents and prodigy’s that come along once in a generation. Amy Winehouse was no different, and would surely have gone on to be a jazz diva of widespread repute, had she lived past her 50s.
This is the documentary that the family were critical of due to Asif Kapadia’s (Senna) portrayal, which they said was “unbalanced”. But whatever, by being the judge yourself, it is an interesting insight into the life and times of Amy Winehouse, her problems and hang ups, but more than anything – her brilliance.
4. Leaving Neverland / The Real Michael Jackson (Ch4/HBO & BBC iPlayer) – 2019/2020
The rug that is pulled from under you is what denigrates everything you’ve come to think about a person – in the process removing a part of you or your childhood perhaps. I remember having Thriller on my tape Walkman at 13, playing again and again. Then we had Jimmy Saville, Sports Stars, the Me too movement with Weinstein. Not a lot of people realise Jackson didn’t just sing the music himself, he choreographed it, and wrote it too. On the talent of just one of these, he would have been a world star, let alone all three.
And whilst undeniably the facts stack up against Michael Jackson in this documentary Leaving Neverland, and whatever your views about whether it should undo him of his legacy (I think it probably should) – the music brand goes on. No doubt due to never being convicted of being a paedophile – his trial in 2005 showed the power of celebrity and no more so than for The King of Pop. As coined in a new BBC programme by Jacques Peretti on BBC iPlayer called The Real Michael Jackson , many don’t want to believe the claims are true due to this personal involvement. I think above else, this is what makes these documentaries fascinating.
5. The Doors, a film by Oliver Stone (Amazon) – 1991
OK so it’s not a documentary, but I’m including it for anyone who knows anything about The Doors and Mr James Morrison, the lizard king himself. For you will understand the historical pin points that are reflected in this film by Oliver Stone.
Val Kilmer plays the part so well, and even the reference on the Ed Sullivan show to being asked to not say the line from Light My Fire; “Girl we couldn’t get much higher“, is true. A faux pas to standards and practises of the time, this was reputedly ignored. How about “girl you couldn’t bite my wire” instead, is in the film.
But for all these references ; stories about how they came to be named from William Blake, to Jim Morrion’s partner Pamela Courson, to the journalist Gloria Stavers, who he had an affair with, are all true. Put this all together and the fun of this film, is the reason to watch.
6. Whitney (Amazon Prime) – 2018
This is a film by Kevin McDonald who is a Scottish film director and who has directed the well known films such as Touching The Void and the music film Marley (2012).
The attraction of this film, much like Amy, is the vulnerability of Whitney Houston. That you’d think for someone of such immutable and un-ending talent and wealth would be plagued by such demons? It shows we can all suffer mental health issues and nobody is immune – no wealth or anything else can get in the way of affliction. This is the story of her life, her relationship with her fans and family, and her untimely death of a drug overdose in a bathtub in Los Angeles. Primarily it offers the journey of her life from humbleness, and that’s why I liked it so much.
7. Hillary and Jackie (Amazon) – 1991
Again this is a film, but documentary in nature, so I’m including it here. The story of Jacqueline du Pré who is famously known for playing Elgar’s Cello Concerto, which is probably the best rendition of this piece of music.
A story of the ins and outs of her life, her competitive upbringing in post war England, her extramarital affair with her sisters husband, a marriage to conductor Daniel Barenboim, and her untimely and sad death from multiple sclerosis announced at the time of the 1987’s great storm in the UK. It has all the elements of real life, hardships and the cruel way an internationally renowned musician could loose dexterity to such an illness. This is what makes this film fascinating, plus the music of course too.
8. Amadeus (Amazon Prime Video) – 1984
Of all music films and documentaries to watch, this is a historical film I can come back to watch again and again. Not only because it portrays the well known tensions in Mozart’s life – the fact geniuses like him were free of the modern commercialism we now know, but also the humour, and of course the music. The scene with Salieri at the piano where the music is given the Mozart ‘lift’, or the ‘too many notes’ scene with the king.
Walking around Mozart’s birthplace in Salzburg once, had an importance in light of the man, the music, and films like this which weigh into the cultural significance we place on artists like Mozart. So much so it had me emotionally welling up, with Elvira Madigan playing through my IEMs and looking and seeing his instruments and locks of hair etc. Some might say it’s difficult to envisage being a music lover if you don’t like some classical music. Quite possibly so, but you can enjoy this film either way.
9. 27 Gone Too Soon (Netflix) – 2017
“The 27 club is a name popularly given to 6 particular musicians who died at that age”, exclaimed during the opening comments to this films trailer.
It explains the circumstances of Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse and how they all went too soon which occurs in rock stardom. Can any lessons can be learned?
10. Remastered : Who Shot the Sheriff (Netflix) – 2018
This is a film about who was responsible following the assassination attempt on Bob Marley in 1976. We know more about the story of his music – who wouldn’t, but this film explores the political and cultural significance around this event and those of the Jamaican government in general, which were very much the inspiration of his music and songs, and the lyrics he used.
You go away with more of an insight into the man and his music. But whatever opinion you form, we still don’t know who was responsible and this is the fascination of this documentary, juxtaposed with the music of Bob Marley. You can’t go away and listen to Rat Race or War on the Rebel Music album in the same way.
Tell me what your favourites are – I might have missed some I really like but I can’t include all for obvious reasons. Tell me about something new or old which is online, and where you find it?