In this current age of constant information we are afforded more insights into the lives and minds of the artists who make the music that we love than ever before-although in our minds the well worn form of the music documentary still comes up trumps. After undertaking the painstaking task of re-watching all of our old favorites and a raft of new gems, we can now bring you a list of five of our favorite docs from across the musical spectrum. This is by no means definitive-there are definitely some controversial omissions here, but we hope that this list will provide you a few hours worth of amusing, inspiring intriguing, emotive and most importantly downright tuneful entertainment. Enjoy.
Bad 25 (2012)
Released in 2012 to commemorate a quarter century since the release of Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ album, this Spike Lee documentary is a highly entertaining slice of historical revisionism. Glowingly reverent, this is Lee’s attempt to shift the tone of footage centred around the conception of the record, its recording and its promotion. Highlights come in the form of rare clips of Jackson engaged in intense late night dance rehearsals, recordings of him and a youthful Wesley Snipes on set at the recording of the ‘short film’ for the album’s title track and lead single, and in studio footage of him and Stevie Wonder as they lay down their duet ‘Just Good Friends’.
Augmenting the aforementioned footage with interviews with session musicians and pop culture experts to provide both technical insight and historical context, ‘Bad 25’ captures what was a huge moment for the King Pop. To provide the icing on the cake, Lee uses his bulging rolodex of celebrity contacts to rope in chats with the likes of ?uestlove, Mariah Carey, Cee Lo Green and Kanye West (who somehow finds a way to talk about himself) on the indelible influence of ‘Bad’ on their careers. Informative and entertaining, ‘Bad 25’ is a loving portrait of one of the most talented artists in the history of popular music at a point before his achievements had been eclipsed by more unsavory aspects of his character.
Tupac: Resurrection (2003)
Tupac documentaries are abundantly available. Various depictions display the artist in different lights and focus on various aspects of his eventful life. Approved by Tupac’s Mother Afeni Shakur, Resurrection represents the artist, actor and activist holistically. From his early acting career and flirtations with poetry, his days of dancing for Digital Underground, his relationship with his Black Panther Mother, collisions with the law and the infamous media exacerbated East vs West beef.
Released in 2003, the documentary features previously unseen interviews that exhibit a candid and often funny young man. Interview highlights include Tupac’s polemic on government austerity and brushes with Janet Jackson on the film set of Poetic Justice. Intelligently edited and intricately arranged audio snippets from interviews enable the story to be narrated in Tupac’s own words. An inviting concept from the outset, the documentary entertains and informs.
Regardless of whether you’re a fan of his music, or even Hip Hop for that matter, the story of this intriguing and troubled character is sure to be valued. There’s a visceral vigor and appreciation that Tupac ignites when he speaks with conviction and passion on subjects such as racism, the government, drugs and music. An icon at 22, this erudite poet exposed to societies ills expresses his unique viewpoints vehemently throughout this brilliant documentary.
Stones Throw: Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton (2014)
Stones Throw are one of greatest record labels of our generation and Peanut Butter Wolf aka Chris Nanak is the crate digging living legend behind it. A child obsessed with music before he could barely walk he spent his lunch money on records and favoured making mock radio shows over doing his homework, with the opening scenes of this film make it easy to understand why Stones Throw became the force it is today with Nanak in the driving seat.
The structure of the film is pleasingly non-linear, much like the discography of the label. We jump from the death of Charizma to modern day Stones Throw and then back again as the focus shifts to the labels mainstays: J Dilla, Madlib and MF Doom. Director Jeff Broadway does an incredible job, revealing many an untold story and tons of rare concert footage, never-before-seen archival material, inner-circle home video and photographs.
This is an incredible documentary telling the story of an exceptional human being, his friends and and very special record label. (This selection could have been easily replaced with ‘Beastie/Ography‘, Style Wars, Rhyme & Reason, Beats Rhyme & Life and all the other classic video documentations of Hip-Hop.)
You can order the DVD and digital version HERE.
A documentary of sorts, Koyaanisqatsi is a film with no conventional plot. Released in 1982 it comprises expertly captured time-lapse photography juxtaposed with a chilling score composed by ambient pioneer Philip Glass. With no spoken narritive, it delivers it’s message via esoteric portraits of the earth and society at work. In the Native American Hopi language Koyaanisqatsi means “unbalanced life”.
The film opens with grand visions of nature, vast canyons, clouds passing over mountain peaks, moving onto various natural phenomena and iconic moments such as atomic bombs exploding in deserts, cities bustling with people, housing projects being demolished and factories producing hot dogs at a frenzied pace. Through a combination of stark imagery and music we receive a vision of our planet that words could never explain. The loose message is that we live in a wonderful world, but mankind is a mess.
The film- the first in a trilogy, is directed by experimental filmaker Godfrey Reggio and cinematography is provided by his visionary collaborator Ron Fricke, who’s went on to create other equally influential non narratives in Baraka & Samsara. If one film had to be chosen to be sent into space a time capsule for otherworldly beings to learn about our society, this should be it.
Talkin’ Headz: The Metalheadz Documentary (1998)
This is an intimate account of one of the most seminal dance music imprints of the past 20 years, Metalheadz. The true dons of DnB, they penetrated the mainstream, pushed the boundaries and continue to do so today. Cohesive and educational, this film chronicles how the sound brought the artists together, the history of the infamous skull logo, the golden days at the Blue Note and how the influential the space was as a breeding grounds for the genre. Metalheadz became a global phenomenon and this is the story of how it was achieved.
Thanks to interviews with leading producers Goldie, Grooverider, Randall, Dillinja, Lemon D, Adam F, J Majik and a commentary from Giles Peterson, we learn about the diverse nature of the label, which contained individuals from all walks of life. The viewer is treated to footage of Ed Rush, Optical, Dillinja and others at work in their studios, the Metalheadz crew go-karting and even features a cameo from Liam & Noel Gallagher. With this year marking the 20th anniversary of Metalheadz, the integrity on show from the crew here has endured, with this documentary now seemingly more relevant than ever.