Over the last decade, there has been a proliferation of movies about music and musicians thanks to vastly increased distribution options for docs. While many documentaries receive the traditional theatrical release, others are available via streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. But unfortunately, many of the best music documentaries of the decade go undiscovered by a vast majority of audiences.
The benefit of these new mediums is that filmmakers are able to tackle niche subjects or artists outside of the mainstream. It's great that so many music-based documentaries are getting made, but so many docs are overlooked, as well.
Music documentaries cover a diverse field. Some cover a particular singer or band, but others are more about the impact of music or the means by which the music is created. A variety of styles are represented, too, including punk, R&B, pop, and country. In each case, the movies offer something special and insightful, and deserve to be watched.
Quincy Jones has been so famous for so long that it's easy to take him for granted, but that becomes far less possible once you've seen the Netflix documentary Quincy. The film is a retrospective of his career, as well as a personal journey as he deals with health problems. It is also a look behind the curtain into how he has helped other musicians.
Directed by Alan Hicks and his daughter Rashida Jones, the doc is filled with moments that let us hang with Quincy, the family man. Coming away from the movie, you realize just how much of modern popular music has been touched by his hand in some way, shape, or form.157Is it underrated?
The Public Image is RottenPhoto: Abramorama
While most successful rockers achieved fame with one major band, John Lydon was in two. The Public Image is Rotten finds the former Sex Pistols leader (AKA "Johnny Rotten") reflecting on Public Image Ltd., the group he formed post-Pistols. PiL was known for musical experimentation, as well as behind-the-scenes drama.
Anyone familiar with Lydon knows he lacks a filter, so his perspectives on the music industry and his collaborators are unexpurgated. Because of his brash personality, PiL was a constantly evolving group, as members came and went. Of course, Lydon's account is his own, and is therefore heavily biased in his favor, as one would expect. The Public Image is Rotten nevertheless showcases one of the most enigmatic personalities of the modern musical age, making it worth a look whether you listen to PiL or not.102Is it underrated?
- Photo: D&E Entertainment
Sometimes a music documentary doesn't need to be groundbreaking - it just needs to tell a story. Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage is a perfect example of this, as the central focus of the documentary has a sufficiently captivating story to sustain a feature film.
Directors Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen track Rush's career from their earliest days through 2010, after they had established themselves as one of the premier rock bands in the world, known for their unusual time signatures and consummate musicianship. It also explores why Rush engenders such a strong attachment from fans. As Brian D. Johnson puts it in his Maclean's review, Beyond the Lighted Stage "takes into account the massive critical negativity toward the band, making it the key to the story. The success of Rush is a populist victory of male nerds over hipsters."127Is it underrated?
Liam Gallagher: As It WasPhoto: Screen Media
Once upon a time, Liam Gallagher was sitting on top of the world as the lead singer of the massively successful band Oasis. A contentious breakup, a substance use problem, and a marriage that failed quite publicly all combined to turn Gallagher into more of a tabloid staple than a rock star. Liam Gallagher: As It Was follows its subject as he attempts to put the bad press behind him and reclaim his status as a serious musician.
Once known for his ego, Gallagher seems to have been humbled by his fall from grace. As he records an album of new material, the artist knows that both the music and his behavior have to be good. Through it all, it's clear that he really only feels comfortable when he's performing - so there's a lot at stake. As It Was is a surprisingly touching portrait of a man trying to learn from his mistakes so he can return to what he truly loves.71Is it underrated?