Sunday, 10 April 2011

Top 10 Rock Documentaries

In honour of the release of the Foo Fighters' career-spanning documentary Back and Forth, we pick out some of the finest examples of the trials, tribulations and tantrums of rock stars ever committed to tape...

Don't Look Back Bob Dylan
Dylan: truculence personified

Generally regarded by those in the know as the finest rock documentary of all time, D.A. Pennebaker's 1967 film follows Dylan on his 1965 tour of the UK. The man himself is truculence personified when dealing with ill-informed journalists and incompetent promoters, but charms in a series of spellbinding performances onstage. Was selected for preservation by the US Library of Congress in 1998 for being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant".

Some Kind of Monster

An appropriately overblown docu-epic to match the puffed-chest pomp of the world's greatest metal band, Some Kind of Monster is laced with a cocktail of thematic stimulants. Internal power-stuggles, peace talks with past members, rehab stints and
finally a new album, are strung together by the frequently hilarious dialogue between band members and their producer Bob Rock. Won an Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2004.

The Kids Are Alright
The Who

Jeff Stein's painstaking amalgamation of fan bootlegs, TV peformances and interview reels highlight both the band's inimitable stage presence and their Jack-the-lad personalities. Rather than sticking to tedious chronology, the film
which charts the band's career from 1964-78 darts around with cheerful abandon, focussing on the product rather than the story. Keith Moon was said to be horrified with the degeneration in his appearance after seeing a rough cut of the film in late 1978; he died from a drug overdose just a week later.

End of the Century
The Ramones

Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia's 2003 film is an exhaustive trawl through the New York punk-rock pioneers' 22-years of touring up until their breakup in 1996. The music tells it's own three-chord tale, but more interesting are the candid interviews with key members Dee Dee, Joey, and Johnny, which reveal that a hedonistic lifestyle and fighting the establishment weren't universally held objectives among the band's core. In what seems to be a common pattern, Dee Dee and Joey had both died before the film was released. Johnny lasted just another 18 months.

Daniel Johnston: a harrowing profile
The Devil and Daniel Johnston
Daniel Johnston

Where some "rockumentaries" can end up seeming like a well-orchestrated publicity pitch, all congratulatory platitudes and golden years concert footage, this harrowing profile of US alt-rock outsider Daniel Johnston's and his battle with bipolar disorder focusses squarely on the personal. Johnston's overwhelming mental frailty
in particular his obsession with the devil are desperately sad to watch, but drew hordes of new fans to the cathartic sprawl of his music.

No Distance Left To Run

Some understandably scoffed and patted their back pockets in response to the reformation of Britpop forefathers Blur for a string of festival dates in 2009. However, No Distance Left To Run, which follows the band's preparations for two set-peice gigs in London's Hyde Park, tells a touching and sincere story of childhood friends Damon Albarn and Grahan Coxon and their road to reconciliation. Meanwhile, Alex James offers a constant stream of lofty bon mots.


The Last Waltz The Band

The concert of a decade was held at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on November 25, 1976, as Dylan's former pick-up group The Band bowed out of their a long, successful touring career with a little help from their friends. Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton and Neil Young are among a plethora of special guest stars committed to tape by a young Martin Scorcese. As the title card says: "This film should be played loud!".


Gimme Shelter The Rolling Stones

A true "fly-on-the-wall" documentary, Albert and David Maysles' tapes were allowed to run and run, capturing the final few weeks of The Rolling Stones' 1969 US tour without interjection from the filmmakers. The tour climaxed with a headline performance at the infamous Altamont Free Concert in Northern California, where mounting crowd tension culminated in 18-year-old Meredith Hunter being beaten to death by Hell's Angels security guards. Much of it is caught on camera, providing a chilling counterpoint to the Stones' devil-may-care attitude throughout the documentary. 

The Decline of Western Civilization
1970s LA punk-rock: rambunctious and menacing

Penelope Spheeris' film on the rambunctious Los Angeles punk rock scene of the late 1970s features an impressive range of incendiary live footage and interviews with key torchbearers such as Black Flag and X. The vibrancy of the scene's "us against them" mentality is immediately apparent, but Spheeris also subtly implies the simmering menace of violence and drug abuse associated with the subculture. Two later Decline films would appear
neither were as good.


The Beatles Anthology The Beatles

Originally a televised series and now available as a five-DVD boxset with bells and whistles, The Beatles Anthology is the most comprehensive documentary exploration of the most popular group of all time. Broadcast in 1995, it maps the group's ascent from the Cavern Club to Abbey Road and beyond with hours of archive footage, and comment from then-remaining "Threetles" McCartney, Harrison and Starr. 

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