Rockumentaries

Hands up who saw the film about the Eagles – History of the Eagles: The Story of an American Band – just this week broadcast by the BBC. All four hours of it. If you’re in the UK, you can catch it on the BBC iPlayer until the weekend. As well as home movies and archive footage, it contained new interviews with both current and former band members, retelling the story of their acrimonious splits and not really trying very hard to hide the simmering resentment that still exists all these years later. Wonderful stuff.

It got me thinking about the many other music films that have been made to present the history of our favourite musicians (albeit often to serve primarily as promotional tools intended to boost sales of something, somewhere), and which of these in fact appeal most broadly to both the casual and more committed fan. Because unless you’re a real aficionado, you might just watch them eventually on TV and not pay a penny for the privilege, just because you vaguely recall a good story and want to be entertained by it.

The Rolling Stones’ Crossfire Hurricane was beautifully done, I thought. Directed by Brett Morgen with new interviews in audio only and running just short of two hours, it ran in cinemas first and is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray (with bonus features, naturally).

I remember watching the six-part Beatles Anthology on TV on Sunday nights in 1995, a hefty eight volumes when it came to being released on VHS. I thought at the time that ten hours was probably a bit much to sit through, even for the Fab Four, and have to admit, I’ve not watched it since the original television broadcast.

Another that bored me at times, I have to confess, was U2’s grainy Rattle and Hum – from 1988.

Of course, I must mention Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home (2005), about Bob Dylan’s early career up until 1966, and give a respectful nod also to D.A. Pennebaker’s annoyingly apostrophe-less Dont Look Back, his 1967 fly-on-the-wall documentary about Dylan’s 1965 UK tour.

In fairness to the BBC, they have made some very good films about Pink Floyd: The Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett Story, available on DVD and originally a BBC ‘Omnibus’ programme from 2001, being perhaps the finest of these.

Another I enjoyed was Scott Walker: 30 Century Man (2006) and one that I keep meaning to see is The Importance of Being Morrissey (2002).

There are loads more, so please do add suggestions. Preferably true documentaries rather than performances with interview footage squeezed in-between numbers (as with Live at Pompeii, which I expect will be a favourite with most readers), and biopics, most of which are horribly corny anyway. Increasingly popular anniversary retrospectives can also be worthwhile, if not a tad self-indulgent at times; Spike Lee’s Michael Jackson: BAD 25 springs to mind as being particularly well-crafted, even if the eulogising from celebrity fans might well have turned stomachs.

56 comments

  1. Chip Nelson

    1973 “rockumentary” – “A Film About JIMI HENDRIX” released by Warner Brothers first in ’73 then rereleased some years later. See warnervideo.com or jimihendrix.com. There’s a drawing of Hendrix playing a guitar on a stool. May have been rereleased in 2005 on DVD with obligatory “extra footage” as well. I’ve always been fond of this movie and first saw it around the same time as Dark Side of the Moon was released in New York. ’73 or ’74 I recall. Highly recommend it in a venue where maximum volume won’t be disturbing to those inclined to call the Police.

    Hope all is well David with you and your family.

    Chip Nelson
    South Carolina
    USA

  2. IAN CATON

    Belle and Sebastian had a very nice DVD from Matador called FANS ONLY that showed some really early, cheeky coverage of the band as kids in Glasgow.

    I keep getting surprised at how much footage there is of The Floyd from the late 60s and early 70s on the YouTube – someone should really think about remastering that stuff.

    And then there’s the GG Allen punk-rockumentary called HATED … Ugh.

  3. Glenda

    The Making of Wish You Were Here is airing June 18, have never seen it. Can’t wait, my favorite album. Listening to it for about the last 3 months when I run Siesta Key beach. 100 percent white quartz sand, runners high, beautiful horizon with the perfect music to go with it.

    • FEd

      That sounds absolutely stunning, Glenda. I hope you enjoy The Making of Wish You Were Here.

  4. NewYorkDan

    The punk scene in the 1970s was captured beautifully in the film “D.O.A.” Made in 1980, this film features memorable interview footage of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen in bed, with Sid nodding off and Nancy not making sense (so you know they’re both wasted). It’s horrifying, but you keep on watching because you can’t take your eyes off of it.

    And though it is not a music movie, “Paris Is Burning” is a documentary about crossdressers in NYC in the ’80s that really gives the feel of the people, in that time and place. A very well-done film.

  5. Heather

    The Mark Knopfler one was very good, as was a documentary on Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac). Amazing to think that during his short spell as top guitar player he was rated higher than Clapton and Hendrix and his final disintegration sounded somewhat familiar. Just whisked away to a party in some woods in Germany and 48 hours later…

    Have a good weekend
    Heather

  6. Pavlov

    I missed the Eagles film – perhaps it will have a showing on one of the channels. Was always fascinated by the fact that despite so much “bad blood” between them, the music always prevailed.

    For me, the most recent standout, albeit not in the ‘rock’ genre, was Searching for Sugarman, a poignant, yet uplifting story about an American musician, Rodriguez. Virtually unknown in the United States, he was a music ‘god’ of sorts in South Africa (and to some extend Australia). Sadly, I believe this new-found publicity some 40 years later has led to a bit of exploitation …

    I missed 2 or 3 of the 7-episode Martin Scorsese production (a true master in every sense of the word) of The Blues which aired in early 2000. If memory serves well, each segment was directed by someone different and Scorsese did Feel Like Going Home, a tribute to the Delta Blues masters.

    I’ll do a bit of digging as the memory is a bit foggy but off-hand, Some Kind of Monster about the dysfunctional Metallica was good, as was The Last Waltz (another Scorsese masterpiece) although the latter doesn’t really qualify, I guess and neither does The Song Remains the Same.

  7. Glenda Van Horne

    Also, “The Making of Wish You Were Here” is on TV here in USA on June 18th. I have not seen it before, but looking forward to it. My favorite album. I listen to it on the beach when I’m running.

  8. Herbert

    Hello…

    Long time no writing and chatting here. 😉

    Well, I like these documentary films, so I sometimes buy them as DVD or Blue-ray. It’s not wasted money, FEd, if I understand you right. Here in Germany they are not broadcaste (and I don’t own a sat-dish/receiver to get BBC – a shame for a broadcast-engineer).

    But I agree that there are good and bad ones. The documentary about The Eagles (in Blue-Ray) is too much talking IMHO, the normal DVD set sold in Germany has a full concert included. Another good for me is the documentary about U2’s 360° show and of course the making of Wish You Were Here. More bad for me are the “Inside… ” not really a good buy.

    Regards
    Herbert

  9. tim-c

    Trust me to throw in a mention of “Meeting People Is Easy”, a fine and disturbing record of Radiohead’s growing disillusion with the Rock business and touring at the time of their breakthrough “OK Computer” tour … parallels with Pink Floyd will not be missed, I am sure. Interestingly Radiohead’s response was to go their own way musically rather than go their separate ways as a band. And they say that history will teach us nothing.

    Nobody has mentioned the other ‘making of’ documentary … re DSOM which is a thoroughly good watch, as are many others from that stable … Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” springs to mind.

    And of course we cannot forget the great ‘Mockumentary’ “This is Spinal Tap” which is one of the few films to make me laugh out loud on a transatlantic flight …

  10. Pavlov

    I loved Janis (The Way She Was), a 1974 production … haven’t seen it in ages and think I’ll watch it again over the weekend. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that she would’ve been 70 this year! 😮

    Am quite eager to see Beware of Mr. Baker although I’ll wait until it reaches TV or Netflix. Didn’t realize Ginger lived in South Africa.

    • FEd

      Am quite eager to see Beware of Mr. Baker although I’ll wait until it reaches TV or Netflix. Didn’t realize Ginger lived in South Africa.

      Now that looks fascinating. I read an interview he gave recently and soon felt very self-conscious, concerned that my jaw was dropping ever lower after every few lines.

  11. Glenda

    Sorry I repeated myself, didn’t think post went through.

    Watching a rockumentary right now, “Rock ‘N Roll Exposed: The Photography of Bib Gruen”…so far, so good!

  12. Glenda

    Tuned off halfway through the Bob Gruen film, very interesting in the first half.

  13. Taki

    … rockumentaries I own:

    The Making Of The Dark Side Of The Moon (PF)
    Iron Maiden Part 1: The Early Days
    Flight 666 (Iron Maiden)

    Cheers

    Taki

  14. Carolyn

    I saw “The Making of Wish You Were Here,” and I highly recommend it for anyone who may be able to catch it on June 18th. I saw it five or six months ago at 3 am Eastern Time, U.S.A. on cable TV. The documentary shows a photo of Syd taken in the recording studio at that time which is very sad. ;( I’ve never seen that photo anywhere else (or heard the story of that photo either).

    Also, I enjoyed “The Making of Dark Side Of The Moon” very much. I would love to see a documentary about “Live in Gdansk” or “On An Island.” Perhaps in the future. 😉

    I also saw a documentary about Def Leppard, but I cannot remember the exact name of it. I enjoyed the documentary and here again is a very popular band from Merry Olde England. Not sure where the band mates live now, but I’m sure they are all originally from England. I love the way these guys stuck together for Rick Allen during his tragic accident and recovery period.

    • KenF

      Birthday greetings Carolyn, have a great day (watching the odd rockumentary perhaps).

    • KenF

      There’s a kind of On An Island/Live In Gdansk documentary on the 2-disc Remember That Night: Live At Albert Hall DVD. Although to be fair, it’s more of a behind the scenes, during the tour presentation, rather than a ‘making of’ film. Still worthwhile though as it contains interviews with the band and OAI sound-bites throughout, it is a wonderful diary of the tour back in 2006. I can highly recommend it, treat yourself for your birthday. X

    • tim-c

      Well said Ken, the DG extras are well worth the admission price.

      That said, where is the A-Z of Rockumentaries? Come on, Ken, standards must be maintained …

  15. Michèle

    I have never seen the Rolling Stones perform live, so I was happy to watch Shine A Light here on TV channel Arte in 2011. Although not really a documentary, but mainly a concert film, it has Scorsese’s fingerprints all over it and I enjoyed it. Scorsese gives a close look at the band that no seat in any venue could have provided. He makes you feel that you are on stage with them. Also it’s very rare, therefore precious, to see the Stones perform in a small venue.

    Couldn’t care less about the Clintons or Christina Aguilera, but highlight for me would be Buddy Guy’s appearance. I also loved it when Keith Richards spontaneously gave him his guitar as if he was the only one who deserved to play on it.

    I know that Shine A Light got some negative reviews and sadly I missed Crossfire Hurricane on TV Canal+ in December 2012, but I learnt thanks to the blog that it’s now available on DVD. So, if one tells me that it’s more interesting that Shine A Light, I’ll buy it. Much cheaper than seeing them on stage, eh? 😉

    • FEd

      Much cheaper than seeing them on stage, eh?

      Oh, much cheaper.

      I’m afraid I’ve not seen Shine a Light, so can’t compare it, but would be interested to hear if anyone can.

    • ash

      Yes, Michèle, the small venue was good to see them in, I saw them a few times in similar sized venues in the old days and queued all night to get tickets when the only way to get a ticket was in person at the box office. (I was among the body of fans who gave them a start and put them where they are today, notice how I’ve tried hard to not sound bitter about ticket prices nowadays.) Scorsese did a nice job I thought. (Notice how I can be objective so I’m not mad when I rant, get a twitch in my eye, over ticket prices they charge.)

      I DIDN@T EVEN TRY to buy tickets for their shows (can’t really call them concerts anymore) during the past year or two. I stopped being interested after the O2 rip-off prices.

      I PURPOSELY DID NOT watch their most recent rip-off vehicle and certainly WILL NOT be buying it!

      Sorry Fed and Michèle, here is another (ex) Stones fan who can’t compare it for you.

      ash

    • tim-c

      I was among the body of fans who gave them a start and put them where they are today.

      Do you have a time machine, Ash? You don’t look a day over 40 to me. 😉

  16. Drew M.

    Rockumentaries appeal to those with a dedicated interest in the band, I can’t tell you the last time I saw one.

  17. ash

    I watched a Marvin Gaye biopic a few nights ago. What an eye opener. How sad Marvin’s life seemed to have been, always trying to earn the love and respect of a father who rejected and abused him. I knew his father had shot him but never knew before about the background.

    I also had no idea about Marvin’s drug addiction that was probably caused by the despair of his relationship with his father, and which affected his career badly.

    His best years seemed to me to have been with Motown and with Tammi Terrell.

    This isn’t the sort of thing I’d buy on DVD, or even watch again, because it was so sad. The music was great though. 😀

    ash

  18. Glenda

    I will get the “Live at Royal Albert Hall” DVD. The 2nd disc included sounds good. I have the concert TiVo’d and have watched it countless times.

  19. Michèle

    June 21st. Happy ♪ ♫ ♫ ♪ ♪ ♫ Day to everyone!

    Here, all day, all night, all concerts must be free to the public… Mick, Keith and co. … Are you reading? If so, welcome! 😉

    … Or, a thousand times better … David? … In my backyard, please … :v

    ♫ ♪ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫…

  20. Damian Cunningham

    i’m on an island, very hot. last day tomorrow, boo!

    i watched the monkeys documentary a while ago. i’m not a fan but was very interesting and sad. i never realised bands of the early 60s did not play the instruments during recordings. lso the fleetood mac documentary is good.

    regards

    p.s. kat rescued a turtle in the road.

    • Tim-c

      I said it before and I’ll say it again, that is just the most draw-dropping piece of guitar playing. I’ll go further … David has captured PURE JOY right there. The band know it. The crowd know it …

  21. snow

    Non Pink Floyd related. I did watch the “Sound City” documentary and then re watched it. The Documentary in the extras of “The Doors’ Live at the Bowl 68” was another I re watched, not a documentary as such but what a load of work, to rework the original film and sound to HD.

    All the official Pink Floyd documentaries have always interested me as well as some of the un-official ones, like “The Great Gig In the Sky” and “Welcome To The Machine”. The latter also included a 136 page book.

  22. John Floyd

    RUSH: Beyond the Lighted Stage – IT IS FANTASTIC!!!! Please give that a viewing if you are interested – you will not be disappointed!

  23. Thomas O'Connell

    I saw the history of the Eagles and I felt really bad for some of the members. I really felt that Henley and Frey were really wrong about the way they fired the band members. But who am I. 🙂

    Take Care, Thomas

  24. Carolyn

    Thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes. You made me feel wonderful today when I read them. Having computer problems, really need to go down and buy a new one. You guys are the greatest, Hugs to you all. ♥

    Another rocumentary I loved, Pearl about Janis Joplin, my favorite female singer of all time. Although her life was very sad, and the rocumentary showed all the dirt, the music moved my soul, still does. 🙂

  25. Pete - Coventry

    Hi all,

    Rory Gallagher – Irish Tour is a tremendous rocumentary.

    Went to see Neil Young the other week. Amazing gig and I am sure he has released a rocumentary in the past.

    • ash

      I was at that Neil Young gig too Pete. 🙂 It was extremely good wasn’t it? I particularly enjoyed Walk Like a Giant, the one with all the feedback that sounded like thundering footsteps. And everything else of course!

      I hope you and Mrs Pete are well. 🙂

      ash

    • Pete - Coventry

      Hi Ash,

      Strange, I had a feeling you were there somewhere.

      Mrs Pete still doing well thanks. She is a grandma now which means I am a grandad now.

      Hope you are ok!

  26. Pavlov

    Am watching Woodstock: Three Days of Peace & Music. Have lost count of how many times I’ve seen Woodstock (1970) and the subsequent director’s cut (1994). There’s a 40th Anniversary edition which I never got around to buying (or seeing for that matter) with a lot of extra footage … one day. 😉

    There is always something new to see and hear and will, for me, always be one of the most interesting of the concerts from a sociological perspective.

  27. SuzySmithi

    I do not get many channels at this time. Generally watch the Public Broadcasting Sevice. But when I had satellite TV MTV had a show on that showcased a different band each week. Seems one thing in common, as with everyone, we all have our trials and tribulations but hopefully everything comes out okay if we keep on trying. I think they still have it on TV but on the A&E channel. Did not get to watch back when because I worked all the the time and now very basic TV.

    Thank you all for the above information. I know what to try to find. I had a couple on VHS that have already been mentioned.

  28. Glenda

    I am watching right now in Florida, “Beware of Mr Baker” a rockumentary on Ginger Baker (2011). Looks pretty interesting so far!

  29. LBalz

    Rush’s Beyond the Lighted Stage and the Foo Fighters’ Back and Forth were particularly good. Learned stuff about them I didn’t know, made them more “human”.

  30. Tim Taylor

    I think probably the most complete and best rockumentary I’ve ever seen is Runnin’ Down A Dream: The History of Tom Petty. It’s pretty long (2 full DVDs) but you don’t find yourself waiting for it to be over, but rather wanting more. It has another disk with the 30th anniversary tour (which has an amazing version of It’s Good To Be King) as well as a 4th disc (CD) that is OK. But the concert and documentary are fantastic!

  31. Tyrone Shoelaces

    I have thought about and wished for a true Pink Floyd rockumentary for years now. I’ve seen all the BBC shows, the story of DSOTM and WYWH, but I’m talking about a full length feature film that can in some way document what Pink Floyd has done to the music industry at the time. Something that points out and captures the power of what they did and the extent of what they went through to accomplish what we hear. The whole story of the members and their feelings and thoughts during their careers and of course a killer soundtrack.

    I know it might be tough to capture, and could be rather painful at times, especially the recent to semi-recent deaths of those in and connected to the band (Syd, Rick, Storm, etc.) as would the legal battles between Roger and David, but hey, it is what it is, let’s have it.

  32. Glenda Van Horne

    I agree! It is so interesting listening to interviews and I have watched every show that is out there. I wonder what it was like for them.

    A good book to read is “Abbey Road”.