In the early days of DVD I gobbled up documentaries on my favorite bands. But eventually every single band gets a documentary, and most are gonna be blandly depressing handheld tour docs, so I stopped watching them, but after the great Breadcrumb Trail I’ve got more hope for the genre. Rounded up some promising docs, but not willing to devote serious time to these, so the plan is to half-watch ’em on the laptop while working on the other computer – along with all the concert videos I download and never watch (because I only play audio shows at work).
Since the rock docs are usually composed of awful handheld footage and interviews, they need to be rated on different merits than regular movies. I’m looking for information and emotional connection to my favorite artists – and don’t forget to play that music that all the interviewees are raving about.
Luna: Tell Me Do You Miss Me (2006)
– Dean is not a fan of touring.
– The band members have mild disagreements in the studio.
– They refer to the worst part of any tour as “the Omaha”
– Poignancy of this “final tour” breakup doc is diminished now that they’re back together.
Visually: 3 out of 10
Musically: 7 (lot of good concert footage, and more on the DVD extras)
Emotion: 3 (that’s probably true of their songs, too)
I’ve recently seen Dean in Noah Baumbach movies. Britta voices a couple of stop-motion shows and sang in the 1980’s cartoon Jem. And of course Luna reunited last year. Director Matthew Buzzell has made bunches of short docs, many of them music-related, and a comedy feature with Chris Parnell. Editor Jacob Bricca cut Lost in La Mancha.
Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields (2010)
We see them arranging “In an Operetta” (2004 album) and recording “Distortion” (2008 album), so this took a while to make. Always nice to spent time in Merritt’s company – overall a good portrait.
One producer/director, Kerthy Fix, released a doc on Le Tigre the same year, now works on detestable reality TV shows.
Revenge of the Mekons (2013)
“Every critic loves the mekons, but unfortunately [critics] get free records.”
As a Mekons-fan-come-lately (got into them around 2004’s “Punk Rock”) I had plenty to learn about the group, especially info on pre-2000’s band members, and what happened between the early singles and the move to America. But besides its educational value, this was kinda a great movie, full of so many brilliant photographs, and one of my favorite-ever scenes in a music doc: following the song “Afar & Forlorn” from inspiration to writing to rehearsal to recording to concert performance. A thing of beauty, that.
From any description the Mekons sound like one of the most important bands of our time – contrast this with their utter commercial failure, and the hilarious, self-deprecating remarks of Langford and company. Key quote by Jonathan Franzen: “If you feel like the inheritor of a very embattled critical stance while the rest of the world is going over to the dark side, they’re the band for you. And I say that not because they give you hope of ever winning the battle, but they teach you how to be gracious and amusing losers.”
Not sure if other band docs have post-credits stinger scenes, but I couldn’t cut off “Orpheus”, so made it to this one. “We seem to have lost all our clothes!”
Director Joe Angio also made a Melvin Van Peebles doc. From NY Times: “He had originally planned to profile Yo La Tengo. He courted the band for around 18 months. ‘They never said no, but more importantly, they never said yes.'”
Put Blood in the Music (1989)
The first of many John Zorn programs I’ve found. Sonic Youth’s greenscreen “Addicted to Love” video seems to have inspired the look of this doc. Interviewees have been pasted over scraps of New York footage, turning what’s usually the most visually boring part of a rock doc into its most interesting.
It’s hard to cover John Zorn in a half hour, and the doc wastes precious time with an overlong montage about how New York’s diversity influences its genre-hopping music scene, so we get people talking about Zorn’s different fascinating projects without playing enough music from them. The second part (or third, if we’re counting the NYC montage) covers Sonic Youth, including a nice discussion with John Cale.
Director/editor Charles Atlas recently worked with Antony and the Johnsons, also made docs on artist William Kentridge and fashion designer Leigh Bowery, and worked on a series called Art in the Twenty-First Century. I think that’s him anyway… there’s also a band called Charles Atlas, who did a split single with Alan Sparhawk.
Zorn in shades:
Ranaldo in shades:
The Fantomas Melvins Big Band – Kentish Town Forum, London 1st May 2006
Official video (complete with wacky editing and effects) of a tremendous show… Melvins plus Mike Patton and his crew, a grand experiment in tension and release.
The Sadies at Pickathon 2014
Neko Case on Austin City Limits 2013
Parquet Courts at Glastonbury 2014
Perfume Genius at Glastonbury 2015
And most wonderfully, FFS at Glastonbury 2015