Return of the Rockumentary


I feel we might be re-entering an age of good music documentaries again. This comes after what could be described as a bit of a dip in the late-90s and into the 2000s. Now obviously the classic age of rockumentaries was the 60s and 70s, with great films like “Dont Look Back” and “Gimme Shelter”, but now, looking around, it appears there seem to be so many good music documentary films doing the rounds.

The last few years have seen the release of some fantastic films. I think of “Twenty Feet from Stardom” that looked into the role of the backing vocalist, “Searching for Sugarman”, the outstanding film about the so-called lost folk singer Rodriguez, while I have also stumbled across some great films about Bob Marley “Marley”, John Lennon “Lennon NYC” and Paul Simon “Under African Skies”, celebrating twenty-five years since the release of his album Graceland. There have also been some very good television music documentaries. The BBC, in particular, are the masters of this, and have produced some great series on the history of rock “Seven Ages of Rock”, and their “Britannia” series which explored amongst other things different periods and genres in music such as prog rock, synth pop, and Northern soul. This to me is wonderful as a music historian and geek, and to be brutally honest beats your run of the mill concert film or biopic any day of the week. The biopic in particular really rankles me, probably because most of them are very bad, with poor acting.  While I always look at biopics about musicians and think what really is the point of this exercise aside from an attempt to get an insight (whether accurate or not) into the lives of musicians.

So with the rockumentary back in vogue it seems, I am hoping that there are many directors and producers out there willing to get on with the work of making some films that I consider to be in desperate need of production. Just some of the artists who are crying out for a good doco to be made about them include Warren Zevon, Nick Drake, Tom Waits, The Kinks, Steely Dan and New Zealand’s very own Fat Freddy’s Drop. I would also like to see some films which follow in the “Twenty Feet from Stardom” mode, namely films on famous sidemen and producers. Finally, also, given the current climate and changing nature of it, it is high time a good investigative piece into the workings of the music industry is undertaken. This might suit a Michael Moore type figure, or some director who is willing to be daring and take no prisoners.

So, in conclusion, the return of the rockumentary film can only be a good thing, bringing the history and stories of popular music back onto the big screen, and, hopefully, destroying once and for all this at times obsessively horrible infatuation with biopics. Here’s hoping anyway.


– Sam

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