If you’re like me—you love movies almost as much as you love music—then you have to check out these music documentaries. They’re cool, bizarre, intense, and sure to please.
1. Some Kind of Monster directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
Some Kind of Monster chronicles the thrash metal band Metallica during one of their most tumultuous periods. Most the film takes place during the making of Metallica’s 2003 LP, “St. Anger.” The film not only offers an introduction to Metallica’s history, but also provides in-depth footage of the band’s inner struggles. Some Kind of Monster covers a lot of ground, moving from the death of original bassist Cliff Burton, to later stages of the band’s run. In addition to Burton’s early and untimely death, drugs and alcohol play a critical role in the narrative of the band’s inner struggles. Lead singer and rhythm guitarist James Hetfield enters rehab mid-film, forcing him to limit his commitment to the band’s current project. In addition to his drinking, Hetfield’s controlling leadership style causes clashes between him and the original Drummer Lars Ulrich. Hetfield is not the only person in the film whose alcoholism is documented. Dave Mustaine, the original guitarist, who was kicked out of the band before the recording of their first LP, gives an interview with Ulrich in which he reveals the strong effect his legacy in Metallica has had on him. Despite Mustaine going on to start his own successful band, Megadeth, he opens up on camera about how tough his removal from Metallica was on him. The interview is one of the most candid tellings of Mustaine’s personal throes. Some Kind of Monster is a fascinating film because it shows how difficult maintaining positive moral within a band is. Metallica is possibly the most successful metal band ever, and twenty-two years into their career, they’re depicted working through issues that to some people may appear as very basic. Many music documentaries stray away from revealing information that does not reflect the artist positively, however, Some Kind of Monster defies this trend, fearlessly putting it all out there for the viewer to see.
2. Dig! directed by Ondi Timoner
Dig! tells the story of two bands, “The Dandy Warhols” and “The Brian Jonestown Massacre” as they work to become successful bands. The film chronicles the two bands’ journey’s over a seven-year span, offering footage of their highs and lows. There are far more lows depicted in “Dig!” than highs. Throughout the film, both bands are fighting on-and-off with each other, often struggling to maintain positive moral. Anton Newcombe, the frontman of “The Brian Jonestown Massacre,” puts on an incredibly puzzling display of neuroticism mixed with insecurity. His behavior is divisive and accurately depicts the effects of coming up short on achieving your dreams. Newcombe can be seen fighting with fans on stage and with his bandmates. “The Dandy Warhols” battle similar struggles, but lead singer Courtney Taylor finds marginally more success in his endeavors. One of the most consistent themes within the film is the notion of “selling out.” As both artists can’t seem to catch a break, the notion of “selling out” in the interest of carving out success becomes an ever more real scenario. At one point, “The Dandy Warhols” have a music video on MTV and are convinced that their big break has come. Having become so frustrated with failure, “The Dandy Warhols” accept that their only option may be to make a deal with the devil: mainstream media. Newcombe, on the other hand, resists all temptation of making this deal. Unfortunately, this leads him down a path of drug abuse and self-destructive behavior. “Dig!” at times is amusing and without a doubt entertaining, but it also depicts the very real scenario of putting your all into something and still coming up short.
3. Heaven Adores You directed by Nickolas Rossi
Heaven Adores You is a Kickstarter crowd-funded film that explores the life of the late singer-songwriter Elliot Smith. It opens with an intimate interview with Smith, in which he describes his feelings towards his Oscar Nominated track “Miss Misery” for the film “Good Will Hunting.” Beginning the film at the height of Smith’s career exemplifies the films’ unconventional style. The documentary offers an origin story and provides background information on his life. For someone who knows little to nothing about Smith, it is a great place to start. For a viewer who is more knowledgeable about Smith, it serves as a reminder of the genius of his work and the very real effects that depression can have on an individual. The film breaks up into three sections: his early life in Portland, his move to New York, and then his final years in Los Angeles. In addition to this, it is chaptered by which LP he was recording at the time of the events discussed. What I love about Heaven Adores You is that it depicts that those who are truly special are meant for greatness. A common sentiment throughout the film is that Smith’s peers knew he was special, but it was only until his untimely death that they realized how special. Heaven Adores You is a sad film, but it’s one that leaves you saying “wow.”
4. Cocksucker Blues directed by Robert Frank
Cocksucker Blues is an unreleased documentary chronicling the Rolling Stones American tour of 1972. It is one of the most fascinating pieces of American documentary filmmaking for a variety of reasons. One of these reasons is the film has never been officially released—it was halted by a court order and eventually became too incriminating for the band to release. Instead, a concert film titled, “Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones” was released. The reason this film is one of my favorite documentaries is that it is easily the rawest, uncut footage ever taken of the Stones. The viewer is given the rare opportunity to witness the “sex, drugs, and Rock n’ Roll” that has been talked about for years, but rarely actually seen. There is footage of a performance at Madison Square Garden in which Stevie Wonder is the opener. The footage of that night shows the Stones as the stars that they were, mingling amongst some of the most important people to ever grace the arts. Cultural iconoclasts such as Andy Warhol are pictured backstage partying. It does not take very long into the film for you to realize why this film was never released. However, it stands as a relic of a time when rockstars were actually rock n roll musicians and the draft was still active.
COVER PHOTO: Nicole Kaufman