Top music movies: Documentary


Given the fervent excitement surrounding the premiere of The Stone Roses: Made of Stone this week, it seems like the ideal time to reappraise the best of music-based film over the years…

Yeah so in keeping with the theme sparked off by Shane Meadows’ new rockumentary on the reformation of the Stone Roses, I thought I’d look back at a few music-themed favourites. With so many to choose from spanning so many styles within the genre itself, we’ve divided them up over five key categories – providing one top pick and four essential others. Yesterday we kicked off with Concert Films, and follow today with Documentary, continuing with Dramatisation, Artistic and finally Comedy. With each one I’ll offer a quick definition of how I’ve classified them, so hopefully you’ll sympathise with the choices made!
If you think I’ve missed any or feel passionate about the suggestions listed then please do leave your comments below. Legitimate opinions will be approved whether in agreement or not…


Definition: Often more fly-on-the-wall, utilising interviews or TV coverage to piece together the story of the band or a phase in a music act’s career rather than focusing primarily on performance.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Do not let the poster put you off, this is truly one of the most memorable films you’ll see

1) Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Anvil is possibly the most curious and therefore most interesting feature-length music documentary ever made. Unless your knowledge of 1980’s hair metal is shamefully extensive, you just won’t of heard of this Canadian band. Overlooked by the record-buying public but revered by their peers, Anvil ironically found global stardom via a film that arguably highlights their failure.

“By eschewing commercial success we follow a cast of guys who are liberated from the shackles of ego, becoming more real and likeable as a result.”

This is a music movie most crucially about unfulfilled dreams, struggle and ultimately friendship. Probably all the themes most relatable to the overwhelming amount of aspiring bands this planet has spawned since the birth of Rock n’ Roll. By eschewing commercial success we follow a cast of guys who are liberated from the shackles of ego, becoming more real and likeable as a result. Contrast this with some exclusive interviews with more commercially successful contemporaries such as Slash and Lars Ulrich talking candidly about Anvil’s surprising influence and the whole thing grows in depth.

The music may well pass most by, but the warts and all interactions make Anvil! The Story of Anvil a must-see human story.

Essential others:
2) Some Kind of Monster – Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s 2004 Metallica film is an uncompromising masterpiece of the genre whether you are a fan or not.
3) Runnin’ Down a Dream – Peter Bogdanovich’s comprehensive 2007 documentary spanning the career of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers is ambitious in its meticulous level of detail.
4) The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle – A complete mess it may be, but Julien Temple’s 1980 madcap cartoonish Sex Pistols mockumentary is punk-spirited DIY all over.
5) The Devil and Daniel Johnston – With echoes of Anvil, this 2005 indie portrait of cult solo songwriter Daniel Johnston is an endearing essay on reclusive artistic genius.

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