Since the 1922 release of Robert J. Flaherty’s Nanook Of The North, widely regarded as the first documentary film, we’ve been hooked on the documentary genre. Documentaries allow us an insight into different worlds, that we may otherwise never get a chance to see – they’re usually eye-opening for many reasons, and a good one can stick with you long after the credits have rolled. One of the most popular sub-genres of documentary is the music documentary, allowing us a look into a world which most of us may find impossible to imagine – a world of money, fame and intrigue, and what it’s like to be known worldwide for your musical talent. With many of us potentially having a little more time than usual, due to the Coronavirus lockdown measures, there’s never been a better time to settle down in front of the television and spend an hour or two getting a look into the lives of some of the world’s most famous musicians. With that in mind, here are just a few of the finest music documentaries of the past ten years.
Asif Kapadia’s posthumous look at the life of the jazz singer, Amy Winehouse, whose incredible talent as a singer-songwriter was often overshadowed by her troubled personal life. In this 2015 Oscar-winner, Amy’s story is told by those who knew her best, and witnessed first-hand the devastating effects of her struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, until her eventual death due to alcohol poisoning in July 2011, aged just 27.While many may remember Amy as someone who lived her life at the forefront of the media, Kapadia shows a side to the singer that the public weren’t aware of at the time, highlighting that she never set out to become the household name that she eventually did. We learn during the film that Amy wasn’t even expecting to become famous for her music, let alone for the difficult personal events which inspired it.Whether you were a fan of Amy Winehouse’s music or not, this is must-watch, and is surely one of the most important commentaries on our relationship with celebrities that’s ever been put to film.
Twenty Feet From Stardom (2013)
This wonderful documentary by Morgan Neville is surprising in many ways, taking a look at the careers of some of America’s most famous voices – not the stars of the show, but the background singers who supported them.While it’s the backing vocals that often lift a song to a new level of quality, we rarely get to know the faces behind them. Neville shines the spotlight on the voices of singers such as Merry Clayton (who provided the powerful backing vocals for The Rolling Stones ‘Gimme Shelter’), The Blossoms (who performed on an eclectic mix of tracks, from Frank Sinatra’s ‘That’s Life’ to ‘The Monster Mash’) and Lisa Fischer (who toured with both Tina Turner and Sting, before taking over from Clayton with The Rolling Stones).Many of us may assume that backing singers have all dreamed of reaching the levels of fame as the artists they are singing with, Neville shows that isn’t always the case. Either way, full of surprising moments that are sure to have you listening a little closer to the background vocals of your favourite songs in future, this is an uplifting and very enjoyable watch.
Directed by Mat Whitecross and produced by Amy’s Asif Kapadia, Supersonic documents the early years and subsequent rise to fame of Oasis, leading up to their sold-out concert at Knebworth Park.While Liam and Noel Gallagher have always had a famously difficult relationship, the film provides an interesting insight into what was going on behind closed doors throughout their career with Oasis, shines a light on the pitfalls of working closely with family, and the rift and resentment it left in its wake for the Gallagher brothers.Supersonic is an incredibly interesting watch, for anyone who considers themselves an Oasis fan and even for those who don’t – giving viewers a look at what fame feels like through the eyes of someone who thought it was all they wanted, but were surprised to find out that it came with far more issues than they were ever expecting.
Everybody’s Everything (2019)
A look into the life of underground artist Lil Peep, who was well on his way to the stardom when he shockingly passed away after a drug overdose, just two weeks after his 21st birthday. Sebastian Jones speaks to those who knew the man behind the music, and shines a light on the effects of drugs, alcohol and mental health issues on young people today.While Lil Peep never got to see himself reach the heights he may have done otherwise, Sebastian Jones’ film explores his early life in New York, initial journey into music, meteoric rise to fame throughout the mid-to-late 2010s, and the devastating toll it took on his mental health. This is an incredibly powerful watch, described by VICE as ‘the defining document of the Soundcloud generation’. You may have never heard of Lil Peep until now, but after watching, you’ll feel as though you’ve seen him through the eyes of a close personal friend.
Searching For Sugarman (2012)
Malik Bendjelloul’s Oscar-winning film tells the story of two South African music fans, and their journey to discover what became of their musical hero.Mysterious rock and roller, Rodriguez, had been a mainstay in record collections across South Africa throughout the 1970s, and yet not one of his millions of fans seemed to know a single thing about him – until two long-time fans decided to track him down, and lift the veil on one of the most curious events that the music industry has ever seen.Searching For Sugarman is perhaps the most surprising film on this list, and takes you to a place you wouldn’t have expected in a million years. We don’t want to spoil it, but the story of Sixto Rodriguez is a cultural phenomenon, and one which, in the digital age, we will most likely never witness again. It’s most certainly a must-watch for anyone who enjoys a mystery – especially one with a happy ending.