10 of the Best: Modern Music Documentaries

I love documentaries as well as all the reality TV nonsense I also like to watch. And there’s no better centre of a venn diagram than bringing together my love of documentaries and love of music. Here are my top ten modern music documentaries

Some Kind of Monster (2004)


Metallica seem to go into a tailspin after bassist Jason Newstead quits so they decide to go into group therapy to try and work through their problems. It’s clear from the beginning they have some serious issues. lead singer James Hetfield is an utter control freak, insisting that nothing is recorded or even discussed without him being present. This clearly winds up the rest of the band, particularly drummer Lars Ulrich and they clash frequently. Things become even more tense when Hetfield enters rehab for alcoholism and the bands future is put on hold for an uncertain amount of time. The fact they got Dave Mustaine (Megadeth) in to be interviewed and having him bitterly insist that he’s not at all bitter is entertaining and highlights the dysfunction from really early on. An absolute classic music rock doc that has since become the benchmark for all films of this type.

I’m Going To Tell You A Secret (2005)


Lady M has done quite a few tour docs over the years and Truth or Dare and The behind the scenes footage from the Sticky & Sweet Tour DVD are also worth a watch. For some reason though this one is my favourite. Filmed by acclaimed video director Jonas Åkerlund and follows the entire Re-Invention tour from dancer audition through to the final show. There’s no doubt at all that Madonna runs the entire show, what she says goes no matter how playful and flippant she tries to come across as however much I never want to be in the same room as her there is something that makes her absolutely fascinating. Seeing her with her hen husband (Guy Richie) and kids (Lola and Rocco) is sweet and certainly seems to have been genine affection between the couple at time, which I guess makes it even more interesting. I saw her live in 2012 on the MDNA tour which was spectacular so seeing how such a large scale production comes together is a must for any pop music fan.

Shut Up and Sing (2006)


Following the the aftermath of Natalie Maines’ now infamous comment that she was ashamed that George Bush was from Texas this follows that immediate fallout, the firestorm of hostility from country radio and the quite frankly disturbing comments from fans who claimed Maines should be murdered for her comments. The film follows the bands reaction to the backlash, how they are treated at subsequent tour dates in the Bible Belt States (people holding up banners saying ‘I, only here because I couldn’t get a refund’ and how they stand by each other through all the abuse they all get while they go on to record their next album and prepare to tour again. Some of the comments made by local news anchors at the time are shocking ‘they deserve to be smacked around’ said one but its inspiring how they refuse to apologise for expressing an opinion and how the majority of their fans do actually stand by them in the end.

Michael Jackson – This Is It (2009)


I was destined never to see this man perform. Having been a lifelong MJ fan Janine and I snapped up tickets to see him the third week of performances in London. Then he cancelled the 1st week, so our week became the second week. Then he died. I’m SO pleased this film was released because I think it shut up all the critics for a while. Before he died there were rumours of ill health, which obviously his imminent death proved semi true, but looking at the footage, to me he looked fit and healthy and in great shape. What makes me so sad watching this film is seeing how brilliant the show would have been had they gone ahead. It shows, that personal life aside, what a true performer he was and how much creative input he had. He knows his songs inside out and knows how his fans want to see them performed. Let’s me honest, people either love him or hate him so this is very much a film for the fans. It’s such a great shame I will now never get to see him perform but at least with this film I can pretend for an hour or so!

Bon Jovi: When We Were Beautiful (2009)


Shot to celebrate their 25 year anniversary and filmed in the run up to staging a free concert in Central Park in New York this is an interesting look into one of the worlds biggest rock bands. You don’t need to be a fan to stay interested; in fact if you’re not a fan Jon Bon Jovi’s maddening arrogance and pure douchebaggery will entertain you. For me it’s infuriating and quotes like ‘I’m the CEO of Bon Jovi inc’ and ‘I’ll be damned if I let the drummers wife tell me when I go on tour’ had me wanting to throw my laptop out the window. However the interviews with the other members are insightful, funny, articulate and touching. They make more than make up for Jon by coming across as genuine down to earth guys with genuine affection for each other. It’s also all shot in black and white so it’s all arty and classy and that.

Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest (2011)


Follows the classic documentary format and proving that to move forward sometimes you have to go back. This film follows ATCQ from their formation in high school to their disbanding in 2008 and then just keeps going. All members are present and correct to give their side of the story and a plethora of classic hip hop artists wade in on one of the most iconic rap groups of my generation including The Beastie Boys, De La Soul. Pharrell Williams to name but a few. A Tribe Called Quest have always been one of favourite 90s groups and their debut album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm would be very close if not in my top ten albums of all time. The film does an excellent job chronicling their career, their penchant for creating ‘party records with a conscience’ but also the fractions within the group, particularly the clash of egos between Phife Dawg and Q-Tip. I guarantee watching this will make you nostalgic for a hip hop life pre-Kanye.

 Katy Perry – Part of Me (2012)


I’ve never let it be a secret that I’m much more Team Katy than I am Team Taylor; there’s just something infinitely more likable than that blonde skinny drink of water. Whereas this essentially is a tour documentary movie (big woop) and it does start off that way, lots of glitzy high energy polished concert footage and screaming tweenagers. However it also does delve a little bit deeper as the film progresses and captures on camera the breakdown of Katy’s marriage to Russell Brand, which, I’ll be honest, is pretty heart breaking. How she manages to put a smile on her face and perform the night she gets ‘the text’ when he files for divorce I’ll never know. Of course many cynics will arguing that the emphasis put on her marriage to Brand was a away of selling the movie to gossip hungry celebophiles like myself, and that my be true, doesn’t make it any less interesting though!

Amy (2015)


It’s really easy it sit and say that Amy Winehouses’ story is tragic and heartbreaking and sad while it is all of those things, what struck me most about this documentary is that no one stood up and said ‘you know what, I could have helped her and I didn’t’. Everyone seems to blame someone else and that’s what I find saddest of all about the whole thing.  She was clearly extremely gifted from a young age and seeing archive footage of a young Amy singing with her friends is really interesting. It’s also a refreshing reminder that if you have genuine, bonafide talent, then that will always win out over a super polished, washboard abbed pop startlet. Amy always was a reluctant pop star, all she ever wanted was to sing jazz and as the story unfolds it becomes less and less a tale about a fallen idol and more and more an anti drug movie. Anyone who thinks popstars glamourise drug use should watch this film, ain’t nothing glamorous about it.

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015)


Lots of documentaries about fallen stars seemed to come out in 2015. This is the first documentary that the Cobain family have played any part in and the fact that Kurt’s mom and ex band mate Krist Novoselic are featured heavily throughout the film is testament to that. It doesn’t dig too deeply by way of explaining Kurt’s descent into drug use other than his parents split up when he was younger. As the film progresses though, Kurt meets Courtney and their drug use gets worse, some of the home footage of their life is truly shocking. Stories like these always fascinate me, bands seem to work so hard writing music performing in shitty bars just trying to make it, then when they do they not happy and just piss it all away on drugs and alcohol. Some of the poetry and raw demos that provide the films soundtrack gets quite shouty and annoying after a while but this is a must see for anyone who likes their rock stars damaged. They don’t get much more damaged than Kurt.

Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of (2015)


I couldn’t have a music documentary list without including y favourite boys! This was filmed over a 2 year period from recording their In a World Like This album to the subsequent world tour to support it and all the drama in between. Having said that it’s more about reminiscing that it is a tour documentary and while it’s really interesting to hear them talk about all the legal troubles they’ve had, and how they coped being in a boyband when they really wanted to be rock stars, I can’t help but feel it’s nothing real hardcore fans didn’t already know. It would have been nice to hear more about AJ and Nicks drug and alcohol problems for example however it is a very interesting inside into the corrupt world of the 90s pop world and you learn how to say ‘will you give me a blowjob’ thanks to Kevin so, you know, it’s pretty educational!

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