10 Best Music Documentaries of the 21st Century so far…
- Charles Bradley: Soul of America (2012)
Everybody loves a feel-good story. And this is one to truly warm your cockles. It tells the story of one Charles Bradley and his journey from working man of the American anti-dream to praised soul revivalist. For years Bradley struggled with poverty as he provided for himself and his mother, gigging as a James Brown impersonator. The film joins him just as he has started recording with New York based soul studio Daptone Records, and ends with its acclaimed release. His story speaks of suffering and hardship, but also the ability to overcome.
- Searching for Sugarman (2012)
The story of singer-songwriter Rodriguez has now become the stuff of legend; an unrecognized artist of immense talent, a long forgotten relic of yesteryear whose recordings were surely destined to fall to the bottom of a dusty box in the back of a warehouse. Oh, bar the fact that he was actually a multi-million selling artist in South Africa. This documentary shines light on one of the most bizarre true stories in music; How an artist can remain completely unknown in his home country, whilst simultaneously becoming one of the biggest selling artists in another, and not even know it. The film itself unfolds in such a way as to keep you guessing throughout and is a great example of what documentary can be.
- Muscle Shoals (2013)
A good documentary discovers a story that already exists but is largely unknown. In the case of Muscle Shoals, it uncovers the tale of one unsuspecting recording studio in the middle of nowheresville, U.S.A, which, behind the screen door, played it’s own significant part in sculpting modern music. Artists to have recorded there included Aretha Franklin, Etta James, The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers, Jimmy Cliff… The list goes on.
- Marley (2012)
A film about the great Bob Marley the way it should be told. A well crafted documentary chronicling his life from humble Jamaican beginnings to Reggae/Rastafarian spokesperson for the world. It gives meaning to some of his well known songs and tells of his internal struggles as an artist and a family man. The impact he had and continues to have on global culture is incalculable and this provides good evidence as to why.
Dig! Is one of those ‘right places at the right time’ type of stories. Director/Producer/Writer Ondi Timoner found herself smack-bang in the middle of the perfect storm; two bands on the verge of something big. The Dandy Warhols went on to fame and fortune. The Brian Jonestown Massacre remained in the realm of obscurity. It became a case study into the inner workings of the music industry and what it takes (or doesn’t take) to crack the big time. Timoner stayed with the bands on and off for 7 years, collecting hundreds of hours worth of footage and the result is one of the greatest music documentaries of all time.
- Scratch (2001)
A must for any hip-hop fan old or new, Scratch is a crash course in all things hip-hop, covering everything from the Elements, to Turntablism, to Battling. It has interviews with everyone whose anyone in the hip-hop game, both past and present, including; Mix Master Mike, Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Shadow, DJ Q-Bert and DJ Premier. Its a great film not only because of its high-profile guest list, but because of its in-depth look at Hip-Hop which, broadly speaking, is a comparably young genre of music. If you’re looking to get fully immersed in the world of DJs and learn a thing or two, check it out.
- A Band Called Death (2012)
2012 seemed to be the year for documentary makers to discover forgotten or underrated acts. Much like Charles Bradley and Rodriguez, the band Death never experienced any real success in their heyday. And much like Bradley and Rodriguez, they should have. Death were a Proto-Punk band out of Chicago formed by three brothers with an unrelenting ethos for making furious Rock n Roll with a mostly political stance. Sound familiar? Only, these boys pre-dated Punk. Had they been more fortunate with studios and label executives, they might have been more of a household name today.
- End of the Century (2003)
You don’t get to be the pioneers of a genre and have a career that outlasts most marriages without one hell of a story to match. End Of The Century probes deep the story of punks, the Ramones; why they started making music, how they got their break(s), their rise to fame and their eventual collapse. The film also focuses on the unusually tense relationship between singer Joey and guitarist Johnny. It includes rare footage and interviews with the band and gives real insight as to what made them tick, and what made them explode.
- 20 Feet From Stardom (2013)
This is the previously untold story of the unsung singers behind some of music’s greatest performers. It shifts the lime light to the back of the stage to grant credit to some of the voices that helped create the sound of songs from the Rolling Stones, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles. It serves as a reminder of the names and faces of talents that go largely unnoticed within the music industry, but that play a major role.
- Beautiful Noise (2014)
Beautiful noise was no easy film to make. It began its first stages of production back in 2005 and was completed in 2008. Unfortunately, due to various legal and financial issues, the film sat unreleased for years until a Kickstarter campaign earned the project enough money to be distributed. Then there it was; a documentary that told the story of the often overlooked yet oh-so important Shoegaze movement of the early 90’s. The film focuses on three bands primarily (Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus & Mary Chain) but explores the genre as a whole and discusses its vast influence on the world of music.
Article by Edward Acheson