Top Ten Music Documentaries

Top Ten Music Documentaries

Ramones, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Justice — A bunch of funny, sad and surreal music docs that all turn the notch up to eleven.
  • Text by HUCK HQ

Music docs offer a portal, Being John Malkovich-style, into the heads of our favourite artists. The best ones, in fact, offer a glimpse into the creative process of genius. Sometimes, they relate hilarious anecdotes from tired, hungover lives on the road. Sometimes, they inspire us to start a band. Whatever their prerogative, music docs are the perfect further reading to our most adored radio stars.

When the last surviving original member of the Ramones, Tommy, passed away last week, we reached for the remote and rewatched End of the Century, a fitting tribute as any to punk’s first American sons. And that, in turn, got us thinking about classics of the genre.

These are some of our faves.

End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones
Directed by Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia, 2003

“White heat, you know? You couldn’t put a cigarette paper between one tune ending and the next beginning,” says Joe Strummer in the Ramones documentary End of the Century. “Couldn’t have got tighter if you’d lived in New Orleans all your life.” Filled with anecdotes from iconic rock rebels like Glenn Matlock (Sex Pistols), Captain Sensible (The Damned) and Debbie Harry (Blondie), End of the Century documents the rise, and fall, of punk’s most primal players.

The Breadcrumb Trail
Directed by Lance Bangs, 2014

Lance Bangs’ moving documentary The Breadcrumb Trail about mysterious Louisville band Slint is a classic tale of underground genius. Despite splitting up after recording their seminal 1991 album Spiderland, Slint influenced a whole generation of indie-rock – from Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor to PJ Harvey and Pavement – causing tremors in 2005 when they reunited for an ATP show in Camber Sands, UK. Lance documents them sensitively and insightfully in moments that seem like midnight dates when ‘there’s this weird spark in the air’.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Directed by Sacha Gervasi, 2009

The real Spinal Tap! Anvil! is the hilarious and emotional journey of a has-been rock band trying to rekindle their former glory. The beauty of Gervasi’s documentary is the larger-than-life characters at its core and their brotherly bond. The doc’s smart, but not snarky, about the realities of band life; when the buzz is burnt out, the groupies have gone and a job in a call centre is the only source of dosh. But, like every great doc, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And this one features a lot of moshing and throwing the horns.

The Punk Singer
Directed by Sini Anderson, 2014

Director and spoken word performer Sini Anderson brings riot grrrl Kathleen Hanna and her story to the masses in this dramatic doc, revealing a traumatic new chapter in her tumultuous journey. The Punk Singer is a document of a place and a time and a celebration of an iconic character who has always refused to accept any of the injustices slung her way.

A Cross The Universe
Directed by Romain Gavras, 2008

Fact and fiction blur in this gritty tour documentary following French electronic duo Justice. Filmed by chronicler of the dispossessed Romain Gavras over a three-week North American tour, which comes at the end of an eighteen-month world tour, A Cross The Universe is an unnerving portrait of two hedonistic, but exhausted, French dudes cut loose in the wild west. Things get very weird. Like, Gummo weird. And that makes for some compelling celluloid.

Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton
Directed by Jeff Broadway, 2014

Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton joins the dots between some of the best hip hop, neo-soul and funk released over the last two decades and reveals it all emanates from one place: Stones Throw Records. It’s quite hard to believe that Peanut Butter Wolf’s tiny LA-based independent label has put out music in a blistering array of genres from artists as diverse as Madlib, The Stepkids, Jonti, Dam-Funk and Jonwayne, but Wolf’s defiantly anti-mainstream tastes have seen him take the label to new and exciting places.

Directed by Doug Pray, 2001

Scratch takes us into the dark depths of a fabled basement Shangri La, stacked to the rafters with vinyl records to go crate digging with DJ Shadow. This overlooked but incredible documentary profiles a group of musicians similarly obsessed with vinyl records who through their innovation and inventiveness elevated the status of turntables to a musical instrument.

Directed by Ondi Timoner, 2004

The music industry eats its children. That’s the lesson to draw from this tale of two bands, The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, who grew out of the same scene in Portland, Oregon but ended up being driven apart by their struggle to make it on their own terms in an industry that does no favours. Compiled from an incredible seven years of footage, Dig! charts the Dandies rise before they fall foul of a major label concerned only with commercial success and the Jonestown Massacres’ eventual descent into a heroin-fuelled nightmare.

Mistaken For Strangers
Directed by Tom Berninger, 2013

Matt Berninger is the adored frontman of indie superstar band The National. Tom Berninger is his half-baked underdog little brother. When Matt agrees to let Tom come on tour to make a documentary about the band he has no idea of the chaos that will ensue. Matt and Tom’s relationship is put to the test and the film subtly explores ideas of success, sibling rivalry and the art of documentary making in hilarious ways.

1959: The Year That Changed Jazz
Directed by Paul Bernays, 2009

Through the stories of four monumental jazz albums that all came out in the same year: Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out, Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, this doc looks at the explosive impact of ‘50s avant garde jazz, which inspired and intertwined with everyone from Jean-Paul Sartre and The Beats to Jackson Pollock and the Abstract Expressionists.