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TOP 7 Must-see music docos while self-isolating


Big screens and live gigs are what we’re craving these days, but to pass the time while they’re still in shut-down (and so gradually inching towards re-emerging), there’s hours and hours of great documentaries on the world of music available to watch, whether they’re about whole genres, bands, musicians, or even our own local scene.

Read on for a list of seven awesome music docos worth checking out, as recommended by X-Press writers ANNE PAVY, DAVID O’CONNELL, JOSHUA HALL HAINES, NATALIE GILES, and DAVID MORGAN-BROWN. Crank up the volume, these are the music documentaries to get you through isol.

Punk (2019)

The “Godfather of Punk” Iggy Pop is part of the team that produces a series charting the ups and downs of this rebellious counter-culture. This four-part series charts punk from its rock and roll influences in the 60s, to its heyday in the 70s, its decline in the 80s, rebirth in the 90s and move toward the mainstream since.

We see the story through the eyes of some of the most influential musos in the scene, with Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins, Debby Harry, Dave Grohl, and John Lydon just some of the luminaries interviewed. The strength of Punk is within the tales told by those on the inside and personal insights about what the music and culture means to them. It has something for those from various generations attracted to the irreverent fuck-you attitude and discordant angry sound that still resonates today.

ANNE PAVY

20 Feet From Stardom (2013)

Director Morgan Neville (Ugly Delicious) shifts the spotlight off of centre stage and onto those voices that are often heard and little recognised. They are the mortar in the “Wall of Sound,” the singers on some of the most famous songs of all time, with vocals you’ve heard hundreds of times before, but never even realised. 20 Feet From Stardom tells the story of background singers, finally giving these performers their due. With testimonies from the likes of Sting, Mick Jagger, Bette Midler, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie Wonder, you’re in good hands as they walk you through the whys and wherefores of this secret history of rock and roll.

DAVID O’CONNELL

Homecoming (2019)

Built around her 2018 Coachella performance, Homecoming is a whirlwind documentary directed, produced, and written by Beyoncé (now on Netflix). Intercut with behind the scenes footage in the creation and lead up to the performance, it’s an inspiring look in to the creative process that’ll entrance both hardcore Queen B fans, and anyone interested in pursuing a career within festival management.

The inspiration doesn’t stop there, as we are taken on a journey of pride and culture, dreams and prosperity, and the pursuit of justice through inclusion. Homecoming draws on music as storytelling, which has been Beyoncé’s driving force since splintering from Destiny’s Child – who also make a spine tingling appearance, for all those seeking some nostalgia! Homecoming is a triumphant celebration, and is enjoyed time and time again, and raises the bar for concert films in the future. Make sure there’s room in your lounge-room, because before long you will be up and dancing to this iconic performance!

JOSHUA HALL HAINES

Amy (2015)

This heartbreaking and soulful look into the creative works of Amy Winehouse is a thought-provoking documentary (now on Netflix). Exhaustively chronicled, the documentary shows the harrowing lifestyle of the artist which drives home the costs of stardom and celebrity status; leaving little doubt that she was hounded by paparazzi and those in her inner circle. Winehouse is encapsulated as a smart, yet shrewd woman, full of life, love, and humour – who was stripped bare by the media for the sake of an easy pay day. Amy is a haunting, and poignant tribute to one of music’s most free and signature spirits. A sad, stark study of life and death, Amy will have you in tears by its conclusion, so be sure to have a tissue box at hand.

JOSHUA HALL HAINES

Meal Tickets (2016)

It is not just a fantastic, hilarious documentary, but a phenomenal piece of cinema, full of rich storytelling, with plot lines that Spinal Tap would envy, serving as a perfect time capsule of both Western Australian lore and its musical history. The intertwining tales of The Screwtop Detonators and Will Stoker are raw as a rash at times, visceral as heck, and the most important WA music film since Fridey at the HydeyMeal Tickets doesn’t so much invite you in as forcibly nestle on your lap and squeeze you tight. Over a decade of work by Mat de Koning has produced something that became a life force of its own. Hollywood couldn’t write better characters, or work with better subjects. Meal Tickets got a pretty unanimous five star review from our reviewers, so check it out and revel in the nonsense!

NATALIE GILES

Jazz: A Film By Ken Burns (2001)

With a genre as wide and varied as jazz, and gifted with such a passionately knowledgeable fan-base, it would be impossible to call any documentary definitive. Instead let’s say that noted documentarian Ken Burn’s 10 part series is an exhaustive deep delve into the subject, carried out with the rigorous research you would expect from the production team. As is traditional with his style, it lets the source material speak for itself, presenting a narrative peppered with letters and newspaper accounts from the time and the participants. Jazz is perhaps a little stylistically dated, but it is hard to argue with the rich and insightful way that it brings nearly a century of history to life in the voices of the stars of a bygone era.

DAVID O’CONNELL

Joy Division (2007)

There’s likely been no closer and more candid account of this short-lived and hugely important post-punk band. Through interviews with Joy Division’s remaining members, fellow musicians of the scene, critics, and those in the music industry (many who were close to the band’s late singer Ian Curtis), the film perfectly conveys what made the band’s two albums (plus all their singles and B-sides) such an integral encapsulation of Manchester in the late 70s and how that reverberated so strongly across the entire world. There’s no denying the doom and gloom of Joy Division’s music, but this documentary explores their origins (including Curtis’ mental and physical health issues), shining light on how they turned it into undeniably terrific post-punk music.

DAVID MORGAN-BROWN

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