Movies and music are both powerful mediums that can evoke some of the rawest emotions from fans, critics and cynics alike if done right. And the beautiful part of all this is there isn’t truly a right or a wrong way to capture a subject. There are concert films like THE LAST WALTZ that show esteemed artists unifying to celebrate music; you also have D.A. Pennebaker’s classic portrayal of Bob Dylan at 24 in DON’T LOOK BACK; or even more recently with the championed film KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK.
But what sparked the editorial team at Fresh Fiction to bring you a few choices that are either polarizing, revered, or heartbreaking, was the release of A24’s AMY, a tender look at the departed jazz singer Amy Winehouse. Now, this isn’t a greatest hits of “rockumentaries,” but rather a look at some films we have recently encountered that turned our mental volume up to 11.
I NEED THAT RECORD! (2008)
Instead of shining the spotlight on a particular artist or band, I NEED THAT RECORD! investigates why record stores around the world are seeing some of their darkest days. Featuring interviews with Talking Heads, Black Keys and Drive-by Truckers, I NEED THAT RECORD! is a poetic film for the archetypal record store.
While some interviews are rather humorous and hopeful, others are downright brutally honest. Filmmaker Brendan Toller (DANNY SAYS) paints a fascinating story of the music industry, the business side of it, and how times are, well, different.
– Preston Barta
KURT & COURTNEY (1998)
The very mention of the name Kurt Cobain evokes emotion from millions of people across the world. Documentarian Nick Broomfield poses the question what if the beloved Cobain was actually murdered? It’s a preposterous theory that that becomes the focal point of the film as Broomfield and his camera crew try to uncover some form of the truth. He tracks down a private investigator that claims Courtney Love hired a hitman to murder Kurt.
The whole film appears to be rather opportunistic, but you can’t ignore Broomfield’s persistence as he tracks down Love while posing as a media to question her directly at a charity gala. Kurt & Courtney is a divisive film that attempted to get a piece of the Cobain pie, but when it’s all said and done Broomfield never offers up any conclusions, but explore the dirty underbelly of the rock n’ roll underworld.
– Cole Clay
“You may look at Metallica as a friend, but I look at it as a beast,” explains frontman James Hetfield to lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and drummer Lars Ulrich during one of their several documented therapy sessions. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky capture the extensive sessions between the band caught up in an existential crisis that’s consumed by ego. Hetfield and Ulrich continuously use Hammett as a pawn to stroke whatever their passive aggressive agendas may be. The high-wire circus dynamic has the band teetering on disintegration and eventually becomes a through line for the entire film. Maybe as an artist you have to get mad before the word genius comes into play, hence the name of their 2003 album “St. Anger.”
SOME KIND OF MONSTER is an astounding documentary that frankly should not exist. This candid portrait is a valuable document for any rock n’ roll fan out there.
– Cole Clay
MISTAKEN FOR STRANGERS follows Tom Berninger, an idler and aspiring horror filmmaker whose older brother, Matt, is the lead singer of one of the most notable indie rock bands— The National. When Matt hires Tom as a roadie for the band’s 2010 “High Violet” world tour, Tom takes his camera to film the entire experience, pushing aside his job responsibilities in the process. But what follows is more than just your standard “about a band” doc.
While the film does lead us inside The National, it’s also an entertaining and affecting tale that explores the often unspoken dynamics of family. Matt and Tom are two men who would most likely have nothing to do with one another if they were not related, but it’s their opposite personalities and frequent disputes that really makes this a mesmerizing film. Their relationship is filled with complications of all sorts of highs and lows, such as clashes of desires, compassion and love. It’s an engaging story of family struggles and one man’s struggling ambition to be seen.
– Preston Barta
This documentary takes a bit of a turn from the ones we’ve just mentioned. It does not follow one musician or band in particular, but rather follows an artist whose work complimented an entire generation of musicians. BEAUTY IS EMBARRASSING focuses on Wayne White, a conventional artist with an unconventional love of weird and grotesque imagery. He worked with Paul Reubens to create the world of Pee Wee Herman and bands like the Smashing Pumpkins and the Flaming Lips to bring to life their songs in music videos. The documentary is at times a performance piece when it’s not digging deep into the mind of a musician who found his voice in cartoons and zany musical art.
– Gwen Reyes
I’ll be honest with you, when I first saw LAST DAYS HERE I absolutely hated it. The intimate filmmaking style and peek into the life of a junkie who can’t get his shit together was almost too much for me to handle. I can’t stand second hand embarrassment and LAST DAYS HERE was full of it. But, as the story of little-known, but highly influential, metal band Pentegram’s deteriorating lead singer Bobby Liebling wore on I found myself entranced. It is a brutal film, even messy at times (the amateur filmmaking style contributes), but it has a heart bigger than the one beating inside Bobby’s chest. Seeing your idols crash and burn in front of you is never pretty, but when handled with care their lives are not in vein.
LAST DAYS HERE promises tragedy, but that doesn’t mean it delivers it.
– Gwen Reyes