What one finds entertaining is an individual pursuit. But one game that seems to continually titillate, across generations? Making up stories about people. Drawing a personality map from just about anything (a bookshelf, relationship history, gaps in silences…) This is perhaps why artists, musicians in particular, are so endlessly fascinating. There’s more archival material to work with, to piece together an A-Z of a person. Of course, this exercise is much the same as trying to decipher who somebody is based on their Instagram profile. It’s not the whole picture - less than five percent, in fact. People are more complex than the sum of their glamorous projections. A well-crafted documentary – such as Sky’s compelling exploration of Tina Turner’s deep traumas and euphoric triumphs – will go to great lengths to unearth these harder edges. So, to that end, in case you missed them the first time around, below are a selection of inspirational tales well worth streaming.
There’s nothing like summertime and a global pandemic to make us feel a deep pang of nostalgic desire for a festival. Even if we’ve never been to one, there’s something pretty special to look back at iconic gatherings from bygone eras. Woodstock, being the most referenced examples. Of course, there were other less documented, though no less significant, moments of musical history to discover. Summer of Soul, a new critically-acclaimed documentary time travels back to 1969’s Harlem Cultural Festival, unearthing never-before-seen footage from legends including Stevie Wonder to Nina Simone. A celebration of Black joy and resistance that will restore your faith in humanity. Out in cinemas now, available to stream on Disney+ July 30th.
An evocative and nuanced slice of music nostalgia. This 8-part docuseries, from the team behind the Oscar-winning Amy is a rich time capsule into the year wildly heralded as the best year in music (giving rise to the likes of The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, The Who, Joni Mitchell, Lou Reed and many more, who feature in the series). To quote David Bowie: "we were creating the 21st century in 1971". This is a proper treat. Available to stream on AppleTV+.
Helen Mirren once said you can't control how other people see you or think of you, but you have to be comfortable with that. Musicians, however, are all too aware of their reputation. And Taylor Swift has played hard to shake hers; the one carved by those who disdainfully refuse to buy into to homegrown sweetheart ‘act.’ Haters gonna hate, but it’s difficult not to feel for the pop titan and the ghoulish media treatment of her after watching this.
Aretha Franklin barely utters a word in this. Which is kind of the whole point: this is a concert film, recording her live gospel album Amazing Grace in 1972 (at the New Temple Missionary Baptish Church in Los Angeles). Young Mick Jagger makes a brief cameo. “It was a really electrifying performance she gave, it raised the hair on the back of your neck,” the Rolling Stones singer said. “It was a super-charged performance, a different Aretha on that day than I had experienced before."
Several documentaries have already attempted to tell the story of Winehouse’s life, but nothing comes close to this. Blending interviews, archival material and candid camera-phone footage, Asif Kapadia's documentary explores the many different sides of the singer. Mark Ronson, a longtime friend of Winehouse, backed the documentary but said it was a “hard watch.” Adding: "We watched it and my [then] wife said, ‘Now I get it, now I see the Amy you talked about’. I forget that not everyone got to see that side of her."
An alchemic mix of fact and fantasy, Martin Scorsese's portrait of the famously guarded musician mixes archival footage from Bob Dylan's 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour, with true and false interviews. Surreally brilliant.
I’m not a die-hard Katy Perry fan, but I am a big defender of this 2012 doc. Which had me, unexpectedly, in tears at one point. Sometimes, when I’m feeling down, I watch a two-minute clip featured in the film on YouTube, where Katy is seen crying over the end of her relationship with Russell Brand: “I will do everything it takes to not fail, and I did everything it took but it still failed - the bad that comes along with the good is a journey and I learned so much from that journey.”
Morgan Neville's masterpiece explores the world of backup singers, including Darlene Love and Merry Clayton, who have supported the likes of the Rolling Stones to Stevie Wonder. This Oscar-winning film really was the first to put the under-appreciated heroes of the music business on a pedestal. Truly unmissable.
“I have chased this pain for five years. But when I feel the adrenaline of my music and my fans, I can fucking go,” Lady Gaga says over voiceover. Five Foot Two (produced by Gaga) – is shot throughout the making of the singer’s fifth studio album, Joanne (and sees her open up about her struggles with severe chronic pain, past drug abuse, relationships and anxiety).
Who was the ‘real’ Whitney? What caused her tragic downfall? All questions are addressed in Nick Broomfield’s cinematic feat, made largely with never-before-seen footage, exclusive live recordings and insights from close friends and family.
Two documentaries and one biopic: the 2010s saw an influx of Nina Simone narratives. Liz Garbus' 2015 Oscar-nominated Netflix film, is exceptional storytelling, shedding light on the icon and activist’s struggles. “I remember one time she walked right up to Dr.King [Martin Luther King Jr.] and said, ‘I’m not nonviolent,'” guitarist and long-time friend Shackman says in the documentary. “He said, ‘That’s okay, sister. You don’t have to be.”
Kurt Cobain's legacy continues to loom large, 25 years after his death. Montage Of Heck artfully splices together the singer's life story, with his own animations and plentiful home footage of Cobain and Courtney Love.
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