February 28, 2024

Gates Street Heat

The Hottest and Most Up To Date Entertainment News Source

10 Great Music Documentaries to Stream Right Now

10 min read

There are few things more satisfying than to spend Black Friday sitting on the couch, gorging on Thanksgiving leftovers and watching music documentaries. In the streaming era, there are more to choose from than ever and 2023 has produced an overflowing cornucopia (to keep the holiday metaphor going) of titles to binge. You don’t need […]

The post 10 Great Music Documentaries to Stream Right Now appeared first on BrooklynVegan.

10 Great Music Documentaries to Stream Right Now

There are few things more satisfying than to spend Black Friday sitting on the couch, gorging on Thanksgiving leftovers and watching music documentaries. In the streaming era, there are more to choose from than ever and 2023 has produced an overflowing cornucopia (to keep the holiday metaphor going) of titles to binge. You don’t need an excuse like a day off to watch these either, but hopefully you have a little more time to do so. We’ve picked 10 newish docs to watch, about everything from hip hop and pop icons to cult heroes, duos both acclaimed and infamous, and the creators of some of the most famous album covers of all time

If you need more, here’s our list from last year and 50 more. Head below for our current picks.

photo via Showtime

All Up in the Biz (Showtime / Paramount+)

You might only know Biz Markie for his 1989 Top 10 hit “Just a Friend,” but there’s a lot more to the late “clown prince of hip-hop.” Director Sacha Jenkins (Wu Tang: Of Mics and Men) takes an affectionate look at Marcel Theo Hall — who was a rapper’s rapper, a gifted beatboxer, and one of the funniest guys in the game — in this documentary that features rare archival footage, interviews with friends and contemporaries (including Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Doug E Fresh, Tracy Morgan), and more. Jenkins also takes a playful approach to music documentary cliches, featuring animation and, most memorably, a Biz puppet — the same one from Masta Ace’s “Me and the Biz” video — to reenact a few key scenes, all of which befits the Biz’s fun-loving, off-kilter iconoclast legacy.

elephant 6 documentary poster

The Elephant 6 Recording Co. (On Demand)

For a few years in the mid-’90s, Elephant 6–a collective of like-minded independent spirit musicians–became one of the coolest underground scenes in American indie rock. Formed by high school friends Robert Schneider, Bill Doss, Jeff Mangum, and Will Cullen Hart in Ruston, LA; Elephant 6 really blossomed when the members splintered and moved to college town and boho alt-rock breeding ground Athens, GA and the similarly hippy-friendly Denver, CO. It was then that more like-minded musicians entered their circle, resulting in a number of different groups who–while different in approach and execution–all featured a love of psychedelic music, classic pop songwriting, DIY recording and lots of overlapping members. Apples in Stereo and Olivia Tremor Control enjoyed college radio and critical success while Mangum’s project, Neutral Milk Hotel, became a cultishly loved sensation whose influence is still felt. Director C.B. Stockfleth puts the same care into this long-in-the-works documentary as Elephant 6 put into their records, artwork, and shows; featuring interviews with many who were there, alongside famous fans like David Cross, Elijah Wood, Danger Mouse and James Mercer. Filmmaker Lance Bangs, who is the film’s producer and was in E6’s orbit at the time, lends both his expertise and footage he shot back then, making for a rich portrait of a fleeting, creative moment in time. There’s a lot of ground to cover but this often funny, often heartbreaking film is as perfectly messy as some of Elephant 6’s best-loved records.

Love to Love You Donna Summer

Love to Love You, Donna Summer (Max)

A wealth of never-before-seen footage, much of it shot by the artist herself, gives a real sense of intimacy to this portrait of ’70s disco diva Donna Summer, which was co-directed by her daughter, Brooklyn Sudano, and Oscar-winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams. The film takes us through her life, from growing up in Boston and singing in her church, to moving to NYC, and then to Munich where she became part of the city’s avant-garde music scene and met electronic music pioneer Giorgio Moroder with whom she made the groundbreaking, electrifying classic “I Feel Love.” From there she became one of the biggest disco stars of the era and one of the few to survive its excesses and make the transition to the MTV era. All the while, as seen in home movie footage, there was another, sadder side to Summer who admitted her stage persona was just a character she played. Summer was an enigma even to her family that she loved, and those personal relationships are at the heart of the film. Those hoping to know more about her classic hits and how they were made may leave unsatisfied but Love to Love You is nonetheless a fascinating look at a one-of-a-kind talent.

May The Lord Watch- The Little Brother Story

May The Lord Watch: The Little Brother Story (YouTube)

This documentary about beloved and highly influential Durham, NC underground rap duo Little Brother (Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh) and shares its title with their 2019 album, May the Lord Watch, which was their first in nine years. This film, directed by Holland Randolph Gallagher, has been in the works nearly as long and is finally coming out on Black Friday via the band’s YouTube. Here’s the official synopsis: “May the Lord Watch is the definitive story of Little Brother, the North Carolina rap group composed of rappers Phonte, Big Pooh, and (formerly) producer 9th Wonder, the underground legends that bridged the gap between The Roots and Kendrick, Tribe and Cole, De La and Drake. The film follows the rise, breakup, and reunion of the preeminent 2000s rap group, but the heart of the documentary lies in the unfolding relationship between members Phonte and Big Pooh, which begins at the Durham HBCU North Carolina Central University, strains while coming of age together in the music industry, and resolves with an enduring friendship as the two men reunite and make their 2019 album May the Lord Watch.”

milli vanilli documentary

Milli Vanilli (Paramount+)

German duo Milli Vanilli went from being one of the the most popular acts in the world to being a punchline in the span of a few months after it was revealed — shortly after winning Best New Artist at the 1990 Grammys — that Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus not only lip-synched at their concerts, they were not even the ones who sang on their hit records which included “Girl You Know It’s True,” “Blame It On the Rain,” and “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You.” While there’s fault on all sides, this documentary from Luke Korem shows it’s clear Rob & Fab got a raw deal while producer Frank Farian (who pulled similar tricks with Boney M a decade prior) and Arista Records execs kept their jobs while making jokes and throwing these two likeable performers under the bus. Their biggest crime? Wanting to be famous. You could call it a cautionary tale, but almost nothing documented here, from the widespread deception to the sheer number of CDs sold, seems replicable in today’s streaming era. Instead Milli Vanilli is equal parts funny, sad and enraging as a wild, head-shaking look at the record industry during the seemingly unstoppable early-’90s.

mixtape documentary

Mixtape (Paramount+)

To quote the synopsis, “MIXTAPE is the story of hip hop refusing to take no for an answer.” Mixtapes were not only the best way to get your latest track out there but also a vehicle for talent who hadn’t been signed to get heard. New MCs rapped over other peoples beats, let it all hang out on unexpurgated freestyles, and made diss and answer tracks to popular songs, while DJs showed off their skills with remixes, mashups and more. Mixtapes became the stuff of legend in their own right and a required element of rap culture. They also circumvented normal music industry channels, and, like hip hop itself, scared a lot of high-paid execs who saw this as a threat to their survival. Through vintage footage and new interviews with Lil Wayne, Jadakiss, KRS-One, DJ Khaled, 2 Chainz, DJ Clue, N.O.R.E., A$AP Rocky, Bobbito, Stretch Armstrong, Funkmaster Flex, Tony Touch, DJ Kay Slay, DJ Khaled, DJ Drama, The Game, Kid Capri, and more, director Omar Acosta charts the rise and hurdles of mixtape culture over the last 40+ years, one that still thrives today even if you don’t own a boombox or walkman.

the birthday party
photo via ‘Mutiny in Heaven’

Mutiny in Heaven: The Birthday Party (Amazon)

“We didn’t do anything to try and be likable,” says The Birthday Party guitarist Mick Harvey in documentary Mutiny in Heaven. Debauched behavior is a rock n’ roll trope that artists still like to flirt with, but Melbourne, Australia’s The Birthday Party lived it. The band — Nick Cave, Rowland S. Howard, Mick Harvey, Tracy Pew, and Phill Calvert — seemed (were) perpetually on the edge of falling apart–onstage and off–the kinda guys you didn’t want to encounter in broad daylight let alone a dark alley, and their notorious live shows crackled with energy and a real air of danger. (“The front row is not for the fragile,” Cave tells the crowd in the film’s opening moments.) It wasn’t long before they actually, inevitably, did fall apart but for their six-year existence (not counting their years leading up as The Boys Next Door), The Birthday Party were one of the most infamous and exciting bands in post punk. This warts-and-all documentary tells The Birthday Party’s story by the band themselves, oral history-style, and director Ian White — who was a graphic designer for band’s Australian label, Mushroom, at the time — brings a lot of visual panache to it, with vintage footage augmented with animated sequences of the group’s more infamous incidents by illustrator Reinhard Kleist. Mutiny in Heaven gets The Birthday Party’s inherent dichotomy — unhinged intellectuals, wallflowers behaving very badly — and is a thoughtful, artful riot.

Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis)

Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis) (Netflix)

Founded by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, Hipgnosis were a design firm who created some of the most iconic album covers of the ’70s and ’80s, including just about everything from Pink Floyd (they were college chums) to Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel, 10cc, Paul McCartney, AC/CD, Alan Parsons Project, Black Sabbath, Def Leppard, ELO and more. Ever wonder how the artwork to The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here or Animals were made? This fantastic documentary by Anton Corbijn (who has made some iconic artwork and videos himself) tells those tales and the mind boggles at the lengths and budgets used to create them. Featuring new interviews with Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page, Powell, Noel Gallagher, and third Hipgnosis member Peter Christopherson (who was a member of Throbbing Gristle at the same time he worked there), Squaring the Circle has many jaw-dropping moments, like when Paul McCartney tells the story of how Wings Greatest‘s cover photo was shot, as his suggestion, atop a peak on the Swiss Alps. (It does not look like it was and even McCartney now wonders why they did it.) Most movies these days suffer from bloat, and while many of the works Hipgnosis created were a product of ’70s music industry excess, this film could’ve gone on for another hour regaling us with the wild stories behind them.

The Stones and Brian Jones

The Stones and Brian Jones (On Demand)

The late Brian Jones, the iconically coiffed original leader of The Rolling Stones, is a cult hero in many music head circles. He was ousted from control by the competing forces of bandmates Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (as well as manager Andrew Loog Oldham), and his death — three weeks after being forced out of the Stones in 1969 — remains the subject of conspiracy theories. (He was a hugely influential figure in several circles, as the subject and/or inspiration for post-punk and emo songs, and clearly a big influence on Anton Newcombe.) This makes perfect subject matter for controversial documentarian Nick Broomfield who made back-to-back documentaries in the ’90s about Kurt & Courtney and Biggie & Tupac. Spoiler alert: this is not one of his investigative films that posits Jones’ bandmates may have wanted him out of the band for good, but that his rebellious nature–which became increasingly unstable and drug-addled–was due to nature-vs-nurture, from growing up with well-off parents who wanted him to fly the straight and narrow in the proper British tradition. However, Broomfield is also quick to shine a light on the magical alchemy Jones brought to the Stones, which bassist Bill Wyman (the only member who agreed to be interviewed for the film) also talks about at length. Alongside interviews with many of his exes, the documentary makes a good case that though the Stones have remained massively successful for the 50+ years since, they’ve never been as good without Brian Jones.

wham netflix docuementary
Courtesy of Netflix

Wham! (Netflix)

This entertaining documentary about George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley’s massively successful ’80s pop duo works as nostalgia, history correction, and a portrait of friendship. Mates since they were kids, George and Andrew always wanted to be stars and knew they would be stars, right from the start. While their original image may have been as teen-pinups, Wham! makes it abundantly clear that the pair were extremely savvy, talented musicians from the get go. (As we learn here, they had “Careless Whispers” in their back pocket from the start, but they sat on it till their production skills matched George Michael’s songwriting talent.) It’s wild to think the duo were only together for four years, given how many hits they had, going from the very silly “Wham Rap” and frothy “Club Tropicana” to the sophistication of “Careless Whispers” and “I’m Your Man,” and then saying goodbye in the blink of an eye. The film also works as a tribute to the talent and charisma of the late George Michael but also Andrew Ridgeley, who, in candid interviews, says he knew Michael was going to eclipse him. “Wham was never going to be middle-aged or be anything other than that essential and pure representation of us as youths.”

Browse our music documentaries archives for more.

The post 10 Great Music Documentaries to Stream Right Now appeared first on BrooklynVegan.

Leave a Reply

Protected by CleanTalk Anti-Spam