Music documentaries; they’re the perfect way to delve further into the worlds of artists we love.
Whether you’ve just discovered a new band and find yourself being submerged in every bit of their material you can get your hands on, or if you want to find out something new about one of your favourite artists. They shine a light on the lives of those we admire and give us the best chance of getting to know our heroes – at least without being slapped with a restraining order.
The best music docos are those that give us a rare glimpse into the life of a musician whose world has otherwise been left dark.
This is a list of docos that provide an intimate look into those who were underrated, undiscovered, or who sadly left us too early. They give us the opportunity to discover new information about their journeys from the friends, family and collaborators who were there.
Rodriguez – Searching For Sugarman
The obvious one that no music doco list would be completed without, this critically acclaimed film is loved by fans, music-lovers and non-music-lovers (whoever they are) alike. The tale of Rodriguez is a curious one about a mysterious man that did everything right yet somehow never reached the limelight.
Maybe he was in the shadow of Bob Dylan, maybe America just wasn’t ready for his sound, but regardless of the reason what makes his story so interesting was where he did find the limelight. In a South Africa that was struggling against apartheid, his songs found themselves a home in the protest climate, where Rodriguez was elevated to cult status.
Though they originally believed he had committed suicide, someone eventually managed to contact Rodriguez and he found his belated fame. He also hit it big in Australia and New Zealand and is returning to our shores soon.
Elliott Smith – Heaven Adores You
An intimate look into Elliott Smith’s life, Heaven Adores You is filled with images of Portland where Elliott spent a lot of his years, a place so rainy you’ll feel damp by the time the credits roll. It’s the kind of documentary that’s perfect for letting you know that you’re not alone in that feeling of ‘it’s just not fair’ that you get when you come across the music of an underrated musician.
It’s a tragic tale of a musician whose life ended too soon, but hearing his friends and fellow musicians speak about him and his music fills it with a bitter sweetness. The soundtrack has some unheard gems and alternative versions that are a must-hear for fans.
Big Star – Nothing Can Hurt Me
Now a recognised milestone in the history of modern rock music, stardom ironically eluded Big Star for a long time. The critics of the time however lauded them to no end and in the doco they paint a picture of what it was like to witness such a band in their peak not receive the recognition they deserve.
Curiously though, it spends a sizeable amount of time speculating on how they weren’t big, rather than on what they were – although this did make up a big part of who Big Star were and it’s also interesting to note the difference in expectations of commercial success back then compared to now.
Rowland S. Howard – Autoluminescent
A glimpse into the world of Rowland S. Howard, a man seemingly from another planet, Autoluminescent heavily features first hand accounts from those who knew him best; Nick Cave, film-maker Wim Wenders and even Howard himself.
While Nick Cave took the spotlight, Rowland achieved his own cult status and it’s a delight to watch a feature dedicated to his music, delving beyond The Birthday Party records which he’s mostly recognised for. That said, Cave’s comments are incredibly insightful and emanate a strong sense of affection and admiration, making for a great way to find about who Howard was.
Joy Division – Joy Division
A chronological look at Joy Division’s short but intense rise, the film takes a real narrative approach to the story of one of the most culturally influential bands of all time. One of the interviewees, Anton Corbijn, photographed the band during their prominence and serves the role of a kind of band historian, with the authority to provide the most insightful comments about Joy Division.
The greatest thing about this documentary is how it’s drenched in Joy Division’s signature stylistic aesthetic and is packed with plenty of lo-fi vintage footage that’ll make you feel like you were there.
Jeff Buckley – Amazing Grace
Jeff Buckley was a magnificent artist, a boundary pusher, an expert songwriter, and many other things, but most of all, he is missed. He may have only left one album with the world but it is one that brings together people from all walks of life.
This hour long doco focuses on celebrating Buckley’s life and music rather than dwelling on the tragedy, prompting a sense of wonderment at what this legendary artist could’ve produced had things gone differently.
Have a look at our music documentaries on Netflix list as well!
If you’ve exhausted this list and are craving some more quality online watching, check out our list of music documentaries on Youtube.