With the sudden eminent phenomenon of Freddie Mercury’s life and the up-and-coming Elton John biopic, it is safe to say that the life of a rockstar is not as flashy and glitzy as it seems—there are unheard secrets behind closed doors that leaves fans curious. Hence, these ten music documentaries have been hand-picked for music fans to binge showcasing the real-life. Whether you’re a streamer or a purchaser, there is something for you to discover inside the chaotic, enigmatic, and eccentric world of music — one for your genre of choice.
Gaga: Five Foot Two (2017)
Director: Chris Moukarbel
No other pop superstar is more relevant than Lady Gaga. In this Netflix documentary, the now Oscar-winning musician lets her “Little Monsters” into the most intimate times of her life, her preparation for her Super Bowl half-time show performance, and the making of her fifth studio album Joanne. The doc is also aided with an appearance of friend and collaborator Mark Ronson and addressed the ongoing feud between Gaga and Madonna. But given that the two have recently bonded at this year’s Oscars, I guess we can now call it a truce.
Director: Asif Kapadia
British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse became a modern icon in her accord with her soulful vocals and that beehive hair-do. There is no denying that Winehouse’s impeccable and brash persona was one to remember forever. With the help of an American film studio A24, Asif Kapadia looked through the humble beginnings of the late singer in this documentary which included archived footage, never-before-seen home recordings, and a glimpse of Winehouse’s complicated private life. This documentary is a decorated one it itself, earning an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and Best Music Film at the 58th Grammy Awards.
Shine A Light (2008)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Renowned American filmmaker Martin Scorsese filmed the legendary rock n’ roll group the Rolling Stones in this documentary shot in the fall of 2006 for a couple of days when the band performed at the Beacon Theater in New York. In full-on Scorsese-style “picture” (as the opening credits say) the documentary captured the electrifying performances the band became famous for with a black-and-white introduction where Scorsese and his team of cinematographers are in a powwow over filming the live show. The doc also included archived interviews of the band from decades ago.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015)
Director: Brett Morgen
Titled after one of the late Nirvana vocalist’s collection of home recordings, Cobain’s former wife Courtney Love gave filmmaker Brett Morgen access to the musician’s rare materials such as unearthed recordings, journals, artworks, photographs, and Super-8 footages. The documentary, masterfully-edited in a series of montages and produced by daughter Frances Bean, provides fans of Cobain in a vulnerable, humanised light by featuring clips and photographs from his hyperactive childhood through his troubled days for a solid 2 hours and 25 minutes.
Biggie & Tupac (2002)
Director: Nick Broomfield
Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur laid out the message of hip-hop for the world to appreciate in the ‘90s by garnering massive hits of their own. It is no secret that the sudden deaths of these hip-hop icons caused a major stir in everybody’s minds. Director Nick Broomfield rummaged through the lives and alleged murders of the two rappers in this speculative true-crime documentary and dissects how the two went from friends to coast-to-coast rap rivals.
Whitney: Can I Be Me (2017)
Director: Nick Broomfield
Nick Broomfield steps into the documentary spotlight once again to look thoroughly into Whitney Houston’s career cosmos — from being molded into pop superstardom to the diva’s battle with drugs. The film featured archived footages, interviews with friends, collaborators, and record executives, and even an unreleased clip from Houston’s Germany tour in 1999. Despite all the factors that broke the singer up until her death in 2012, Houston sure did pave the way for today’s powerhouse vocalists such as Beyoncé.
The Clash: Westway to The World
Director: Don Letts
Don Letts has been a long-time friend of the British punk-rock quartet The Clash, having been responsible for many of the band’s music videos. Letts captured The Clash’s story, from their childhood memories making music to their brief but successful career in the punk-rock scene. Members Mick Jones, Joe Strummer, Topper Headon, and Paul Simonon reminisced their golden days in this over an hour long documentation. In 2003, Letts’ work earned a Grammy for Best Music Film.
Daft Punk Unchained (2015)
Director: Hervé Martin-Delpierre
Did you know that Daft Punk was formerly named Darlin’? That’s what director Hervé Martin-Delpierre debriefed in this French-made documentary of the Grammy-winning electronic duo. Before getting lucky, members Guy Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter have been making dance music from the ‘90s. This was all prior to being known collaborators of hitmakers like Pharrell Williams and The Weeknd, and even once covering a Sonic Boom track.
Seymour: An Introduction (2014)
Director: Ethan Hawke
If you haven’t heard of Seymour Bernstein, let actor Ethan Hawke do the job for you. Bernstein, who is a pianist, composer, philosopher and teacher, was a master of his craft. Debuting at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1969 and even became a performer during the Korean War. Hawke engaged into a conversation with the classical musician in this documentary on how he gave up his musical career at 50 years old to venture into teaching.
David Bowie: The Last Five Years (2017)
Director: Francis Whately
This listicle wouldn’t be complete without giving appraisal to something as prominent as David Bowie’s influence on the world. While there have been a number of documentaries covering the glamorous life of Mr Ziggy Stardust himself, director Francis Whately and producer Tony Visconti provided a closer inspection of Bowie’s final recording sessions of his albums The Next Day and Blackstar before his passing in 2016. The doc also comes with revelations of Bowie’s total secrecy during recording stages and being the brainchild of his own personas.
What are your other favourite music documentaries?
Text: Audrey Vibar
Images: IMDb, James McCauley, Roger Ebert, Michael Ochs Archives, Brett Morgen, Michael Linssen, Alchetron, UndergroundHipHop, Ron Gallela, David Corio, Rolling Stone, Seymour Bernstein, The Movie Database