With its flash and power chord panache, rock and roll has always been ripe for cinematic exploration. From the fictional stories based in the medium to the concert films that find emotional epiphanies in the strangest of song couplets, music makes for memorable movies. There is just something universally unreal about someone—or group of someones—who can transform mere words and arranged notes into an anthem, a ballad, or the soundtrack of your life. Even more amazing are the backstories involved. Some of these people are barely passable as human. Instead, they are a surreal combination of person and performance, their onstage act meshed with this doubts and disconnects of their everyday existence to form that most mighty of myths: the rock god.
Okay, we’ve been through this already. Twice. Yet there are still at least 10 more memorable rock documentaries that need to be mentioned. If you remember, the first time around, we featured films like the ones offered here: examples of the format which features rock bands (or their personal offshoots) in both fact and performance mode. Again, it’s a question of intent. Is the film featured meant to be a mere accounting of a group’s existence, or does it want to simply showcase them doing what the supposedly do best (or at the very least, better than others). In this case, we’ve made allowances for those titles who take a blatantly bifurcated view. Most of the movies listed have extensive onstage/screen material, but it also doesn’t dilute the story being told. After all, any overview of any artist would have to feature their art, right?
Let’s begin with a cult classic…
This is not really a documentary as much as a document, a testimonial to the marketing hyperbole of manager Malcolm McLaren and the gullibility of the British public circa the mid-‘70s. Today, the antics of the Sex Pistols would barely register a mention in the media. Back then, they were the end of civilization as they knew it. Mixing interesting performance footage with interviews, anecdotes, and leftover material from the first go at the film, the result is a scrapbook to a scandal that really was nothing more than music as merchandising.
What would you expect from the seminal Canadian power trio that’s managed nearly five decades in the limelight without a single significant scandal or split? Rush have always been the nice guys of proto prog-rock, and this indepth look at their entire career cements said reputation. But it also offers intriguing details like Geddy Lee’s connection to the Holocaust and the horrible tragedies that befell drummer Neil Peart. With a collection of testimonials from current, “cool” musicians and a wealth of rare footage, this film is actually cited as the reason for the band’s recent induction into the the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
One of the great things about the documentary is that it can introduce audiences to heretofore overlooked individuals who’ve either struggled for the recognition they deserve or showcase how some who once had fame are now struggling to recapture said lightning in a bottle. Such is the story of Scott Walker, a famous ‘60s singer who turned wildly experimental in his later life, resorting to the kind of sonic eccentricities that would make Brian Wilson look sane. Executive produced by David Bowie (who lists the musician as a major influence) and showcasing the production of his 2006 release, The Drift, the results are a revelation.
Frankly, this film deserves higher placement on this list. The only reason why we’ve knocked it down a bit is because, without the participation of Joan Jett, we’re only getting a percentage of the story. The rest of the band is present and accounted for, along with the eternally lecherous legend (and manager) Kim Fowley. In fact, some of the revelations about the wildly eccentric behind the scenes Svengali border on the criminal. Mixing the more sensational with the straight forward sales pitch the group presented (jailbait sex to hormonally driven males), we get a backstage peek that’s both shocking and, sadly, very, very familiar.
Leigh Bowery was not a rock star. He played in a few bands and lent his likeness to other acts. But for his iconic persona, an image and symbol of the growing New Romantic/Blitz movement in England circa the early ‘80s, he’s a god. As a peculiar performance artist who used his body as a canvas, he pierced his cheeks and bound himself in outrageous costumes, all for the purpose of being the bigger than life of the perpetual club scene party. The sequences showing off Bowery’s skill as a designer and adamant agent provocateur provide the kind of historic proof that no collection of complimentary talking heads can.