Five Great Music Documentaries You Should Watch Right Now

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The post Five Great Music Documentaries You Should Watch Right Now appeared first on Consequence.

This is a golden age of documentaries on any and every topic, but we’re particularly spoiled for music documentaries. Whether a superstar is rolling out a new album with a companion film, a scrappy group of unknowns are documenting an offbeat project, or a veteran band is burnishing their legacy, it seems like everyone with a song to sing wants a camera crew around to help tell their story in a visual medium. And in the streaming era, there are hundreds of rock docs new and old just a click away.

If you love music documentaries but you’ve already watched the Oscar darling Summer of Soul a couple of times and want to sink your teeth into something new, here are a few recommendations from the past couple years for a toe-tapping doc to spend an afternoon with.

We Are the Thousand

Fabio Zaffagnini wanted his favorite band to play his hometown, Cesena, but the small Italian city off the coast of the Adriatic Sea was not remotely a priority on the Foo Fighters’ touring itinerary. So in 2015, the marine biologist hatched an ambitious plan to get Dave Grohl’s attention with a viral stunt: 1,000 musicians playing the band’s 1999 hit “Learn To Fly” together all at once. The spectacle of hundreds of drummers, guitarists, bassists and singers playing together with surprisingly smooth coordination became a sensation on YouTube, garnering tens of millions of views, and the Foo Fighters quickly accepted the invitation to stage a concert of their own in Cesena.

Anita Rivaroli’s documentary We Are the Thousand shows Zaffagnini’s plan coming together from day one. And even if you know how the story ends, you feel everyone’s nervous apprehension as they struggle with the logistics to get his absurd idea off the ground. At first, the hundreds of amateur musicians sound like a mess together, but a conductor and ear monitors with a click track soon get everyone in sync, and Rivaroli’s triumphant aerial drone shots capture the strange grandeur of 250 drummers playing in perfect unison.

We Are the Thousand climaxes with the Foo Fighters making good on their promise to play Cesena, but the charming array of Italian musicians, of all ages and all walks of life, speaking about their own musical hopes and dreams, are the real stars of the movie. At the show, Zaffagnini crowd surfs up to the stage to stand with the Foo Fighters. And Grohl spots one especially recognizable mohawked drummer from the viral video and asks him to come on stage as well, joining the band on a cover of Queen’s “Under Pressure” while drummer Taylor Hawkins sings lead.

Watching the film now and seeing Hawkins, who died in March, adds a little unintended poignancy to the film. For most of the Foo Fighters’ existence, the band has swung for the fences with multimedia projects like the Sonic Highways miniseries and the musical horror comedy Studio 666. We Are The Thousand is a little different: a big ambitious idea that Foo Fighters fans brought to them for once. And with the band’s future now sadly uncertain, We Are the Thousand feels like a bittersweet glance back at an era that just came to a sudden end.

Where to Watch: We Are the Thousand makes its theatrical debut on June 3rd in select theaters, and is also available for purchase on VOD. Get all the details here.

Like a Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres

ben fong torres elton john
ben fong torres elton john

Like a Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres (Netflix)

Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner has had many opportunities to tell the story of the iconic rock magazine and control the official narrative. But perhaps the best and most refreshingly honest look at the magazine’s glory days can be found in Suzanne Kai’s documentary about Ben Fong-Torres, a staff writer who penned countless Rolling Stone cover stories from its ‘60s inception until the early ‘80s, when Wenner moved the offices away from Fong-Torres’s hometown of San Francisco.

Throughout Like A Rolling Stone, Fong-Torres reunites with rock stars he’d interviewed back in the day like Elton John, as well as photographer Annie Liebovitz, whose pictures often accompanied his stories, and Cameron Crowe, who made Fong-Torres a character in his autobiographical movie Almost Famous. But Kai’s film also digs deep into what made Fong-Torres an incisive interviewer, the novel ways he’d structure some of his articles, his Chinese-American family’s history, and the tragedy of his brother Barry’s unsolved murder.

Where to Watch: Like A Rolling Stone is streaming now on Netflix.

The Sparks Brothers

A love of music has been palpable in all of Edgar Wright’s impeccably soundtracked films like Shaun of the Dead and Baby Driver. And you can imagine that Wright could’ve made his first documentary about just about any multi-platinum band he wanted to. Instead, he created a love letter to Sparks, the Los Angeles duo of Ron and Russell Mael who have danced eccentrically on the margins of the pop charts for over 50 years without ever quite becoming a household name.

With characteristically playful and creative editing and two charismatically offbeat stars, Wright guides you on a tour of the entire Sparks discography, spotlighting over 20 albums individually with granular analysis of their musical evolution. Sparks were briefly rock stars in the UK in the ‘70s, darlings of the trailblazing L.A. alternative station KROQ in the ‘80s, and dance pop hitmakers in Germany in the ‘90s, before playing to their biggest crowds yet in the 21st century as cult heroes.

There’s no shortage of famous faces like Flea and Patton Oswalt opining on the band’s brilliance, but what’s striking is how sincere everyone in the film is about their love of the Maels’ music and awe at their longevity. It’s hard not to finish The Sparks Brothers without feeling like you too are now a seasoned Sparks superfan.

Where to Watch: The Sparks Brothers is streaming now on Netflix.

The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart

While the Maels spent the last few decades finding their niche in the music world, another band of brothers were becoming one of the most dominant forces in pop history. Born on the Isle of Mann and raised in Australia, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb wrote over a thousand songs, with an astonishing number of them becoming worldwide hits, whether for their band, the Bee Gees, and other artists including Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, and their little brother Andy Gibb.

Director Frank Marshall, best known for ‘90s thrillers like Congo and Arachnophobia, deftly traces the Bee Gees story from their Beatles soundalike days in the ‘60s to their “Stayin’ Alive” peak as unlikely poster boys of the disco era, to their reinvention as elder statesmen of pop. Following the passing of Maurice in 2003 and Robin in 2012, Barry Gibb is the last man standing to tell the emotional story of the group’s ups and downs. But the wealth of archival footage and great music in How Can You Mend a Broken Heart helps bring each brother’s distinct personality to life and expand their legacy beyond Saturday Night Fever.

Where to Watch: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart is streaming now on HBO Max.

Tom Petty: Somewhere You Feel Free – The Making of Wildflowers

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers were already the subject of one the greatest rock documentaries ever, Peter Bogdanovich’s 4-hour epic Runnin’ Down A Dream, which was made with Petty’s participation while he was still alive in 2007. So it would be fair to wonder whether an additional posthumous Petty doc is necessary, or has anything new to show us. But director Mary Wharton’s Somewhere You Feel Free, which won the Audience Award as SXSW 2021, offers a closer examination of one of Petty’s most beloved albums, 1994’s Wildflowers.

Wildflowers was a pivotal record for Petty during a period of upheaval and change. His marriage of 20 years was coming to an end, he’d left longtime label MCA to sign a new deal with Warner Bros., and the Heartbreakers were on the verge of a contentious split with founding drummer Stan Lynch. So Petty went into the studio with a new producer, Rick Rubin, for over two years of sprawling sessions to record his second solo album, writing dozens of songs with a huge supporting cast.

A camera crew documented the sessions, but Petty’s family only discovered the treasure trove of unused footage after the rock legend’s 2017 death. Wharton weaves that footage together with new interviews with collaborators like Rubin and Mike Campbell for a stirring and insightful look back at the album Petty regarded as his masterpiece.

Where to Watch: Tom Petty: Somewhere You Feel Free – The Making of Wildflowers is streaming for free on YouTube.

This article was published in partnership with Breaking Glass Pictures.

Five Great Music Documentaries You Should Watch Right Now
Al Shipley

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