Fresh off the success of winning a meaningless VMA, more-like-boy-bland One Direction now has a documentary to call their very own. It goes without saying that One Direction: This Is Us, bafflingly directed in 3-D by Morgan Spurlock, is an obvious money grab, because tweens have their parents’ money to spend, and spend it they will. Unless Vince over at Film Drunk writes a review of the movie that doubles as his suicide note, this post is likely the first and last time you’ll ever see the words “One Direction: This Is Us” follow one another again. But it does give us an excuse to talk about something much less awful: ROCK AND/OR ROLL DOCUMENTARIES.
Specifically, ones that you should watch instead of recognizing One Direction: This Is Us as a thing that exists. I’ve chosen eight of the best, with performances from each that try to capture the film as a whole. (I’ve intentionally left off a trio of excellent recent ones — A Band Called Death, Searching for Sugar Man, and Anvil: The Story of Anvil because Film Drunk and UPROXX have already extensively covered them; click on the links for reviews and interviews. I’ve also omitted hip hip docs, which deserve a post of their own, and Metallica’s Some Kind of Monster, because obviously you’ve seen that.) These aren’t the eight best, mind you, but they’re all a hell of a lot better than staring at Niall Horan for five minutes.
(via Getty Image)
“Cars Can’t Escape” from Wilco’s I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
I’ve come to terms with feeling like a monster when I think of Wilco. The Chicago-based group is of my favorite bands of all-time, one that’s produced three absolute masterpieces in Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and A Ghost Is Born. Those trio of albums were also, perhaps not coincidentally, recorded while the band was either fighting internally or frontman Jeff Tweedy was suffering crippling migraines and hooked on painkillers. Basically, Wilco made their best music while they were miserable, and when they got happy, as they are now, the quality and consistency suffered. Now, I’m not saying I want Tweedy to be unhappy again, but…see: a monster.
Anyway, one of the best scenes from I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, Sam Jones’s doc recorded during the making of Yankee, is one of its simplest: just Tweedy and the now-deceased Jay Bennett playing the haunting, luxurious “Cars Can’t Escape.” Bennett would soon be booted from Wilco, after his relationship with Tweedy rotted away, but at that exact moment, the admiration and love they had for one another is warmly transparent.
“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” from Bob Dylan’s Dont Look Back
Bob Dylan is at his most Bob Dylan in 1967’s Dont Look Back: exhausting, rambling, and of course, brilliant. Note the scene above, where after Donovan plays his “To Sing For You” to a private room full of long-haired admirers, Dylan shames his friend’s innocuous ditty with the revelatory “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” It’s playful, and oh so cruel. Dont Look Back (please take note of the missing apostrophe) is 96 minutes of Dylan often at his worst, like the infamous interview with a young Time reporter, because he’s the best.
“True Love Will Find You In the End” from Daniel Johnston’s The Devil and Daniel Johnston
Daniel Johnston suffers from bipolar disorder. He’s obsessed with demons, has written hundreds if not thousands of songs with title like “Almost Got Hit By a Truck” took interviews with label executives while in a mental hospital, counted Kurt Cobain as one of his biggest fans, refused to sign with Elektra Records because Metallica was on their roster and Metallica is possessed by Satan, and is a living legend in Austin, Texas. He’s the perfect music documentary subject, and The Devil and Daniel Johnston is a fascinating, heartbreaking, conflicted one at that.
Every performance from GG Allin’s GG Allin: Hated
F*CK YEAH. That’s all that needs to be said about the bloody, poop-stained, dick-twirling, revolting, brilliant G.G. Allin, one of punk’s most frighteningly charismatic leaders and the subject of a Todd Phillips 1994 documentary, long before he stopped caring and made The Hangover Part III. Hated isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you don’t mind watching a guy mutilate himself on stage, then you’ll love it.
(Also recommended: the entire The Decline of Western Civilization series.)
“White Riot” from the Clash’s Westway to the World
Notting Hill is more than just a mediocre Julia Roberts movie. It’s also the location of the annual Notting Hill Carnival, led by members of the West Indian community. In 1976, attendees, who were routinely antagonized by police officers, began to riot, including the Clash’s Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon. And thus, “White Riot,” about how “cozy” white people should be as outraged about oppressive governments as black people, came to be.
/had never heard of the Notting Hill Carnival before watching Westway to the World
Varg’s confession from Once Upon a Time in Norway
Unfortunately, there’s no one definitive black metal documentary — the most famous, Until the Light Takes Us, doesn’t dig into the history of the genre and culture enough, and too many others let their own personal biases steer the narrative. Once Upon a Time in Norway has its problems, but it’s tough to not be absorbed with a movie that begins with a musician, in this case Varg Vikernes, admitting that, yup, he stabbed Mayhem’s Øystein Aarseth to death. Norway is a good place for metal newbies to start and in-depth enough to satisfy long-time Pure F*cking Armageddonheads.
“Happy” from the Rolling Stones’ C*cksucker Blues
The historically important Gimme Shelter is the Rolling Stones documentary that receives all the press, but don’t sleep on the officially unreleased C*cksucker Blues, Robert Frank’s cinéma vérité chronicle of the Stones recording their best album, Exile on Main Street. There’s cocaine, heroin, more cocaine, and groupies doing heroin. It’s an accurate look at one of the most hedonistic rock bands of the 1970s at the height of their fame. But Mick & Co. weren’t interested in the public seeing the truth. So it was shelved, and we got the unnecessary Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones instead. Did I mention the cocaine?
“It Makes No Difference” by the Band’s The Last Waltz
“It Makes No Difference” isn’t emblematic of The Last Waltz as a whole — there’s not nearly enough Robbie Robertson for it to be. Robertson and director Martin Scorsese were good buddies, and much of The Last Waltz, which records the Band’s final show at Winterland Ballroom on November 25, 1976, is too fascinated with the least fascinating member of the Band. As a movie, it’s not great; as a concert film, however, it’s riveting, even with the superfluous Neil Diamond and Joni Mitchell performances. Try to get through Rick Danko’s deserted lament “It Makes No Difference” (with, to be fair, a great Robertson solo), without crying. It’s impossible.