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Top 5: Music Documentaries

Top 5: Music Documentaries

by Sam Willis, 09 November 2012

We take a quick look into some of the best music documentaries around. Be sure to tell us how wrong we are, or to suggest your favourites.

5: Until The Light Takes Us

During the late 80s a dark and controversial music scene arose from the snowy landscape of Norway. Labelled Black Metal, it became one of the most notorious subcultures ever created, which was tangled in a net of murder, arson and alleged Satanism. Until The Light Takes Us explores the eerie world of this Norwegian genre, which started as a rebellion against a pristine, materialistic consumerist culture and ended with a string of church burnings and suicides.

The documentary includes interviews with an array of prominent musicians within the movement, including members of Mayhem, Dark Throne and 'Count Grishnackh' of Burzum, who is currently serving 21 years at Trondheim maximum security prison for first degree murder and arson. It also concentrates on the figures of 'Dead' and 'Euronymous', the founding members of Mayhem who would both found an early grave: Dead by his own hand and Euronymous by the Count's after a prolonged distaste for one another and an alleged plan to kidnap and torture Grishnackh. The story of discontented teens who would go on to commit serious crimes is portrayed through artistic cinematography, an ambient soundtrack and disturbing, yet gripping content. Until The Light Takes Us offers an intriguing insight into a dark yet fascinating Norwegian subculture.




4: The Story Of Anvil

The Story of Anvil is the incredible tale of a band that momentarily achieved phenomenal success in the 80s and have been clinging on to their dream of becoming icons ever since. The metal group, who went on tour in 1984 to Japan with the likes of Bon Jovi, Whitesnake and Scorpion were one of the definitive heavy metal groups of the 80s, influencing the subgenre Thrash which gave birth to Slayer, Anthrax, Metallica and Megadeath. However, they were lost in the annals of time while the bands they initially influenced began to surpass them.

The Story of Anvil follows the former heavyweight group in the twilight of their music careers who have embarked on their final, last-ditched search for the recognition they thoroughly deserve. The hilarious and tear-jerkingly sad documentary sees this group of fifty-something music-loving metal-heads on a constant uphill struggle towards glory which they never seem to get close to. The band exude an unflinching optimism and charisma which is as heart warming as it is demoralising and their story has the rare quality of being able to make you cry, laugh and shout at the T.V screen all at the same time. The Story of Anvil is a real life Spinal Tap, full of rock star clichés, management problems, disappointments and far from sold-out venues, but above all an immeasurable dedication to music.




3: Biggie & Tupac

During the early 90s, two rap stars arose from the murky depths of the east coast ghettos. Their music was inspirational, their effect on African-American culture was huge, the imprint they left behind on the music industry was gargantuan and their names were Biggie and Tupac. This Nick Broomfield documentary on the most iconic rappers to ever walk the earth follows the stories of two great friends who, through a network of betrayal, paranoid conspiracy and corruption become mortal enemies. This conflict led to a divide that gipped the Hip-Hop American scene and both became casualties of their gangster rap personas.

Throughout the film, Broomfield uses his honed documentary skills to delve into the shadowy truth of the killings that defines the Gangster-Rap era. On his travels and armed with only headphones, a camera and mic, Broomfield meets with police, bodyguards, friends, family and detectives to try and discover what really happened leading up to the deaths of Biggie and Tupac. The expertly undertaken and intuitive piece of journalism manages to bring new evidence to the investigation and sheds light on a web of Mafia-style organised crime, which includes drug trafficking, corrupt cops, Bloods, Crips and scheduled killings, all of which were affiliated with Death-Row Records and suspect number one... Suge Knight.




2: Don't Look Back

Don't Look Back is a fly-on-the-wall documentary that follows Bob Dylan on a trip to the UK and intense relationship with manic fans, angry hotel staff and confused journalists who await his arrival.

The documentary portrays Dylan as an artist on the cusp of artistic and personal change. Dlyan is becoming increasingly agitated with the 'folk prophet' image which has being forced upon him by fans at a time when he released 'Subterranean Homesick Blues', which some of his fans like and some hate. Don't Look Back shows Dylan constantly experimenting with piano and rattling new songs out on his typewriter and the performer's whole mentality seems to shift from playing songs that fit into his folk myth to playing songs that represent Dlyan as an artist and human being. The documentary reveals live footage of a music icon during a cataclysmic change that would turn his image and popular music upside down. It also promotes Dylan's immeasurable intellect, ambition and focus towards his goals.

Very often, with a large entourage in toe, Dylan is visible creating new songs on his typewriter or writing a new melody on his guitar. He is also shown in a battle of wits with journalists where he effortlessly dumbfounds them for believing that his songs have a 'great message', instead of just being songs that he loves to write and sing. Although there is another documentary on Bob Dylan's life, the brilliant Scorsese 3 ½ hour epic No Direction Home, which concentrates on a much larger part of his life; Don't Look Back captures the major transition period in his life, which would alter his music forever.




1: The Devil and Daniel Johnston

Prolific singer songwriter Daniel Johnston may have never reached great commercial success, but the cult following he gained was unprecedented and his persona and activity on and off stage caused him to become a living legend. His life story is extraordinary, to say the least, and his music, drawings and short films exhibit a genius with a troubled, but purely artistic soul.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston follows the West Virginian cult hero through his troubled teens and his mental breakdown, which saw him become obsessed with Satan and relieving the world of evil. His delusions, which drove him to attacking his manger with a lead pipe, scaring an elderly woman to jump out of a second floor window and crashing a small aircraft, began after the already manic depressant and unstable character started smoking pot and taking acid. While his mental health withered and his delusions heightened so did his notoriety and exposure to the American art rock kids who adored him. Johnson's underground and self-produced early albums exude originality and incredible song writing which challenge even the quality of Bob Dylan's groundbreaking basement tapes. This intuitively filmed documentary on one of the world's most interesting, controversial and profound songwriters is in turn unbelievable, disturbing, heartbreaking and incomparable.


Click here to read about 'The Five Best Songs About Satan (That Aren't By The Rolling Stones)'

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