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Eight “MUST-SEE” Movies About Music – and a Playlist! [Tom Stillwagon]

Music!  Movies!

Music movies!

Nerds, rejoice!  I’m pulling together both worlds!

Here is a list of eight must-see music documentaries.

Have you seen all eight?  Have you seen any of them?

Are you hearing a cheesy announcer voice in your head as you read this?


Here we go:


(1) Meeting People Is Easy

OK Computer-era Radiohead struggle with their new critical acclaim in this 1998 film by Grant Gee.  Yorke and company tour the world, make really cool music videos, and talk about why they’re nothing like Pink Floyd, no matter what your stoner friends think.

This is a fun and trippy film that mirrors the band’s rock period perfectly.  Thom Yorke is a total jerk to everyone he meets. His youthful attitude problem is funny to watch nowadays, since in 2013 he’s a silly cuddly old jester who gives advice to thirteen year old girls in his free time.

Anywho.  Check it out.


(2) Dig!

Dreaming of rock stardom?  Thinking about starting a band?  Watch this movie first.

Dig! presents viewers with an unflinching look at the life of two bands (The Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre) over the course of seven years.

It is unparalleled in its realism, regardless of how real it actually is (I’ll save the validity argument for a different day.)

We see the BJM and the Dandys rock empty (and packed) venues.  We watch them record in large professional studios and in the basement.  We watch them argue with their girlfriends.  We watch them argue with their bandmates.  We watch them take drugs. Then Anton kicks somebody in the face.  Then Sia plays a gig topless.  Someone desecrates a sitar.  Photo shoots.  Video shoots.  More drugs.  Then they argue.

You know.  Like bands do.

In the end, one group achieves relative success, and the other fades into credible obscurity.  The music is great and the story moves fast.  Strap in.


(3) We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen

Minutemen fans are shocked when you don’t know who the Minutemen are (end the ignorance – click here!) The art punk trio from San Pedro was anchored at the center of the SST punk movement of the eighties, alongside label mates Sonic Youth and Black Flag.

Interviews with all sorts of amazing bands make this film worth the 90 minutes.  Thurston Moore…Henry Rollins…the guys from Saccharine Trust???  (end more ignorance! – click here!)

The road trip conversations with Mike Watt are the real showstopper, though.

Hop in the van, Watt’s going shopping.


(4) Pearl Jam Twenty

In their heyday, Pearl Jam and Nirvana had the same exact amount of “cool” credibility.

Amazing what a little dying in your prime can do.

Twenty years after the Doc Martin and flannel boom, Eddie Vedder and co. reminisce about the good old days, and question how they evolved into the grizzled old veterans of rock’s yesteryear.

Also, they still sound really good live, and there is lots of concert footage here to sink your ears into.  Plus, Cameron Crowe directed the damn thing.  Turns out he’s still pretty good at that, too.

Seattle. Hollywood. Kurt. Drugs. Lollapalooza. Ticketmaster.  Nothing is sacred.

The soundtrack is great, and so are the interviews.


(5) Anvil! The Story of Anvil

The sad fact about Anvil is that, although they were intensely influential to the thrash and metal scenes of the early 80’s, they were left behind when the success train left the station.

The film follows guitarist/vocalist Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner, family men in their fifties trying to make sense of the path their lives have taken.  The years playing to empty bars for no pay, while watching bands like Anthrax and Metallica make  boatloads of money, is beginning to tire out the rockers and their families.  Anvil is ready to make one last push, and the movie takes us on that journey.

What makes this film amazing is the friendship between these two musicians.  Anvil! is, ultimately, the story of two friends who make a pact to play rock music together for life, and how that pact has worked out for them.  Their relationship is hilarious and heartbreaking all at once.  I recommend the film not only as a rock documentary but also as a character analysis piece.


(6) Les Paul: Chasing Sound

Surely you’ve seen his name on guitars.  But did you know that Les Paul is also responsible for inventing the solid body electric guitar?  How about the multi-track studio recorder, did you know he invented that too?

Not to mention, Les Paul is a better guitarist than you are.  Trust me.  Look, I’ve never heard you play, and I’m sure you’re real good, but trust me.  Les is better.

Follow the man all the way into his nineties.  A great film, and a great history lesson.


(7) The Beatles Anthology

Okay, let’s get the cold hard facts out of the way: this flick is like nine or ten hours long.  It is comprehensive.  It moves slowly from time to time (especially at the beginning.)

But if you want to learn about the Beatles, this is the best place to go.

This (and the accompanying book) is the only time they personally compiled biography of any kind, making it the indisputable testament.  This film gives the viewer unprecedented access.

John was long dead, but Paul, Ringo, and George are all present.
Lennon contributes to the conversation via old interview clips, again with unprecedented selections utilized.

Fuck sake, it’s the bloody Beatles Anthology.  Netflix it.


(8) I Am Trying To Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco

Wilco turned out the best record of their long career, only to have the label reject it due to a lack of a discernible “single.”  Ain’t that a bitch.

Ultimately, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was released to the critical (and commercial) accolades it deserved.
It wasn’t easy, though.

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart is a document of how the band manages to stay together in the wake of this debacle. They search for a new label.  They fight to regain control of the shelved album.  They almost break up.  It is emotional and honest and insightful.  It’s also a very well made documentary.  Watch it!


Also, this week’s FIERCE AND NERDY PLAYLIST is comprised of songs from the above mentioned groups.  Check it out here:

THIS WEEKS Fierce and Nerdy Playlist!!!

Rock over London.  Rock on, Chicago.