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The 411 Music Top Five 02.12.13: The Top 5 Music Documentaries

February 12, 2013 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas


Honorable Mention:
Heavy Metal in Baghdad: It’s been so long since I’ve seen this, but it really is a great film. It follows the band Acraussicauda in the country of Iraq, where metal is not exactly legal to play. Really powerful stuff!

Behind the Music: Anthrax: This is probably my favorite Behind the Music. While there are some things, like the band not crediting Dan Lilker for coming up with the name (dick move), it is insane how much they’ve went through and are still around today.

The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years: This is the movie that really helped bury hair metal, the images of excess turned off lots of people, and having seen those images, it’s no surprise.

Anvil:The Story of Anvil: I forgot about this until right before I finished number one. This is a really uplifting documentary. It shows a band that have been influential, but always under the bad luck bug, and how they’re staying together. There are many down moments, but it ends up good in the end. Made me a fan of them, and they’re a good band!

5. Heavy Metal Parking Lot

This is the shortest out of any of the entires on my list. It’s not really anything ground breaking, or monumental. It’s just a video camera in a parking lot before a Judas Priest concert. While it doesn’t sound like much, watching a bunch of knuckleheads really helps put the 80s metal scene, and the fans and culture that the genre had helped sculpt into a little time capsule. There’s some beauty in that….maybe it’s the type of beauty that you get after a few beers, but it’s still beauty!

4. Some Kind of Monster

This, is not beautiful, it is as advertised, it was a monster. This documentary followed Metallica in creating their new album after, ‘ReLoad’. It turned out to be a very eventful time. Jason Newsted left the band, because James was being a bitch. James went to rehab. The band got a counselor dude, who used their fighting to make himself important. This and many more things, including Dave Mustaine as, “The Crying Tomato”. A good watch for anyone who loves Metallica, or hates Metallica, and wants to watch them burn. Spoiler, they make it out alive, but I still despise ‘St.Anger’.

3. Get Thrashed

This, as well as my next two could easily place in number one, I love all three of them, because they a different perspective on the metal scene. This one was showing metal on a genre level. This is all about the thrash scene, mainly focusing on the Big 4, and a few bands that came out in the 90s (they talk about Pantera, oddly enough). It is incredibly informal, I learned many thing about bands that I thought I had known a lot about. The 5th band that they talk about in real depth is Exodus, for the longest time, I thought of them as the band Kirk Hammett came from, which is a huge disservice to them. They were a huge impact on the other 3 bands that were on the West Coast, they pushed them to be heavier, faster, and have more attitude. If you get the DVD, you get almost 2 hours (longer than the whole doc) of special features about bands from other places like Canada, Japan, and the Europe. I adore it!

2. Global Metal

This is the 2nd in the duo of documentaries that Sam Dunn did along with my best pick. This is showing the global scale of metal, obviously. They travel to many different lands, my favorite is Brazil. Brazil is pretty obvious, I wrote a paper on how metal helped them create a new national sound after the dictatorship that they were under fell; it is the home of some big metal bands, and some may not really understand the reach of metal until they see it with their own eyes (or a camera), I know that it really showed me. The one on Indonesia was also great. This is a good follow-up to my next entry, and it makes you feel like you aren’t alone in this metal world.

1. Metal, Headbanger’s Journey

I felt like this was the only one I could put at numbero uno. This brings us metal through the eyes of history, not on a genre, or global scale, but one that shows us everything from all times in history when it comes to the fucking metal! It does so much better what many documentaries, and looks into metal have tried to do. They get almost every main subgenre of metal, and go in-depth with the people who helped make it. I think that this is why this holds such a place in my heart. It tells a story, a journey if you will, we start where metal did, and we end in the modern era. I feel as though most of the good talking points in metal were covered, and it was well done. The price of admission is paid when Gaahl (formerly of Gorgoroth, now of God Seed) get asked what ideology fuels Gorgoroth’s music. Gaahl’s answer, that took 15 minutes to get out of him, “Satan….*sips wine*”. Give this a watch, it used to get a lot of playing on VH1 Classic, I don’t know about now, but give it a go, you wont be sorry, because you’ll have learned.

Note: I very specifically tried to differentiate “concert film” from “music documentary” for my list and played it safe on the exclusionary side. That means that great docs like Gimme Shelter, Rattle & Hum, Shine a Light and the like were left off.

Honorable Mention: Sound City, Pearl Jam Twenty, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, Tupac: Resurrection, Truth or Dare

5. When You’re Strange

When Oliver Stone released his biopic The Doors in 1991, it drew a hefty amount of criticism from Doors fans and people who knew Jim Morrison for its inaccuracy. Thus, when keyboardist Ray Manzarek declared that Tom DiCillo’s 2009 documentary When You’re Strange would be the “anti-Oliver Stone” it became highly anticipated by Doors fans. DiCillo didn’t disappoint and captured the band incredibly well, using archival footage to and narration from Johnny Depp to chronicle the band’s history. It’s a great look at a fascinating and important act in rock and roll history.

4. Kurt & Courtney

Nick Broomfield has garnered no small amount of controversy for his musical documentaries, including Biggie & Tupac which looks at the deaths of Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. This is the better of the two in my mind. Released in 1998, Kurt and Courtney looks into allegations that Courtney Love was responsible for Kurt Cobain’s death in some way. I’m not going to get into the “Did she or didn’t she” debate here; while I have strong opinions about it, that’s a discussion for another time. The documentary itself has been accused of being slanted, but Broomfield is very up front about the fact that he is investigating the claims and Love had the opportunity to participate, but was incredibly hostile and unfortunately for her that paints things in a certain light that Broomfield didn’t have to slant. It’s both a great look at Kurt (although About a Son is somewhat better for a direct look at his life) and an intriguing narrative about how Cobain’s death may or may not have really come about.

3. It Might Get Loud

Davis Guggenheim’s 2009 documentary eschews the usual biopic route and instead looks at the beauty of the electric guitar. Guggenheim brought The Edge, Jimmy Page and Jack White together to discuss the instrument and their own styles and careers. This is a documentary about music for musicians and yet it is incredibly accessible to non-musicians as well. It’s incredibly engrossing to hear these three rock icons discuss each other’s careers and music in general, not to mention seeing them play together and appreciate each other’s skill with their instrument. It’s one of the most pleasantly surprising documentaries I’ve ever found, music or otherwise.

2. Style Wars

This 1983 documentary takes a look at hip-hop at the time and does so in an incredibly impressive manner, particularly considering that it doesn’t spend its time primarily on the music but rather explores the entire culture. The doc follows several street artists, taking a look at graffiti and break-dancing and how these are such important aspects of the culture. You look at this and then look at hip-hop today and you realize how far certain aspects of the genre have fallen, but also feel pleased with how much other aspects have advanced. This is a great look at the genre back before it became a true worldwide phenomenon.

1. No Direction Home

People who have read my stuff before know how huge of a Bob Dylan fan I am. I consider him to be the greatest lyricist in rock history, bar none. People who have read my film columns know I’m a big Martin Scorsese fan (but really, who isn’t?). Take Scorsese and have him direct a documentary on Dylan and you have pure magic. This doc takes a specific look at the point in Dylan’s career when he rose to fame and changed the course of rock music, particularly the intense controversy that arose when he switched from acoustic folk to electric rock. Truth told, Scorsese’s direction was less than you might expect; he turned what Dylan’s manager Jeff Rosen was creating into a film because Rosen didn’t know how. Either way, you have an amazing portrait of one of the most important names in rock music. What more could you want?

The Final Word
As always, the last thoughts come from you, the reader. We’re merely unpaid monkeys with typewriters and Wikipedia. Here’s what you need to do: List your Top Five for this week’s topic on the comment section using the following format:

5. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
4. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
3. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
2. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
1. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it

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Jeremy Thomas
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