A few members of our team pulled together some of our favorite music documentaries that you can watch online, right now.
Music documentaries can be a welcome look behind the curtain at magical moments, the artists we know and love, and the lives of those whose stories were neglected by time. In no particular order, we’ve gathered a selection of some of our favorites that you can watch online, spanning everything from block parties to musical legends.
1. Mistaken for Strangers (2013)
Ken: What happens when your older brother is a famous rockstar who gets to meet President Obama, while the Secret Service ushers you out and you’re forced to wait outside? This documentary that’s seemingly about The National actually isn’t about the band at all. Mistaken for Strangers focuses on lead singer Matt Berninger’s younger brother, Tom, an aspiring filmmaker who sets out to make a documentary about the band but fails midway through. The b-roll of the failed documentary becomes a sad and comical exploration of celebrity culture and family instead, and what it means to live in the shadow of your famous and successful sibling.
2. What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)
Shannon: Nina Simone is and will always be undeniably one of the most important figures to have graced music and culture with her talent. Watching the film is like riding an emotional roller coaster. It’s an honest look at her true and unmatched genius followed by moments of excruciating inner turmoil, mental illness, and addiction. Grab a box of tissues for this one for sure, but don’t deny yourself of learning more about her powerful influence.
3. Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)? (2006)
Shannon: If you’re unfamiliar, Harry Nilsson not only released a GRAMMY-nominated album, but also enjoyed a highly-successful publishing career, writing hits such as “One is the Loneliest Number” for The Beatles (who endorsed Nilsson as their favorite artist), and “Cuddly Toy” for The Monkees, among many, many others. What was especially striking to me in these times is how Nilsson built a successful music career without touring at all, ever (that said, the publishing industry was much different and more lucrative back then).
Of course, the man was not without his flaws. His downfall was accelerated by self-destructive behavior, riddled with alcohol and drug abuse, and you’re left feeling pretty bad for his second wife and first son. The documentary is a bit dated and is more of a celebration than anything but it’s worth a watch to learn more about a truly unique star who in many ways flew under the radar.
4. Danny Says (2015)
Shannon: Music manager and publicist Danny Fields worked with some of the biggest acts in the 1960s and 1970s including The Doors, Cream, Lou Reed, Nico, Judy Collins, The Stooges, and The Ramones. After seeing a screening of this documentary followed by a Q&A, I found Danny Fields to be one of the most likable people who moved through the music industry. He made things happen, he was the ultimate connector in his time, and he’s hilarious. If you’re interested in how things happened behind the scenes during rock and roll’s most iconic and romanticized era, check out this documentary directed by Brendan Toller.
5 – 6. Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019) / Fyre Fraud (2019)
Shakeil: By now, everyone knows the story of Fyre Festival, or has at least seen the viral tweets about it. The pair of documentaries that were released about the event, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (Netflix), and Fyre Fraud (Hulu), offer up compelling alternate views on cultural context, leadership failings, and fallout. Watch Netflix’s first as it’s a more up-close look at the disaster, while Hulu’s takes a more cultural and critical look, serving as a perfect chaser. Where Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened excels in painting a picture of the event itself, Fyre Fraud hones in on the cultural climate that led to the festival’s existence (and inevitable failure).
7. Dave Chapelle’s Block Party (2006)
Shakeil: This film is undeniably one of the greatest concert films of all time, capturing Dave Chappelle at the height of his influence. It’s also a perfect snapshot of an incredible moment in black music culture, with appearances by peak College Dropout Kanye West, Jill Scott, John Legend, and more who were all pushing forward their own brand of hip hop in opposition to the commercial dominance of gangsta rap throughout the late 90s and early 2000s. Come for the performances, and stay for the behind-the-scenes interviews, rehearsal footage, and generally positive vibes.
8. Inspired by Bach (1998)
Matteo: This series is very near and dear to my heart – I watched the whole thing when I was nine and ended up studying cello for the next ten years! It’s also probably why I studied architecture in college and then got into music production. Episode 2 in particular really stuck with me, not only because J.S. Bach’s second solo cello suite became my favorite to play, but also because of how it explores the connections between music and architecture. It places Yo-Yo Ma within a computer-generated version of the Italian artist Piranesi’s “Carceri,” or “Prisons of the Imagination.” Ma’s performance of the melancholic second solo cello suite in D minor perfectly matches Piranesi’s fictional etchings of dark, empty prisons with impossible structures and perspectives. The entire series draws really interesting parallels between music and other art forms, from theater and dance to landscape design and film.
Are there any music documentaries you think we missed? Let us know in the comments below.
April 8, 2020