History of music documentary

March 28, 2021
Johnny Cash and June Carter

Our favorite of this week’s several fine indie releases is Searching for Sugar Man, Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul’s investigative profile of Sixto Rodriguez, a singer/songwriter who should have been a giant star in the early 1970s and instead faded into obscurity (and then became a cult sensation in New Zealand, Australia, and apartheid-era South Africa). Bendjelloul’s warm, kind film is both a showcase for terrific music and a compelling human interest story; it deserves a place alongside the best music documentaries, and since it reminded us of them, we thought we’d compile a list of our favorite music docs. It’s a list that’s constantly in flux, so we’ve included some alternates (as well as where you can see them); we’d love to hear yours as well. Check it out after the jump.


Michael Wadleigh’s 1970 portrait of the iconic 1969 music festival is a gloriously living, breathing film, a pulsating document of one of the most remarkable moments in all of pop culture. It may well be the greatest concert film ever made — and one of the greatest documentaries as well. Even if it isn’t, has there ever been a doc that is so much pure fun to watch? Much of that fun is in the assembly; the film was edited, from 120 miles of raw footage (they shot most of the weekend, and sometimes had over a dozen cameras going), by a team headed up by a young Martin Scorsese and his future editor, the great Thelma Schoonmaker. They cut to the rhythms of the music, with a variety of visuals and a proximity to the players that is stunning, and the exhilarating split-screen editing may have become a cliché in the years past, but it is so effectively done here, it gobsmacks you. But it’s not just a concert film; their documentary footage gives the viewer a genuine sense of the time and the place, of what it must have been like to be there at that remarkable moment.

SEE IT: On Blu-ray, in its 40th anniversary edition, and go ahead and watch the full director’s cut (all three-and-three-quarter hours of it).
ALSO SEE: Monterey Pop, D. A. Pennebaker’s earlier capturing of the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, which isn’t quite the rock-doc epic that is (it runs a scant 79 minutes), but features some terrific performances and fascinating behind-the-scenes footage; Criterion’s expanded edition features several additional performances and full sets by Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix.

Source: flavorwire.com
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