11.16.2008

My Favorite Documentaries about Music

1) Latcho Drom
Seemingly an ethnomusicologist's rite of passage, Tony Gatlif's film tells the story of the historical journey of the Romani peoples through glimpses at musicians in action in contemporary daily life. Moving westerly from India to Spain/Portugal, the viewer gets glimpses and sounds from the various musical traditions that have developed over time, a large part due to the Romani's influence.

I was obviously most attracted to the Gypsy-Swing portion, and I think Gatlif was, as well. His 2002 film, Swing, showcases this music culture while telling a coming-of-age story. For another great music documentary about this music style, check out DJANGOMANIA! - a fantastic look at the international appeal of the Romani's brand of jazz, made most famous by Django.

2) The Devil and Daniel Johnston
A great look at "Outsider Music," in general, and a good talk piece for how various people articulate and negotiate the term "genius" in relationship to musical production.


3) Danielson: A Family Movie (or, Make a Joyful Noise HERE)
A fantastic glimpse into the wide world of music where artists, fans, critics, and institutions engage in discourse about musical style and issues of religious belief (read: why I'm still in school).  The Danielson Famile (sic.) are members of a family and are members of a band.  Beyond that, definitions get interesting.  It's great fun to watch people's reactions to the band and the ways in which both the band and others attempt to classify Danielson in terms of both their musical genre and relationship to Christianity.  Also, for some of you fans, there are several Sufjan sightings.


4) Young @ Heart
While a bit of a sap-fest, this movie is still pretty hilarious, provoking, and inspiring.  While it really deals much more with issues of aging and loss, it certainly has a core musical thrust that is quite amazing.  Watch the trailer below to get the gist of the plot, but for those that want a reminder or a spoiler for those who haven't seen it, check out this climactic scene that you have to see the whole film to truly appreciate.

5) DiG!
A great look at how idiotic rock stars can be.  The film highlights the ups and downs of two bands, The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre.  I'm not a fan of either group and the movie left me feeling even further from their music and especially their personalities, but the movie itself is a compelling investigation of vanity, substance abuse, and image in relation to the music biz.  If you doubt their ridiculousness, check out their attempt to get a sweet  record  deal at an industry showcase.  


Honorable Mentions: Moog, and in the same vein, Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey, as mentioned, DJANGOMANIA!, Saturday Night/Sunday Morning: The Travels of Gatemouth Moore, (hope your nearest University has a copy of it) and Air Guitar in Oulu (not Air Guitar Nation).

Intentionally Absent: Buena Vista Social Club and The Last Waltz

Your move TR.

1 comment:

Mark said...

I haven't seen 1 or 4. I quite enjoyed the Devil and Daniel Johnston when I saw it, and the Shakes are now covering a few of his tunes. I dig DiG! and Danielson too, though I had heard so much about Danielson being so weirdly religious and fanatical that I was a little let-down by how normal they all are and how pretty their music is! Some of my favorites that aren't on your list include: Fearless Freaks, a film about the Flaming Lips (umm, it's totally freakin' awesome...); I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, concerning Wilco's making of their record, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," an interesting look both at the interpersonal dynamics of a band as they try to record a record themselves and then between the band and the industry as they attempt to sell that record themselves; Don't Look Back, D.A. Pennebaker's fine chronicle of Dylan's '65 tour of England-- watch it for the beautiful black and white, and to hear a cocky Dylan, facing an auditorium full of jeering and booing concert-goers (angry at his newfound electric sound), turn and tell his band, "Play it f***in' loud, man!" Now that's rock and roll! Curiously, I noticed that Cliff 'Em All is lacking from your list....