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20 Great Music Documentaries Worth Rocking Out To

Written by on March 7, 2013 

While one can endlessly listen to the great albums of their favorite bands, there is something special when a documentary can effectively expand on a certain musical talent. Hollywood often provides regular reminders of how not to approach such a project, with by-the-numbers concert documentaries attempting to cash in on the latest pop sensation (although, we’ll admit that Jon Chu‘s 3-D Justin Bieber doc Never Say Never was better than it had any right to be), but every so often filmmakers can get it right.

The music documentary can also take many forms, with the inherent success story in capturing the rise (and possible fall) of a popular act often providing some of the best stories the medium has to offer. Then there are simply wonderfully constructed documentaries of performance, as well as many that provide a mix of both. In honor of this week’s recommended documentary on one of music’s most popular bands, Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey, we’ve rounded up 20 great examples across a wide variety of styles and genres. Check out our rundown below and let us know your favorites in the comments.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil (Sacha Gervasi, 2008)

Sacha Gervasi‘s Anvil! The Story of Anvil is an interesting triumph, providing proof you should keep fighting because one day, although you may not find success in North America, you’ll be big in Japan. Anvil is the story of a band that played with some of rock’s most successful acts only to be the one that somehow did not connect. Living under the radar in the Greater Toronto Area, they never gave up the dream, touring and releasing an album independently. Gervasi’s must-see documentary is an inspirational look at the fight for success and one that has helped the band find a new audience. – John F.

Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest (Michael Rapaport, 2011)

Putting to film the story of one the oldest, most prominent hip-hop groups around was no easy task, but after a few years in production actor/director Michael Rapaport finally premiered Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest at Sundance 2011, where it was met with deserved praise. Chronicling the rise and break-up of the group, Rapaport carefully balances genuine struggle with impressive performances, reminding us why we fell in love with these artists in the first place. – Jordan R.

Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (Michel Gondry, 2005)

This one is pure joy for anyone who likes hip hop, New York, Dave Chappelle, block parties or just music, even just a little bit. With energy so positive and infectious, it’s impossible not to smile throughout. Shortly after his dramatic exit from his mega-hit sketch show Chappelle’s Show, the comedian hosted a free block party in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. Among those invited to perform were some of hip-hop’s most iconic acts, including Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, The Roots, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Dead Prez, Kanye West and the Fugees — yes, even the Fugees reunited (briefly) for this event. If this movie is good enough for that act to occur, it’s plenty good enough for you to rock out to. – Tim C.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston (Jeff Feuerzeig, 2005)

A somber and intimate portrait of the titular Austin spoken word and folk artist, Jeff Feuerzeig‘s music documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnson is about the pain and alienation contained within Johnston’s work and life. He’s a talent who was ever appreciated by his fundamentalist Christian family, becoming another figure embracing the “keep Austin weird” ethos. The film is haunting and beautiful, a portrait of an artist who speaks genuine truth with his DIY aesthetic. – John F.

Dont Look Back and No Direction Home (D.A. Pennebaker, 1967; Martin Scorsese, 2005)

How appropriate that two portraits of Bob Dylan, both placed at similar junctures in his life, would feel like chronicles of separate geniuses. D.A. Pennebaker‘s behind-the-scenes tale showed the generational icon to be something of an intolerable prick, while Martin Scorsese‘s epic account, given the advantage of passing decades, re-contextualizes this to depict a man unable of figuring out who he’s even supposed to be. These two pictures are not exactly different sides of the same coin; taking the incalculable weight and depth of Dylan’s legacy into account, they’re more akin to drops in an ocean of consideration. But what drops they are. – Nick N.

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