(Photo: Frank Stefanko, Patti Smith, New York City, 1976)
Fade in on an ill-fated rock band straddling breakout fame and impending dissolution, Almost Famous (2000) is Cameron Crowe's ode to the late-decadent moment of classic rock. Hallmarking the film is a particularly tender scene in which a heart-stirring tour bus sing-along of Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" is set alight by the beloved Penny Lane's prosaic "You are home." Needless to say, these sentiments hit a little closer to, well, home as we stave off the boredom of self-isolation with an indefinite binge-session of music flicks old and new. Be it a compelling documentary on the industry at large, the biopic of a beloved artist or fictitious reimagining of a bygone era which pulls at very-real heartstrings, these are the music films we're currently streaming.
THE DIRT (2019)
The feature film adaptation of Mötley Crüe's 2001 tell-all (well, some) book, The Dirt, admittedly may not live up to the hype or longtime fans' expectations but the gloriously indulgent pomp of it all is nonetheless entertaining. Even if you won't be able to catch the world-class degenerates' arena reunion tour originally slated for this summer, you can at least catch up on the band's origin story thanks in part to director Jeff Tremaine's cinematic take on tales considered tall by most standards which somehow still pale in comparison to the storied provocations of its indulgent subject. For a more unbridled glimpse inside the band's legendary highs and harsh comedowns, we recommend co-founder/bassist/primary songwriter Nikki Sixx's jarring memoir, The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star.
KEITH RICHARDS: UNDER THE INFLUENCE (2015)
Morgan Neville's Under The Influence celebrates the evolving legend and wisdom attribute storied nights wasted not in vain. Highlights from the acclaimed documentary include but are not limited to those moments when Richards opens up about those that artists which proved most influential to his rise from childhood to universal icon.
THE OTHER F WORD (2011)
In light of having to come to terms with the increasingly irksome mundanity of forced domesticity, we're reminded once more of the charms and cautions of rock culture as a party that never ends (until it does) —"Everybody understands, this is the circus. Everybody's trying not to go home. Nobody's saying goodbye."— as we turn our attention to Andrea Blaugrund Nevins' The Other F Word. A refreshing take on the rude awakening that even rockstars have at-home responsibilities, this 2011 SXSW selection shines a candid light on interior lives of anti-authority icons like Flea, Fat Mike, Mark Hoppus and Tony Hawk among others as they endeavor the lesser-documented gig of fatherhood.
WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE? (2016)
Of triumphant liberation and tortured melancholy, the story of the late-great Nina Simone as sculpted by director Liz Garbus gives rise to what is arguably the greatest music documentary of the last decade. True to its subject—a once-in-a-lifetime is vignetted through recent interviews with family, friends and collaborators in addition to archival footage in which the artist and activist is seen delivering sage advice like, "I choose to reflect the times and the situations in which I find myself. How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?"—, What Happened, Miss Simone? is both a transcendent celebration of an icon's vulnerability and stoicism and earnest investigation into the mortal behind the hauntingly talented anomaly.
SHOT! THE PSYCHO-SPIRITUAL MANTRA OF ROCK (2016)
Also hitting close to home is Barnaby Clay's SHOT! which turns the lens on MHG photographer and music legend in his own right Mick Rock who sits down to not only reflects upon the heyday of iconic subjects like David Bowie, Freddie Mercury and Joan Jett but also revels in his own, now over a half-century strong with no signs of slowing. An institution on par with those who have sat before his skilled lens, the aptly-named Rock's stories of historic portrait sessions are certainly engaging but proving more compelling yet is his own life, a case study in self-edification and autobiographical elevation.
27: GONE TOO SOON (2018)
To say that life is full of paradox is to acknowledge that for same reasons which we may roll our eyes at certain kitsch, we embrace Simon Napier-Bell's 27: Gone Too Soon. Indeed banal at best and at worst problematic is the macabre zeitgeist of "27 Club" lore in its romanticization of such themes as depression, addiction and the epochal tortured artist yet nevertheless enticing, this is one of those must-see music docs for the sheer sake of guilty pleasure. For all the trite metaphors that may be (and are) employed to eulogize the tragic deaths of artists like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, previously unseen footage and interviews with medical experts, music critics and collaborators of the late musicians offer a compelling (and at times more poignantly analytical) glimpse into one of mythic rock's greatest conspiracy theories.
In anticipation of the Thursday, April 2, 2020 unveiling of Morrison Hotel Gallery's inaugural virtual exhibition, SIR: A Retrospective of Rock Royalty, brush up on your Elton knowledge with the jukebox biopic from director Dexter Fletcher. The latest blockbuster biopic to grace cinemas (and now Amazon Prime Video) breathes surrealistic life into the music legend's sensational rise.
20 FEET FROM STARDOM (2013)
Reminding us that great accompaniment is the backbone of any good act, we'd be remiss not to acknowledge the unsung heroes of rock history who take centerstage in Morgan Neville's 2013 doc, 20 Feet From Stardom. A compelling portrait of the oft anonymous backup singers behind some of the biggest names in music, this film is as much about the performers themselves as it is about the hits they helped make happen. Juxtaposing interviews from Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, and other legends with backup singers like Darlene Love and Judith Hill, 20 Feet From Stardom is a long-overdue expose on what it means to perform to sold-out stadiums around the world by night, wake up in the morning to take the kids to school and still maintain a sense of balance and creative independence.