For every one good documentary on Netflix, there are 400 bad ones.
Everyone knows this. I would like to add an extra 0 when it comes to the amount of good if you have access to the US Netflix database. Alas, if you are stuck on the island of Australia, it’s slim pickin’s season all year round. It’s even worse if you’re a music fan. To weaken the woe, here’s five solid music-related docs to see you through till your VPN blocker works its magic.
Amy is one of the best music documentaries ever made. in 2015, when it was released, it accounted for over two million metric tonnes of the world’s tears. Losing Amy Winehouse was a musical loss, but somehow it felt like a personal loss too. Which is weird, because most of us never even knew her—but this film captures the phenomena perfectly. Her talent was rare, but her story was all too familiar, and we watched her rise and fall as if it were happening to an old friend of ours who couldn’t get the help she needed. The film is made up of exclusive, deeply personal archival footage of Amy as a young girl, all the way up until the day she was found dead. There are many villains in this film, most notably her money-hungry father, fame-obsessed manager, and drug-addled husband. So, basically, all the men in her life. There is only one victim, though, and her name was Amy. And my god could she sing.
Whitney: Can I Be Me
Directed by Nick Bloomfield (also responsible for 1998’s searing documentary Kurt & Courtney) Whitney: Can I Be Me just dropped on Netflix last month. Like Amy, the film chronicles the perils of fame on a young woman, and the addiction that ultimately took her life. But unlike Winehouse, Houston was not introduced to drugs by a domineering man in her life—in fact, it was Houston who introduced Bobbie Brown to cocaine after they began dating in the early 90’s. Bloomfield has said that his reason for making the documentary was to show another side of Houston, so highlighting that fact may seem like I’ve missed the point entirely. But most of us have grown up villanising Brown for essentially stealing a beautiful young woman’s innocence, and that’s simply not the case. Houston was already doing drugs at a very early age with her older brothers. Anyway, there’s way more to this film than just the drugs, and same goes with Whitney. She was a puppet owned by her record label, she was forced to hide her sexuality to sell records, and ultimately, she gave up trying to fight her demons. And, again, my god could she sing.
Hello, I am David!
It is impossible not to love David Helfgott. His joy is infectious, his talent is boundless, and his heart is huge. Plus, he recorded a song with Silverchair and spent most of the session just hugging and kissing Daniel Johns. Anyway, the Australian pianist’s life story is impossible to explain on paper, and to be honest, on film it’s just as chaotic. At around 23-years-old, Helfgott began showing signs of schizoaffective disorder while studying in London. Since then, his mental health has deteriorated pretty badly, but his compassion and love for everyone around him has never wavered. The relationship he has with his wife, Gillian, AKA the most patient woman in the universe, is as unconventional as it is inspiring. Watching her take care of him, it’s as though she appeared as some kind of physical guardian angel—but according to her, it’s the other way round. Also, personal life aside, look at his hands when he plays. If Ritalin were fingers.
20,000 Days on Earth
Here’s one thing that’s nothing like the other, both in subject and in style. Reality and fiction weave together to live out a fictitious 24 hours in the life of Nick Cave and give insight into the great mind of the prince of darkness. The whole thing is theatrical and great, but, to me, the best parts are his visits with a psychoanalyst where he relives his past. His answers are self-deprecating, honest, unsettling and hilarious. But you leave this movie feeling like you really know the guy, and also with a solid belief that he probably does order eel for tea.
Paris is Burning
Not a music doc? Depends on your definition. But without the music in this film, how would they vogue? And by vogue, I mean yes, the dance move that Madonna stole off the subjects in this film. Whoa. Paris Is Burning came out in 1990, but if you’ve somehow made it through the last 27 years without seeing it, don’t worry, it hasn’t lost a day of relevance since it’s release. Documenting New York City’s ballroom subculture of the 80’s, the film tackles just about every topic still leading the news-cycle today. Homosexuality, trans rights, socio-economic disadvantage, racism, AIDS, prostitution, appropriation, the club scene, fashion—you name it. Paris is Burning’s got it, along with an incredible cast of characters who you will spend the next five hours googling to find out what happened to them after the camera stopped rolling.