The only thing better than a good doc is a good music doc.
Not only do they offer a rare window into the lives of some of our favourite musicians, they bring the story of sound to life in a sensory experience unlike any other. These past few years have produced a bounty of incredible films featuring some of today’s most celebrated songwriters as well as some legendary artists of yesteryear. Here are seven of the best.
ReMastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke (2019)
Part documentary, part history lesson, The Two Killings of Sam Cooke explores the life and death of the father of modern soul. Shot dead under suspicious circumstances in 1964 (cough-FBI-cough), Cooke wasn’t just spearheading change within the gospel and R&B genre, but in the American civl rights movement, too. His vocal stance against racial inequality both in the music industry and across America was what made him such an inspiring and influential artist, but as this film explores, it’s also likely what lead to his untimely death at just 33 years of age. Featuring incredible archival footage from the 60’s alongside some of Cooke’s most goosebump inducing performances, this one will leave you trawling r/UnresolvedMysteries long after the credits roll.
Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé
No one stood a chance matching Beyoncé’s headline set at Coachella in 2019. We all knew it the minute Queen Bey was announced, but I don’t think anyone was truly prepared for what she delivered. This film is a visual exploration of her groundbreaking performances over both weekends, interwoven with gruelling behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage and clips from football games played at historically Black colleges and universities. Not only is the whole thing visually spectacular and packed with back-to-back hits, it’s heavily steeped in symbolism, too. Oh, and the documentary’s written, produced and directed by Beyoncé herself, further solidifying the fact that there’s actually nothing she can’t do. Behold.
AVICII – True Stories (2018)
Who knew a story soundtracked by EDM could be so heartbreaking? Whether you’re a fan of dance music and DJ culture or not, this film will affect you in unsuspecting ways. It’s the story of one of the biggest artists of our generation, 27-year-old Swedish DJ and Producer, Avicii. Directed by his close friend Levan Tsikurishvili, this doc features up close and personal footage of what life on the road was really like for the young artist who grappled with the pressures of fame, both physically and mentally. We all know how this story ends, but the film was actually released a few months before he took his own life, so every breakdown, hospitalisation, and cry for help takes on a whole new meaning when you watch it. Similar to 2015’s documentary, Amy, which exposed the exploitation of Amy Winehouse by those closest to her, AVICII – True Stories leaves you agonising over why no one stepped in to provide the support he so obviously needed.
Beastie Boys Story (2020)
… And what a story it is. An aptly irreverent tribute to the late and great Beastie Boy, Adam Yauch, surviving members Ad-Rock and Mike D take a rollercoaster ride down memory lane to relive the turbulent and triumphant career of one of the most unique hip hop groups to ever do it. Directed by close friend and collaborator, the inimitable Spike Jonze, it feels like someone just dug up a time capsule buried next to a basketball court in New York City in the 80’s and pressed play. So, yeah, as good as it sounds.
Midnight Oil 1984 (2018)
Made up mostly of recently recovered 16mm colour footage shot of the band in 1984, this definitively Australian film captures a particularly turbulent year in both Midnight Oil’s career and Australian environmental politics. If you’ve ever wondered if Peter Garrett’s the real deal: watch this film. Even if you’re not a fan of the band (gasp) or haven’t even heard of the band (even bigger gasp), you’ll come out of this with an appreciation for electric live performances and the power of music to change society for the better.
Free Meek (2019)
Meek Mill’s story is pretty wild, and also wildly unjust. Born Robert Rihmeek Williams, the Philadelphia rapper grew up in poverty, lost his dad to gun violence when he was five, and has spent the last 13 years in and out of prison due to a 2007 arrest and a Judge with a seemingly personal vendetta. Over five episodes, Meek unpacks his incredibly drawn out criminal case stemming from gun and drug charges when he was nineteen, highlighting the racial and socio-economic discrimination that is rampant in America’s criminal justice system. Part true-crime doc, part biography, Free Meek highlights the urgent need for criminal justice reform in America, now more than ever.
Shot over five years by filmmaker and friend Alan Hicks and daughter Rashida Jones, Quincy takes you on a rich and diverse journey through one of the most revered and celebrated careers in music history. When it comes to Quincy Jones, the question isn’t what has he composed or produced, but what hasn’t he? Made up of incredible archival footage through decades-worth of studio sessions, award ceremonies, world tours, and intimate home footage, this doc weaves Quincy’s past and present realities together to reveal the highs and lows of over half a century of success. Also, forget his work on Thriller, this guy composed the Austin Powers theme song. Way cooler, for obvious reasons.