10 Music Documentaries to Watch During Quarantine

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10 Music Documentaries to Watch During Quarantine

If you love music and have some time to kill during this strange stretch of social distancing, we’ve got some fine recommendations for you. If you’re willing to take a break from your Spotify account or stack of vinyl records, we suggest digging into some music and concert films. Now that live music is on temporary hiatus, music doesn’t seem as tangible or alive as it once was—because it’s quite literally cooped up inside. So why not watch beautifully-directed footage of Beyoncé’s famous “Beychella” set or stunning archival clips of Miles Davis in his prime? Plenty of people are also using this time to learn something new, and what better way to do that than watch a documentary? So kick back, put your feet up and dive into one (or all) of these music documentaries, as chosen by the Paste staff.

Homecoming (2019)

Childish Gambino, Ariana Grande, Tame Impala: None of those performers, or any of the others at Coachella 2019, were able to match the grandiosity of Beychella, Beyoncé’s epic pair of sets at last year’s festival. Netflix’s Homecoming, a documentary written, produced and directed by Mrs. Knowles-Carter herself, features stunning footage of each weekend’s set and dives deep into the symbolism, production and eight-month rehearsal process behind Beychella. The film also arrived with a surprise live album encompassing the entire Coachella set as well as new music. It’s all just The Carters’ latest in a long line of masterpieces, a colossal, visually stunning spectacle that not only summarized Beyoncé’s 20-year career, but also Historic Black Colleges in an entirely new way. We see clips from football games at schools like Howard University and Alabama A&M interspersed with Beychella rehearsal footage, the entire performance and film a celebration of those institutions, perhaps even an antithesis to what most people would consider a primarily white experience. If you haven’t seen it yet, you might want to consider canceling your plans tonight: Bey deserves your full attention. —Ellen Johnson

We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen (2005)

Here’s the central paradox of the Minutemen: what makes them so great and so loveable and their music so powerful is how normal they seem as people. They are pure and perfect representations of the everyday working class American, and they believe that everybody can and should make art out of their everyday life, no matter their race, class or creed. And yet there’s absolutely nothing normal or everyday about Mike Watt, D. Boon and George Hurley, or the art that they made together. Their value—and they were extremely valuable, one of the absolute greatest rock bands of all time, and perhaps the most admirable one to ever exist—isn’t just in their music but their influence and their inspiration; not because they might’ve convinced some kids to pick up guitars and bash out in their garage, but because the Minutemen were paragons of doing things the right way. They had a conscience. They believed in fairness and equality and weren’t strident or uptight about it. All of this ripples through We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen, Tim Irwin’s 2005 documentary that tracks the band’s history, the deep bond between Watt and Boon, and the ideals that permeated everything they did. Irwin captures why people love this band so much still, decades after Boon’s untimely death, through original interviews and copious footage from the early ’80s. We Jam Econo is just like the band: humble, workmanlike and gloriously transcendent. —Garrett Martin

Miles Davis: Birth of The Cool (2019)

Whether you thought he was a madman, a genius, or both, there’s no doubt that Miles Davis was a visionary. Davis single-handedly changed the face of jazz music, and music at large—both popular and avant-garde, for decades. This film takes you through his childhood and time at Juilliard, all the way to his mighty reign in the clubs of New York City’s famous 52nd Street, Newport Jazz Festival and his triumphant comeback shows in the 1980s. Davis wasn’t just one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, he was also the embodiment of American sophistication. Davis wore sharp suits, drove a Ferrari, and hung around other once-in-a-generation artistic giants like Picasso and Jean-Paul Sartre in Parisian clubs. Despite being a cultural superhero, Davis was no real-life superhero. He struggled with a heroin addiction, and he physically abused his wives on multiple occasions, and the film doesn’t try to mask these other sides of Davis. He certainly had a tortured artist mythology around him and a relentless devotion to his craft that almost appears sociopathic—similar to Michael Jordan’s portrayal in The Last Dance. Davis saw himself in the same league as Stravinsky, and because of his ego, he didn’t seem like a great guy to be around. However, this film grapples with his complicated life and succeeds not just at unmasking his origins and motivations, but at illustrating how integral he was to the artistic landscape for generations to come. —Lizzie Manno

Shut Up and Play the Hits (2012)

Three years ago, hundreds of friends and thousands of fans converged on Madison Square Garden for LCD Soundsystem’s farewell performance. All the while, the cameras were rolling, resulting in Shut Up And Play the Hits, a documentary that follows James Murphy and the band in the days leading up to, during and after the tumultuous four-hour farewell. Directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern use a staggering number of cameras and crosscut liberally to provide an experience that’s arguably even better than seeing the band live (okay, maybe not quite that good but…). And the scenes outside the concert footage are equally compelling. —Michael Dunaway and Bo Moore

Supersonic (2016)

The rise of Manchester Britpop giants Oasis was unimaginable. Liam and Noel Gallagher were the sons of working class Irish immigrants, and in just a few short years, they went from playing in clubs to playing in a field of 125,000 at Knebworth, where almost 3 million people applied for tickets. The two brothers were notoriously quarrelsome and drop-dead hilarious, and both qualities are showcased in this behind-the-scenes, rags-to-riches documentary. In addition to commentary from the band, the Gallaghers’ mother, Peggie, was interviewed and she called a young Liam “the devil” and talked about being driven mad by Noel’s constant guitar playing in his bedroom. It also delves into the drama of their physically abusive father with Noel commenting, “I guess he beat the talent into me,” and Peggie discussing the night they left him (“I left him a knife and a fork and spoon and I think I left him too much”). Viewers get a glimpse into Oasis’ Manchester rehearsal studio where they jammed Noel’s songs for the first time as well as the metaphorical, high-publicized headbutting between the two brothers that occurred as soon as the band started to skyrocket. Though Oasis didn’t split up until 2009, the film is bookended by their famous Knebworth performance in 1996, and the footage is just as goosebump-inducing as you might expect. —Lizzie Manno

May It Last: A Portrait of The Avett Brothers (2018)

The tagline for Judd Apatow’s 2017 documentary May It Last is “A Portrait Of The Avett Brothers,” but the word “portrait” might be replaced with “mural.” The snapshot of Scott and Seth Avett (as well as their families, bandmates, their bandmates’ families, etc. etc.) is vast and colorful and true. The film follows the band as they record their 2016 album True Sadness, and while that LP is among their most poorly reviewed, the stories behind it will move you in ways you can’t even expect—often to tears. We see Seth grapple with divorce, Scott try to hit the right balance of family man and rock star and, most devastatingly, bassist Bob Crawford fight for his young daughter Hallie, who is disabled due to a brain tumor that nearly killed her. This occurrence especially brings the band (really, a family) together and displays to the viewer the true connections and values behind one of the biggest acts in Americana. I’ve returned to this film again and again. It’s a tragic, but more importantly, hopeful movie that has made me love one of my favorite bands even more and for different, stronger reasons. But you don’t need to be an Avett Brothers fan to enjoy May It Last—all you need is a heart and the capacity to feel. I can nearly promise that this film will affect you in a positive way. —Ellen Johnson

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004)

For metalheads, it doesn’t get much bigger than Metallica. When the thrash metal giants went in to record 2003’s St. Anger, their first album in six years, things were looking pretty dicey. They took the longest hiatus in their career thus far after their craziest year as a band, which featured massive tours, award shows and a high-profile copyright lawsuit with Napster. The band members had been butting heads for years, but it all came to a head when bassist Jason Newsted departed the band following failed mediations with a performance enhancement coach. Journalists speculated that the band was still skating on thin ice, and viewers get an inside look into that very skating rink. You see professional, creative and personal clashes within the band from early on in the album process, and frontman James Hetfield eventually enters rehab, resulting in a year-long break before they reentered the studio. At one point, the band has a meeting and questions whether they even want to proceed with the documentary. Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich are often at each other’s throats—at one point, Ulrich calls Hetfield “fucking self-absorbed” and tells him he’s not sure if he wants to continue. It’s touching, uncomfortable, funny and somehow by the end, Hetfield is actually sad that they’ve finally finished. It’s much more illuminating than your average in-studio documentary—you can feel that this is a watershed moment in their lives, not just their music career. —Lizzie Manno

Miss Americana (2020)

I remember the first time I heard a Taylor Swift song, and if you’re also a millennial or Gen Z-er, chances are you do, too. I was 10, maybe 11, hanging at my friend Erin’s house, which was two doors down from mine. She whipped out a fluorescent blue iPod Nano before passing me an earbud and cranking up “Our Song. ” Taylor Swift is a tall memory in many of our childhoods. In Swift’s 2020 Netflix documentary Miss Americana, she recognizes, with an almost maternal gesture, this relationship to her listeners. “There is an element to my fan base where we feel like we grew up together,” Swift says about a few minutes into Lana Wilson’s excellent movie, streaming now on Netflix. “I’ll be going through something, write the album about it and then it’ll come out, and sometimes it’ll just coincide with what they’re going through, kind of like they’re reading my diary.” Swift’s diary has been broadcasted across the world for the better part of two decades, and that means normalcy has been hard to come by. Miss Americana doesn’t strain to convey the opposite. It’s not a “the-stars, they’re-just-like-us!” event. Throughout its 85 minutes, Swift is greeted by masses of screaming fans as she exits her NYC apartment, flies in a private jet with her mom and her giant Great Dane “Kitty” and is met with millions of lovers and haters in equal portions. Where the film really proves that Swift actually could be just like us is in her internal ethical struggles—and her innate desire to be liked by other people. These conflicts are just on a much grander scale than yours or mine. Swift’s drive for approval isn’t just a desire—it’s her livelihood. —Ellen Johnson

The Two Killings of Sam Cooke (2019)

The Two Killings of Sam Cooke is another installment of Netflix’s original music documentary series ReMastered. This documentary creates a more holistic portrait of American soul legend Sam Cooke—one that doesn’t carelessly glaze over his story because his crooner soul also appealed to white audiences. In an effort to save his “murdered legacy,” the film examines his early roots in black churches, the evolution of his music, his impressive business acumen and his political activism later in life, which is believed to have led to his eventual murder. It also addressed his record label’s concern that Cooke would never be able to satisfy both his white and black audiences. As Cooke became an increasingly influential cultural figure, his associations with other politically active black figures like Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown posed a threat to the racial status quo. Cooke’s murder arises as an integral point of discussion in the film, and the details to this day are still muddy. Just as Cooke began writing politically-minded music—the sequence where “A Change is Gonna Come” plays in the background is breathtaking—his life was tragically cut short, and this film is a reminder of his unbelievable talent and his embrace of blackness that history largely forgot. —Lizzie Manno

Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage (2010)

Rush’s career-spanning documentary has perhaps the best and most goofy opening to a music documentary that I’ve ever seen. Members of Nine Inch Nails, Foo Fighters, Tenacious D and others each try to mimic the band’s incredible technical skills, but not with instruments—with their mouths, air drums and air guitars. “Rush is just one of those bands who has a deep reservoir of rocket sauce,” Jack Black says. Members of Metallica, Rage Against The Machine, KISS, Smashing Pumpkins and others each pile on additional praise and awe for a band that history has perhaps overlooked for a spot among the greatest bands of all time. Whether or not you’ve fallen in love with their unusual time signatures, Geddy Lee’s glaringly high voice or Neil Peart’s unfathomably skilled drumming, Beyond the Lighted Stage is a beautifully humanizing portrait of one of the most distinctive and influential bands ever. Rush are often viewed as lame, tame or not tuneful enough, but I challenge those who think that to test that theory by watching this thoughtful, warm-hearted documentary. —Lizzie Manno

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