Each month, our mas­ter of marathons straps onto a sofa for a mam­moth view­ing ses­sion



ROCK DOC­U­MEN­TARIES — or, if you will, rock­u­men­taries — are cin­ema’s back­stage pass, turn­ing fans into voyeurs and pop idols into hu­mans. They’re also weirdly con­tra­dic­tory. Whereas pop videos con­struct an im­age, rock­u­men­taries de­con­struct them. Some in this month’s marathon are re­veal­ing, others un­wise and one ut­terly dev­as­tat­ing.

There’s only one place to start: Bob Dy­lan: Dont Look Back, the rock­u­men­tary’s big bang. Shot 52 years ago, D.A. Pen­nebaker’s pi­o­neer­ing chron­i­cle of Dy­lan’s UK tour cap­tures the trou­ba­dour awk­wardly ad­just­ing to rock-star sta­tus. Groupies at­tack. The press lay siege. No won­der he’s dy­ing to get on stage. The ge­nius of the movie is that its fly-on-the-wall style sep­a­rates Dy­lan’s folk-hero pub­lic per­sona from the pri­vate man, re­vealed as an itch of con­tra­dic­tions: mean, be­nign, crabby, calm, dead­pan, wired and ef­fort­lessly cool as fuck.

Prac­ti­cally every rock-doc since is an at­tempt to re­cap­ture the vibes of this un­guarded clas­sic. In Bed With Madonna steals its style but the sub­ject, not the di­rec­tor, is in to­tal con­trol. If Dont Look Back is about how fame cor­rupts art, Alek Keshishian’s di­ary of 1990’s Blonde Am­bi­tion tour is pure po­pa­ganda. Elec­tric live footage cel­e­brates the Queen Of Pop in her pointy-bra pomp but, off stage, the per­for­mance never stops. One minute she’s Mar­i­lyn Monroe, the next Mother Teresa. Guess­ing who the ‘real’ Madonna is is all part of the game. Her ex­change with Kevin Cost­ner re­mains a clas­sic of cringe com­edy. Neat.

The next two movies tackle the cre­ative process. Shot in long, prowl­ing takes, Sym­pa­thy For The Devil cir­cles Olympic Stu­dios as The Rolling Stones craft the tit­u­lar track. This be­ing Jean-luc Go­dard, the footage gets in­ter­cepted with Marx­ist mono­logues, but see­ing the tune evolve from gui­tar demo into woo-woo­ing, samba-grind­ing epic en­tirely de­mys­ti­fies the song-writ­ing process. I Am Try­ing To Break Your Heart fol­lows Wilco’s im­plo­sion as they record mas­ter­work Yan­kee Ho­tel Fox­trot in a shabby Chicago loft. Shot in black-and-white, the last­ing shade is of an an­gry, pur­ple bruise caused by the power-strug­gle be­tween Jeff Tweedy and Jay Ben­nett. The re­sult is one of the most naked ac­counts of cre­ative anx­i­ety on film.

By now there are so many ear­worms in my bulging head, I feel like I’ve swal­lowed Spo­tify. On­wards. Anvil! The Story Of Anvil fol­lows for­got­ten thrash-metal pi­o­neers on a disas­trous come­back tour. With tiny au­di­ences and dildo-pow­ered gui­tars, it’s of­ten dubbed ‘The Real Spinal Tap’, but the film seizes on some­thing far sad­der: the per­ils of chas­ing a long-dead dream. Then, filmed over seven years, Dig! fol­lows two feud­ing ’90s bands as they try to make it big. As The Dandy Warhols take off, The Brian Jon­estown Mas­sacre crash. The con­trast­ing fates ex­pose the Faus­tian pact bands sign — how do you suc­ceed with­out sell­ing out? — yet too of­ten Dig!’s guilty of gaw­ping at the break­down of Jon­estown’s An­ton New­combe. It’s hilarious (“You broke my sitar, moth­er­fucker!”) and hor­ri­fy­ing.

Nine hours into Out­las­ton­bury, the fi­nal act jolts my heart like a nee­dle rip­ping off vinyl. One More Time With Feel­ing started life as a promo for Nick Cave’s 16th stu­dio al­bum, Skele­ton Tree. Mid-way through record­ing, Arthur, his teenage son, fell to his death from a cliff in Brighton. A frag­mented col­lage of con­cert doc, can­did di­ary and ret­ro­spec­tive voice-over, An­drew Do­minik’s film is rock­u­men­tary as re­quiem, and un­bear­ably in­ti­mate. Cave’s gothic shaman per­sona ut­terly dis­solves here, his mys­tique peeled away by af­ter­shock and raw emo­tion. When he fi­nally sings I Need You, a shiv­er­ing waltz, I’m soul-burnt and red-eyed. Odd as it sounds, life springs from Cave’s loss: Do­minik’s ex­per­i­men­tal col­lab­o­ra­tion finds the rock­u­men­tary re­born. Ex­pe­ri­ence it.


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