Each month, our master of marathons straps onto a sofa for a mammoth viewing session
THIS MONTH: ROCK DOCUMENTARIES
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.
ONE MORE TIME WITH FEELING IS OUT NOW.