Justin Bieber’s concert documentary Never Say Never hit the redbox kiosks this weekend on DVD and Blu-ray, so I thought I’d use the occasion to share with you some of my favorite music and concert documentaries.
Granted, Bieber’s not really my cuppa teen-idol tea (Note to Self: “Teen-idol tea” sounds really weird. Follow-up Note to Self: Check into creating and marketing “Teen-Idol Tea”), but while Never Say Never is a super-sanitized celebration of bangs, screaming teenage girls, and the color purple, it’s also a well-made movie. Looking back over all 17 years of the young Canadian’s life while following him on tour as he builds to a big August 2010 performance at The Garden, it’s mostly a commercial for Bieber, but if you end up having to watch it with your daughters you may find it to be an interesting (if glossy) look at the modern life of a genuinely talented pop star and musician moving through the massive Industry machine.
The latest cinematic prescription for Bieber Fever (or is it spelled “Fiever”?) got me thinking about all the non-fiction music movies I’ve loved over the years–both concert movies and career documentaries (of which Never Say Never is a mix).
Of course there are The Classics–the Usual Suspects that turn up on any music concert/doc list because they are first and foremost great films and also because they capture a cultural and musical time and place. But do we really need yet another list that includes some combo of Gimme Shelter, Stop Making Sense, The Last Waltz, Don’t Look Back, Woodstock, Monterey Pop, Pink Floyd at Pompeii, The Rise and Fall of Western Civilization (Punk and Metal versions) and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars?
Instead, I got to thinking about the movies that influenced me personally when I was young–that I didn’t just appreciate as film, but that filled me with get-up-and-dance joy. (Don’t worry, I won’t demonstrate for you.) You see, I’m not exactly the target audience for Bieber and his documentary today–believe it or not, I’m not a teenager anymore. But equally hard to believe, I actually once was. And growing up at a time when cable TV and home VHS tapes were just starting to take over the airwaves, these were the concert films that really affected me. They aren’t necessarily great concert or music documentary films, but they made me squeal just as much as teen girls now scream for Bieber. Only in a more manly way. To myself. On the inside.
Hal Ashby’s overview of the 1981 Tattoo You tour is far from the best Stones film (see The Classics above), but it was My First and we all know how awkward and special that can be. I owned some Stones albums at the time, but this is where my liking them tipped over into a decade of Crazy Super Fandom. It’s also where I learned to do what would become my infamous Mick Jagger impersonation. (Sorry, I retired it sometime in the late ’80s.)
A couple years later I went bat-snot crazy for David Bowie, spurred mostly by this HBO concert film. (Yeah, I’m cheating a bit–this was never a theatrical release.) Living in a small Iowa farming town and loving the Stones was okay. Doing Mick Jagger impersonations at basketball games was odd but entertaining. But in 1984 loving David Bowie and dressing like him was deeply, deeply suspicious.
Tangled music rights keep Urgh! out of print, but it’s the Rosetta Stone of early ’80s New Wave. Performances include The Police (by far the biggest name at the time), Wall of Voodoo, OMD, Oingo Boingo, Echo and the Bunnymen, XTC, the Go-Gos, Joan Jett, Devo, Pere Ubu, and X–but most shocking, seductive, and exciting to me at the time were Klaus Nomi and The Cramps. They, like most of Urgh! were weird, raw, unsettling, and scary, and the USA Network’s monthly late-night cable-TV airing of Urgh! in 1984 and ’85 expanded my musical boundaries and blew my small-town mind.
Want Even More Music-Movie Lists from Me?
- Heart of Gold–Neil Young
- Awesome! I F**kin’ Shot That!–The Beastie Boys
- Heima–Sigur Ros
- The Fearless Freaks–The Flaming Lips
- Who is Harry Nilsson and Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?
- Joy Division
- The Devil and Daniel Johnson
- Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
- Dig!–The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre
- I Am Trying to Break Your Heart – Wilco
- Shut Up and Sing — The Dixie Chicks
- Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten
- The Filth and the Fury–The Sex Pistols
- End of the Century: The Ramones
- American Hardcore
Okay let’s hear your lists! What concert films really shaped (or warped) your young mind when you were a teenybopper? What ones do you still love and re-watch today? Have you seen any really good ones lately we should check out?