Friday, May 25, 2012

Seven Great Music Documentaries

How many movies about 20th century music can your blogmeister watch? Too many. No, make that way too many. The following Psychotronic Paul favorites run the gamut from cool jazz to early 1960's pop to avant-garde to funk to headbanging heavy metal.

Photographer Bruce Weber profiles the enigmatic "cool school" trumpeter/vocalist Chet Baker, whose brilliant musical talent was only surpassed by his ongoing problems with substance abuse, in Let's Get Lost. Curiously, no matter what opiates-fueled train wreck was going on in Chet's personal life, he continued to perform and record wonderful jazz right up to his death in 1988.

Since the mere mention of The Kinks, The Zombies, The Who, The Small Faces and expecially The Beatles brings a big smile to my face, the BBC's Rock Family Trees remains an all-time favorite television program. This episode examines how the early British Invasion sound, what was known as The Mersey Beat, evolved in the 1950's and early 1960's.

Anyone who read my February 2011 Fleetwood Mac blog posting knows that Peter Green is, far and away, my favorite of all 1960's rock-blues-psychedelia guitarists. The soulfulness of Peter's playing in 1969-1970 has seldom been equaled and never surpassed, even by Peter himself. While the story of what happened to this gifted musician after his departure from the band he founded has its harrowing stretches, Peter survived and got the last laugh on everyone by returning from the ashes in the 1990's and re-asserting himself as England's finest interpreter of the blues (and of Robert Johnson in particular).

Since your blogmeister has been enjoying an extended binge of 1968-1972 James Brown concert recordings recently, so much so that he actually formed a Facebook Group celebrating the Godfather Of Soul, it is fitting that next on the cue is James Brown, Mr. Dynamite. This documentary is one of the few to get beyond his showbiz persona and get acquainted with James Brown the man. James comes across as thoughtful, serious, socially and politically aware.

At the BBC, the late, great John Peel was responsible for outstanding music programming, both on radio and later in documentaries. One of the best, The Artist Known As Captain Beefheart, delves into the musical career of iconoclast and abstract expressionist Don Van Vliet, who established the farthest frontiers of avant-garde rock/jazz with various lineups of The Magic Band before returning to his first love, painting.

AND . . . while the phrases abstract expressionist and avant-garde remain minty fresh in my short-attention span brain, here is another BBC documentary. The subject: the cosmic and intergalactic pianist-composer-bandleader Sun Ra. Nobody could draw upon different music eras with encyclopedic, genre-busting facility while presenting the complex history of African-Americans in 20th century entertainment through a multi-dimensional funhouse mirror = and swinging like mad - quite like Mr. Ra (plebian earthling name, Herman Blount).

Last on the cue is Wendy O. Williams, arguably the single most incendiary performer in rock n' roll history. What "Godfather Of Punk" Iggy Pop started with The Stooges in the 1960's, Wendy and The Plasmatics did tenfold in the 1970's. The Plasmatics merged performance art with ear-splitting yet virtuosic hard rock, inventing speed metal along the way. Before she retired in 1989, Wendy blazed quite an international trail, leaving smashed television sets, singed ballroom roofs, blown-up El Dorados, smoke-filled arenas, damaged eardrums and countless happy fans in her wake. The documentary does not explore who Wendy was offstage, or just why she, like 1960's free jazz provocateur/shit disturber Albert Ayler, ended her own life, but does feature plenty of Plasmatics clips and interviews with her principal collaborators.

Do I need to join a 12-step group for music documentaries? Affirmative. Is there a place to go for a meeting of such a group? Yes, indeedy - the splendid Starigrad Paklenica Film Festival.

A film festival devoted to music documentaries, rockin' the house in Croatia. Yes!

1 comment:

Jazzy Jeff said...

Great Stuff! Thanks for posting, despite being so "lazy." invites you to visit...check out "Collector Limited Edition." Until whenever...
Jazzy Jeff