Film Fess by Helene Ravlich



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Posted on Thursday 3/07/2014 July, 2014 by


Last year’s exceptional - and not unexpected - choice of ‘Searching For Sugarman’ as the Oscar Academy’s Best Documentary Feature reinforced what many of us music fans have been saying for years: we are living in the Golden Age of the music film.  With the unmissable backing singers documentary ‘20 Feet From Stardom’ up for the same award and the Coen brothers’ ’60s New York folk scene period drama ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ also nominated, we are spoiled for choice. To say that there are literally scores of great music documentaries making the rounds right now would be an understatement - and even if the genre is not always your bag, the subject matter can still be utterly compelling.


Last year’s exceptional - and not unexpected - choice of ‘Searching For Sugarman’ as the Oscar Academy’s Best Documentary Feature reinforced what many of us music fans have been saying for years: we are living in the Golden Age of the music film.  With the unmissable backing singers documentary ‘20 Feet From Stardom’ up for the same award and the Coen brothers’ ’60s New York folk scene period drama ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ also nominated, we are spoiled for choice. To say that there are literally scores of great music documentaries making the rounds right now would be an understatement - and even if the genre is not always your bag, the subject matter can still be utterly compelling.

‘Sugar Man’ is definitely a great way to kick off a discussion about great music films, and a joy to behold. The tale of Sixto Rodriguez - a Mexican-American singer-songwriter from Detroit who recorded some reasonably average records in the late '60s, vanished amid rumours of onstage suicide, and subsequently became an Elvis-type rock god in South Africa, it is filmed in such a way as to make the whole damn thing just utterly compelling. Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, director of the film, committed suicide earlier this year at the age of just 36, but his legacy will long live on in the beautiful documentary, which cleverly avoids the VH1-style "where are they now" rot and concentrates more on the absurdity of celebrity culture.

I also love truly ‘warts and all’ music documentaries that don’t try to hide the ugliness and sometimes just plain absurdity of their subjects and their work. A fantastic example of this is 2004’s ‘Some Kind of Monster’, which followed metal band Metallica during one of their most turbulent of times. Directed by Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger - who were hired by the band to document a moment in their career - it could have just been about the mega band’s music, but in fact there is little music there, just a boatload of trash talk as the three band members (lead singer James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich and guitarist Kirk Hammett) recruit their producer, Bob Rock, to play bass on their then-latest album. Magnificently, there is another recruit: a preposterous cardigan-wearing therapist named Phil Towle, whose role is to ‘bring peace and healing’ to the warring, ego-driven band. It was definitely courageous of the band to let their sessions be filmed so explicitly, and as Roger Ebert so succinctly put it: “tempers flare, hurtful words are exchanged, and Towle's skills as a therapist make us wonder if his scenes were deleted from ‘This Is Spinal Tap’”.  Awesome viewing? You bet, and great music too.

Having a fan of the band as a director is always a good idea, especially when they are also an acclaimed member of the film industry like Shane Meadows, the director of the film ‘This Is England’ as well as The Stone Roses’ doco ‘Made of Stone’. With its New Zealand television premiere on July 24th at 8:30pm on Rialto Channel, it documents the reunion of the iconic British band and is unashamedly joyful in its approach. Meadows is definitely a ‘fan boy’ of the highest order, and his excitement about meeting and travelling with the band is absolutely infectious. It also serves as a reminder of how great a band they were in their heyday, and how quickly they were cut down in their tracks by industry cock-ups and personal infighting.

Another music documentary featuring a brilliant British band destroyed by ego and the music industry machine is ‘The Rise and Fall of The Clash’, showing on July 3 at 8:30pm, also on Rialto. The definitive biography of the group’s fall from grace after they made it to the US’s SHEA Stadium and were on their way to being a worldwide phenomenon akin to The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, it presents the band quickly unravelling as the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll tragedy. The first directing effort by Spanish Clash fan Danny Garcia,’ The Rise And Fall…’ deals with the messy, inconvenient part of the band’s story and although basic in its approach, is essential viewing due to its tragic subject matter. And on a purely superficial note, it’s also a reminder of exactly how ridiculously good-looking Clash member Paul Simenon was - seriously!

So as ticket prices rise, Big Day Outs are cancelled and mega bands explode, die or retire, the music documentary is the perfect way to get your fix if you’re a fan like me… and all from the comfort of your own living room. Magic!


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Sunday, 13 July 2014 6:53 p.m.
Why is there no schedule for the pipe bands EVERY YEAR???? Isn’t this one of the main renoass why we attend the festival, to see the pipe bands?? Stage bands are lovely, but how often do we get to see the pipe bands? Why does the ‘grand finale’ band only get to play occassionally? THEY ARE THE RICHMOND COMPETITION BAND! Shouldn’t we be be able to hear them play more through the festival? The majority of the time they play we always miss it because THERE IS NO SCHEDULE FOR THE PIPE BANDS!! What’s wrong with this picture? Pipe bands are Celtic! Isn’t this a Celtic festival? My kids leave disappointed EVERY year because we always end up missing their performances, because we never know when they are going to play! We can’t sit at the stage all day waiting.Very disappointed festival attendee
Monday, 14 July 2014 5:26 p.m.
I can already tell that's gonna be super helpful.
Monday, 14 July 2014 5:38 p.m.
HHIS I should have thought of that!
Monday, 14 July 2014 9:44 p.m.
I don't know who you wrote this for but you helped a brother out.
Tuesday, 15 July 2014 2:03 a.m.
I love reading these articles because they're short but informative.
Tuesday, 15 July 2014 4:00 a.m.
It was dark when I woke. This is a ray of sunshine.
Tuesday, 15 July 2014 5:57 a.m.
Four score and seven minutes ago, I read a sweet article. Lol thanks
Tuesday, 15 July 2014 6:23 a.m.
This is way more helpful than anything else I've looked at.
Tuesday, 15 July 2014 7:20 a.m.
Free knowledge like this doesn't just help, it promote democracy. Thank you.

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