Music documentaries are much like compilation albums: they can be a shameless cash grab slapped together without thought, or a meticulously planned document of a time and a place; a career-spanning tribute to artists that contribute to the culture.
Sydney Film Festival 2017 is screening a mighty fine selection of some of the best classic and newly released documentaries about music. As is the case with the entire film festival, there is something available for every taste imaginable. We have highlighted our five faves below, with trailers to whet your appetite, and ticket links to click the hell outta. Enjoy!
The Decline Of Western Civilization
The first of the three ‘Decline’ documentaries made by director Penelope Spheeris is by far the best, focusing on the gritty LA punk rock scene in 1979 and ’80. Due to the nascent nature of the scene, Spheeris was granted amazing access to bands such as Black Flag, The Germs, Fear and X – and, as if to highlight the temporary and transient nature of the scene, the film poster features Germs singer Darby Crash lying topless on his back with his eyes closed. The photo was taken shortly before Crash died from suicide, after shooting up enough heroin to kill an elephant. Spheeris later directed the legendary Wayne’s World, which skewers many of the musical scenes she documented in her earlier years.
Friday, June 16 at 6pm, Dendy Newtown
The Filth and the Fury
When the Sex Pistols released a documentary in 1980, The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle, fans were expecting a no-holds-barred look at one of the most controversial bands of the past five years. Instead they got a camp, highly stylised and mostly fictional account of the band’s dealings with manager Malcolm McLaren, with McLaren pushed front and centre, and a baffling plot involving train robber Ronnie Biggs. Not surprisingly, this didn’t sate curious fans, and so director Julien Temple made up for this some 20 years later with the more measured, truthful and hilarious tale of the band’s quick rise and quicker fall. “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” sneered Johnny Rotten as the Pistols finished their final show in 1978. Almost 40 years later, the Sex Pistols remain as entertaining as ever – and no, we don’t feel cheated at all.
Sunday, June 18 at 2:30pm, Art Gallery of NSW
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Whitney: Can I Be Me
One of the greatest voices of our time, and one of the most tragic and frustrating downfalls. Whitney: Can I Be Me showcases both sides to Whitney Houston’s tale, complete with backstage footage, interviews with her friends and loved ones, and plenty of examples of her breathtaking vocal talent. The doco is directed by Nick Broomfield, who helmed the salacious Kurt & Courtney, so expect something similar to that style – which is to say, something intimate, unflinching, and ultimately heartbreaking.
Wednesday, June 7 at 6:30pm, Event Cinemas, George St
Friday, June 9 at 6:30pm, Dendy Newtown
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World
Unless you’ve thought hard about it, you’ve probably never considered the huge contribution Native American musicians have made over the years to popular music. This documentary attempts to rebalance the scales, highlighting everyone from The Band’s Robbie Robertson, who grew up on an Indian reservation, to Jimi Hendrix, who had Cherokee blood pumping through his genius veins. With talking heads from Martin Scorsese, Iggy Pop, Quincy Jones and many more, this is a documentary for music lovers.
Wednesday, June 14 at 6:30pm, Dendy Newtown
Friday, June 16 at 6pm, Event Cinemas, George St.
The Go-Betweens: Right Here
Simply put, The Go-Betweens have one of the finest catalogues of Australian music ever created, with the twin powers of songwriters Grant McLennan and Robert Forster providing a beautiful blend of the personal and keen-eyed observations of the Australian experience. Their story contains all the classic rock elements: personal fallings out between members, ill-conceived romances, indifferent reactions in their own backyard while they conquer cities overseas, and three decades of incredible music. Both sessions have sadly (gladly?) sold out, but you may be lucky enough to get in.
Thursday, June 15 at 6:30pm, Event Cinemas, George St
Friday, June 16 at 8:15pm, Dendy Newtown