• Tue, May 28, 2024

Cinemascope: Music Documentaries

Feb 05, 04:31pm

In between critiquing (and trashing) all sorts of music, we also find time to watch a few films here and there. Below are reviews of five music documentaries. 


1991: THE YEAR PUNK BROKE (1992) - 9
Directed by David Markey 


“Tonight,” proclaims Thurston Moore, Sonic Youth vocalist/guitar-player/alternative music godfather/experimental art-rock genius, “I will defecate on stage.” Thankfully, he doesn’t quite follow through on his word – instead, The Year Punk Broke showcases Sonic Youth on tour in said year in Europe along with their sort-of-protégés Nirvana. It’s a significant, not to forget ridiculously funny, document of possibly the golden era of ’90s alt-rock, capturing the very essence of the monstrous movement. Sonic Youth and their frontman Moore are placed at the heart of the film, with electric live performances and Moore’s antics backstage and in front of the camera stealing the show for the most part. But added to that are several songs performed by Nirvana, as well as a couple of gigantic sounding ones by Dinosaur Jr. and even Babes in Toyland. The film allows its protagonists space to be themselves, and the candid bits make for great visceral viewing – Moore sipping an exploding beer can backstage as Nirvana play on, Kim Gordon applying make-up to Dave Grohl and Kurt Cobain, even Cobain’s iconic dive into Grohl’s drumkit. Not to forget Moore’s constant bullshitting – at one point he gets into an involved discussion about frankfurters with a shop owner – making this a breezy watch. And the best part: The live renditions are not halted abruptly with ponderous cutaways and annoying voiceovers; we see the bands in question in all their glory, beginning to end. 


Directed by Paul Rachman



How nice. A bunch of geriatrics reminiscing about the good ol’ days when they used to destroy venues, cops, equipment, each other, and even themselves with complete disregard for anything. American Hardcore is essentially a little bookend to the heyday of hardcore punk, from the late ’70s till it fizzled out by ’85 or so. The hardcore scene consisted of a bunch of young iconoclastic punks disillusioned with American society, channelizing their rage into raw, aggressive music to reach out and connect with people. They believed in something, and were DIY to a fault, printing and folding their own records even. But they created a scene, a scene based on communication, expression and outrageously fast and angry songs, with Black Flag, Minor Threat, and Bad Brains at the helm. And while it’s a little disconcerting to see these (now) old fucks sipping their wine and bordering on self-aggrandizement, their nostalgic tales – interspersed with rare footage of gigs, performances, fights and what not – are still brilliant, from Henry Rollins smacking a guy in the audience, riots breaking out at gigs, to just an overall sense of chaos and madness. Yet the music never stopped; they never stopped playing. 


DIG! (2004) - 8.5
Directed by Ondi Timoner


At several points in this very bizarre film, I had to remind myself that this was a documentary, y’know, about actual people, and not fiction in any way, that no one was acting, that nothing was staged, that Anton Newcome is actually deranged in real life. Tragically gifted and leader of ’60s revivalist experimental act Brian Jonestown Massacre (BJM), Newcombe is at the forefront of this incredible movie about his band and the Dandy Warhols, the friendship between him and Dandys’ frontman Courtney Taylor and a subsequent fallout, their contrasting fortunes with their bands, and the overall nutcase freak of nature that Newcombe really is.

There’s lots in the film that you can dwell on, each character more interesting than the previous, but the centerpiece, Newcombe, is what sticks. He’s a royal pain in the ass, a megalomaniacal asshole with a Messiah complex, a violent, self-destructive junkie, and evidently a musical genius. The one complaint about the movie is that while everyone unanimously proclaims his greatness at every step – even Courtney Taylor, who’s clearly very jealous of him – the film, created from like 1,500 hours of footage shot over seven years – doesn’t completely provide him with a platform to showcase his musical talent, cutting him off far too often for the sake of the narrative.


Directed by Nick Broomfield


Biggie and Tupac is sort of an uneven film investigating the murders of rap/hip-hop superstars and friends-turned-bitter-rivals Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., aka Biggie Smalls. The film succeeds in planting a giant lump of cynicism, doubt, and suspicion in my head. I trust nobody nomore. My age of innocence died by the time the end credits rolled, and now I walk around believing people are inherently evil at heart. You see, Biggie and Tupac begins exploring the very promising matter of Tupac and Biggie’s rivalry, but subsequently turns into an investigation implicating Marion ‘Suge’ Knight, founder of Death Row Records, in the twin murders which happened over a period of six months or so.

Using an angry ex-cop’s – who has a habit of muttering “mm’kay” after every sentence, much like Mr. Mackey from South Park – assertion that the LAPD may also have been involved in the conspiracy as a starting premise, Nick Broomfield sets off on a journey to unravel the murder case, dealing with a multitude of shady characters – cops, rappers, Death Row Records execs, friends of Tupac and Biggie, lawyers, and what not – and there’s an underlying sinister atmosphere through the narrative, concluding with a flourish as Broomfield walks into the prison where Suge is serving a nine-year sentence, searches for him, and even manages to pinch an interview off him. Suge is a giant man who smokes cigars the size of my arm and walks with a cane, he’s been to jail several times, he’s a suspected gang member, and he’s scary as shit. Little wonder that the cameraman was also shitting his pants during the interview, clear from Broomfield’s narrative and the shaky and unfocused shots. Ultimately, Broomfield falls short of directly accusing Suge through the film, but it’s an entertaining and frightening exploration of one of the most intriguing incidents in hip-hop, maybe music in general, and the constant malevolence is offset only by the endearing persona of Biggie’s ma, with the final words of the film thankfully given to her.


HEIMA 2007) - 8
Directed by Dean DeBlois


I’ll be honest – as a self-confessed cannibal of similar ‘post-rock’ music, Sigur Ros is not my favourite band in the world. In fact, of late, they’ve really started to piss me off for reasons best left undisclosed, reasons which are probably quite irrational too. But those are my issues, and I’ll work them out over time. What’s undeniable is that Heima is a phenomenal watch: The band returns to Hopeland, no wait Iceland, and plays a bunch of free, unannounced shows, performing in packed halls, empty auditoriums, lunch boxes, dungeons, castles, and the vast open landscapes of Iceland, playing their trademark leafy and plush melancholia-tinged passages of sound back home.

It’s a cozy, intimate film that radiates positivity and hope – the euphoric melodies and the ethereal vocal lines comfortably aligning with the glorious panoramic locales that the band hits. It makes you smile, leaving you with a sense of anticipation and optimism, even some giddiness.

This article initially appeared in the Sept-Oct 2012 edition of Rock Street Journal.

Read part I here

Stay tuned for part III


Facebook twitter Google Plus Pinterest
Related Stories

Leave a comment

Recommended Stories

Cinemascope: Films about Music

In between critiquing (and trashing) all sorts of music, we also find time to watch a few films here and there. Below are reviews of five films about music that we managed to watch. 

Jan 30, 2014 

By Akhil Sood  

11 Lookalikes in Indian Indie AKA Same-guy Syndrome

We ploughed the depths of the internet to find/envision/discover these uncanny resemblances in the Indian independent music circuit and beyond. Some of these people may or may not have been separated at birth. 

Jan 04, 2014 

By Aaquib Wani  

10 Observations about The Dewarists Season 3, Episode 5: 'Khwaamakhaah' (Euphoria and Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts)

The Dewarists, a super-popular crossover TV show which finds that common place between music, travel, and collaborations, returns for its third season. The show airs every Sunday at 8 PM on MTV and every day of the week on YouTube. Here's our review of the fifth episode of the season, featuring a collaboration between Hindi pop-rock band Euphoria and Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, a dance troupe founded by Jayachandran Palazhy.

Dec 20, 2013 

By Akhil Sood  

10 Observations about The Dewarists Season 3, Episode 4: 'Hadimba' (Lagori and Actors' Cult)

The Dewarists, a super-popular crossover TV show which finds that common place between music, travel, and collaborations, returns for its third season. The show airs every Sunday at 8 PM on MTV and every day of the week on YouTube. Here's our review of the fourth episode of the season, featuring a collaboration between folk/fusion band Lagori and theatre group Actors' Cult.

Dec 12, 2013 

By Akhil Sood  

7 Unexpected Covers You Must Hear

Here at RSJ, we have a tendency of often staring aimlessly at the screen, watching YouTube videos when we're supposed to be working. Especially on Fridays. So we decided to mix work with pleasure in this special feature where we bring you seven unexpected covers by bands we like - covers that came totally out of the blue. Feel free to add your own at the bottom.

Oct 11, 2013 

By RSJ Staff  

How to be a Cool and Successful DJ/Producer in 12 Simple Steps

Using our finest powers of stereotyping and generalizing, we've managed to handpick some of the most glaring traits that we think today's DJs and producers tend to have, and we've put them down in words for you. So yes, now you too can be a cool and successful DJ if you follow these simple steps. And remember, these are guidelines, not rules.

Sep 05, 2013 

By Akhil Sood  

The Rolling Stone Metal Awards 2013

To use a cliche, there are two kinds of people - people who like metal and non-homeless people. There, now that the customary dig at metalheads is out of the way, let's talk about the Rolling Stone Metal Awards 2013 that took place at Blue Frog, Mumbai on June 23. The short version: It was a fantastic gig. The long version is below:

Jun 25, 2013 

By Akhil Sood  

A Letter to the Generic Lokhandwala Bollywood Upstart: BOMB Thursdays at Kino 108

Akhil Sood is the kinda guy who'll call a spade a spade or a piece of shit, if he feels he owes you the truth. We sent him to Andheri for the 2nd edition of Bomb Thursdays; he carried back an inexplicable smile on his face and left this in the mail....

Apr 15, 2013 

By Akhil Sood  

The punk rocker's guide to the underground

It's standard protocol across some public forums to not mix your alcohol with Bhanuj Kappal. But we're not much for rules and all that and so we sent them to the Sky Rabbit gig together. This is the first in a series of adventures.

Mar 12, 2013 

By Bhanuj Kappal  

10 Thoughts on the New Peter Cat Recording Co. Video: 'Love Demons'

The bizarre nature of the new video released by Delhi’s Peter Cat Recording Co., of their song ‘Love Demons’, makes it difficult to have any properly formulated opinions on it. Nevertheless, it’s a weird visual experience, and one that compelled Akhil Sood to jot down a few thoughts on it. 

Feb 15, 2013 

By Akhil Sood  

Lucky Seven Thoughts on the 'Nirvana Reunion'

So Paul McCartney decided to play a gig with the surviving members of Nirvana. They called it a reunion. We call shenanigans. Read our thoughts on the fake reunion. 

Dec 13, 2012 

By Akhil Sood  

5 Professions That Priyanka Chopra Should Explore Instead of Music

Akhil Sood turns all good Samaritan and stuff and suggests five alternative career options for Priyanka Chopra to pursue after hearing her song 'In My City' featuring Will.I.Am.

Oct 01, 2012 

By Akhil Sood  

10 Thoughts on the New Ska Vengers Video

Akhil Sood dons his viewing goggles and his top hat and pops a batch of corn before sitting down to critically dissect the new Ska Vengers video. You do have the option of skipping his thoughts and viewing the video at the bottom of the page. Don't tell us we didn't warn you.

Sep 18, 2012 

By Akhil Sood  

The Rolling Stone Metal Awards: A 'Review'

Despite his whole pretentious ‘all music is one’ psychobabble, our self-professed metal hater, or anti-metalhead, as he likes to say, Akhil Sood, was forcefully dispatched to Blue Frog, Mumbai, to attend the annual Rolling Stone Metal Awards. He didn’t bother with the music much, but here’s what he had to say.

Jul 12, 2012 

By Akhil Sood