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7 great song and artist documentaries to rock out to
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7 great song and artist documentaries to rock out to

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There may be as many kinds of music documentaries as there are genres of music.

Recent years have brought a batch of vanity-project concert films that include this year’s “Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry” and “Pink: All I Know So Far.” There are exceptions, such as Beyonce’s “Homecoming,” but these tend to be the least interesting docs, alternating between glossy performance footage and fan gushage.

Another recent trend is almost the opposite, a series of grittier films about the anonymous musicians whose job it is to make superstars look good. The most acclaimed of these is the Oscar-winning “20 Feet From Stardom.” But “The Wrecking Crew,” a many-years-in-the-making look at session musicians who seem to have played on every 1960s hit, and “Muscle Shoals,” about the session musicians who seem to have played on every ‘70s hit, also are excellent.

The most popular subgenre, with audiences and awards voters, is probably biographical portraits. Oscars have gone to docs about piano maestro Arthur Rubinstein (“The Love of Life”), violinist Isaac Stern (“From Mao to Mozart”) and singer Amy Winehouse (“Amy”). Many more have been nominated, including the group portrait of the “Buena Vista Social Club,” Cuban musicians whose movie competed against two other music docs at the Oscars in 2000 (they lost to nonmusical “One Day in September”). The truth is that, like newspaper stories, the best music documentaries always center around singular people with unexpected stories to tell — even if they’re not specifically focused on those people.

Music documentaries are in the zeitgeist now because a new one has just been released, and it’s already finding its place among the finest of all time. One of the best things about seeing Questlove’s “Summer of Soul” in a theater is that it reminds you what a difference a good sound system makes for any movie, but especially for one about music. I have seen “Soul” at home and at a multiplex and I loved it both times, but the theatrical experience was superior because — as a title card at the beginning of Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz” exhorts — “This film should be played loud!”

So let’s hope you can crank it up at home when you stream these outstanding music docs.

 

 

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