Andy Warhol’s forecast that “in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,” can be amended now. In the future, every band will have its own documentary. As the so-called rock-doc has proliferated, it has gathered prestige as a genre (winning four of the last 11 Oscars for Best Documentary Feature) and become a welcome engine of rediscovery. This month, Fandor streams a 34-film collection of rock’n’roll movies—and other jukebox favorites—with lots of juicy live performance footage and close encounters with icons and underground heroes (and heroines). Whether it’s gripping American postpunk (Not a Photograph: The Mission of Burma Story), the King of the Blues (B.B. King: The Life of Riley) or a visionary ambient music pioneer (Brian Eno 1971-1977: The Man Who Fell to Earth), there’s something here for everyone’s playlist. Play these six highlights LOUD.
We Fun (2009): Matthew Robison, a filmmaker who first produced Silver Jew (Michael Tully’s doc excursion to the Middle East with songwriter David Berman), veers from the poetic to the rambunctiously absurd in this jostling survey of the Atlanta rock scene. It’s a joyous scunge-fest, littered with sunny keg parties, dingy dive bars, and hella backstage mayhem. The anarchic Black Lips share maximum screentime with garage-rocking Montreal transplants King Khan and the Shrines, but Robison navigates the scene with a broader scope, finding time for everything from feminist punk (The Coathangers) to the heaviest metal (Mastodon). No one offers up any deep revelations or social rationales, but… they fun, and the film doesn’t skimp on rowdy performance sequences.
Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour (2010): Electro-minimalist feminist dance party trio Le Tigre were the revolution you could dance to—borrowing anarchist firebrand Emma Goldman’s phrase—setting the early-aughts bouncing to their punk-inspired anthems. Riot grrrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna leads the group on its 2004-’05 world tour with filmmaker Kerthy Fix close at hand, capturing endless concert moments and backstage episodes in all their DIY, patriarchy-smashing glory and queer reinvention of girl group tropes.
Scott Walker: 30 Century Man (2006): Scott Walker’s evolution from 1960s pop idol to post-millennial avant-garde visionary is one of the strangest and most satisfying career arcs in rock history. The recondite vocalist and composer, who died in 2019, remarkably ventures out of hiding for filmmaker Stephen Kijak’s camera, encountered in the studio during the making of his 2006 album “Drift.” In the film’s most revealing moment, Walker takes time to show a percussionist exactly how he should pound a slab of pork to get the properly meaty thwack for a forbidding dirge. A multi-generational array of rock stars—including Jarvis Cocker, Johnny Marr, Brian Eno and executive producer David Bowie—testify to Walker’s baroque greatness, but the man himself is such a perversely unique and compelling figure that neither encomium nor explication can really do him justice.
Sex and Broadcasting (2014): Against all odds, New Jersey station WFMU has prevailed over decades now as a singular pillar of underground radio, an independent outpost of quirky individualism and congenial weirdness whose impact as a cultural force vastly exceeds its spartan 1,250 watts. Amid boisterous yarns and a crazy-quilt cast of characters, this endearing documentary (featuring Patton Oswalt, The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, and the Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz) chronicles a successful campaign to salvage the station’s future.
Bad Brains: Live at CBGB 1982 (2006): The hardcore punk Christmas movie you never knew was one, this concert doc dives headlong into the mosh pit with a compendium of three shows staged at the New York City punk mecca Dec. 24-26, 1982. Washington, D.C.’s Bad Brains stood out as an all-Black outfit in a scene prominently associated with skinheaded (if not Skinhead) white kids, fronted by the dreadlocked vocalist H.R. and featuring genuine virtuoso soloing from guitarist Dr. Know—with a little reggae thrown in amid the blistering tumult. As edited for this film, the band delivers about 20 songs in 57 minutes, including the, er, climactic “Pay to Cum.” Clocking in at 1:33, the band’s first single and biggest “hit” belies its edgy title as it offers “a piece of wisdom from our hearts.” The matter-of-fact camerawork suits the sweaty scene as the stage becomes a battlefront of boisterous, slamming (and exclusively male) dancers, H.R.’s thick dreads flying in the air.
The Family Jams (2009): Vetiver guitarist Kevin Barker thoughtfully tossed a video camera into his luggage when his band hit the road for a 2004 East Coast tour with a pair of rising stars: Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom, among the founding spirits of what was affectionately known as the “freak folk” movement. The scrapbook approach underscores the earnest, scruffy vibes of the expedition, which connected the dots of an indie America when MySpace was brand new and the iPhone had yet to be invented. The emotive warmth of the performances lends this time capsule a campfire glow.