Music Documentaries: Alive & Well
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Fueled by a desire to convey a particular aspect of life to viewers, documentary films have always been more about passion than profits. It’s rare for a documentary to get full-scale theatrical release, or even picked up for broadcast on television, yet filmmakers continue to delve into the collective conscious, hoping to enlighten viewers on the oft-overlooked elements of life. With music documentaries, in particular, this is especially true. The general audience tends to be small, tight-knit and niche. Often the subjects are not full-fledged stars, rather exceptional musicians with flabbergasting stories to tell.
With old media towers crumbling, art endowments drying up and the Internet degrading the market value of content, you’d think documentaries would be going the way of the dodo bird. Yet, at Kickstarter we’ve noticed a host of intriguing music docs popping up so quickly, it couldn’t just be a coincidence. From concert films, to retrospects, to genre explorations, music documentaries are finding a real home on Kickstarter. Here are a few of our current favorites.
Surf-rock is an indelible part of 20th century American pop-culture. The essence of early 60’s California rock and roll, the sub-genre gave us candy painted convertibles, wild pompadours and a desire to race down “Dead Man’s Curve.” It’s influence can be felt in everything from Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train to the surf-revival bands like Los Straightjackets and Man or Astro Man?, to the massive swells of reverb ingrained in current indie music. Reverb Junkies explores the roots of Surf music in Orange County, California, as well as the massive sub-culture dedicated to preserving the unique sound and style of Surf-rock.
For over three decades, the Mekons have been purveyors of manic, often loony, punk rock. It ain’t all three-chord riffing, and spiky hair though, as the art-punk collective has always had a tongue planted firmly in-cheek. With over 26 albums to date, the band has consistently redefined “punk” by incorporating aspects of American country music and British folk songs, with a DIY attitude, and a middle finger to the punks. (One of the band’s most notable tunes “Never Been in a Riot” was a direct reaction to The Clash’s “White Riot.”) Filmmaker Jim Angio captures the essence of the band’s 30 year existence in Revenge of the Mekons, which, with your help, will premier at film festivals in 2011.
The roots of American music are distinctly indebted to a few genres; blues, Appalachian folk, and hymnal songs. Roots and Wings: The Indelible Grace Music Documentary focuses on the evolution of hymnal songs from their home in the Smokey and Appalachian Mountains, to their influence on contemporary roots music. The Indelible Grace project has been working to preserve hymnal songs for years, with the culmination of the efforts being performed by nearly every artist involved at the legendary Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The once-in-a-lifetime concert was documented by a team of filmmakers, who were so struck by the footage they decided to expand the project to a full-length feature film covering all aspects of the Indelible Grace Music.
Ancient gospel hymns no doubt influenced on country rebel Charlie Louvin. Fifty years ago Louvin released Satan is Real, a gospel-tinged collection of songs that shook the conservative country music world from the ground on up. Louvin is a classic American outlaw, overshadowed by mainstream artists who wouldn’t dare scoff at the Nashville system, known for being extremely inclusive and bourgeois. This December, in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of Satan is Real, a cancer-stricken Louvin will take the stage at the fooBAR in Nashville to perform the songs that marked him an outlaw in the 1960s. On December 3rd, filmmakers Blake Judd & Keith Neltner will film a rare performance by Louvin. The duo plans to release Charlie Louvin: Still Rattlin’ The Devil’s Cage on DVD shortly thereafter.
Local legends who never made it big, but influenced thousands are often subject to unfortunate musical legacies. New Orleans’ James Booker is one such character. Known as the Bayou Maharajah, Booker is credited with teaching New Orleans legend Harry Connick Jr. how to tickle the ivories, and has been hailed as a genius by both Dr. John and Allan Toussaint, arguably the two most important musicians to come out of New Orleans in the past 50 years. However, as a black, gay, one-eyed, heroin addict, Booker’s musical legacy is oft overshadowed by his everyday life. Bayou Maharajah: The Life and Music of James Booker explores Booker’s musical legacy, while examining his infamous reputation from the inside-out. A must-see for fans of New Orleans jazz, funk and eccentricity.