A healthy obsession with music documentaries and biopics is a common side effect of being a musician. If you’re anything like me, you’re eagerly anticipating the upcoming Queen/Freddie Mercury movie starring Rami Malek, and you frequently check Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon for any shows or films related to music.
With all of the wonderful streaming options available online, it’s never been easier to find something to watch…
It’s also never been harder to find something to watch. There’s so many options across so many platforms it is easy to become paralyzed and simply return to watching The Office for the 89th time.
In order to make your browsing a little bit less stressful, here is a list of the five best music documentaries on Netflix.
5. Austin to Boston
Austin to Boston is a picture perfect portrayal of what is like to tour in 2018. At times, the folk bands at the center of the film become a bit of a stereotype (it’s 25 musicians touring in five VW busses), but nonetheless it’s a wonderfully sentimental depiction of musical community. The film is also noteworthy for being a modern update to the long saga of English musicians exploring America’s heartland. Many of the musicians featured on the tour are from across the pond, and seeing them wander around Kansas City is entertaining and thought-provoking.
4. Janis: Little Girl Blue
Imagine being as badass as Janis Joplin and growing up a woman in Texas in the 1940s and 50s. The director of this documentary dives into all of the conflicts which came along with Janis’ outlaw personality. Along with exploring Janis’ battles with society at large–including deft examinations of the influence of black music on Joplin’s songwriting–Little Girl Blue examines the internal conflicts which haunted the legendary singer. The director did not shy away from displaying Joplin’s fatal flaws, but they do an amazing job of showcasing the humanity behind one of the most otherworldly performers we’ve ever seen.
3. Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
This documentary is a testament to the reality distortion which occurs when a band becomes grotesquely famous. There are moments in the film where it truly seems like a spoof. I admire the bravery it took for Metallica to put this documentary into the world…but that is about the only positive thing I can say about the band during this period. The level of dysfunction the members display in the studio, and on the therapy couch (yes, they filmed their band therapy sessions) is staggering. Also, if you’re a Lars hater, which I am, this documentary supplies plenty of ammunition.
This documentary will teach even die hard Jaco fans something new about one of the best bass players to ever live. Jaco features commentary from a who’s who of legendary bass players, including Flea, Bootsy Collins, and Sting. The producer of the documentary, Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo, also did an amazing job of tracking down a ton of archival footage of Jaco and his family, which makes the experience incredibly intimate. Jaco’s heroin addiction feels dramatically different when the stories of his downfall are sandwiched between 8mm videos of the musician throwing a frisbee with his five-year-old kids. If you want to see the brilliance and tragedy which made up Jaco’s life and death, there’s no better place to look.
1. What Happened, Miss Simone?
Without Nina Simone, there is no Childish Gambino. Okay, so that might not be entirely true, but it is true enough to be something to think about. Nina Simone was a dazzling musician, combining jazz, pop, gospel, and classical music in an incredibly creative and articulate way. But equally as impressive as Simone’s musical prowess, was her political bravery. Despite the immense danger that accompanied being a black female activist in the 1960s, Nina Simone delivered unwavering social critiques of segregation, hate crime, and racism. If you need a taste of the type of person this documentary chronicles, check out Simone performing Mississippi Goddamn, a song responding to the the murder of Medgar Evers, and the Birmingham Church Bombing.
Jacob Unterreiner is from Phoenix, Arizona. Around the valley, Jacob is known for three things; his musicianship, his strange habit of wearing the same eleven shirts he’s had since middle school, and a strict 10:00 PM curfew that he adheres to religiously in order to maintain his sanity as a high school English teacher.
Photography: Austin to Boston via reverberatemusic.com, Nina Simone via Netflix.