You can always count on the Toronto International Film Festival for a good music documentary or two, but TIFF has really outdone itself this year. Tonight the film fest opens with a gala screening of 'From the Sky Down,' renowned filmmaker Davis Guggenheim's look at U2 and the making of their 1991 album, 'Achtung Baby.' Over the course of the next ten days, TIFF will also feature films about Pearl Jam, Paul McCartney, Neil Young and more. In honour of TIFF's push for rock 'n' roll, we've complied a list of some of the best music docs of all time.
'Metallica: Some Kind of Monster,' 2004
Directors: Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
This no-holds-barred look at the legendary metal band's struggles to coexist as they search for a new bassist and record 2003's 'St. Anger' album has been heralded by critics for its unflinching and epic storytelling. With honesty more brutal and relentless than a classic 'Master of Puppets'-era riff, 'Monster' is a fascinating exploration of the complex and often difficult dynamics making up Metallica as well as its music.
'Standing in the Shadows of Motown,' 2002
Director: Paul Justman
This doc tells the story of the Funk Brothers, the uncredited band who played on Motown's recordings from the late-'50s to early-'70s. Their story is fleshed out through a combination of interviews, archival footage and narration, and their soul is brought to life through a series of modern performances that feature the surviving members of the Funk Brothers and a revolving cast of musicians like Ben Harper, Bootsy Collins and more. It's an utterly ecstatic celebration of the classic Motown sound and the unsung musicians who helped to make it all possible.
'Anvil! The Story of Anvil,' 2009
Director: Sacha Gervasi
In the wrong hands, this tale of over-the-hill, never-quite-were Canadian metal "stars" struggling to survive as they continue to play music to a largely indifferent world could have turned into a real life version of a Christopher Guest film. In the loving hands of Anvil super-fan and former roadie Sacha Gervasi, it becomes something much more powerful: a tribute to the human spirit, the power of rock 'n' roll and some truly incredible men who never gave up their dreams despite almost absurd adversity.
'The Devil and Daniel Johnston,' 2006
'Wesley Willis the Daddy of Rock'n'Roll,' 2003
Director: Jeff Feuerzeig
Director: Daniel Bitton
At first glance, 'The Devil and Daniel Johnston''s clips of precocious but troubled childhood videos might not seem like they have much in common with 'The Daddy of Rock'n'Roll''s footage of Wesley Willis calmly sitting in a Kinkos and carefully typing out song lyrics about doing ungodly things to various animals. But 'Devil' and 'Daddy' are both films about mentally ill musicians, the songs that keeps (or kept) them alive and the people who do their best to support them. Most importantly, both do an excellent job of representing and humanizing their subjects' plights without ever exploiting them. Kick off your next movie night with Daniel Johnston's flick then tune in to 'Daddy.'
'The Last Waltz,' 1978
Director: Martin Scorsese
Directed by Martin Scorsese, and featuring the Band, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters and more, 'The Last Waltz' manages to combine the best that '70s music and film had to offer in one timeless documentary. By capturing the Band's final concert after 16 years on the road as well as interviewing the group, Scorsese creates a bittersweet and beautiful epitaph for the end of an era.
Director: Ondi Timoner
Narrated by Dandy Warhols frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor, 'Dig!' tells the story of the Dandys and their tumultuous relationship with Anton Newcombe and his band, the Brain Jonestown Massacre. Filmed over seven years, it's a fascinating, troubling, and sometimes bitterly funny portrait of hero worship, jealousy, self-destruction and relative fame. For added meta fun, the DVD release features a commentary in which former BJM members mercilessly and hilariously tear Taylor-Taylor apart.
'Color Me Obsessed: A Film About the Replacements,' 2011
Director: Gorman Bechard
Making a film about a band while refusing to include any interviews, stock footage, music or images that feature any members of the group might sound like documentary suicide, but for director and Replacements obsessive Gorman Bechard, it was a truly inspired experiment. In choosing to focus on everyone surrounding the Replacements, from fellow musicians and scenesters to critics and fans, and exploring their thoughts and feelings about the band, Bechard hasn't just made a good film about the rockers, he's created the ultimate testament to music nerd fandom and just how important the right band can be to the people who love them.
'Metal: A Headbanger's Journey,' 2005
'Heavy Metal Parking Lot,' 1986
Directors: Sam Dunn and Scot McFayden
Directors: John Heyn and Jeff Krulik
One is a whip-smart and comprehensive look at heavy metal music and culture made by a metal-loving sociologist that premiered to rave reviews at TIFF in 2005. The other is a short film about drunken bangers -- and one woman who really, really loves Glenn Tipton -- partying in a parking lot before a Judas Priest show in 1986. Together, they represent the very best and worst that heavy metal fandom has to offer. We suggest you save the awesome drunken headbangers for last.
'Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who,' 2007
Directors: Murray Lerner and Paul Crowder
This career retrospective on the Who, with its stunning vintage footage and images, is probably the best looking rockumentary ever committed to film. But it also has a lot of substance to support its style. Current interviews with surviving members Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend are illuminating and commentary from musicians like the Edge, Steve Jones and Noel Gallagher (who viciously hates the film version of 'Tommy') is equally entertaining. Deservedly a favourite at TIFF in 2007, it's a film that more than lives up to its names and its subjects.
'Gimme Shelter,' 1970
Directors: Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin
The footage from the Rolling Stones infamous Altamont Free Concert is fairly basic by today's standards, but the interviews with the band members that were conducted after the event -- and the anticipation of young fan Meredith Hunter's fatal encounter with Hell's Angels security guards -- make this film downright harrowing. Watching 'Gimme Shelter' is like watching a good horror film for the second time: knowing what's coming only makes it more chilling.