With events big and small alike cancelled and postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, stockpiling toilet paper and barricading yourself in your home seems like a better choice than going out. (Just kidding about the toilet paper; definitely don't do that.) Here are a few suggestions for music-related movies you can stream to fill the concert void while you’re self-isolating.
(2020; available on Netflix)
It might be a vanity project carefully crafted to engender sympathy for its subject, but Miss Americana is worth watching even if you think you can’t stand Taylor Swift. Director Lana Wilson gives us a peek behind the curtain at Swift’s songwriting process and lets us observe her political awakening. More potently, she shows in vivid detail what it’s like to be one of the most famous—and mercilessly scrutinized—women in the world in the 21st century. Spoiler alert: it kind of sucks a lot of the time, but you do get to hang out with Brendon Urie and the guys from Queer Eye, so it’s clearly not all bad. This should be required viewing for anyone who still harbours a shred of respect for Kanye West.
Searching for Sugar Man
(2012; available on Amazon Prime)
In the early '70s, Detroit singer-songwriter seemed to be poised on the verge of greatness, with his gritty tales of life on Detroit's mean streets earning him a record deal and the attention of big-time producers. After a couple of LPs that failed to sell, however, he dropped out of music altogether and went back to working as a manual labourer—completely unaware that in South Africa, his songs were being taken up as anthems of resistance among an entire generation opposed to that country's restrictive apartheid regime. When some fans from Cape Town tracked him down in the late '90s, he toured South Africa like a conquering folk-rock idol. By the time director Malik Bendjelloul catches up with him in the early 2010s, Rodriguez is back in the Motor City, still doing back-breaking labour and living in the same humble house he had called home for four decades. Searching for Sugar Man is a portrait of a man who seems to be as unfazed by his failures as he is by his successes. He's a deeply odd character, but damn it, those songs are fucking beautiful.
Last Days Here
(2011; available on YouTube)
Bobby Liebling is a pioneer of doom metal. His band, Pentagram, formed in 1971 with the implied goal of becoming America’s heavier-than-heaven answer to Black Sabbath. Unfortunately, Liebling is also a hopeless screwup. Well, not quite hopeless: hope is pretty much all the erstwhile frontman has left by the time filmmakers Don Argott and Demian Fenton catch up with him. The 50-something Liebling is hooked on heroin and crack and is living in his parents’ basement. His determination to rise—and rock—again is a case study in human resilience, and it suggests that rock ’n’ roll can, literally, be a lifesaver.
Echo in the Canyon
(2018; available on Netflix)
Jakob Dylan and director Andrew Slater do their best to document the music scene of a very specific place and time, namely Laurel Canyon between 1965 and '67. This narrow scope means there are a few conspicuous absences—presumably Joni Mitchell will get mentioned in the sequel—but interviews with the likes of Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, and Michelle Phillips are enlightening, and electrifying archival footage of the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield is enough to convince you that something was indeed happening there. Footage of the Wallflowers frontman running through era-appropriate classics in-studio and on-stage with Beck, Cat Power, Fiona Apple, and Regina Spektor is less essential, but we'll cut him some slack because he's Bob Dylan's kid.