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.
20 Feet From Stardom
(2013; available on Sundance Now)
Sometimes it's the backing vocals that make the entire song. Sure, the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" is great in its own right, but try to imagine it without the impassioned wailing of Merry Clayton. You can't, probably—and it's equally likely that you have no idea who Clayton is. That's the point of this doc from Morgan Neville (who later made us all mourn the loss of Fred Rogers—and our collective innocence—with Won't You Be My Neighbor?). Neville gives the ironically unsung heroes of rock 'n' roll their well-earned turn in the spotlight, with the likes of Mick Jagger, Sting, Bette Midler, Stevie Wonder, and Bruce Springsteen enthusiastically singing their praises. I guarantee you will never hear "Sweet Home Alabama" quite the same way after watching this.
Anvil!: The Story of Anvil
(2008; available on DocumentaryHeaven.com)
Everyone loves a good underdog story, and there's something particularly compelling about a tale of someone who almost made it but then, well, didn't. This is certainly the case with Toronto heavy-metal band Anvil, whose career high was playing in front of tens of thousands of Japanese metalheads as part of the touring Super Rock festival in 1984. After that, precisely nothing happened for these guys. That makes it all the more poignant when members of Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax pop up to cite Anvil as an important contemporary and influence. Naturally, there's an attempt at a comeback—which only really took off after this doc was released. In his review of Anvil!, Straight movie critic said of director Sacha Gervasi that he "has a keen eye for unintended comedy and the big-screen drama inherent in lovable, foul-mouthed lunkheads who have stuck together, sometimes to the exclusion of their generally supportive wives and families, in order to stay hell-bent for leather—and Depends".
Beware of Mr. Baker
(2012; available on YouTube)
The two main takeaways here are that Ginger Baker (who died last fall) was an unrepentant asshole, and that he was one of the best drummers to ever grace a stage with his powerful and inventive prowess. How combative was he? Ask director Jay Bulger, who got punched in the face for his troubles. For my money, the best bit is the interview with Baker's former Cream bandmate Eric Clapton, who took great pains to ensure that the drummer would definitely, absolutely not by any means be a part of his next project, the supergroup Blind Faith. This conviction lasted until the day of Blind Faith's first rehearsal, when guess who showed up, ready to play? The fact that Baker remained blithely convinced that his relationship with Clapton was one of the great friendships of his life is both amusing and cringe-inducingly awkward.
Another Day, Another Time
(2013; available on iTunes)
You don't have to have seen the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis to appreciate Another Day, Another Time...but you should probably watch it anyway. In that film, Oscar Isaac plays a cat-loving fictional singer-songwriter on the Greenwich Village folk scene of the '60s. Turns out that, in real life, Isaac is a pretty talented singer and guitarist, talents which he puts on display in the T-Bone Burnett–produced concert documented here, alongside actual folkies past and present, including the Avett Brothers, Joan Baez, Rhiannon Giddens, the Milk Carton Kids, Keb' Mo', Marcus Mumford, Patti Smith, Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings, and Willie Watson.