By Robert Ham
Netflix and Hulu are, of course, manna from heaven for both cinephiles and TV binge-watchers alike, but video streaming services can also be of interest to those of us music obsessives as well. To save you some of the grunt work of tracking down concert films and musician documentaries amidst Hollywood blockbusters and 12 seasons of Murder, She Wrote, here’s a look at the most noteworthy music-related titles newly available to stream online.
Good Ol’ Freda – Available on Netflix
There’s no shortage of books and movies that explore the Beatles from a variety of angles, but you’ll never get a more intimate portrait of what went on behind the scenes of early Beatlemania than this charming doc. Directed by Ryan White, the film centers on Freda Kelly, the Fab Four’s longtime secretary who handled every piece of the group’s fan mail through the course of their whirlwind career. Through sending over scraps of Paul’s shirts or locks of Ringo’s hair to desperate fans, she became a trusted member of the band’s inner circle. Freda’s long-withheld stories are the heart of this film, but rock geeks will enjoy the rare look at the business side of what was the biggest band on the planet.
Green Day: ¡Cuatro! – Available on Hulu
This gritty yet fun documentary serves as a companion piece to the (overly) ambitious project Green Day underwent in 2012: releasing three albums – Uno!, Dos!, and Tres! – over the course of three months. Though a bit of a puff piece, director Tim Wheeler’s film does offer a wealth of behind the scenes footage of the punk band throwing themselves completely into the writing and recording of three very diverse LPs, and its fun to see that the camaraderie within the group is stronger than ever. Best, though, are the live performances Wheeler captures, taken from small club gigs where Green Day tried out some of this new material and whetted their fans’ appetites for the upcoming albums.
Chosen as the official film of Record Store Day 2013, this UK documentary attempts to buck the rising tide of music streaming by focusing on, as the title suggests, the glories and struggles of the independently-owned record store. Based off a book of the same name, the film is as educational as it is proselytizing, utilizing some inspiring interviews from the likes of Johnny Marr, Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim), Paul Weller and Billy Bragg, who all speak on how their creative endeavors over the years were impacted by crate digging and conversations in their local music shop. Though the film’s message has been undercut this past year by the news of a 32 percent rise in vinyl sales and recent opening of Rough Trade Records in New York, Last Shop Standing could serve as a cautionary tale for those crazy enough to enter the music retail business.
US Festival 1983: Days 1 – 3 – Available on Amazon Instant
When former Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak decided to stage the weekend long music event known as the US Festival, his intention was to “throw one big party in the middle of nowhere.” As this collection of concert footage proves, Woz certainly accomplished this. Culled from the second US Fest held on Memorial Day weekend 1983, this two-hour compilation is overflowing with great performances from iconic artists such as U2, David Bowie, Van Halen, The Clash (their last show to feature founding member Mick Jones) and Stevie Nicks, as well a taste of ’80s nostalgia by way of appearances from Quarterflash, Triumph and the Stray Cats.
Under African Skies: Paul Simon’s Graceland Journey – Available on Hulu
The story of Paul Simon‘s 1986 album Graceland has so many strands: how it opened the doors for Western audiences to more fully embrace world music, the spotlight it shone on his collaborators like Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Los Lobos, and the controversy stirred up due to the singer-songwriter breaking a UN cultural boycott by recording it in South Africa. Director Joe Berlinger manages to tie all those threads together even as he follows Simon along as he prepares for a concert celebrating the 25th anniversary of the GRAMMY-winning album’s release. The end result is engrossing and surprisingly emotional, especially when Simon is confronted on camera by Dali Tambo, the founder of Artists Against Apartheid and his most vocal critic.
Rock ‘n’ Roll High School – Available on Netflix
Here’s a glimpse at how longtime B-movie producer Roger Corman operates: When he decided to make a movie aimed at teens in the late ’70s, he and his staff came up with the title first (Disco High). When it was finally released in 1979 as Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, it had become the ultimate us vs. them rock comedy with a plot that centers around one girl’s attempts to meet her favorite band, The Ramones. The film is as shaggy as the haircuts sported by the punk group, with everything from odd bedroom fantasies involving Joey Ramone to some particularly over-the-top acting by the folks playing the authority figures. Don’t expect greatness; it’s a fun little trifle filled with instantly quotable lines to use in your Twitter feeds (“Do your parents know that you’re Ramones?”).
Also New To Streaming:
Britpop documentary Upside Down: The Creation Records Story
Amy Winehouse: Fallen Star, a short biopic on the career and untimely death of the modern soul singer
The acclaimed documentary about religious commune/rock group The Source Family
The Thing Called Love, a charming look at aspiring songwriters in Nashville, and one of River Phoenix’s last films
While not necessarily new, a number of respectable music docs are also streaming on Crackle