Who Is Harry Nilsson? (And Why Is Everyone Talking About Him)
Who Is Harry Nilsson? (And Why Is Everyone Talking About Him) has to be one of the best titles for a documentary I can think of, speaking on the fact that nobody knows who he is and the title playing on his biggest hit, Midnight Cowboy’s title sequence track “Everybody’s Talkin”. The documentary covers the life and trials of Harry Nilsson, one of the greatest American singer/songwriters of all time and famously Lennon’s favorite musician, who we have highlighted on two top ten lists. The Brooklyn-born singer/songwriter had a tragic and tragically underappreciated career, so it’s great to see a documentary completely devoted to gushing about Harry Nilsson. While I love that this exists, it’s a pretty bland documentary that plays more like a Behind the Music than something that deserves to be a free standing documentary.
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Mistaken for Strangers
Rock docs tend to follow pretty similar storylines: it’s either the “real-life” portrait of a band, a story of an unsung hero being discovered, or a document of a momentous event. The National documentary Mistaken for Strangers is misleading to even call a documentary of the National: the movie is only about the National tangentially, as the film is really a failed documentary about the National turned into a documentary about the relationship of lead singer Matt Berninger and his younger brother Tom, who created this film. The result is an unexpected film that even non-National and music fans alike would enjoy: a documentary about family dynamics, type B personalities, and overcoming fear and accomplishing the goals you set out for yourself.
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20 Feet From Stardom
Documentary filmmakers love to tell the story of the unsung hero, and there is no bigger unsung hero in the history of rock ‘n’ roll than the backup singer. 20 Feet from Stardom, the now 2nd consecutive music documentary to win an Academy Award following last year’s Searching for Sugar Man win, is a triumphant film documenting the history of backup singing (specifically gospel-rooted backup singing that has been prominent in rock music since its inception) and the triumphs and heartbreaks of some of the most prominent backup singers in rock history.
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A Band Called Death
Rock history is filled with tragedy: ugly band breakups, festival disasters, and deaths at 27. So when you actually get a documentary about a band called “death”, one might expect more of the same tragedy. And while there is some tragedy in this story about three religious Detroit brothers playing punk music in 1974 before punk was punk who somehow went completely unheard, the heart of the story is absolutely life-affirming: celebrating family, rock ‘n’ roll, and a firm belief that death doesn’t have the last say.
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“Here Comes the Night Time” NBC Special
Following the season premiere of Saturday Night Live featuring host Tina Fey and musical guests Arcade Fire, NBC surprisingly aired a straight-up trippy half-hour concert special for Arcade Fire called “Here Comes the Night Time”, named after one of the songs off their much-anticipated upcoming album, Reflektor. Beside playing their disco lead single “Reflektor” and debuting another song “Afterlife” on SNL, the Canadian indie rockers debuted three new songs on the special as well as a slew of high profile cameos and strange costumes, making for a very strange but very bold half-hour of television for NBC.
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Not Fade Away
Directed by David Chase
Sopranos creator David Chase probably had the green light to make any film he wanted to with his film debut, and Chase made a surprising choice: a coming of age tale about the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. This seems like an odd choice at first glance until you think back on the Sopranos, which featured heavy usage of classic rock ‘n’ roll and even cast E-Street guitar legend Steven Van Zandt as Silvio. Van Zandt sits in as executive producer on Not Fade Away, which lends a little credence and authenticity to the rock tale, but the film still lands a little flat for coming from such an artistic giant.
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Andrew Bird: Fever Year
Directed by: Xan Aranda
One of the more prolific artists in recent years has been Andrew Bird, the Chicago singer/songwriter/violinist who has flood the music scene with almost obsessive touring and eight albums in the last decade. A week ago, my wife and I caught a director’s screening of Fever Year, a documentary about Bird. Although over a year after its debut, the film never was widely released and still remains unavailable on DVD per Bird’s request. But while only currently available to see through screenings, the film gives some very interesting snapshots into the life and ethic of this unique artist.
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