After watching 100s of music themed films, Gallery curator Peter McKay has selected his personal top five films. These are from a selection of documentary and fiction films concerned with different genres of music, from country, disco, folk and hip hop to house, punk, metal, reggae and soul. These films underline the idea that music, in all its endless permutations, can enrich our identities and transform both musician and listener into the somebody they want to be. What would your top 5 look like?
DELVE DEEPER: Dip into more music blogs
#5 ‘Nine Muses of Star Empire’ 2012
Ever wondered how teams of dancers construct their routines or stay in perfect time in front of audiences of thousands? Practice, practice and more practice. Practice until every song becomes meaningless and you never want to dance again. Practice until your soul leaves your body to sit and cry in the corner of the change room. Nine Muses of Star Empire divulges a dark and bizarre part of the music-industrial complex known as K-Pop!
#4 ‘Rock the Bells’ 2006
Rock the Bells is a white-knuckle trip through the world of concert production as an ambitious small time promoter attempts to bring together the full Wu-Tang Clan for his latest festival. Incidentally the film reveals something of the terrible injustice that plagued rap superstar ODB, capturing and contextualising some of the days before his untimely death. Must see!
#3 ‘Anvil: The Story of Anvil’ 2008
Anvil: The Story of Anvil is the first film directed by Sacha Gervasi, a journalist, educator and scriptwriter of The Terminal. Gervasi introduced himself to the Canadian band as ‘England’s number one Anvil fan’ back in 1982 after they performed at a London club – he then acted as their roadie for tours in 1982, 84 and 85. Their unique off-camera relationship infuses the film with a contagious affection for Anvil’s energetic approach to music making. Equally their familiarity takes the camera to instances of profound frustration, exhaustion and confusion at their years of struggle. Quite simply this documentary offers a phenomenal lesson in perseverance and friendship.
#2 ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ 2013
The Coen brothers look at some of the gloomier existential dilemmas that musicians face in pursuing their art as they try to balance their time and resources against the demands made by society. Llewyn Davis is fictional folk singer surviving on the kindness of others in 1960s New York – though the directors admit they were partly inspired by the life of musician Dave Van Ronk as captured in his memoir The Mayor of MacDougal Street. The comparison elicited a little anger from friends of Van Ronk was known to be a particularly nice guy – as the character of Davis certainly isn’t.
It’s a complicated, if not chaotic, life that Davis leads. As obligations close in on the protagonist’s future, Inside Llewyn Davis manages to describe with rich insights the unforgiving existence faced by many an artist. There is also Justin Timberlake and a grumpy cat to satisfy those two particularly prominent fan groups.
#1 ‘Maestro’ 2003
The legacy of the 1970s New York club scene and its persistent impact on the music of today is hard to overestimate. Private loft parties hosted by some of the first and most innovative and influential DJs to ever spin and mix records also helped breakdown social boundaries and support freedom of expression in uplifting and unexpected ways. And also Keith Haring’s murals can be seen on the walls at the Paradise Garage, as well as scenes of Haring himself dancing during the club’s last weekend.
Full of historical footage and recent interviews, Maestro is essential viewing for anyone interested in electronic dance music. An inspiring lo-fi reflection on hi-fi dreams!
‘What You Want: Music Cinema‘ screened at the Australian Cinémathèque 2 September until 2 October 2016