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Music on Screen: OPL's Music Documentary Collection

04/05/2018

At the intersection of OPL's film and video collections lay the music documentary. From pioneering classics of like Dont Look Back and Gimme Shelter to recent Oscar winners like Amy and Searching for Sugar Man, the genre has steadily grown in popular and critical standing. With the spring finally emerging and Ottawa's music festival season upon us, we wanted to shine a spotlight on the vivid and unique collision of disc and drama that is the music documentary through both this blog and its accompanying list.

           

Within our collection of music documentaries, you’ll find a few storytelling trends reflected. Certain films focus on critical times in an artist’s life with implications far beyond their music. The Tragically Hip's final tour and Gord Downie's reckoning with brain cancer were captured in the elegiac Long Time Running; similarly, I’ll Be Me tracks Glen Campbell on and off stage as he struggles with Alzheimer’s disease. In the touching A Matter of Time, Canadian musician Kathryn Calder records her first solo album at the home in which she also cares for her ALS-stricken mother.

 

 On a different note, the genre has also excelled when working to celebrate the lives and music of those who have been heretofore underappreciated. 20 Feet from Stardom, The Wrecking Crew, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, and Lady Be Good: Instrumental Women in Jazz each highlight groups of musicians creating just beyond the spotlight. Elsewhere, films like A Band Called Death uncover the untold histories of otherwise forgotten artists and assert their importance and influence.

 

 Some films provide use a biographical lens to contextualize or further elucidate an artist’s recorded output. My Prairie Home revisits the roads on which Calgary-born transgender musician Rae Spoon forged their life; What Happened, Miss Simone? and The Devil and Daniel Johnston chart the political, spiritual, and mental challenges faced by Nina Simone and Daniel Johnston, respectively; and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: Running Down a Dream and Beats, Rhymes & Life: the Travels of A Tribe Called Quest take long looks at the shifting fortunes and oft-fractious intra-band chemistry of long-running groups.

 

The music documentary has also worked to document elements of musical movements or scenes. Penelope Spheeris' seminal Decline of Western Civilization series captures Los Angeles' changing punk and metal scenes over multiple decades; Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap traces the history and technique of hip-hop; and From the Back of the Room highlights DIY feminist punk movements.

 

Ultimately, the music itself makes the subjects of these films compelling. And not only are many artists featured on film well represented in OPL's collection, we have soundtracks for a number of notable documentaries too! If you've watched Gimme Danger, Jim Jarmusch's Iggy and the Stooges documentary, you can also seek out the accompanying album. Check out the story of the storied Muscle Shoals sound, and then listen to the classic songs it spawned; traverse the career of Janis Joplin on disc or on film; and explore the Criterion Collection edition of classic Cuban music documentary Buena Vista Social Club, then delve deep into the soundtrack.

           

While we've worked here to highlight but a small piece of OPL's music documentary collection, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention a variation on our theme: the concert film. We've collected performances by artists ranging from Marie-Mai to Metallica; Hans Zimmer to Harmonium; Gregory Porter to the music of Gustav Mahler. In our Curio digital collection, you can find the above-mentioned Gord Downie perform The Secret Path live in concert. Also, look for festivals and events like Live Aid and The T.A.M.I. Show.

 

If you can't catch some of your favourite artists in person this summer, you'll likely be able to find them on screen through our music documentary collection. Be sure to check out the titles found in the list below, and leave your recommendations in the comments!

 

 

OPL Music on Screen: The Music Documentary by Daniel_Library

Just some of the many notable music documentaries in OPL's collection. Read more about them here: https://biblioottawalibrary.ca/en/blogs/music-screen-opls-music-documentary-collection.