Seven Music Documentary Films and Series From 2024 to Watch This Summer (and Three to Skip) | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Monday, July 15th, 2024  

Seven Music Documentary Films and Series From 2024 to Watch (and Three to Skip)

Jun 16, 2024
Bookmark and Share


Music documentaries and series are a sure thing, or so it seems. 2024 has seen quite a few of them hit theatres and even more turn up on streamers. Among these are the high-profile ones such as the newly restored 1970 film, The Beatles: Let it Be and Frank Marshall’s The Beach Boys, not to mention Taylor Swift|The Eras Tour (Taylor’s Version), all on Disney+. Lil Nas X released his interpretation of Madonna’s Truth or Dare with his behind-the-scenes tour film, Long Live Montero (HBO). There is also Eno, the groundbreaking generative documentary feature on Brian Eno. Just as fascinating as the biographical docs are topical ones such as the recently released How Music Got Free (Paramount+).

Coming soon is Stevie Van Zandt: Disciple (HBO), which shines a much deserved spotlight on the multi-hyphenate talent, and I Am: Celine Dion (Prime Movies), which shares the singer’s challenges with Moersch-Woltman Syndrome.

Whether or not you’re into the artists, subjects, or the music, there is a voyeuristic and vicarious thrill in watching musicians, both in their professional setting and personal lives. Music documentary films and series are often worth the time—except when they’re not. Here are seven must-watch music docs and series released in 2024, and three from this year that you can skip.—By Lily Moayeri

Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution

PBS

This three-part series from BBC Studios and PBS is the comprehensive story of disco. It’s not a Donna Summer and Bee Gees rehash that touches on disco’s origins in the Black and Brown gay clubs of New York. Rather, Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution is an in-depth unpacking of the genre with tremendous archival footage and images, as well as talking heads from the last 50 years. It explores the social, cultural, political and economic context of disco with equal attention paid to the different groups of people that created it and were impacted by it. Thorough and engaging, the standout voice is original disco DJ Nicky Siano, who was also a resident DJ at Studio 54. Who better than Siano to sherpa viewers through this enduring sound?

Stax: Soulsville, U.S.A.

HBO

Motown is the household name, but it’s Stax Records’ output that lives in everyone’s music collection and populates their playlists. The four-part series Stax: Soulsville, U.S.A. is essential viewing for even the most casual of music lovers. The history of soul music cannot be told without Stax’s undeniable input in its creation and evolution. The best sounds came from Stax’s Memphis studios. The classic images and footage are second to none and the experiences of Stax’s key players told firsthand are invaluable. The series features classic performances and appearances from Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes, to mention just two. Plus there is the historic event in 1972 in Los Angeles, Wattstax, which is clearly the West Coast’s Summer of Soul. The Wattstax 1973 documentary is a great companion watch.

The Greatest Night in Pop

Netflix

The Greatest Night in Pop, about the writing and recording of USA for Africa’s “We Are the World” at Henson Studios is a masterpiece of director Bao Nguyen. Seeing the musicians’ personalities in close quarters, working all night, is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The footage of superstars standing nervously in the same room and bringing their best performance to the table is nicely juxtaposed against the “new” footage Nguyen created for the film, which comes from his imagination, but matches the narrative of the original content exactly. What’s even more genius is Nguyen’s syncing of the audio from a journalist’s cassettes to the footage, which had no sound as it was all going through the mixing board. The final film is a smooth and memorable experience.

Behind the Music

Paramount+

Before Sunday nights belonged to HBO, they belonged to VHI’s Behind the Music series. A forerunner in the music docuseries, it was irresistibly salacious but also emotional, often moving viewers to tears. The original version told the truth, but amplified it to gasp-inducing level. As gratuitous as that approach was, it’s still better than the sanitized versions of those artists stories that came later, cases in point The Go-Go’s and Duran Duran. Paramount+’s reboot has all the grittiness of the original, but circumvents scandal for scandal’s sake. This might be attributed to the narration being done by the subjects and people close to them rather than a drama dripping voiceover. In its second season, key episodes are “Boy George,” “Mötley Crüe” and “Wolfgang Van Halen.”

LOLLA: The Story of Lollapalooza

Paramount+

In three episodes, the full story of Lollapalooza, one of North America’s key festivals is told through the people that made it and played it. Balanced and truthful, LOLLA: The Story of Lollapalooza acknowledges every mistake, and every triumph. Raw footage captures the feeling of the early iterations of the festival. This being Farrell’s project, there are stellar talking heads talking about their experiences including Trent Reznor, Ice T, Lars Ulrich, Tom Morello, Chance the Rapper and Farrell himself. Considering how synonymous Chicago is with Lolla, it’s fascinating to see the resistance of the people of Chicago (including music journalists) to bringing it to the city’s Grant Park. Even through Lolla’s done well for Chicago, the good and the bad of its move the city is told without bias.

Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg

VOD

Anita Pallenberg was the girlfriend of Brian Jones and Keith Richards, with whom she had two kids. Plus, she had a little affair with Mick Jagger. Watching Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg, it’s clear why this luminous creature had The Rolling Stones wrapped around her little finger. Cultured and confident, gorgeous and glamorous, the iconic Pallenberg nevertheless felt the pressure of being the object of their affection, as well as the center around which they revolved. She self-medicated heavily and spun out of control, but that didn’t take away from her amazing and charismatic character. Based on the late Pallenberg’s unpublished memoir, with the support of her children and the significant input of Richards, the only drawback of Catching Fire is Scarlett Johansson’s deadpan reading of the memoir in the voiceover.

ABBA: Against the Odds

CW

Marking the 50th anniversary of ABBA’s victory at Eurovision with “Waterloo,” ABBA: Against the Odds dissects the Swedish group’s five-year trajectory between 1976 and 1980 in minute detail, warts and all. ABBA’s music is so popular and enduring. Their recent five Grammy nominations prove how much they continue to be a part of pop culture. Not to mention “ABBA Voyage,” their virtual concert residency, which is in its third year at its purpose-built venue in London, ABBA Arena. It’s hard to imagine that ABBA were reviled for making pop music, but they were and ABBA: Against the Odds doesn’t shy away from painting an accurate picture of their experience. With priceless original footage from Swedish television, personal photographs and concert video, it hurts to watch how difficult success was for ABBA.

Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story

Hulu

This four-part series drags out Jon Bon Jovi’s musical life into an exhausting infomercial for his group’s new album, Forever. A 40-year history provides a lot of material from which to draw. Seeing Bon Jovi’s early years in New Jersey finding his way in music and watching his dogged determination is as fun and it is admirable. The creation of the group’s iconic songs is fascinating. But there is a sheen to Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story that feels disingenuous. The conflict, as it were, is Bon Jovi’s issues with his voice. But with superior medical care and rehabbing with top of the game professionals, plus Bon Jovi’s signature resolve, it doesn’t feel critical. What’s glossed over is his bandmates’ substance abuse problems and the way they were dealt with or, in one case, their death.

Camden

Hulu

Even if she grew up there, Dua Lipa should not oversee the making a docuseries about Camden. Documentation of this London borough’s cultural and particularly musical impact on the city, the country and the world has long been overdue. Disappointingly, the four-part Lipa co-produced version is sanitized and vague. In no way does Camden uncover the back story of the area, why it has so many venues of varying sizes, or why it is a magnet for unconforming characters. Most frustratingly, over the course of four hours, Camden can’t pinpoint what it is that makes the neighborhood the longstanding hotspot that it continues to be. Talking heads like Boy George, Madness’ Suggs, Noel Gallagher and Carl Barât do their valiant best, but, in the end, you’re left empty-handed.

Let the Canary Sing

Paramount+

A colorful and characterful person like Cyndi Lauper deserves more than a surface-level overview of her multipronged career. Unfortunately, Let the Canary Sing, even with its unparalleled access to Lauper, makes her formative years seem generic, her stratospheric years play like a supercut of her television appearances, and her later years aren’t delved into deep enough. Granted it’s really fun to watch the ‘80s Lauper, and even more fun to hear her talk. Yet Let the Canary Sing feels like an abridged version of Lauper’s big life. But conflict-free and hagiographic is how director Alison Ellwood approaches her subject matter (see The Go-Go’s which basically ignored the members’ alcohol and substance problems) and without something to overcome, there is not much left.

Comments

Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published

URL

Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.