Edgar Wright Shares 10 Of His Favorite Music Documentaries

"Turn these up to 11," says the man behind the acclaimed (and Certified Fresh) new documentary The Sparks Brothers.

by | June 17, 2021 | Comments

Edgar Wright

(Photo by Adrienne Pitts)

I am a sucker for a great music documentary. If one is in front of me, I will watch it. And indeed I can watch films about pretty much any act or artist, whether I care for them or not. Sometimes the best of the bunch are about bands, singers, or genres that are not strictly my cup of tea. Sometimes they may revolve around someone I’ve never heard of. The skill is in the storytelling, and I watch music documentaries to be educated about the life of an artist and/or the cultural context of their work. Like the greatest narrative movies, the best documentaries can be funny, shocking, profound, thought-provoking, and sometimes life-changing. Out of a very long list, here’s 10 of my favourite music documentaries that I’ve enjoyed on multiple occasions. Turn these up to 11. – Edgar Wright, June 2021

Edgar Wright’s Guide to Music Documentaries

Julian Temple’s 2000 film on the short life and fast times of the Sex Pistols is, I think, the best music documentary of all time. Temple weaves in a dizzying amount of archive to give context to the hard times and bland culture from which the Sex Pistols emerged like a four-headed monster. It’s so brilliantly edited and conceived on every level, and all the talking heads (shot mostly in silhouette like people in witness protection) are brilliant — especially John Lydon and Steve Jones, who are unfailingly candid, profound, profane, and funny.

Penelope Spheeris’ snapshot of the music and excesses of the hair metal scene of 1980s Los Angeles is unforgettable. I haven’t seen it in a long time, but two images are burned into my brain. One is drunken WASP guitarist Chris Holmes sitting in an inflatable chair in his swimming pool being interviewed with his mother present and pouring a whole bottle of vodka over his head. The other is Paul Stanley from KISS being interviewed on a high angle over his bed, surrounded by half naked women. This documentary is rightly infamous, and while you might not want to be a part of this scene, it’s difficult not to get a contact high from the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

DIG! (2004)


A great music documentary requires no previous knowledge of the subject, and I think a lot of people who became obsessed with Ondi Timoner’s 2003 film didn’t know a lot about the ups and downs of the Brian Jonestown Massacre and its mercurial frontman Anton Newcombe. This document of the rivalry between cult band The Brian Jonestown Massacre and their more popular colleagues The Dandy Warhols is a fascinating and highly quotable watch. It became something of the indie rock Spinal Tap as it was subject of much fevered discussion by every person who was in a band at the time.

A brilliant document of the unsung heroes of the rock and pop world: the backing singers. We all know the parts. Indeed they may be the only bits of the songs that one sings along to. But for the most part, session and back-up singers don’t get the glory of being front-of-stage. This film shines the spotlight on the women behind the songs we love: Darlene Love, Claudia Lennear, Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega, and Judith Hill. Most memorably of all, we hear Merry Clayton’s isolated vocal from The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” and it’s spine-tinglingly powerful.

Stop Making Sense (1984)


Okay maybe this is really a concert film, but it is a documentary of a band at the peak of their powers, and it also just happens to be the best concert film of all time. Jonathan Demme presents the band in such a formal fashion, building up first from singer David Byrne’s solo on stage to a full nine-piece ensemble, that the results are hypnotic. It draws you in rather than presenting a great concert at arm’s length. I think every concert film since has tried to copy or subvert this approach. It’s a magical movie.

Both This Is Spinal Tap! and the UK’s Bad News skewered the music documentary in the ’80s with pitch-perfect sketches of a rock band on the road. But here, Canadian rockers Anvil are very real. Former fan and roadie Sacha Gervasi (now a successful writer and director in Hollywood) reunites with the band 20 years on and shows their path back to the stage and an adoring audience. It’s impossible not to admire the journey of frontman Steve “Lips” Kudlow as he goes from delivering meals for children’s charities to being back in his natural habitat: commanding the crowd at a rock festival. Showing the tough but often funny path back from rock bottom, Anvil is an inspiring watch.

London pop trio Bros had an 18-month hot flash of success when they were the biggest thing since sliced bread. I wasn’t a fan back then — several of my female school friends were — but it was impossible to escape their songs and not get swept up in the teen hysteria. Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over. This charming and hilarious documentary picks up 28 years after Bros’ chart-topping heyday and shows the fractious relationship between the band’s core members, identical twins Matt and Luke Goss. While their outlook on life is sometimes unintentionally funny, there’s a lot of real laughs too, not least an epic tangent about the banning of childhood game Conkers. There is also a real heart to the film, and it’s difficult not to be moved as they overcome tragedies and their differences to return to the arena for a comeback show. Highly entertaining.

Dont Look Back (1967)


Many music documentaries try to recapture a time and a place, and a huge percentage of those that do are all working hard to evoke one particular decade – the 1960s. D.A. Pennebaker just happened to be in the right place at the right time when he covered Bob Dylan’s 1965 concert tour in England. Rather than try and capture the zeitgeist, Pennebaker just trained his camera on Bob Dylan and watched the scene whirl around him. An essential music documentary on every level.

Frances Whatley’s trio of Bowie documentaries – comprising this, The Last Five Years, and Finding Fame – are brilliantly comprehensive films detailing the greatest chameleon in rock. What’s extraordinary in this case is even though the documentary does not feature a new interview with David Bowie, his journey is told beautifully through many key collaborators whose insights are revealing and thrilling. As a fan, seeing musicians and producers such as Rick Wakemen, Tony Visconti, Carlos Alomar, Earl Slick, Gale Ann Dorsey, Nile Rodgers, and others break down the songs was just magical.

A wildcard for my 10th choice. This episode of Documentary Now! is the finest musical mockumentary since all-time classic Spinal Tap. Fred Armisen and Bill Hader brilliantly skewer the overly reverent approach seen in many a classic rock doc. It tells the saga of soft rock band The Blue Jean Committee and is clearly taking loving potshots at The Eagles and Chicago along the way. Having the likes of Cameron Crowe, Daryl Hall, Kenny Loggins, and Michael McDonald as themselves doing the talking head duties for a wholly fictitious band is the icing on the cake.

Edgar Wright’s own music doc, The Sparks Brothers, is in theaters on June 18, 2021.

Thumbnail image: ©Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection, Adrienne Pitts, ©RADiUS-TWC/Courtesy Everett Collection

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

Apple TV+ Esquire Sundance Now CMT anthology Spike rt labs critics edition Rocketman The Walking Dead toy story A24 green book 2021 Set visit USA supernatural streaming japan Avengers zombies Mindy Kaling 73rd Emmy Awards 21st Century Fox Shudder Sundance TV period drama PBS ABC Family IMDb TV BBC One Nickelodeon adenture The Purge Hulu 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards sequel live action romance comic book movie strong female leads news new zealand Infographic Fox Searchlight action-comedy name the review ITV Lifetime book adaptation travel zero dark thirty Netflix Christmas movies crime thriller serial killer Classic Film series Horror razzies finale First Look 007 aliens Star Wars Stephen King hispanic Writers Guild of America 2015 venice CBS Western TV movies doctor who Television Critics Association king arthur reviews adaptation obituary video on demand sopranos spider-verse franchise Holiday GLAAD X-Men NYCC 2018 independent rotten movies we love Summer TV One Film Family marvel cinematic universe Chilling Adventures of Sabrina The Arrangement Exclusive Video 93rd Oscars vs. mockumentary Superheroe Amazon Ellie Kemper films documentary Christmas nature DC streaming service social media Crackle free movies Freeform satire ABC mutant Walt Disney Pictures superhero blockbusters posters Broadway screenings Women's History Month Oscars james bond Netflix Captain marvel BET Awards docudrama politics 20th Century Fox police drama RT History Cartoon Network black OneApp Emmys diversity 24 frames Mystery heist movie prank comedies live event war south america 2019 cops comic Lucasfilm Acorn TV Pop VH1 Trailer Sundance Marathons TruTV TV 2020 MCU kaiju dreamworks comic book movies vampires children's TV Trophy Talk crime drama Amazon Prime Video dogs National Geographic Columbia Pictures WarnerMedia scary Endgame cults Brie Larson Tokyo Olympics biography game of thrones BAFTA wonder woman SXSW pirates of the caribbean rom-coms Sneak Peek indie renewed TV shows AMC Plus robots historical drama spy thriller GIFs justice league jamie lee curtis black comedy FX Comic Book ESPN stop motion Emmy Nominations australia Tomatazos NBA El Rey Cosplay TBS OWN Comic-Con@Home 2021 Comedy movies Ovation hispanic heritage month DC Universe zombie debate Interview E! 2016 indiana jones Rock HBO Max Winners Universal Video Games ID spanish language psychological thriller VOD Crunchyroll Podcast festivals The CW golden globe awards dragons latino PlayStation Musical Country Spring TV deadpool Character Guide fast and furious Music cancelled Instagram Live all-time critics spider-man Spectrum Originals TCA New York Comic Con cancelled television YouTube Red young adult superman Paramount laika godzilla Super Bowl Binge Guide Mary poppins Animation Discovery Channel Pet Sematary Mary Poppins Returns child's play HBO documentaries Amazon Studios BBC parents 90s Showtime GoT Certified Fresh new york Calendar Warner Bros. Paramount Network Creative Arts Emmys high school 72 Emmy Awards harry potter popular lord of the rings cats new star wars movies crime Film Festival universal monsters women natural history french criterion Alien Travel Channel Mary Tyler Moore Winter TV archives technology TCA Winter 2020 art house olympics FOX The Academy Star Trek Schedule MTV toronto kong based on movie political drama joker 1990s quibi Epix Extras Fox News 45 TV renewals book rt archives rt labs Apple TV Plus Mudbound transformers telelvision chucky Nat Geo Thanksgiving Fall TV what to watch kids Academy Awards Opinion San Diego Comic-Con Kids & Family versus Hear Us Out LGBT cars rotten Marvel Television hist Disney E3 Ghostbusters docuseries Comics on TV Best and Worst richard e. Grant TCA Awards spinoff sitcom genre The Witch japanese First Reviews science fiction Year in Review twilight werewolf asian-american ABC Signature Toys Turner Classic Movies video sequels HBO Go TCM RT21 feel good Hallmark Christmas movies fresh nfl canceled Funimation Adult Swim remakes TV Land 2017 Food Network History adventure blockbuster international foreign ghosts marvel comics cooking spanish unscripted 99% The Walt Disney Company Anna Paquin Valentine's Day Turner revenge animated christmas movies Television Academy IFC Films crossover Pixar casting Fantasy hollywood know your critic AMC Comedy Central APB cancelled TV series stand-up comedy American Society of Cinematographers Sony Pictures YouTube Premium Box Office Countdown singing competition football Vudu PaleyFest Bravo concert Drama scary movies tv talk NBC Pride Month binge legend worst CNN talk show Rom-Com festival Awards medical drama teaser Nominations die hard Marvel Studios disaster directors slashers sports canceled TV shows discovery Tumblr dramedy BBC America television halloween tv dc Britbox Universal Pictures Arrowverse blaxploitation romantic comedy game show anime VICE comiccon Neflix Wes Anderson 71st Emmy Awards true crime CW Seed Pirates Heroines Trivia See It Skip It stoner royal family Apple YA President Disney+ Disney Plus IFC critic resources composers Song of Ice and Fire USA Network basketball Lionsgate Rocky Grammys Teen Legendary hidden camera Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt best YouTube TCA 2017 cartoon cancelled TV shows Baby Yoda Black History Month Tubi Dark Horse Comics halloween italian Sci-Fi MSNBC Tarantino BET Photos jurassic park Black Mirror Polls and Games dceu TNT SDCC sag awards Musicals golden globes emmy awards Reality target dark Peacock Elton John worst movies Paramount Plus slasher Awards Tour trailers Disney Channel FX on Hulu Premiere Dates Quiz boxoffice TLC streaming movies scorecard classics batman mob DirecTV Syfy aapi reboot suspense WGN Starz spain Election Cannes witnail Holidays Disney Plus DGA theme song mcc biopic thriller ratings Biopics psycho Pacific Islander gangster Watching Series Logo TIFF dexter Disney streaming service Pop TV comic books boxing saw Red Carpet Shondaland breaking bad Action king kong space Chernobyl 4/20 Masterpiece SundanceTV award winner Reality Competition DC Comics screen actors guild mission: impossible monster movies miniseries Martial Arts ViacomCBS nbcuniversal facebook A&E a nightmare on elm street Lifetime Christmas movies cinemax Amazon Prime scene in color Hallmark CBS All Access LGBTQ Marvel movie FXX Superheroes comics Image Comics elevated horror