Asif Kapadia’s profoundly sad documentary Amy (out on July 3) has already become one of the must-see films of this year, but it’s also representative of an ongoing renaissance in music films. This May, HBO premiered Brett Morgen’s Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, an intimate documentary about the Nirvana frontman’s life that featured his private journals and artwork. On June 26th, Netflix debuted What Happened, Miss Simone?, Liz Garbus’ absorbing look at the troubled life of soul legend Nina Simone — made, as with the Cobain and Winehouse documentaries, with the cooperation of the singer’s family. Earlier this year saw the theatrical release of Lambert & Stamp, about the legendary managers of The Who — two aspiring filmmakers who chanced upon one of the world’s great rock bands when they started looking for young musicians around whom they could build an independent film. Last year, there was 20,000 Days on Earth, an experimental documentary about Nick Cave that even included scenes of the Aussie rocker talking to a shrink and driving around ruminating on his career with his musical collaborators.
The trend is being fueled by a number of factors. Certainly, the critical and financial success of previous classics like The Buena Vista Social Club and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, and, more recently, titles like the Oscar-winning Searching for Sugar Man and 20 Feet from Stardom, has been a factor. And the presence of a dizzying range of distribution platforms — Netflix, HBO, iTunes, and Video On Demand, among them — now means viewers will find these films more easily. (Let’s also not forget that over the past decade or so, the digital revolution has made recording and mixing sound — crucial for this subgenre — a lot cheaper and easier.)
The deluge won’t be over anytime soon, either. Later this year, we can expect You Wanted the Best…You Got the Best, about Kiss. Plus, a Martin Scorsese-produced documentary about the Grateful Dead, and a Ron Howard-directed one about The Beatles. And it’s not just mainstream warhorses getting the rock-doc treatment. There’s also Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90), exploring the rise of hardcore in the nation’s capital, and Professor Longhair: Making a Gumbo, about the legendary New Orleans piano man. We’re also due for a series of documentaries about electronic music, including The Drop: The EDM Culture Explosion, and 808, about the infamous Roland drum machine that revolutionized pop and New Wave in the 1980s. Heck, maybe one day we’ll get a rock-doc about the 2015 surge of rock-docs.