Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Guest post – 500 Words of Summer – Aoife Kelleher

Next up in the 500 Words of Summer series, documentary-maker Aoife Kelleher writes about some recent music documentary discoveries. Some of my favourite documentary films are those that deal with music and musicians. The first “music” documentary I ever saw …

Tue, Aug 10, 2010, 14:00


Next up in the 500 Words of Summer series, documentary-maker Aoife Kelleher writes about some recent music documentary discoveries.

Some of my favourite documentary films are those that deal with music and musicians. The first “music” documentary I ever saw was D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back and, since then, it’s been an enduring love affair. The best documentaries are insightful and entertaining and I’ve found that, where these elements are present, it doesn’t matter if the film is about a band I don’t like (Metallica: Some Kind of Monster) or had never heard of (Anvil: The Story of Anvil). Since Jim has been kind enough to include me in the 500 Words of Summer series, I thought I’d use this post to mention some relatively recent finds.

About A Son (2006)

Based on over 25 hours of previously unheard interviews conducted with Kurt Cobain by the journalist Michael Azerrad for his biography, Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana, this film gives a profound insight into Cobain’s fragile state of his mind and his inability to cope with the pressure of fame. Director AJ Schnack turned the audio recordings into a film by setting them to abstract footage of Seattle, Olympia and Cobain’s hometown, Aberdeen. The intimacy of the interviews often makes them sound like therapy sessions and it quickly becomes clear that Kurt has failed to come to terms with the alienation he felt during childhood and adolescence. He often sounds more like a ten-year-old boy, still reeling from his parents’ divorce, than a grown man with an infant daughter of his own.

Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing (2006)

Never being a fan of the Dixie Chicks’ oeuvre (though I will admit to an embarrassing fondness for their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide) and always imagining them to be inoffensive, all-American types, I was surprised when I heard they were the subjects of a blacklist by a number of American radio stations after some comments made by the lead singer, Natalie Maines, during a concert in London in 2003.

Oscar-winning director Barbara Kopple followed the Dixie Chicks – the highest-selling female group in U.S. history – over a three-year period, as they dealt with the fallout from the incident. Branded traitors as a result of their anti-war stance, the band suffered a sharp fall in record sales, received death-threats and were derided by the American media. Much of the criticism they received was notable for its overt misogyny – in one clip from Fox’s O’Reilly Factor, the conservative pundit described them as “callow, foolish women who deserve to be slapped around”.

For the Dixie Chicks, life under siege was particularly difficult because there were children around. One of the most interesting things about Shut Up And Sing is its depiction of the life of touring musicians who are also mothers. Each of the women struggles to combine family life with the demands of the band – in one bizarre scene, guitarist Emily Robison gives birth to twins, surrounded by her band-mates and, of course, the film crew.

Cocksucker Blues (1972)

This is not the only documentary about The Rolling Stones, nor, frankly, is it the best – kudos to the Maysles brothers for their 1970 film, Gimme Shelter – but it’s certainly the most revealing. So revealing, in fact, that the film is under a court order which prevents it being screened unless the director, Robert Frank, is present. Now, though, anyone determined to see Cocksucker Blues will find that the hedonism of The Stones’ 1972 American tour is a mere google away.

Thanks to the extraordinary access granted to Frank, Cocksucker Blues chronicles the worst excesses of life on the road. Sex and drugs are omnipresent – though, since Jagger, Richards, Wyman and Watts were all in long-term relationships in 1972, only the backing band were filmed cavorting with groupies. Nevertheless, there are women everywhere and they are, frequently, naked. Early in the film, one of the groupies is forcibly disrobed for the entertainment of the backing musicians, while The Stones look on and bang tambourines. Later, another groupie is filmed injecting heroin. When she asks why the scene was filmed, the camera operator says “You have a nice smile”. Still, gross exploitation aside, Cocksucker Blues is worth watching, if only to experience the difference between Jagger the self-obsessed man-child (offstage) and Jagger the magnetic, mesmerising artist (onstage).

The credits: Aoife Kelleher is a documentary director and researcher, whose recent work includes the RTÉ series Growing Up Gay and The Rutland. She also writes for The Anti-Room.

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