10 Best Rock Documentaries

Sunday, August 14 by Elizabeth Stewart

The 10 best rock documentaries capture the lives, struggles and failings of some of the most iconic and talented musicians from different eras. Never-before-seen footage and behind-the-scenes videos define some of the most compelling documentaries on the personal and professional lives of these rock legends.

“It Might Get Loud” 

This 2008 rock documentary from “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Waiting for Superman” director Davis Guggenheim is shot through the eyes of three different generations of guitar virtuosos. The rock musicians are Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, U2’s the Edge and the White Stripes’ Jack White talking about their rebellion through music. The documentary includes nostalgic visits to the halls of Headley Grange where “Stairway to Heaven” was composed.

“Rattle and Hum” 

U2 rose from being a small Irish rock group into rock music icons. “Rattle and Hum” is a concert documentary as it follows U2 on their Fall 1987 North American tour. Directed by Phil Joanou, the documentary captures the band just right after the success of “The Joshua Tree” album that catapulted them into international stardom. 

“No Direction Home: Bob Dylan” 

Martin Scorsese has always been a prolific director. His 2005 rock documentary chronicling Bob Dylan's personal and musical lives from 1961 to 1966 is a classic. The film documents Dylan’s transformation from being a mere folk singer to become a protest singer, hailed by fans and critics as the “voice of a generation,” with rare footage from the Bob Dylan Archives.

“Living in the Material World” 

Martin Scorsese has scored a major coup as George Harrison’s widow, Olivia, gives him unprecedented access to music archives, never-before-seen videos and documents. The documentary’s title was inspired by the constant quest of George and Olivia to find the balance between the spiritual and physical aspects of their lives. The documentary contains unreleased footage from Harrison’s early days with the Beatles until his passing in 2001.

"The Last Waltz" 

This 1978 rock documentary is the first one from the director of such dramatic films as “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull.” “The Last Waltz” is an account of the legendary farewell concert of The Band. The concert was held at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day, November 1976 and marked The Band’s career after spending sixteen years on the road.

“Shine a Light” 

Frenetic and highly entertaining best describes this documentary of rock legends the Rolling Stones. Martin Scorsese captures the band as they make plans to perform at a benefit concert hosted by Bill and Hillary Clinton. After personal tensions and things going awry, everything finally falls into place.

Elvis on Tour” 

This Golden Globe Award-winning documentary on rock and roll icon Elvis Presley was released in 1972.  “Elvis on Tour” costs producers $1.6 million to produce, a huge budget for that time, with most of the money going to Elvis for his $1 million fee. However, given the height of his popularity during that period, producers were able to recoup their expenses after only three days of theatrical released.

“The Beatles Anthology” 

This eight-part documentary series on members of the legendary rock band “The Beatles” started in the 1960s but was only released in 1995. The film begins while the Fab Four—John Paul, George and Ringo—were still together as The Beatles in the late 1960s and ends in the 1990s when the band reached its apex. The documentary is notable for showing these legends jamming together for the last time before they finally disbanded.

“Westway To The World” 

Members of The Clash are icons in the punk rock scene. This documentary from Don Letts captures The Clash members when they were in the prime of their youth and beaming with energy.

“End of the Century” 

Directed by Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia, this documentary on the rock group The Ramones expose their personal and professional struggles. It is about their music and their chronic problems with drug and alcohol abuse.

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