The beauty of a great documentary is that it can take a subject, such as a so-so rock & roll band, yet still be fascinating. These seven documentaries may not tell the story of, say, Woodstock. Instead, they tell a story well. Even hard luck stories–if told effectively–are worth the time it takes to watch and listen. You may learn how to become a rocker from these works. However, you might also learn what not to do, too. Therefore, watch carefully.
"The Decline of Western Civilization"
Penelope Spheeris expertly directed this documentary about the punk scene in the late '70s/early '80s. While some of this music is fantastic, including clips of X, Germs, and Black Flag, there's also some more forgettable music, such as the Alice Bag Band and Catholic Discipline. It's because there's a lot of scrap metal as well as pure gold, this documentary is mostly better than the music and bands it documents.
"The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years"
After documenting punk rock, Spheeris aimed her camera at heavy metal. Once again, there is good with bad. For instance, Megadeth and Kiss are featured. However, so are W.A.S.P.–the less said about them, the better–and Ozzy Osbourne. Ozzy is an important figure in rock; he's just not a very good musician. The scene where he tries to cook breakfast, more fried on drugs than the eggs he cooks, is sad and funny at the same time. Spheeris is more intent on capturing a scene, rather than the very best of a musical genre. Her film is therefore much better than the music she documents.
"Truth or Dare (aka In Bed with Madonna)"
Madonna's film makes this list because the woman is an amazing figure, but no great shakes as a singer. Oh sure, she makes a fine entertainer and dancer, but as a musician, she's not exactly setting the world on fire. It's creepy fun to look in on her sex life, but it's not really about music per se. After all, there may never have been a Lady Gaga without Madonna, for better or worse. Probably better.
"KISS Loves You"
Without their costumes, they'd be just another average rock group. Not great players or great singers, they folks in the original KISS had the good sense to relize what their limitations were, and therefore used all sorts of spectacle to compensate. This is a fascinating look at a great American success story, even if the music isn't terribly spectacular. Sometimes, a gimmick is even more important than talent, which is exactly the case when it comes to KISS.
"Anvil! The Story of Anvil"
Anvil is/was a band that never quite made it. This documentary tells their hard luck story. They won't go down as one of the greats, but with this film, at least their story gets told. The group did have a little success after the release of the film, though, so good for them. It's not that they were a lousy group, but something seemed to be lacking for them, especially when measured against other popular metal acts.
"This Is Spinal Tap"
Okay, this film is fiction. Nevertheless, it fits because it's a mock documentary and because it documents a really bad band. They're so stupid, they're entertaining in spite of themselves. Furthermore, the group in the movie did actually tour and behave like a real band. Hey, The Monkees started the exact same way! And who can argue with songs like "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight"?
"All You Need Is Cash"
Like "This Is Spinal Tap," this is also a work of fiction. It's actually based on The Beatles, so while The Rutles are awful, the real Beatles are great. If you can't see The Beatles story told within it, you really don't know your music history. They started a legend, as the film states, that lasted a lunch time. Like the song says, "All You Need Is Cash." Thanks, Eric Idle!