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Moonage Daydream, the new film about David Bowie, is technically a documentary. It documents the legendary musician’s life, his music, and his creative process like most biographical documentaries, sure… but it’s the presentation of the film – and the way it makes you feel as a viewer – that makes it remarkably unique.

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There are no talking head interviews with people who aren’t Bowie, no narration, and sometimes little context for when scenes are precisely taking place. Instead, there’s a loose narrative formed by animation, archive footage edited in interesting ways, voiceover from old Bowie interviews, clips from films the artist appeared in, and concert footage. For anyone who found the experience of Moonage Daydream an exhilarating breath of fresh air from more standard, by-the-numbers music documentaries, here are 10 other music-themed documentaries that similarly break the mold.


‘Cobain: Montage of Heck’ (2015)

Before directing Moonage Daydream, filmmaker Brett Morgen tackled the life story of another legendary musician in an intensely emotional, sometimes uncomfortably personal film. That musician is Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, and the documentary in question is Cobain: Montage of Heck.

It is a slightly more conventional documentary than Moonage Daydream, admittedly. The structure is generally linear, and there are numerous talking head interviews. However, it’s the other areas of the presentation that make this stand out; most notably, its animated sequences and heavy use of home video footage, as well as images of Cobain’s artwork and journal entries. It aims to transport the viewer into Kurt Cobain’s mind to better understand him and his struggles, and due to doing this so successfully, it inevitably becomes a very confronting – even difficult – watch.

‘The Beatles: Get Back’ (2021)

Peter Jackson’s monumental three-part documentary on The Beatles, Get Back, runs for about eight hours, yet hones in on the creation of just one of their albums, detailing a fragment of the band’s history in remarkable detail.

It’s what Get Back chooses to focus on that makes it so distinctive. By covering only a few weeks in eight hours, it’s able to spend a significant amount of time on almost every day, letting the viewer see almost every step in the creative process that led to the second-last album they ever recorded: Let It Be. Starting with the band having no real direction and little inspiration, and ending with their triumphant and iconic rooftop concert (their final live performance as a band), it’s a remarkable journey, with an attention to detail that few other music documentaries have offered.

‘Ennio’ (2021)

Giuseppe Tornatore is an Italian filmmaker (probably best-known for the wonderful Cinema Paradiso) who worked with the legendary composer Ennio Morricone a total of 13 times between 1988 and 2016. He was therefore the perfect person to direct the simply-titled Ennio, a 2.5-hour documentary about Morricone’s life, his remarkable 60-year-long career, and the incredibly beautiful music he composed.

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Filmed whilst Morricone was still alive, but released some time after he passed away in 2020, the film manages to celebrate the immortal nature of Morricone’s music whilst subtly eulogizing him, and quietly acknowledging how there may never be anyone like him ever again. For fans of Morricone – or fans of cinema in general, given how many films are discussed throughout – it’s a must-watch.

‘The Velvet Underground’ (2021)

The Velvet Underground comes from Todd Haynes, a director who’s made films about musicians before. These include I’m Not There, which explores the many sides of Bob Dylan through (mostly) fictionalized vignettes, and Velvet Goldmine, which depicts the glam-rock scene of the early 1970s, with its two main characters being loosely based on David Bowie and Iggy Pop.

The Velvet Underground is a little more conventional than those two films, but not by much. In telling the story of one of rock music’s most distinctive bands, Haynes opts to break a few film and documentary conventions of his own, to best reflect their spirit. It’s largely successful, and strikes a good balance between being an informational documentary and an artsier, Velvet Underground-influenced visual/aural experience.

‘Amy’ (2015)

Perhaps one of the most tragic and harrowing music documentaries of all time, Amy is an exceptionally well-made film that’s also remarkably difficult to watch. It covers the tragically short life of Amy Winehouse, who passed away in 2011 at only 27 years old, and tells its story in a way that’s more striking and less conventional than most documentaries, with archival footage and old interviews being used instead of narration and talking head interviews.

Amy also stands out for being remarkably empathetic, and condemning those who made fun of the artist’s struggles during her life. It criticizes the media, public figures, and even the population at large for lacking understanding when it comes to issues of mental illness and addiction, shining a light on those who mocked Winehouse in the press for her personal struggles, rather than offering support. As such, beyond being a great music documentary, it serves as a reminder to be kinder and more sympathetic towards those who are dealing with the kinds of things that Amy Winehouse battled in her life.

‘One More Time With Feeling’ (2016)

Of the three music documentaries made about Nick Cave released in the last decade, One More Time With Feeling is perhaps the best. It’s a dark and quietly moving film, shot in stark black and white, and documenting the development and recording of 2016’s Skeleton Tree – one of the best albums in the Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ discography.

Hanging over the creation of the album – and this documentary – was the tragic passing of Nick Cave’s 15-year-old son. It’s not always explicitly addressed on the album, nor in the documentary, but it’s hard not to feel like it heavily impacted and influenced both. One More Time With Feeling emerges, then, as a haunting and emotional experience, subtly exploring grief through its melancholic presentation and interviews, as well as through its scenes of Cave performing Skeleton Tree’s songs with his band.

‘The Sparks Brothers’ (2021)

Edgar Wright’s love for the quirky and off-the-wall pop/rock band Sparks shines through in The Sparks Brothers. The Mael brothers (their surname isn’t actually Sparks) are depicted as an endlessly creative, quirky, and funny duo who have a small but loyal fanbase, all the while never quite achieving mainstream success.

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It’s hard to know whether a documentary promoted as being about a little-known band will be more enjoyable for those who are Sparks fans, or those who’ve never heard any of their songs. Either way, its humor and energy keep it fresh and entertaining, making it one of the most stylish and gleefully in-your-face music documentaries in years.

‘Shut Up and Play the Hits’ (2012)

Time has diluted the impact of Shut Up and Play the Hits, to some extent, but it remains an engaging and insightful looking into the famed indie-rock/electronic band known as LCD Soundsystem and its frontman, James Murphy.

The reason it doesn’t hit as hard today is that it’s about the band’s supposed farewell concert in 2011, and Murphy’s feelings about ending the band… only he reformed the band in 2015, and they released a new album in 2017. Still, for the great concert footage, and the depiction of an artist grappling with how to “go out with a bang,” Shut Up and Play the Hits remains a compelling watch.

‘Bros: After the Screaming Stops’ (2018)

For anyone who’s ever wanted to see a documentary replicate the hilarity and absurdity of the mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, Bros: After the Screaming Stops has got you covered. The fact they’re not actors and the footage seems authentic makes it all the more memorable.

The documentary follows Matt and Luke Goss, twins from the UK who had a handful of hits in the 1980s before fading into semi-obscurity. After the Screaming Stops focuses on their reunion tour, and all the things that go wrong, mostly due to a clashing of egos. Even if it’s not an intentional comedy, parts of it are absolutely hilarious, and have to be seen/heard to be believed.

‘The Song Remains the Same’ (1976)

Led Zeppelin was one of the most popular, widely-beloved rock bands of all time, so how weird could a documentary/concert film about them really be? If The Song Remains the Same is anything to go by: very.

This film is impossible to classify, really. There’s concert footage, there are interviews, there’s some alarming backstage footage, and there are also several fantasy segments, each helmed and “overseen” by a different member of the band. It’s messy and sometimes shockingly inept, but also genuinely compelling at other times, making for a wild and unpredictable experience that deconstructs what a music documentary is well before it was cool to do so.

NEXT: Great Concert Films for Anyone Who Misses Live Music

10 More Unconventional Music Documentaries To Watch After ‘Moonage Daydream’

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