Friday, September 21, 2012

The best concert films you've never seen

Posted By on Fri, Sep 21, 2012 at 12:36 PM

With Music Midtown occupying Piedmont Park this weekend, let's take a look at some of our favorite music and concert films, with the caveat that we're steering from the usual suspects (Last Waltz, Gimme Shelter, Don't Look Back, Ziggy Stardust, Stop Making Sense, Woodstock etc.), and opting instead for deep cuts you are not as likely to have seen already, by filmmakers making films, not promotional pieces:

Awesome I Fuckin' Shot That

When Beastie Boy Adam Yauch passed in May, I showed my fondness for this concert film writing the following:

He also oversaw what is, in my humble opinion, the greatest concert film ever: Awesome, I Fuckin' Shot That put 50 Hi8 cameras in the hands of the fans for a hometown show at MSG. (Bon Jovi did it first with Sam Kinnison handing out cameras for the "Bad Medicine" video, but did they get a shot of Ben Stiller rapping?).

The miracle is not the footage itself, but rather in the way MCA assembled it.

Rather than coming across as a stunt, the resulting film is an absolute masterpiece: a staggering, frenetic, varied, magical visual smörgåsbord, an epic display of montage that would make Dziga Vertov's head spin.


This film, shot seven years after the Watts riots, is best known for live performances by Albert King, Isaac Hayes, and the Bar-Kays. Mel Stuart's film also features insightful commentary from Richard Prior and an energizing call and-response rallying cry by Jesse Jackson. This "I am somebody" sequence feels as timely today as it was in 1972 thanks to Candidate Romney's 47% commentary.

Ornette: Made in America

Shirley Clarke's 1985 portrait of jazz saxaphonist has been restored and re-issued. The New Yorker's Richard Brody writes a passionate endorsement of the film: "Dramatized reconstructions of his youth, filmed performances from the sixties onward, and discussions with him and other musicians and associates (including William Burroughs and Brion Gysin) mesh with Clarke’s diverse array of video manipulations and her flamboyant, rapid-fire editing, which break through the reportorial evidence to evoke the visions and fantasies from which Coleman’s music arises."

Jazz on a Summer's Day

This magical film captures a remarkable moment in time, showcasing a stellar line-up at the the 1958 Newport jazz festival featuring Thelonious Monk, Sal Salvador, Anita O'Day, Dinah Washington, Chuck Berry, Louis Armstrong, and Mahalia Jackson. A primary example that contradicts stereotypical depictions of the 50's as square and uptight. Also, the film's bright color palate brought jazz from darkness into light, showing a . Kevin Jack Hagopian, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at Pennsylvania State University's notes emphasize the breakthrough of the Bert Stern's aesthetic choices:"Stern said that he wanted to bring jazz out of the cellars and into the sunlight, and he succeeded. Stern's biggest cinematic influence, he said, were not so much other documentaries as the great English cinematic colorist Michael Powell, whose The Red Shoes had made an indelible impression on a teenaged Stern. The result is that Jazz on a Summer's Day has more in common with, say the previous years Richard Avedon-Stanley Donen collaboration, Funny Face, than with most documentaries of the period."

Storefront Hitchcock

While Jonathan Demme is noted for his visionary work on Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, or for his recent work chronicling Neil Young , Storefront Hitchcock, remains under-appreciated in its spare, honest, and direct depiction of an artist's live performance.

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster

What started as a record company produced behind-the-scenes "making-of" marketing piece, evolved into a treatise about creativity, collaboration, conflict, and endurance thanks to skillful handling by filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (Paradise Lost) who capture candid moments of a band in crisis, and follow the possible dissolution and subsequent resolution of a band, tracking them as a business enterprise, a creative endeavor, and a tour de force. A remarkable piece of filmmaking.

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