Three Music Documentaries to Check Out

Caught three interesting music documentaries at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival that are worth keeping an eye out for.

Movie: ‘The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson’

English rock guitarist and songwriter Johnson is even less than a cult figure in America – well likely better seen if not quite known here for his mute yet compelling acting debut as executioner Ilyn Payne in Game of Thrones – for his work with the band Dr. Feelgood and leading is own group, No matter (though the glimpses of his music here show a wonderful and special musical talent). Director Julian Temple has used Johnson’s diagnosis of fatal cancer to create a gripping and imaginative movie about facing mortality, and how his subject dealt with his impending demise is the potent core of this story. It’s also a work of cinematic homage that refers to and pulls in clips from other films as well as literature and poetry into a dazzling movie that goes beyond being a mere documentary. Icing on the cake is that Johnson gets a corrected diagnosis towards the end of his year in which he is supposed to die and an unprecedented operation that saves his life.

Movie: ‘Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Groove’

Not the first doc I’ve seen on someone I have known (nor the last; see below), but a damn fine one on a musical artist of such broad and deep talent as well as a unique personality (to say the least) who merits far wider recognition. Noted Texas music journalist and author Joe Nick Patoski knew subject Doug Sahm better than I did, and he smartly focuses on what made this idiosyncratic character and musical quantity tick: “the groove,” be it musical, in life and locational plus spiritual and more. In between Sahm’s debut national hit in 1965 as leader of the Sir Douglas Quintet and his late in life run as the core of the Texas Tornados – his biggest successes – he created a plethora of amazing music that runs across a gamut of styles as well as fused them in myriad ways. And lived a unique and fascinatingly individual life before passing at 58. As a longtime fan of Sahm who came to be one of his many friends, I can attest that Patoski’s film does the man justice.

Movie: ‘Danny Says’

You couldn’t be involved in the music business and scene in New York City from the 1960s on without knowing of if not knowing, as I did, Danny Fields. In the underground and cutting-edge rock community, Fields had a Zelig-like ubiquity. But unlike the Woody Allen character, he made things happen. From his involvement with Andy Warhol’s Factory and the Velvet Underground and Nico to signing the MC5 and Iggy & The Stooges to record deals, doing publicity for The Doors and other acts, editing magazines, managing The Ramones – who recorded a song about him from which the film’s title is taken – and more, Fields was at the center of an ongoing major cultural shift.

Additional qualities such as lonely youth as an intellectual prodigy, early openness and security in his self as a gay man and sweet loving attitude about all the people he has worked with and the life he has lived along with his winning charm in this lively melange that draws from his voluminous personal archive and historical footage alongside commentary from many who know him should help earn Fields the deserved note he helped bring to many others.

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2015


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