Docs That Rock

Are Music Docs a Tough Sell?

Variety is en fuego with articles about music earlier this week but this one saying music documentaries are a tough sell seems off. The article cites Scorses’s Shine A Light grossed only $5.5 million and U2 3d which reaped just $9.7 million. Even the Jonas Brothers concert film only grossed $12.7 million in its first week.


But if you squint, you’ll realize the article only spoke about theatrical docs. Of course, these are tough times theatrically for documentaries of all kinds, not just music. That wasn’t addressed. And the good news (very hard to read between the lines) is that docs do well on DVD and TV (because if not, then why would everyone keep making ’em?) There was no discussion of new distribution channels on the web (see the Gorillaz doc post the other day) either. But you can’t have everything in one article, right?

But what I want to discuss is how the article seems to be mostly a lament of omniculture, a refrain that has come to typlify media criticism. Music now comes in thousands of flavors, the gatekeepers no longer control what gets on the tiny record store shelves and anyone can be a star with an album made with a mic and a PC. There’s never been a better time to be a music fan and never have so much music been consumed. But the critics miss the days where everyone listened to the same Top 40 songs.

See what I’m talking about as Variety references music docs:

Woodstock may have taken place 40 years ago, but the Oscar-winning film that chronicled that landmark event — along with such features as “Don’t Look Back,” “The Last Waltz” and “Stop Making Sense” — set the bar so high that few music-driven documentaries in their wake have measured up. These works gave viewers front-row access to historic events and artists, capturing the public’s imagination in lasting, significant ways. But as popular music becomes ever more homogenized, and today’s American Idol becomes tomorrow’s afterthought, the mystique that enveloped artists like Hendrix, Dylan and the Band has been relegated to nostalgia.

I would argue some of the best music docs have come after these seminal events.

There’s also an inherently bias Boomer mentality too that seeps through reporting today: nothing could be as good as it was back then. Of course, Kurt Andersen has written that this is just a reflection of looming boomer mortality:

For half a century, they have dominated the culture, and now, as they enter the glide path to death, I think their generational solipsism unconsciously extrapolates approaching personal doom: When I go, everything goes with me, my end will be the end.

I wonder if this declinism in society in general as well as music docs will vanish when new editors and gatekeepers take the seats from the Boomers. One can only hope.

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April 24, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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