Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic has been a success with moviegoers and critics alike. The famous director’s signature directing style gave the film the flamboyance of the real-life Elvis Presley but notably wasn’t always factual in its portrayal of Presley’s life.
Many music documentaries have been released over the past decade and have been growing increasingly in popularity. For those who want to know more about the music of Elvis Presley’s time, or the subsequent history of music he has undoubtedly influenced, there are many great movies to check out.
10 Amy (2015)
Stream on Showtime
In collaboration with the star’s parents and her record label, this Academy Award-nominated film chronicles the life, music, and mental health struggles of the late singer Amy Winehouse. Offering home videos and new music, the documentary offers a side of Winehouse never seen before.
Like Elvis Presley, Amy Winehouse died tragically at a young age after a long battle with addiction. The film grapples with how an unsympathetic tabloid culture failed to empathize with her, offering a tender reconsideration of the incredible loss of her voice and vibrant personality that wasn’t appreciated during her lifetime.
9 George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011)
Stream on HBO
This documentary on the late Beatles guitarist is directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese. The film offers exclusive footage of the musician’s life and music career, as well as interviews with the remaining Beatles, as well as his family, and the Hindu spiritual leaders he grew close to after his religious conversion.
The film offers a rare insight into “the quiet one” of the historic band, offering a soulful look at his life beyond the headlines and the mega hits. Scorsese’s love for The Beatles and his poignant filmmaking that made his name makes for one of the greatest Beatles movies ever made.
8 The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005)
Stream on Tubi
Daniel Johnston is a pioneer of the lo-fi music genre but was little-known in mainstream music due to his extended stays in psychiatric institutions due to his bipolar disorder, which kept him out of the spotlight. The film chronicles his life and the inspiration behind his music, including his perceived meetings with the devil, shown in his music and diaries.
This film wonderfully empathizes with Johnston’s unique vision and how his mental health experiences formed and inspired his music. The documentary de-stigmatizes his bipolar diagnosis and sees the beauty of his mind in both music and artwork, and how beloved he is by legendary musicians, from Nirvana to David Bowie.
7 Dolly Parton: Here I Am (2019)
Stream on Netflix
Legendary musician Dolly Parton was raised in the same country music tradition as Elvis Presley. In a documentary narrated by Dolly herself, she details the country icons that shaped her and how she took the genre to new heights, accompanied by her famous friends and famous music.
For a more uplifting documentary, Dolly Parton’s optimistic outlook on life is celebrated through song and her personal narration. Her personal philosophy on various matters, from big hair and makeup to helping kids learn to read, makes for a feel-good documentary throughout.
6 Miss Americana (2020)
Stream on Netflix
Megastar Taylor Swift takes fans behind the scenes of her fame in a new light in Miss Americana. In the midst of a much-criticized, transitional phase of her career, Taylor opens up about her struggles with her own image and how she wants to present herself and use her platform in the future, as she forms her optimistic seventh album, Lover.
Unlike other music documentaries, this film deals with more modern aspects of fame for a musician, from social media to body image, to making music in Donald Trump’s America. Taylor even composed an original song for the movie, “Only The Young”, that reflects on the themes of the documentary.
5 Whitney (2018)
Available to rent on Amazon Prime Video & YouTube
Famed director Kevin MacDonald chronicles the life of the late singer Whitney Houston and her meteoric rise to fame and subsequent troubles in this Grammy-nominated, intimate film. The documentary was coordinated by Whitney’s former agent, Nicole David, giving exclusive access and footage.
The movie rather uniquely includes the influence of Whitney’s family in both her best and worst moments of her career, from her addiction struggles to the gospel influence that shaped her voice. Whitney offers contrasting perspectives of its interviewees over what made her the star she was.
4 Amazing Grace (2018)
Stream on Hulu & Kanopy
After Aretha Franklin’s death in 2018, her family and estate released this film. Amazing Grace has beautiful never-seen-before footage of the Queen of Soul’s recording of her 1972 album of the same name, at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church.
With its focus on her association with the church, Amazing Grace takes audiences to the core of Aretha Franklin’s incredible voice and style. Gospel music and her life in the church made Franklin’s vocals and songwriting what it was, and the documentary offers this important insight. You may also spot some famous faces, as the Rolling Stones, noted gospel fans, watch on in awe.
3 Gaga: Five Foot Two (2017)
Stream on Netflix
This Netflix documentary chronicles the pint-sized yet powerful Lady Gaga and her relationship with her closest friends and family. The film follows Gaga on her journey of recording her album Joanne, her agreement to star in 2018’s A Star is Born, and her performance at the Super Bowl Halftime Show.
Lady Gaga is known for her big personality, and this movie is the perfect vehicle to show her brilliant mind and her gift for empathizing with others. The film’s focus on the making of her album dedicated to her late aunt Joanne as a gift to her family makes for incredibly moving footage and highlights what makes Lady Gaga so special.
2 ReMastered: Tricky Dick & The Man in Black (2018)
Stream on Netflix
This documentary surrounds Johnny Cash’s famous performance for then-president Richard Nixon in April 1970. The film highlights Cash’s views on the Vietnam War and civil rights of Native Americans, as the two personalities clash as Cash attempts to create a protest performance.
Cash does have musical biopic like Elvis, Walk The Line, but this film offers a more focused look at his career and outlook circa 1970. With help from the family that he so dearly cherished, we get a look inside the mind and political ideology of Johnny Cash that has often been misconstrued and boxed in as typical country conservatism.
1 Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President (2020)
Stream On HBO Max
This unique tale of former President Jimmy Carter, a lifelong fan of music, offers a great history of the music of the late 1970s. As Carter becomes president around the death of Elvis Presley and during the height of protest music, the Georgia native is embraced by many famous faces – including Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Bob Dylan.
It is rather unorthodox for a music documentary to focus on a President, but this outlook offers a great snapshot of a particular moment for American music and culture. As a one-term president, the film offers a great focus on why musicians resonated with his brief presidency before his election loss in 1981, ushering in the era of Ronald Reagan and the dominant culture of the 1980s.
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