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Eight Documentaries That Will Change the Way You See Musicians

Eight Documentaries That Will Change the Way You See Musicians

Tomorrow, HBO will release Jason Isbell: Running With Our Eyes Closed, which gives fans an inside-look at the Grammy-award winning singer’s struggles with music, sobriety and life in general.

Like all great music documentaries, the film will allow fans to see a different side of Isbell. Music documentaries have the power to give audiences a closer look at a massive industry. Whether it’s the making of an iconic album, like in Peter Jackson’s Get Back, or allowing an artist to share an unfiltered look at their life as in Taylor Swift’s Miss Americana, documentaries have a way of peeling back the curtain and revealing mystery.

Here are seven other documentaries that will give you a unique perspective of some of your favorite musicians.

If These Walls Could Sing

Peter Jackson’s documentary followed The Beatles as they filmed their iconic 1970 album Let It Be. But in If These Walls Could Sing, Mary McCartney explores nine decades of history at Abbey Road Studios to see and experience the creative magic that makes it the most famous and longest-running studio in the world. From classical to pop to hip-hop, Abbey Road Studios has been essential in crafting the sound of the last 90 years.

20 Feet From Stardom

Morgan Neville finds a novel way to explore songs you already know well: by talking to the backup singers who made them come alive. From the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” to David Bowie’s “Young Americans,” Neville tries to figure out why some of the most iconic voices in pop music belong to people whose names you’ve never heard, and why it’s so hard for women — women of color, especially — to break out of “backup singer” status and become stars themselves.


You think you know the story of Amy Winehouse, the self-destructive young raconteur with the voice of angel. But Asia Kapadia’s documentary shows a different side of Winehouse — funny, insecure, clever, ambitious and complicated in a way the tabloids refused to acknowledge. Kapadia’s story makes it clear that her sad fate was not a foregone conclusion of a bad girl gone worse, but the result of a culture who refused to heed its own role in a young woman’s living nightmare.

Homecoming: A Film By Beyonce

In addition to being one of our biggest stars, Beyoncé is also one of our most elusive. Part of her celebrity stems from the mystery of how little we know about her life. Homecoming might be the closest we ever get to seeing what goes into crafting this narrative, which surprisingly intimate footage of the weeks of toil, sweat and determination it takes to pull off something as mesmerizing as her 2018 Coachella performance.

Mistaken for Strangers

Back in 2013, The National were on the rise, touring all over the world. To capture a unique side of their story, lead singer Matt Berninger invited his brother, Tom, along for the tour. Tom provided an outside-looking-in perspective that gives fans an idea of what it’s like to be a fly on the wall to one of the most exciting bands of the decade. Through humor and honest conversations, Mistaken for Strangers provides a one-of-a-kind look at what it means to be a musician.

Amazing Grace

Sydney Pollack’s 1972 film of Aretha Franklin’s two-night live recording session for Amazing Grace spent decades as one of popular music’s great white whales, withheld from the viewing public for a variety of reasons both technical and legal. It finally landed a few months before Franklin passed away and, if anything, turned out to be better than the hype. It’s a film of a singer whose talent simply defies description at the height of her power, transporting a crowd, a film crew and her own backup Gospel choir to glory.

The Jesus Music

Within the music industry, there’s plenty of genres that have their own culture and heartbeat. Jesus Revolution directors Jon and Andrew Erwin explore the untold story of the Jesus Music movement, from its beginnings at the Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California, to its transformation into the multi-billion-dollar industry of Christian Contemporary Music today. Featuring interviews with Amy Grant, Micheal W. Smith, CeCe Winans and other worship industry titans, Jesus Music explores a unique and beautiful part of music. 

Time Is Illmatic

Illmatic is one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever, so it’s a credit to the documentary about its release that the story never gets lost in its own myth. Instead, the movie is interested in exploring Nas himself — a quiet, thoughtful artist who put everything he had into an album that deservedly changed the course of American rap.

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