35mm: documenting music

Becoming more and more popular, the music documentary is hard to define. A diverse medium, it can serve as a person’s biography, narrate an artist’s musical life, explore a genre or be a recording of a performance. All to inform or entertain us, the viewership.

Amy covers the life of Amy Winehouse, a member of the infamous 27 Club. Documentaries like this seek to narrate their musical life up until their death. Serving as a visual memorial, they are a way of getting closer to an artist that we will never be able to see again by talking to those that were close to the artist in life. Labelled controversial, Amy blames the viewers (and the rest of our generation) for her untimely death. ‘This started off as a film about Amy, but it became a film about how our generation lives,’ the director Asif Kapadia starts, ‘It was important to turn the mirror back on the audience – not just the people around Amy who were making decisions, but the people who wrote about it, the people who consumed it, the people who shared it on Twitter and Facebook. We all let this happen. We are all slightly complicit.’

In the documentary Matangi Maya M.I.A. (to be released this year) there is as much a focus on politics as music; The Atlantic boldly states ‘[this] is not a normal pop documentary’. We learn that M.I.A.’s most famous song, Paper Planes, seeks to address the stereotypes that are placed upon refugees. Being a refugee herself after fleeing the Sri Lankan civil war, she seeks to use her platform to inform people of the issues that they face.

Amy and Matangi Maya M.I.A. are merely two examples of music documentaries that serve to show the range of issues that can be covered, and therefore explain the enduring popularity of the music documentary.

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Molly Bates Porter

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August 2022
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