Bob Marley's musical (and cultural) shadow is so large that the man clearly needed an authoritative documentary portrait--and Marley steps in with all the right stuff to fill the role. Working with official rights to the music and access to Marley's family and friends, Oscar-winning documentarian Kevin Macdonald (One Day in September) creates a thorough account that hits the major points, not stinting on some of the less admirable aspects of Marley's life (including his brood of children fathered with women other than his patient wife, Rita, whose presence indicates just how much she puts Marley's legacy above his personal infidelities). Especially interesting is the sketch of Bob Marley's youth, as a mixed-race--and thus socially ostracized--kid from the village of Nine Mile who began to put together a reggae sound with a group of like-minded musicians in Jamaica in the late '50s and early '60s. That period comes to life, and the account of Marley's ascent, while familiar from such sagas, has its share of offbeat incidents. His death, at age 36 in 1981, does not dominate the movie, but Macdonald does a good job of getting that story laid out. In the meantime, the music and the concert footage are more than enough to justify the movie's existence, and Macdonald makes time to include thoughts about politics, ganja smoking, and Rastafarianism, too. If it's not the final word on Marley, it's an excellent start.
Ian Hislop and John Eliot Gardiner reveal the story behind Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Described as the 'greatest 'great' piece ever written,' its opening notes are among the most recognisable in history. But no one really knows what Beethoven was trying to express with this piece. The traditional wisdom is that he is railing against fate and his deafness. But John Eliot believes the music expresses Beethoven's belief in the French Revolution. This is turbulent music from a turbulent man living in a turbulent age. John Eliot and Ian Hislop bring to life the exciting and dangerous times that shaped Beethoven personally and creatively.
2016 • Music
We don't know much about the human brain on music. Do people instinctively know the sound patterns of the pentatonic scale? Is there a base level of musical knowledge in all of us, just waiting to be tapped? Or is the pentatonic scale simply so common in Western music that it has become ingrained in all of our minds? Improvisational genius Bobby McFerrin uses audience participation to demonstrate the power of the pentatonic scale - or at least the audience's familiarity with it.
2011 • Music
DJ and broadcaster Rita Ray travels to Mali in West Africa, home to a deep musical culture and ancient instruments that are the hallmark of their sound. Mali has produced more Grammy-winning artists than any other African country, and this well of talent has drawn in artists and producers from around the world to collaborate with the local musicians. Whilst the country has been rocked by Islamist insurgency, leading to a ban on music in some areas, Rita finds out how a traditional way of life and rich musical culture have endured.
Asif Kapadia's poignant and critically acclaimed documentary portrait of singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, the English soul, jazz and R 'n' B phenomenon who died tragically before her time. Kapadia traces her volatile life and artistic success over the 13 years preceding her death from alcohol poisoning on 23rd July 2011, aged just 27. The documentary tells Amy's story via her music and autobiographical song lyrics, video footage shot by her friends and family, archive clips from TV appearances, plus voiceover interviews with people who were personally and professionally close to her. But, as the film progresses, the hope and promise of her early career is steadily undermined by the self-destructive chaos of alcohol and drug addiction and the pressures of a life lived under the intense focus of global media attention.
2016 • Music
Behind-the-scenes archive documentary following Queen's Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon as they record their sixth album News of the World and embark on a groundbreaking tour of North America. By 1977, Queen had become a major headlining act in the UK, releasing chart-topping albums and singles as well as playing sell-out concerts in all the country's major venues. However, they were facing an increasingly hostile music press, who had a new favourite in punk and had turned against the elaborate, multi-layered recording techniques that had become the hallmark of the band's previous albums. But an unfazed Queen had their sights set on greater things. As the band announced plans to record their next album, the expectation was it would be another production extravaganza, but Freddie, Brian, Roger and John already had other ideas. News of the World showcased them at their most raw, simple and best, returning to their roots as a live act. With a self-imposed limit on studio time and produced entirely on their own for the first time, this stripped-back album took the fans and press by surprise and demonstrated Queen's ability to transcend fashions. It was to prove a seminal moment in the band's history. At the time, BBC music presenter Bob Harris was given exclusive and extensive access to the band to cover this period. Conducting insightful interviews with all four band members as well as filming them at work in the studio as they were planning and rehearsing their forthcoming North American tour, and then following them as they performed across the US, Bob captured a band attempting to replicate their huge domestic success on the global stage. Curiously, the documentary he set out to make was never completed, and the footage lay unused in the archive until now. To mark the 40th anniversary of the release of the News of the World album, the footage has now been carefully restored and revisited to compile this hour-long portrait of a group setting out to take the next step on their remarkable journey to becoming one of the biggest bands on the planet. Armed with an array of new songs, including the monster hits We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions, Queen dazzled the American audience and laid the foundations of a relationship that endures to this very day. Coming full circle, this film is bookended by footage shot in the summer of 2017 as Brian May and Roger Taylor took Queen back to the US with Adam Lambert as lead singer. Revisiting many of the cities they had performed in 40 years previously and including many of the songs from that 1977 album, they prove that despite the tragic loss of Freddie Mercury over 25 years ago, Queen can still rock the world.
2017 • Music
There was nothing predictable about David Bowie. Everything was designed to intrigue, to challenge, to defy all expectations. But perhaps no period in David Bowie's extraordinary career raised more fascination, more surprise, and more questions than the last five years. This is an intimate portrait of one of the defining artists of the twentieth and early twenty first centuries, told by the people who knew him best - his friends and artistic collaborators. This film takes a detailed look at Bowie's last albums, The Next Day and Blackstar, and his play Lazarus. In his final five years, Bowie not only began producing music again, but returned to the core and defining themes of his career. This film explores how Bowie was a far more consistent artist than many interpretations of his career would have us believe. It traces the core themes from his final works and relates them to his incredible back catalogue. His urge to communicate feelings of spirituality, alienation and fame underpin his greatest works from the 1960s to 2016. This is what lies at the heart of his success and appeal - music that deals with what it means to be human in a way that goes far beyond the normal palette of a rock star. The film is not a comprehensive overview of his entire career, but an in-depth exploration of pivotal moments that show how the themes, the narrative and the approach is consistent - it is simply the palette that changes. The film includes every key member of the Next Day band, the Blackstar band and those who worked with him on the stage play Lazarus. In addition, old friends and colleagues are on hand to explore how the work of the last five years relates to Bowie's back catalogue. And, as in David Bowie: Five Years, there is a wealth of unseen and rare archive footage.
2017 • Music