1971 : The Year That Music Changed Everything is a music documentary based on Never a Dull Moment, a book written by David Hepworth. The documentary’s premise is that 1971 was a watershed year where rock and pop music exerted great influence on culture in the USA, the UK and the rest of the world.
WeWork: Or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn is a 2021 American documentary film, written and directed by Jed Rothstein. It follows WeWork, a real estate company run by Adam Neumann, who was ultimately forced out of the company.
Operation Varsity Blues is an American dramatised documentary film streaming on Netflix. The film is based on the 2019 scandal related to a criminal conspiracy to influence undergraduate admissions decisions at several top American universities. The investigation into the conspiracy was code named Operation Varsity Blues.
Rise of the Nazis is a three-part historical documentary TV series about how the Nazis seized absolute power in the Germany of the early 1930s. The documentary series mixes wordless dramatised sequences with the usual expert interviews to present an engaging, informative and insightful look back at the critical years before Adolf Hitler and the Nazis caused the deaths of millions of lives during World War II.
History of Swear Words is a 5-part streaming TV documentary series hosted by actor Nicolas Cage. The series was released on Netflix on 5th January 2020. The concept behind History of Swear Words is straight-forward enough – interview comedians and experts to discuss the origins, usage and cultural impact of swear words down the ages.
Washington is a three-part documentary cum drama miniseries on the life of George Washington, the first President of the United States of America. Now, I have personally avoided these kinds of historical ‘docudramas’ believing that a dramatised documentary would be neither good documentary or drama. However, the excellence of Washington may have got me rethinking this approach.
The Bee Gees : How Can You Mend A Broken Heart is a music documentary directed by Frank Marshall about the Gibb Brothers viz. Barry, Robin and Maurice. The documentary basically focuses on the two main eras in which the trio were at their most successful i.e. the late 1960s and a decade later in the late 1970s. There are also cursory examinations of their fallow periods in between and after these phenomenal heights but nothing much in depth.
Room 2806 : The Accusation is a four-part Netflix documentary series focusing on the allegations of sexual assault made against French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn (“DSK”) in 2011. While Room 2806 : The Accusation is ostensibly concerned with a particular historical incident, thematically it addresses the wider issue of sexual abuse carried out by men of power and status.
Heaven’s Gate : The Cult of Cults is a 4-part HBO documentary about the religious cult that committed mass suicide in 1997. Heaven’s Gate as a cult documentary is bound to be compared to The Vow, which was about the NXIVM sex slavery cult. Which I guess is an appropriate starting point in discussing Heaven’s Gate : The Cult of Cults.
Urgh A Music War is a 1981 British film featuring performances by punk rock, new wave, and post-punk acts, filmed in 1980. For me personally, the movie holds a special place in my heart as it provided me with a gateway to the new music that was sweeping over the UK and the USA, in the wake of punk.
Back in the early 70s, the Singapore government clamped down on the arts, labelling it “yellow culture” and therefore undesirable. Live rock music was banned in 1974 and the Ministry of Culture practiced an active censorship of pop culture. When punk emerged in the mid-70s, the authorities blocked releases by punk bands in Singapore. Suffice to say there was no rock music on TV either.
Thus, when I saw in the newspapers that Urgh A Music War was playing at the Rex Cinema, a relatively small theatre, I did not hesitate. The main attraction to me back then were The Police. Sting and company were one of the first newly styled rock bands that I had latched on too, together with the likes of The Jam and The Knack in 1979/80.
The movie was about two hours long and featured bands that I mostly had no clue about and styles of music that I was unfamiliar with. The Police opened the movie with “Driven to Tears” and it was a treat to finally watch them live, even if it was only on a movie screen.
The bands that followed made little impression until Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. That performance of “Enola Gay” blew my mind. I had not yet heard of synth-pop yet and it was a mind-ending experience.
This first exposure to electronic pop was cemented by the highlight of the movie – Gary Numan’s performance of “Down in the Park” with him seated in a moving chair! Both OMD and Numan certainly opened my mind (and ears) to brand new musical possibilities.
Strangely enough, I never quite felt any affinity with the out and out punk bands in the movie – they seemed somewhat insubstantial to me. But what did get my attention were the guitar bands that demonstrated more sophistication like Echo and the Bunnymen and XTC.
Naturally, considering my obsession with The Police, I was also drawn to the reggae outfits like Steel Pulse and UB40. It would be a rich vein that I would definitely tap in the coming years.
I realise now almost 4 decades later that there were probably numerous bands that were cut out of the Singapore release – I am sure I would have remember watching Dead Kennedys and Devo. I wonder how my musical habits might have changed if both were never excised. Would I have leant more towards the American punk scene than the British in the 80s? Who knows??
In the final analysis, I owe much to Urgh A Music War – the movie changed my life! 1982 would be a big year for music discovery.
The Vow is a HBO true crime documentary about the NXIVM sex cult and their leader, Keith Raniere. The documentary actually chronicles events as they unfold in real-time, in respect of the attempts of ex-NXIVM members to expose Raniere and bring him to justice.
As part of its 60th anniversary, the Singapore Film Society (SFS) has programmed a series of independent award winning documentary films between September to October as its core screenings in the lead up to the Singapore premiere of Sandi Tan’s award-winning SHIRKERS on 20 October.
I was invited by my buddy Michael Lim (Singapore Film Society) to a screening of Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso’s When the Rooster Crows, a documentary on diversity and richness of Southeast Asian Cinema. The documentary highlights four indie film-makers viz. Brillante Mendoza (Philippines); Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Thailand); Eric Khoo (Singapore); and Garin Nugroho (Indonesia).
Ostensibly, I was supposed to contribute to a post-screening panel discussion with Lombroso and Michelle Goh (who acted in Eric’s Mee Pok Man and still looks fresher than the first time I met her 20 years ago!) but really had nothing much relevant to say, except that Eric was a buddy of mine too.
Since I got to watch the movie free of charge, I thought it’d only be fair to share a little review. Conceptually, I loved the way that Lombroso approached the movie not merely as a standard documentary but as a film in its own right. Thus, there was a narrative running through its 88 minutes (that’s a very Eric Khoo number, by the way) that not only featured the subject film-makers and their films but also the context of their muse (their countries of origin).
The manner in which one segment segued into the next seamlessly added to this overall effect and emphasised Lombroso’s observation that even though the four countries highlighted are often differentiated from one other, there were many similarities as well. In particular, in the obstacles that each independent film scene faced in their own countries – whether it be social or political. What was evident was that each scene, as represented by each film-maker, dug deep into the human soul – the belief, the creativity and the fighting spirit – in order to produce works of film art that resonated beyond their respective shores.
One of the obvious takeaways was that each film scene needed to support one another so that South East Asian indie film could be developed and nurtured. Thus, perhaps a more vibrant regional film scene – one that cross-pollinated across boundaries would be a solution to the usual gripes about lack of local support.
For me personally, there was an allegory to be drawn with the music scene here – that we needed to reach out to the music scenes regionally and not be too myopic about confining the building of a fan base to the hard ground that is Singapore. Definitely something to chew on.
More information about the Singapore Film Society may be obtained from its official website.
The premise of Seduced and Abandoned is simple enough. Director James Toback and actor Alec Baldwin try to sell a film concept at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012, and basically make a documentary about the experience.
Along the way they interview influential directors like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski & Bernardo Bertolucci to get their takes on Cannes and the movie industry as a whole. The duo also talk to actors Ryan Gosling, Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger and James Caan.
It’s easy to get a lil cynical about Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters‘ marketing their upcoming new album Sonic Highways by way of a eight-part documentary series on HBO. But the cynicism will evaporate when one watches the first episode as Grohl and co record in Chicago and proceeds to pay tribute to the Chicago musicians who made a difference – from Buddy Guy to Cheap Trick to Steve Albini to Naked Raygun. This is done with a love, respect and fervour that demonstrates once again that Grohl has his heart and soul in the right place – he’s one of us…
Check out the complex yet visceral opening track from Sonic Highways, “Something From Nothing”….
Regular PoP visitors will be aware of the fact that I am a huge Bowie fan and was greatly disappointed when I missed the David Bowie Is exhibitions organized by the Victoria & Albert Museum, when I was in London last year with TypeWriter.
So imagine my delight when I learned of a documentary about the exhibition that not only highlighted its various exhibits but also included various experts chiming in with personal experiences and opinions on the influence of Bowie on modern pop culture.
At the same time, it felt me with grave regret at missing the exhibition and hoping for a chance to get a crack at it one day in the future. But in the meantime, this documentary is a splendid way to whet the appetite. In any case, the documentary is essential for all Bowie fans and any serious scholar of art and pop culture.
Tickets are now available for online purchase at over 80 cinemas across the U.S. The film is scheduled to screen on one day, Tuesday, September 23, 2014, with additional cinemas being added to the list on a regular basis. Simultaneously, the V&A exhibition in London will be opening at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (MCA) on that same Tuesday as well.
The true measure of a rock star is the kind of fans he or she has. Springsteen & I is a documentary with a difference – it was made for Springsteen fans by Springsteen fans! By the end of the documentary, you will be convinced about the depth of love and passion that Springsteen fans hold for their icon. Judging from the diversity in age and nationality, it’s clear that Springsteen’s appeal covers a broad range of fans. This special connection is what makes this documentary unique. Also worth checking out – numerous previously unseen archive footage of performances from throughout Springsteen’s career. The DVD bonus features include performances from 2012’s Hard Rock Calling (including two songs with Paul McCartney) and fan homemade video submissions.
Considering the number of iconic films that The Rolling Stones have been associated with – Gimme Shelter, Sympathy for the Devil, Performance and Cocksucker Blues, it was simply not enough for director Brett Morgen to come up with a by-the-numbers 50th anniversary retrospective. Which, to his immense credit, he didn’t!
Fact is, Crossfire Hurricane manages to provide a kaleidoscopic perspective of events that made the Stones the living rock n’ roll legends that they are. One very crucial decision made was not to shoot the Stones as they currently are – so they only provide the relevant voiceover but visually, the viewer is never distracted from the story by how the Stones look like in 2013 (basically, old).
In this manner, Crossfire Hurricane is able to be interesting to new and old fans alike. It never comes across as a nostalgic exercise but a critical study of key events of the Stones’ career that intersected with the milestones of rock n’ roll. Thus, this documentary film is essential for longtime fans as well as rock scholars.
There can be no doubt about The Eagles‘ place in rock history. Biggest selling album of the 20th century, inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, a comeback album that sold in excess of 5 million in these troubled times for the music industry and a best-selling live show that continues to run and run.
Not to mention, a sideshow of controversy that has dogged the band despite the absolute highs. The high profile suit by former member Don Felder against The Eagles and the publication of Felder’s ‘tell-all’ book, Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974 – 2001) has tarnished somewhat the reputations of Don Henley and Glenn Frey (the co-leaders of the band) but that has not stopped the musical juggernaut from continuing to pull in the big bucks.
This documentary – as you might imagined – tells the story from Henley and Frey’s perspective. Both men are rather dismissive about Felder in the interviews and Frey evens gets in some descriptive expletives for good measure. The fact that the duo come across smug and self-righteous leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.
The first DVD recounts the band’s rise to fame and implosion in 1980 with rare footage and incisive comments from the key players. The second DVD recounts the band’s even more impressive comeback beginning the Hell Freezes Over tour in 1990.
Of the two DVDs, the first one is the most exciting as one gets to witness the making of iconic songs (“Take It Easy”, “One of These Nights”) and albums (Hotel California) and how Henley and Frey went from backing Linda Ronstadt to having the best-selling album of the 20th Century – Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975). The second DVD, well, is simply too sanctimonious at times with the unwelcome sight of Henley and Frey justifying their arrogance – rather unwatchable at times. Overall, the excellent first DVD is worth the price of admission though.