Film review: Music documentaries to get lost in

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Rodriguez from "Searching for Sugar Man," photo by Hal Wilson, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. Rodriguez from "Searching for Sugar Man," photo by Hal Wilson, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Non-sequitur alert: Now that the wretched Super Bowl is over, let’s discuss music documentaries.

There are two reasons I’m thinking about music documentaries. First, 2012 was a great year for them. Searching for Sugar Man—which is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature—gets my vote for the best nonfiction narrative film of last year. If you haven’t seen it, fear not. Searching for Sugar Man was released on DVD in January.

Second, on Saturday, Feb. 2, the band My Bloody Valentine released its first album of new material in 22 years. The traffic on the MBV website was so heavy the server collapsed under the weight of twitchy fans typing “mybloodyvalentine.org.” I had to wait an extra two hours to buy the new tunes. After 22 years, an extra two hours seemed reasonable.

While waiting for the site to return, I googled “My Bloody Valentine” and found a documentary called Beautiful Noise, which features the Cocteau Twins, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and My Bloody Valentine. According to its Facebook page, the release date is 2013, and the description reads, “The definitive documentary about influential ‘80s and ‘90s guitar bands who harnessed massively loud sounds using a sea of effects pedals and delivered some of the most BEAUTIFUL NOISE ever recorded.”

Whether the movie is good—or sees release—is anyone’s guess. It will be worth a viewing, especially for fans of noise rock.

I understand noise rock isn’t for everyone. Angry drummers, however, should be. With that in mind, here’s another great music documentary from 2012: Beware of Mr. Baker.

That title is no idle suggestion. This movie, which chronicles the rise, fall, rise, fall, further fall, subsequent nose-dive, slight rise, and total face-plant of iconic drummer Ginger Baker, opens with Baker hitting the film’s director, Jay Bulger, in the nose with a walking cane.

Baker is the rhythm section behind Cream, Blind Faith, numerous other bands (including, at one time, Public Image, Ltd.), and he’s largely responsible for making westerners aware of African drumming. He’s also a tad temperamental; maybe that’s what two decades of heroin use does to you. In any event, his story is fascinating, and watching Baker destroy everything in his life is a lot like witnessing a car accident: You don’t want to look, but you have to look.

Finally, 2012 brought us Neil Young: Journeys, director Jonathan Demme’s latest Young chronicle (it’s good, but only for Young’s fans); Under African Skies, Joe Berlinger’s film about Paul Simon’s return to South Africa 25 years after Graceland (Berlinger is half the team responsible for Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, the best documentary of 2004); and Shut Up and Play the Hits, the movie that chronicles the end of LCD Soundsystem.

And 2013 is shaping up to be a good year. Dave Grohl’s Sound City, a movie about the now-defunct Sound City Studios in Los Angeles, blew up Sundance. (It can be viewed on demand here.) Also at Sundance was Muscle Shoals, about the tiny Alabama town, recording studio, and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Look for it in theaters, hopefully soon.

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