Here at Louder Than War we think you can’t beat a good Documentary, and luckily for us in these days of the internet you can find many a great biopic & close up investigation online to be watched anytime. So we’ve decided to try & nail down some of the best. As usual this list is purely subjective and we’d love to find out what your personal favourites are. And who knows, next time we’re compiling a list like this yours may be in in it!
Of course trying to actually whittle a list down to our ten fave documentaries wasn’t an easy task – it could quite easily have been a top 20. For instance we had to leave out some fine docs like The Clash’s ‘Westway to the World’, the ‘Real Donnie Brasco’ & personal fave ‘The Alpo Story, Harlem Drug King Pin’ and many many more.
1 Les Paul – Chasing Sound
A wonderful documentary on a wonderful man, a pioneer in the world of amplified sound this doc focusses on the life story and work of Les Paul. Inevitably it’s also the story and evolution of the guitar itself. Authorised by the singer-songwriter, guitar player, inventor and luthier (makes or repairs string instruments), ‘Chasing Sounds’ includes interviews with artists like Tony Bennett and of course some magic footage / interviews with Les Paul himself.
2 The Real Lennon
There are plenty of Beatles and John Lennon doc’s out there on YouTube but ‘The Real Lennon’ gets as close as your going to get to the man himself, his early years and what made him tick. The doc’s strong point is the long line of family members and people who were around Lennon as a kid who featured & who all chipped in to give their own personal thoughts on the Beatle, making it one of the most complete Lennon bio’s about.
3 Castro’s Fighters
A rare and moving look into the life of the aspiring young boxers of Castro’s Cuba as they prepare for their under-12 National Boxing Championship, with the ultimate dream of making the national Olympic team. The doc’s focus on the pressure, training, and commitment of these young fighters is immense while all the time being brought up to put their country first. Tough kids indeed. Castro’s Fighters is a must see.
4 Just For Kicks
Fusing music, sport and street culture around the evolution of sports footwear in the states comes ‘Just For Kicks’. Looking at the growth of the American market for sports footwear and the moves and deals that spawned some of the most iconic brands, makes and models, from the famous Air Jordan’s to RUN DMC’s pioneering sneaker deal with giants Adidas, it’s all in here.
5 End of the Century
There are some great music doc’s on YouTube so to pick just one or two is quite hard but I’m gonna go with the story of The Ramone’s, ‘End of the Century’. Produced by Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia they get to grips with that whole 70’s New York punk rock scene as well as the band themselves. Raw, comprehensive exciting and as up close and personal as you’ll get to Dee Dee, Johnny and Joey, as well as Tommy. End of the Century’s is easy one of the best rock band doc’s available on YouTube.
6 Crack-House USA
This pioneering / top secret drug sting in a town called Rockford, just outside Chicago, is for me one of the best undercover doc’s on YouTube. Trapping a ruthless drug dealing gang in a house that was wired for sound and vision we get to not only watch first hand gang activity and fly on the wall footage but also we get to see how the ‘Fed’s’ cunningly brought them all down. Fascinating stuff.
7 Peter Tosh – Behind the Music
The true Jamaican rebel, the life of Peter Tosh plays like a movie just waiting to be produced. Unpredictable but also a hero to his people Tosh was a victim of police brutality and in the end he was viciously murdered by somebody he tried to help. A real story of a real revolutionary artist and one of my personal favourite singer-songwriters.
8. Biography of The Rat Pack
This 1999 triple Prime-time Emmy nominated biography tells the story of the Rat Pack, forever the coolest gang in town. They’re still idolised today and the fascination around them has never faded, so how could it not be a good documentary?
9. The Stone Roses – Blood on the Turntables
The story of the Roses is right up there with the best of them – The Beatles, the Pistols, the Bay City Rollers. It’s a real tale of up, down, then up and down again (oh yeah, & then up again). Together with some great little reconstructions (e.g the paint throwing incident) and littered with priceless comments from a range of people around the band, like Mani with his…” I cant wait to piss on his grave’ in honor of the groups (slippery) old manager who himself appears to give his ‘own’ recollections on the bands history and the ‘role’ he played in their success. Blood on the Turntables is easily the best Stone Roses documentary about and for any new Roses fans out there it’s the ideal bio.
10, Mohamed Ali v’s Chuvalo – ‘The Last Round’
There’s something so interesting about the life and times of a boxer; the isolation, the commitment as well as the people involved and, of course, the fights themselves. On top of all that there’s what it does to a man and the lives they go on to lead. Most of us have probably watched Ali’s ‘Thriller in Manila’ & / or ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ documentaries so I’m picking this close up on the Canadian boxer Chuvalo. A hard but honest, working-class competitor and in many ways the complete opposite to the showman that Ali was. ‘The Last Round’ follows Chuvalo’s once in a lifetime opportunity to become the world heavyweight champ and life as a boxer all round, simply a fantastic fight bio and Documentary.
All words by Carl Stanley. More writing by Carl on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.