Given the career arc of most musicians — obscurity, penthouse, gutter, redemption — rock documentaries are almost certain to be compelling. Many of the genre’s finest films are available for streaming on Netflix, and after perusing Instantwatcher.com, a website that helps subscribers sort through the thousands of Watch Instantly titles, Hive picked five essential flicks to check out this weekend. The subject matter spans thrash to hip-hop, but the underlying stories are the same.
1. Anvil! The Story of Anvil
The tale of this hapless Canadian metal band Anvil bears a striking resemblance to Spinal Tap, only frontman Steve “Lips” Kudlow is a real person, not a comedian in a wig, and that amplifies—up to 11, if you like—the humor and heartbreak. The film opens with a washed-up Kudlow delivering school lunches and follows as he and drummer Robb Reiner, his musical companion since childhood, take one last stab at success. Kudlow is a loveable lout who can’t stop believing, and even if he never reaches the level of Slash or Lars Ulrich—both of whom sing Anvil’s praises—he’s at least got a supportive family in his corner.
2. Scott Walker: 30 Century Man
Over the course of a career that’s spanned more than a half-century, little-known singer and songwriter Scott Walker has influenced countless musicians — most of them iconoclastic Brits like David Bowie, Brian Eno, Pulp and Radiohead. Here, Walker grants filmmaker Stephen Kijak a rare interview and offers what 86% of Rotten Tomatoes critics agree is a fascinating glimpse at the man behind the dark shades and Neil Diamond-like voice.
3. We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen
In the early ‘80s, Southern California’s Minutemen redefined punk morals and aesthetics, inspiring fans with a DIY spirit best summed up in their signature lyric: “Our band could be your life.” Mixing talking-head testimonials with rare live footage, this doc “keeps alive the echoes of their slapdash, Smithsonian-worthy sound,” according to a New York Times review.
4. Glenn Tilbrook: One for the Road
As the lead singer of Squeeze, Tilbrook scored numerous hits in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, combining Beatle-grade melodies with quirky New Wave cool. Filmed in 2001, years before he reconnected with Squeeze songwriting partner Chris Difford for a series of reunion shows, the aptly named One for the Road follows a solo Tilbrook as he tours America in a motor home. Humble and charming, even as he plays rooms a fraction of the size he once knew, Tilbrook shows how a career musician might age with dignity.
5. The Freshest Kids: A History of the B-Boy
Nowadays, hip-hop culture centers on rappers, but back in the day, MCs were just one part of the equation. This film focuses on breakdancers, originally known as “b-boys,” or “breakboys”—a term derived from the super-funky portions of records that DJs would loop during South Bronx block parties. Breakdancing enjoyed a brief moment of mainstream popularity in the early ‘80s, and in one segment, the Dynamic Rockers battle the Rock Steady Crew at New York City’s Lincoln Center. Director Israel checks in with OGs and young bucks alike, showcasing a movement neither time nor commercialism has managed to kill.