The Power of Music (Documentaries)


The behind-the-scenes story of "The Wrecking Crew" isn't the only behind-the-scenes music documentary that Filmworks has presented. Via Magnolia Pictures.
The behind-the-scenes story of “The Wrecking Crew” isn’t the only behind-the-scenes music documentary that Filmworks has presented. Via Magnolia Pictures.

Looking ahead to the May 8th Fresno Filmworks screening of one of the greatest underdog stories in music history, the story of “The Wrecking Crew” and the popular hits that defined a generation, let’s take a look back at some of Filmworks’ other music documentary selections, movies that have inspired us, awoken us, and transformed us.

Searching for Sugar Man 

Searching for Sugar Man” embodies the ultimate mythology of a forgotten musical legend. It’s less about a man than about the myth behind music-making, of one man’s talent faded to obscurity and rediscovered again decades later. 

The internationally acclaimed documentary, which won the Special Jury Prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, tells the mythological story of Sixto Rodriguez, a working-class Mexican-American musician from Detroit whose music inspired many against the Apartheid movement in South Africa, becoming a symbol continents away for his rebellious psychedelic rock, gritty funk, and political folk poetry. “Sugar Man” tells the story of the man Rodriguez, lost against time roaming the streets of Detroit as a construction-worker, doing odd jobs in the housing sector and growing old, living decades without ever knowing how his music changed lives half a world away, until two South African fans set out to find out what really happened to their anti-establishment hero. 

“Won’t you bring back all the color to my dreams?”

20 Feet from Stardom 

True talent isn’t always in the spotlight, but for “20 Feet From Stardom,” it was finally an opportunity for many to shine. 

The film follows behind-the-scenes lives of some of the most notable backup singers in history, including  Darlene Love, Judith Hill, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Táta Vega, and Jo Lawry, among many others. It won the Academy Award in 2014 for best documentary feature, and tells the story of the struggle and redemption of some of the most impactful female singers in the music-recording industry. Passion and skill don’t always lead to success, but the power and strength of these female vocalists has lasted a lifetime. Likened to “The Wrecking Crew” in an article by Ithaca Entertainment, “20 Feet” attempts to teach audiences about who really made some of the greatest music in a generation’s history—the musicians behind the words. 

“Hartman’s book [“The Wrecking Crew”] shone the spotlight on a handful of musicians who played on hundreds of hit records—Glen Campbell, Hal Blaine, Tommy Tedesco from Niagara Falls, and Carol Kaye, among others—and “20 Feet from Stardom” gets it on the record about the music industry’s legendary coterie of back-up singers.” —Ithaca Entertainment

“If I gave my heart to what I was doing, I would automatically be a star.”
—”20 Feet from Stardom”

Standing in the Shadows of Motown

Standing in the Shadows of Motown” tells the story of The Funk Brothers, the uncredited and largely unheralded studio musicians who recorded and performed on Motown recordings from 1959 to 1972. 

Motown takes a “journey to the heart of america’s soul,” with the film crediting The Funk Brothers as the biggest hit machine in the history of music with more number one hits than the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, and Elvis combined. The film covers the Funk Brothers’ career via interviews with surviving band members, archival footage and still photos, dramatized re-enactments, and new live performances of several Motown hit songs. It lies as a testament to the sound that according to Mary Wilson (of The Supremes), was the foundation that backed The Temptations, The Supremes, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Mary Wells. 

“We didn’t realize what impact we’d have on the rest of the world.”
—”Standing in the Shadows of Motown”

The U.S. vs. John Lennon 

Taking more than 15 years to produce as a true labor of love, “The U.S. vs. John Lennon” focuses on a part of the infamous name that is often over-looked: his politicization both during and after the Vietnam War that contributed to the famed icon’s death.

Toward the end of the Beatles’ career, Lennon began taking the band in a new direction, using their popularity to circulate a message of peace in songs. The film traces his own growing awareness and dissent through archival footage and interviews with those closest to him, leading to the titular case, in which the U.S. government, which had already been monitoring his actions for some time, attempted to deport the star for fear of the threat he posed to the nation. The film describes not only the power of lyrics to rally a nation, but a fearless identity, an icon seeking change, a man refusing to be silenced.

“That was when the FBI began to realize the power of John Lennon”
—”The U.S. vs. John Lennon”

Megan Ginise studies journalism and public relations at Fresno State. She currently serves as the Filmworks marketing intern.