The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins

This is a 1970 short documentary by Les Blank about Lightnin’ Hopkins, a blues guitarist from Texas.

Les just follows Lightnin’ around as he does his thing, and films him singing the blues. There is no narration at all, just Lightnin’ talking about what the blues means to him, and tells the occasional story. One story he told was of his car breaking down at the side of a road in North Carolina. A policeman turns up and tells him he can’t be parked there, but Lightnin’ says the car can’t move. The policeman takes him to the town butcher, who is also the local judge. Upon hearing his story (with Lightnin’ getting a bit sassy), the judge fines him $500 ($3500 in today’s money) on the spot. Lightnin’ laughed it all off after telling the story, and said black men should never go to North Carolina.

There is great footage of people going about their own business in the dusty old town they live in. There is also footage at a rodeo, and at a BBQ where Lightnin’ entertains.

From Uncut: Although initially keen on the idea, Lightnin’ Hopkins soon tired of the process of documentary film-making. After playing ten songs for Blank and his camera, after only one day’s filming, Hopkins ordered Blank back to California. Whereupon, with the camera off, the men began playing cards. Blank lost, and lost again. The more money he lost to his subject, in fact, the more Hopkins began to see the virtue of keeping the young documentarian around.

Very simple film making, but it is fascinating to watch, and has plenty of blues.

Date watched: December 21st
Score: 7.5/10
Film count 2018: 85

Heavy Metal Britannia

This is another of the Britannia series of documentaries, the previous one I watched was Synth Britannia, which I wrote about a couple of posts back.

In this we follow heavy metal from it’s very early beginnings in England with bands like Budgie, Deep Purple, and of course Black Sabbath. There are plenty of interviews with many people including Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson, Lemmy, and Ozzy. And there is plenty of interesting footage and photos.

I learned a few interesting things such as how the term “heavy metal” was coined by William H. Burroughs in his “Naked Lunch” book. Steppenwolf then used it in their song “Born To Be Wild”. However, to check the story on the interwebs I came up with this article which tells a different and not conclusive tale.

I also learned that it was Judas Priest who started the whole leather, gun belts, and plenty-of-studs look that defined how a heavy metal band should look. And I learned that many of these heavy metal chaps are quite nice fellows who just love what they do…always the best way to be. Rob Halford is a very likeable fellow, and Ozzy is just plain funny.

Rob Halford

Definitely a must-watch for metal fans, and an education for those who know little about one of the happiest forms of music there is (I can attest to that).

Date watched: October 28th
Score: 9/10
Film count 2018: 71

OMD – Souvenir

After watching the synth documentary I saw this in the recommended section on YouTube. It seems to originally have been a DVD-only release from 2007.

The story starts off with OMD about to perform in Dusseldorf at Night of the Proms, we see them backstage looking a bit nervous and getting ready to go on. They then go to the stage and the opening credits begin.

The story then goes back to their beginnings and through all of their albums, their breakup, their solo careers, then finally to their reformation. And of course we go back to Dusseldorf where we see part of the concert there.

It is all very well done and quite interesting, although this is really more for fans than casual observers. I wouldn’t say I am a fan, but I like some of their songs, so I found this quite watchable, and it is always good to learn about bands and how they go about making music. Both of them basically had no music training when they started OMD.

There were no interviews with other people around OMD, no managers, wives, or even other musicians, it was all told by a narrator and the two founding members themselves in their own words. Maybe it was done on a budget, but it all looked professionally done with no frills.

Yet another good music documentary, I may just watch another tonight…in fact I feel like learning more about Willie Nelson.

Date watched: October 28th
Score: 8/10
Film count 2018: 70

Synth Britannia

This is a BBC documentary about the rise of synth music in Britain. It features band members from pioneering bands such as OMD, The Normal, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, New Order, and Throbbing Gristle, as well as Wolfgang Flür (ex-member of Kraftwerk).

Synth music was introduced to England because of Kraftwerk, and from there synth music battled to become accepted for quite some time until Gary Numan came along and after his big success with Cars the record companies started to notice (that they could make money).

I was surprised at just how much good synth equipment cost back in the early seventies, one particular synth machine was said to cost the same as a small house. A musician that was interviewed had to choose between buying a car to get his driver’s licence, or buying a synth, and of course he chose the synth and said to this day he still cannot drive. They were mostly poor musicians too, Depeche Mode said they had to carry their synths on the train to get to their first Top of the Pops performance…synths are very heavy of course. Depeche Mode are all filthy rich guys now.

The documentary itself was well made, true of any BBC documentary. The interviews were all interesting, and there was plenty of great archive footage. The story had a narrator, but it was mostly told by the musicians themselves.

The Golden Age of British synth ended in the 90’s due to over-commercialisation and the resurgence of guitar music. The final words in the film from Andy McCluskey of OMD sum it up quite well and amusingly (click on the link).

Electronic music these days is alive and well, I enjoy listening to The Chemical Brothers, Buck Futtons, Fatboy Slim, and Aphex Twin. Still, I have good memories of synth music in the 80’s, even if I wasn’t huge fan at the time.

Recommended watching if you like a bit of music history. It would also help if you are familiar with most of the bands.

Watch it here.

Date watched: October 27th
Score: 9/10
Film count 2018: 69

Beware of Mr. Baker

Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols is a radio DJ in Los Angeles and has his own weekday afternoon show. When he has an interview on the show, which is often, it is recorded on video and uploaded to YouTube. So today I watched a couple of them, the first with Simple Minds, and the second with Stewart Copeland of the Police. During Stewart’s interview he mentioned Ginger Baker, and how he was part of a documentary about the life and times of Ginger. I was intrigued so looked it up on YouTube, and was happy to find it there.

Ginger Baker was the drummer for Cream, and if you can believe any of the interviewees in the documentary, is the best drummer in the history of rock, or at least was as these days health and old age (he is 79) have prevented him from playing. It is very clear though that he was a brilliant drummer not only in rock but also in jazz which is what he was playing until a few years ago.

What is also clear is that he is a grumpy curmudgeon, quite wild, a troublemaker, terrible with money, and just a generally complicated character. The film starts off with him attacking the documentary director with his cane, causing a gash in his nose…all because the director said that he was off to interview other people about Ginger’s life, something that Ginger was not happy about at all. This Rolling Stone interview will give you a good idea of what he is like.

Jack, Ginger, and Eric.

In between the interviews, which were done at his then home in South Africa, there were the other interviews with such people as Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce (Cream’s bassist), Stewart Copeland, Nick Mason, Ginger’s son and two daughters, his ex-wives, various managers, and John Lydon (Ginger actually worked on PiL’s “Album” album).

There was also plenty of archive footage and photos from Ginger’s long and busy past. Apart from music he had a go at a cheap Hollywood action film (which looked quite bad), he was an avid polo player, he drove across the Sahara in a Range Rover, and lived in countries such as Nairobi, Italy, the U.S., and South Africa. He was also into the usual musician vices such as drinking and doing drugs.

The documentary itself is well told and made, I have no criticisms of it at all. There are some nifty animation sequences too. The director/writer/producer actually lived with Ginger in South Africa for a while and wrote a Rolling Stone article about him. He returned in 2010 with a film crew to make the documentary.

This is a must-watch for anyone who loves music, and for those who appreciate a well-made documentary, or both.

Date watched: October 27th
Score: 10/10
Film count 2018: 68

Punk: Attitude

This is a 2005 documentary by Don Letts about the bith of punk music. My brother sent me this on DVD many years ago, and it is a treasured addition to my small DVD collection. I last watched this back in 2011.

It starts off looking at pre-punk bands like The Velvet Underground, MC5, The New York Dolls, and The Stooges, then moves on to the early punk bands in New York such as The Ramones. Then of course it has to go to England where The Sex Pistols, The Damned, and X-Ray Spex did their thing in a very British way.

There were plenty of interviews with people such as Henry Rollins (he had a lot to say as usual), Jim Jarmusch, Jello Biafra, Captain Sensible, Paul Simonon, and plenty of others. And there was a lot of archive footage, all glued together well to tell an interesting and probably quite accurate tale.

One person missing from this was John Lydon, I would have liked to hear his take on it all, but as we know he is quite the difficult fellow, and probably wanted nothing to do with it. We did hear from Glen Matlock (I am reading his excellent book at the moment) and Steve Jones though.

It ends with a look at the grunge scene, which is really a kind of re-birth of punk but with better musicians.

This is an excellent music documentary, an essential one for fans of the seventies and eighties punk scenes.

Date watched: August 24th
Score: 9.5/10
Film count 2018: 54

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind

This is a very recent documentary from HBO about my most fave comedian.

It starts off right at the beginning, telling us about his parents and two half-brothers, as well as his school life. From there it goes into his early days as a stand-up comic, then his break into television and films.

There was plenty of behind the scenes footage of him, the scenes of him goofing around on set were very funny. A speech he made at the People’s Choice award after he lost out to Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day Lewis (both tied, with Robin the only other nominee) was a hoot. And there were interviews with all kinds of people including Billy Crystal, Eric Idle, Billy Crystal, Pam Dawber, Whoopi Goldberg, David Letterman, and plenty others including his half-brothers, first wife, and some of his children.

As we all know he was a comedy genius, but also quite tormented in various ways. He also seemed to be a very genuine and caring guy too, and completely lacked a Hollywood ego.

The documentary itself was well done. It didn’t gloss over his troubles with drug and alcohol addiction, and totally relied on the interviewees and archive video and audio from Robin himself to tell the story.

Excellent stuff. And Robin has to be added to the MBMS Page of Fame of course.

Date watched: July 22nd
Score: 10/10
Film count 2018: 46