The holidays are over, unless you count the Super Bowl, an event that some Americans use to mark the end of winter festivities. I hear they have an awesome halftime show featuring music. But why bother spending three solid hours watching dudes in superhero costumes beat themselves up over a piece of inflatable pigskin—with a 15-minute musical interlude by some band or other thrown in to keep the hipsters happy—when you can sit back, tune in to Netflix and stream the latest and greatest in music-centered cinema available to humankind.
Start your screening spree by checking out Finding Fela!. This documentary about seminal Afrobeat composer, political provocateur and amazing showman Fela Kuti was featured at the Sundance Film Festival about a year ago, and it’s now streaming. Alex Gibney’s insightful examination of the life and work of one of the world’s great musical masterminds—Fela Kuti—is complex and entertaining. The Nigerian multi-instrumentalist made a name for himself and the genre he gave ascendance to while also striking a distinct and sometimes provocative political posture in the process. In the 1970s Kuti worked out the finer points of a musical flavor that would have enormous impact on the world in decades to follow with madman English drummer Ginger Baker. Throughout his maverick-like career, Kuti provided vocal and substantive opposition to the dictatorial tendencies of African republicanism while also developing a type of sonic expression that beat down boundaries and explored the human spirit with a lovingly rhythmic touch. Gibney’s homage to the man is matter of fact, definitive and entirely entertaining in its scope and filmic presence.
The Weird World of Blowfly
Clarence Reid aka Blowfly
Speaking of progenitors and provocateurs, The Weird World of Blowfly, directed by Jonathan Furmanski and released in 2010, tells the story of Clarence Reid, whose odd take on an incipient hip-hop nation set the tone for a musical revolution and provided a rude, crude but hugely rhythmic template for acts like 2 Live Crew. Before becoming the titular Blowfly, Reid was responsible for writing and producing some very popular soul, R&B and disco tuneage during the 1960s and 1970s, a super-solid contribution that’s often overlooked by music historians, but one that the film takes into due consideration. This kind of historiography is important to scholars and listeners alike, and Furmanski’s treatment of Reid’s career is both uplifting and poignant, giving the artist the credit he deserves while also rollicking through the spaced-out and nearly always profane produce of one of America’s first true rappers.
Hit So Hard
Patty Schemel, the Hole drummer
If you think Blowfly is an oddity, you need to check out Hit So Hard by P. David Ebersole. It’s the story of Hole drummer Patty Schemel, an individual who found no redemption in rocanrol, instead descending into serious drug addiction during and after her tenure in the band. But Schemel was subsequently able to recapture her creative soul and musical chops through her work with animals. This film valiantly, defiantly and honestly portrays Schemel’s work with Hole in the mid ’90s, flashes back to her childhood in Maryland, examines her struggles with post-millennium, cocaine-addled homelessness in LA, and then bravely charts the musician’s progress as she becomes rehabilitated through her job as a dog-walker and part-time drum instructor. Painfully honest and beautifully photographed, Hit So Hard proves itself a cautionary tale with a sweetly resounding end. (August March)