11 Jun 2024

Four music movies you might have missed

From Widescreen, 1:47 pm on 11 June 2024
Lady Gaga performs in the 2024 concert film Gaga Chromatica Ball

Photo: HBO

I love a good music movie and, luckily, the record companies and streaming services have plenty to share. Here are four recent ones that might have passed you by.

Gaga Chromatica Ball

It’s a shame that Lady Gaga’s stadium spectacular has arrived so long after big screen concert presentations from Taylor Swift and Beyoncé. After all, her Chromatica Ball tour traversed the world in 2022, months before each of those shows hit the stage. But it has taken nearly two years for the live show, recorded at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium in September 2022, to make it to screens and in the meantime the live music arms race has moved on.

The Chromatica Tour itself was delayed twice by Covid which means the show we are seeing on TV now – to coincide with Pride Month – was promotion for an album that came out four years ago. But while the conversation might have moved on, does the show still hit the spot?

I confess that I am not much of a Gaga fan and the first half of the show (split into five thematic ‘acts’) feels humourless and disengaged from the audience as the mock-brutalist set design and the Metropolis-like theme prove to be too successful at alienating this viewer.

Gaga’s stage makeup reminds me too much of Marilyn Manson which doesn’t help.

But when she takes to the piano and starts solo versions of 'Born This Way' and then the two big hits from A Star Is Born ('Shallow' and 'Always Remember Us This Way'), it becomes clear what a phenomenally talented vocal performer she is and for the rest of the show she has me eating out of the palm of her hand.

Compared with Swift and Beyoncé, then, Gaga’s show comes in a creditable third, but she does win the battle of the costumes thanks to some jaw dropping Alexander McQueen and incredible headdresses.

Gaga Chromatica Ball is streaming on ThreeNow (free with ads)

Bono & The Edge: A Sort of Homecoming with Dave Letterman

Bono and The Edge performing in the documentary A Sort of Homecoming with Dave Letterman

Photo: Disney+

Bands and filmmakers are forever trying to find new ways to promote and showcase their latest projects and this film – released last year to coincide with U2’s Songs of Surrender album and Bono’s autobiography – is a very pleasant mixed bag.

On one hand it’s a genial set of conversations between Bono, The Edge and the great talk show host David Letterman. Nothing too hard-hitting but still managing to be revealing on some levels. It’s also a bit of a travel documentary as the 75-year-old Letterman visits Dublin for the first time, charming the locals and handing out free tickets to … the other part of the film which is an intimate acoustic performance of well-known U2 songs by half the band (Larry Mullen Jr. is out of action for a while because of a back injury and bass player Adam Clayton was apparently working on a film project of his own).

So, the film is about U2’s ongoing relationship with Dublin (the performance is in a theatre that was once the maternity hospital where Bono was born), a reminder that their career has lasted nearly 50 years, and a chance to hear some songs stripped down and reimagined. Will they still work without all the big stadium fireworks, Bono wonders.

The film is directed by Morgan Neville, who made the recent Steve Martin documentary for Apple TV+, and for an unironic fan of the band like me, it could have gone on twice as long and I wouldn’t have minded.

Bono & The Edge: A Sort of Homecoming with Dave Letterman is streaming on Disney+

Call Me Country: Beyoncé & Nashville’s Renaissance

Beyoncé featured in the documentary Call Me Country

Photo: CNN

Back in 2016, Beyoncé was invited to appear at the Country Music Awards in Nashville to duet with the Chicks. A Texas native, she had never hidden her love of country, but that night she was heckled from the audience and suffered a massive social media backlash from ‘traditional’ fans.

Earlier this year she unexpectedly released an epic country album, Cowboy Carter, along with the pointed message that she hadn’t forgotten being made to feel so unwelcome by the community.

Call Me Country is a documentary that explores the background to Beyoncé’s re-entry to the arena and the history of black participation in the genre. Anyone who has watched the superb Ken Burns series, Country Music, will know that the entire artform emerged as a result of white appropriation of black music in the early part of the 20th century, merging it with European folk traditions to make the sound we know today.

The commercial fortunes of the industry are very tightly and conservatively held. Radio remains the main gatekeeper and programmers acknowledge that female artists will never make up more than 20 percent of country airplay because they make too much money pandering to their traditional audiences. For female artists of colour, it’s worse – only 0.3 percent of commercial airplay. But times are changing and streaming is providing some artists with access to audiences that had previously been denied to them.

The film is a CNN production which means that it is only 45 minutes (a commercial hour) long – and only hints at much actual music content – but as a snapshot of an industry being forced to confront its shortcomings and face the future, it's fascinating.

Call Me Country: Beyoncé & Nashville’s Renaissance is streaming on Neon

Joan Baez: I am a Noise

Joan Baez performing in concert in the 1960s from the documentary Joan Baez: I am a Noise

Photo: DocPlay

By my count, there are three different performances of Dylan’s 'It Ain’t Me, Babe' featured in this excellent documentary, and together they serve to make the point of the film. You might think you know about the famous '60s folk icon – the pristine voice, the activism, the muse-like relationship with Bob himself – but there’s much more to her than meets the eye.

Or rather, much more than she has ever allowed the world at large to see.

For the first two-thirds, or so, the film takes a fairly traditional approach to biography. While we follow Baez on her 2018 farewell tour – at nearly 80 years old she realises that her voice no longer has the power and control it once did – she tells us the story of her life, from California schoolgirl to one of the biggest stars of the '60s and a pillar of the Civil Rights movement and anti-war campaigns.

There are smart parallels. After the section on Martin Luther King’s voting rights march to Selma, Alabama, where Baez was a prominent celebrity participant, we cut to the farewell tour making a stop in the same town and Baez being greeted by locals who know how important that protest was.

But throughout the film, Baez drops hints that all was not well during the height of her fame. That the relentless performing schedule, the serial romantic relationships and the passionate activism, were masking some deeper psychological malaise. She talks about anxiety, sleeplessness, depression. In the final third, when she goes seriously off the rails in the 1980s with the help of alcohol and quaaludes, her mental health challenges become the reason for the film – the reason why she has chosen to take all that armour down at last, just at the moment she chooses to leave the spotlight.

It's a brave step for someone so guarded, but you can see why it is so important to her. A therapeutic reckoning with long buried family trauma wasn’t what I thought I was getting when I started this film, but it makes for an exceptional personal portrait.

Joan Baez: I am a Noise is streaming on DocPlay