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MOJO: The Best Rock Documentaries Of All Time!

Inspired by this week's news (Feb 3, 2010) that Johnny Depp is to direct a new Keith Richards documentary, we've compiled a list of our 20 favourite rock flicks.

- MOJO staffs

1. Don't Look Back (1967)

D.A. Pennebaker's masterful account of Dylan's 1965 UK tour remains the benchmark by which all other rock docs should be measured. Where to start? The Subterranean Homesick Blues promo, Dylan's merciless discombobulation of Chris ' The Scientist' Ellis, the Tito Burns/ Albert Grossman tête-à-tête Joan Baez hitting a high note, Bob meeting new rival Donovan ("Hey man, that's a good song!"). Beautifully shot, it is the ultimate portrait of an artist transforming before our eyes. RB

2. DiG! (2004)

If it had been the planned record of a minor U.S. band's tragic-comic implosion it probably wouldn't have worked; but because Ondi Timoner's DiG! started life as an MTV-destined tale of ten rising 90s rock acts - out of which emerged the chaotic rivalry between The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre - there remains a deliciously natural idiocy and heartbreaking inevitability to lead Jonestowner Anton Newcombe's downward spiral of on-stage punch-ups and narcotic self destruction. Watched again, this sad lunatic tale now also reads like a last-days portrait of a profligate record industry, where the only true star - Massacre maraca shaker Joel - is an Alice In Wonderland innocent, sleepily oblivious to all the surrounding chaos. AM

3. The Last Waltz (1978)

The tune adopted by chanting fans on football terraces is, of course, from Winter Wonderland. Released first by Richard Himber in 1934, the song, like every festive staple, has attracted its fair share of interpretations. And ‘Wonderland’s are as diverse as any you'll hear: Bob Dylan, Cocteau Twins, Cyndi Lauper, Ozzy Osbourne ft. Jessica Simpson… we could go on. But we’ll leave it to Ozzy's version and walk away.

4. Gimme Shelter (1970)

It took until the end of last year for Gimme Shelter to get a Region 2 DVD release; a travesty considering the Maysles Brothers' film is one of the most compelling music movies ever made. The Rolling Stones free concert at the Altamont Freeway was cursed from the outset, but nobody quite foresaw the event ending in the death of a crowd member. Check out an emotionally drained Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts watching the moment back in the editing suite; the look in their eyes says it all. RB

5. No Direction Home (2005)

From the amplified cacophony of electric Bob and that cry of 'Judas!' to the small town streets of Hibbing and back again, this is three-and-a-half hours of pure Dylan magic. Scorsese was wise to bookend his film with the 1966 'play it f**king loud'-version of Like A Rolling Stone - one of the most exciting pieces of concert footage you're ever likely to see. RB

6. Fearless Freaks (2005)

The Flaming Lips' psych odyssey, full of you-couldn't-make-it-up moments, from Steve "Drugs" Drozd tying off in front of film-maker Brad Beesley and Wayne Coyne reliving the armed robbery that missed claiming his life by millimetres. The music's pretty good, too. DE

7. Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten (2007)

A reminder of why the The Clash man was/is such an inspiration, not only for his incendiary rocking and cultural leadership, but also his fallible humanity and willingness to admit his mistakes. Still not sure about director Julien Temple's talking-heads-around-the-bonfire gambit, though. DE

8. The Devil And Daniel Johnston (2005)

Jeff Feuerzeig's achingly poignant examination of the Macca-obsessed "outsider" (ie. mental) pop artist, driven to create in the face of huge odds. Heart-tugging teenage footage is the clincher, and appearance of Jad Fair makes you wonder which of them, in fact, is the weirder. DE

9. The Beatles Anthology (1995)

This eight-part series was first conceived in the late '60s when the John, Paul, George and Ringo were still operating as the Beatles. In the end, the definitive Fabs documentary didn't hit screens until 1995, just as Britpop reached its zenith. Apart from featuring reams of fantastic archive footage, Anthology also contains the last known footage of Paul, George and Ringo jamming together. It justifies its place in this list on that basis alone. RB

10. End Of The Century: The Story Of The Ramones (2003)

Punishing analysis of what may be the most dysfunctional band in the history of rock (which is saying something). Feel for Joey - a sensitive guy who would have hid himself if he weren't so brobdingnagian - and recoil from red state attack-dog Johnny, driving everyone (including himself) into an early grave. A gripping tragedy. DE


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