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The year of musical documentaries

The members of The Velvet Underground, in an image from the homonymous documentary by Todd Haynes. Apple Tv

Manna fallen from the sky for audiovisual producers. Confinement and its aftermath multiplied the demand for home entertainment and streaming platforms bet heavily on musical documentaries, calculating that they offer substitutes for the forbidden live experience and thus please the boomers who, in many homes, they are supposed to control the familiar screen remote.

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But they are not exclusive diet for one age: there have also been titles dedicated to Billie Eilish or Lady Gaga and several focused on the misfortunes of Britney Spears. Actually, anything goes, as Searching for Sugar Man showed, Oscar winner despite the fact that it started from false premises. The hype, the outrageous promotion, works like petroleum jelly. The Beatles: Get Back is, in record terms, a extended remix by Let It Be by 1970. And Summer of Soul , signed by Questlove, could be described as a graft – for the posh, a mash-up – of performances filmed in 1969 that, contrary to what we are told, had already been exhibited, albeit in a fragmentary way, with recent interviews celebrating the music that was played in a Harlem park.

In practical terms, that means that inevitable (and necessary) documentaries have materialized as Heroes: Silence and Rock & Roll, around the Zaragoza group, and more anecdotal products, type Raphael, from Russia with love. Sometimes, the central character is revealed so charismatic that he eats the necessary context: it happens with Evaristo Páramos in No we are nothing , the film by veteran Javier Corcuera on La Polla Records.

It helps, of course, that the story has exotic backgrounds, like Under the volcano : nothing to do with Malcolm Lowry's novel, here the Caribbean adventure of producer George Martin and his recording studio is evoked luxury in Montserrat, an island that was less paradisiacal than promised. Curse also sells, as evidence In My Own Time, portrait of Karen Dalton, seductive folk singer and blues that followed Dylan's route from New York's Greenwich Village to the Woodstock Mountains, weighed down by substance dependence dangerous.

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In truth, the documentary has joined the unplugged, the disc of duets, the collection of remixes or the autobiography as part of the marketing arsenal that facilitates the prolongation of the career of any group or soloist. And it has as much danger as the “authorized biography”, since it promises verisimilitude when in general it is about incomplete versions, acts of prestidigitation, beatification processes, stories previously agreed with the artist, his heirs or – now it should be added – the funds investment that control the permission to use the songs ad hoc.

In practice, as the right of appointment is not regulated in the audiovisual universe, filmmakers must swallow. Thus, The Beatles and India explores the quartet's connections with the culture of the Asian subcontinent but, attention, it does not contain the most Hindustani songs of George Harrison or Lennon-McCartney; mischievously, the producers simultaneously released an album of Songs Inspired by the Film , featuring contemporary renditions of that banned repertoire .

Another problem lies in the weight of the reputation of the chosen director, which can overshadow the true nature of the work. Martin Scorsese has an incredibly efficient team and handles all kinds of ballots, hiding when it comes to an assignment: No Direction Home was based on the archive and interviews conducted by Bob Dylan's office; the filmmaker's (splendid) work took place exclusively in the editing room. Just 15 years later, in his second Dylanian documentary, on the Rolling Thunder Revue, Scorsese dared to add imagination (i.e. fiction) to the tapes provided by the management by the artist.

Even bigger stunts has starred Todd Haynes with The Velvet Underground, where more or less refuses to explain the ideology, aesthetic relevance or musical trajectory of the group, preferring to impact the viewer's senses with a cataract of images. For those who do not know much about “the Velvet”, it can be considered essential to consult the fan hagiographies available on the Internet beforehand; I am thinking of the case of Foundation Velvet, which analyzes the rhythms developed by its drummer, Maureen Moe Tucker. They may not be very legal documentaries, so don't tell anyone.

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