Docs That Rock – Music That Matters by Harvey Kubernik – Otherworld Cottage Books – 2020 – Available at: Amazon.com
Doing something new starting this week – an occasional series of Book Reviews. Since Past Daily is a history and Popular Culture site, and since we’re always hounding you to head to a bookstore, library or go exploring to find out things, it only seems natural to offer book reviews too. So here goes:
I’ve known Harvey Kubernik for decades – we all wrote for magazines and newspapers together back in the deep-dark past. Above all, Harvey is a fan and a steadfast lover of contemporary music. So putting together a book like this is not only natural, it’s also a fun read.
It’s an essential reference book and that makes it an imperative for anybody who has even a remote interest in Rock Music and where stuff came from. And the timing couldn’t be better.
There was a time when the genre of the Film Documentary had a certain antiseptic air to it; investigations into the arcane and treatises on the obscure. If you were a film major in college you either wound up on the West Coast to make movies and TV or the East Coast to make Documentaries and Industrial films. Hollywood expressed a certain aversion to the Documentary because it was viewed as not an income generator of any kind.
That started to change when independent/shoe-string budget films like The Endless Summer started popping up at non-traditional venues and attracted huge crowds. It was largely an untapped market that was waiting to happen. And the Surf Documentary became synonymous with West Coast Youth.
Soon, filmmakers like the Maysles Brothers and Frederick Weismann advanced the genre into an artform, competing for the substantial niche market that flocked to Foreign language films, spreading into Pop Culture from the mid-late 60s on with films like Woodstock taking the genre into the mainstream and luring feature directors like Martin Scorsese to bring films like The Last Waltz to a broader audience.
With the advent of MTV, the appetite for all-things Music-oriented exploded and the flood gates of in-depth studies of genres and artists became a staple in the diet of music fans. And with the insatiable appetite of Cable TV (and now streaming and YouTube), documentaries, concert and festival films have become a critical arm of the Music business.
And it’s been a perfect match. My friend Steve Barron, before he went on to make a string of iconic Music Videos by way of his Limelight Productions before eventually turning to feature films like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, directed a documentary on the 1978 Reading Music festival; the first festival to prominently feature Punk acts. It touched off a series of films, establishing the careers of directors like Julian Temple and Don Letts – it has only grown exponentially with each new genre since.
What Harvey Kubernik has done, and it’s a herculean effort, is take everything that’s in circulation or has been released as of 2020 and cram it all into one reference book, making it a fascinating as well as an engrossing read. Because, in addition to the listing of films, some obscure, some not so obscure, are in-depth interviews with principle figures involved with music in films. This is the essential historic part – interviews with the witnesses and the innovators; the people at Ground Zero.
We’ve arrived at a point in our culture where there is so much to digest and be exposed to that it’s easy to miss things or get them wrong. The thing that is critical about preserving and exploring any cultural movement is to get the information right from the ones who were there. Setting the story straight – laying the myths to rest. The history of Pop Culture, like any aspect of history, can be rewritten and re-interpreted at whim because those who were there have left the stage – and with them sometimes goes the truth. That’s why Docs That Rock – Music That Matters is a crucial undertaking that serves as an invaluable reference for those just making discoveries or who want to be reminded. Harvey Kubernik has done his audience a solid and we can only hope this is a book that is added to in subsequent future printings with more information and reviews because the genre itself keeps evolving – the reservoir is far from dry.
Grab a copy: Amazon.