March is Women’s History Month, so let’s take a look at some awesome films by and about women who rock! From the early days of rock and soul to punk rock to modern alternative rock, there’s something here for everyone.
Janis: Little Girl Blue (2015)
We can’t talk about women in rock without talking about Janis Joplin. She rose to fame with her performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival as the lead singer of psych rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. Though she died just 3 years later at 27, her career left a lasting impact on the worlds of blues and rock. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame posthumously inducted her in 1995. Rolling Stone ranks her among the 100 Greatest Artists and 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.
Janis Joplin is featured in numerous festival films, such as Monterey Pop, Festival Express, and Woodstock. She also has numerous films solely about her, though many are not widely available. Janis: Little Girl Blue is the most recent and most widely available Janis Joplin film. Amy Berg directs and Cat Power narrates this 1:43 documentary about Janis’ life and rise to fame.
Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche (2021)
Here’s one that just came out earlier this month: Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche, a film about Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex. The film, co-written and directed by her daughter Celeste Bell, celebrates the punk icon, while also studying the negative way that fame impacted her mental health. X-Ray Spex is most known for their song “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” from the 1978 album Germfree Adolescents. If you, like I, missed the film at SXSW, we’ll need to wait a bit before we can watch it here in the US. The film is currently available to stream in the UK and Ireland, and the film’s official website promises to update us when it becomes available abroad.
Heart – Fanatic Live From Caesar’s Colosseum (2014)
To celebrate the release of their 14th (!!) studio album Fanatic, legendary band Heart created a full length concert film of their performance. The band has a ton of concert albums, but this is one of the best-reviewed and most widely available. And it may not be too long before we get another Heart film: Vocalist Ann Wilson recently revealed that a new biopic about the band is in the works. If you’re not familiar with Heart, they’re most known for their 1970’s hits “Barracuda” and “Crazy on You,” but have continued turning out hits in the decades since.
Amazing Grace (2018)
Perhaps one of the most-mentioned musicians on Backstage Pass is Aretha Franklin. And for good reason. Not only was she the “Queen of Soul,” but she was also Rolling Stone‘s #1 Greatest Singer of All Time, and was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The film Amazing Grace presents the live recording of the album Amazing Grace at The New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts, Los Angeles in January 1972.
In addition to this concert film, two biopics about Aretha Franklin are coming soon: Respect and Genius. Recently, Aretha’s immediate family expressed their distaste that they weren’t consulted for Genius. The family reportedly did work with the producers of the upcoming film Respect, which will see Jennifer Hudson take the leading role.
Stevie Nicks: In Your Dreams (2012)
There’s been a variety of Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac documentaries over the years. However, many of them are written off by fans for only focusing on specific parts of the band’s storied history, and most aren’t widely available. One of the more recent films currently available, In Your Dreams, follows Stevie as she writes her first solo album in nearly ten years with the help of producer David Stewart (ex-Eurythmics).
As I mentioned, there’s a ton of other films about and featuring the band. From live albums, to other making-of films, to more traditional history-of documentaries, there’s something for every fan. Most of them are a bit hard to find if you’re looking to stream, but every now and then one of them pops up on YouTube (though you didn’t hear it from me 😉).
Paramore – Behind Brand New Eyes (2009)
While not a full length documentary, the Behind Brand New Eyes short is worth a watch. The ~30 minute film takes viewers behind the scenes of the making of Paramore’s third studio album. Apparently, the band has tried to make a full-length documentary 3 separate times, but none have ever been finished. Luckily, a fan was kind enough to upload the Behind Brand New Eyes flick that was a bonus feature on a special edition of the album. It’s also looking pretty likely that the band is working on a new album soon, so perhaps there’s a chance we may finally get that documentary. In the meantime, we’ve got this one and some full professionally-recorded concert films also uploaded by some Paramore fans to YouTube.
The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)
The first in a series of 3 movies, the original The Decline of Western Civilization focuses on the LA punk scene in 1979-1980. The film features artists of the time such as Alice Bag Band, The Germs, X, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Fear, and Catholic Discipline. Penelope Spheeris directed this classic punk film, which includes both live footage and interviews. The film was released in 1981 to critical acclaim. Interestingly, the LA police chief wrote a letter demanding that the film not be shown in the city again. Spheeris later followed up this documentary with TDOWC 2 which focused on the metal scene in the mid-80s, and TDOWC 3 which focused on punk fans in late-90s. Penelope has also directed numerous other notable films such as Wayne’s World and worked with artists such as Black Sabbath to capture arena concert footage.
The Punk Singer (2013)
Before The Masked Singer, there was The Punk Singer. Haha, just kidding. Though I supposed it’s technically true. This 2013 film is all about Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. The film includes 2010-era interviews, as well as archival and performance footage. It’s basically a biography but in movie form instead of a book, as the film includes details from her childhood up until her 2010 diagnosis and treatment for Lyme disease. Even if you don’t listen to Bikini Kill, this film is definitely worth a watch!
Rent The Punk Singer on Amazon or on YouTube.
Which rad rock films are you watching this month? Let us know in the comments below!