Oklahoma Contemporary
The Bar-Kays in Wattstax (1972)
A funk band performs in white suits in a crowded stadium

New Light

June 12, 2020

#FridayFilms: Movies About Music, Part 2

Films with a beat, selected by Oklahoma Contemporary staff
A digital animation of a young adult listening to music on headphones while lying in bed
Featuring previously unreleased home videos, artwork and audio recordings, Montage of Heck (2015) is an animated documentary from director Brett Morgen about the life and art of Kurt Cobain.

There's music in the air during today's #FridayFilms installment. We're wrapping up another week of social distancing with our second roundup of blockbusters with bass. Last time, Oklahoma Contemporary staff brought you a few of their favorite movies about music, from family-friendly animated flicks to fantastical rock operas, for readers looking to deepen their appreciation of the art form through film. This time around, we're keeping the jam session going with a new crop of concert documentaries, feature films, musicals and more. So tune up, plug in and let's rock!


Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (2005) | documentary, comedy, music; 1 hour 35 minutes

Directed by French screenwriter, director and producer Michel Gondry, the documentary-style Dave Chappelle’s Block Party follows the comedian as he orchestrates a concert and block party in Brooklyn. The film features The Roots as the house band, a Fugees’ reunion and artists such as John Legend and Keyshia Cole singing backup before becoming solo artists in their own right. Seeing Block Party in the theater was a religious experience for me, coming of age during this golden era of conscious hip hop and neo-soul. Watching at home is still a favorite way to spend a couple of hours, and I've even bought copies as gifts for fellow music lovers. 

Available on: YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu

- Christina Beatty, manager of public programs and community engagement


Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015) | documentary, animation, biography; 2 hours 25 minutes

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is my pick for fave music flick. Director Brett Morgen was given access to home videos, artwork and audio recordings that previously had been unreleased. As an obsessed fan, I have read and watched everything made on Cobain. Being granted further access into his mind only affirmed my belief that he was a creative genius with a magnetic energy, which is the reason he became the (reluctant) voice of a generation. Even if you are not a fan (I can’t imagine), anyone will appreciate the magnitude of his artistic expression in all of the various forms.   

Available on: HBO Go

- Amanda Herl, gallery guide


Wattstax (1972) | concert documentary, civil rights history; 1 hour 43 minutes

Billed by white media outlets as “The Black Woodstock,” the Wattstax Music Festival was organized and curated by Stax Records, the influential Memphis-based label and home to artists like the Staple Singers, Albert King and Isaac Hayes. Tickets to the one-day event were sold at the affordable price of $1 to ensure maximum turnout, a move that filled the L.A. Coliseum. The result was a daylong celebration of music and Black consciousness commemorating the Watts Rebellion, which erupted in the summer of 1965 in response to police violence against the city's Black community. Wattstax documents the larger-than-life performances from artists like The Bar-Kays and speeches from such civil rights leaders as Jesse Jackson, alongside warm and candid interviews with community members discussing the state of racial inequality, the value of civil disobedience and the power of music.

Available on: YouTube (free), Amazon Prime, Google Play

- Jezy J. Gray, content creator and editor


The Music Man (1962) | comedy, family, musical; 2 hours 31 minutes

Okay – let’s just get it out of the way … Harold Hill was not, in fact, a musician. At least not in the traditional, trained sense. But when you consider the role of a conductor, the one member of an orchestra who makes no sound at all, then Professor Hill certainly (loosely) fits the bill. He martials disparate constituencies into one cohesive, dynamic and thrilling end result — with a little love and mystery along the way. One of the few musicals considered to be nearly perfect, this was Meredith Willson’s very first outing, writing the book, music and lyrics (as well as co-writing the original story). And it beat West Side Story for the Tony Award! Not bad. Plus, the film simply sparkles with joy. (In full disclosure, I played Harold Hill my senior year in high school.)

Available on Google Play, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Vudu, iTunes

- Eddie Walker, executive director


Northern Disco Lights (2016) | documentary; 1 hour 14 mintues

Northern Disco Lights captures the spirit of a counterculture music community — it reshaped the Norwegian music scene by reimagining disco and making new, experimental music from a stereotyped “surface level” genre. The movement began in Tromsø, a small town in the Arctic Circle. The documentary focuses on how the extreme landscape and cultural isolation influenced the artists and their process. I love this documentary because it shows that a musical movement can happen and thrive anywhere, not just in the typical musical meccas we normally think of, like New York, London, Berlin, etc.

Available on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play

- Emily Burton, project manager


8 Mile (2002) | drama, music; 1 hour 50 minutes

8 Mile has a great arc with strong character growth, and the cinematography enhances the world-building. It follows an up-and-coming rapper trying to survive the brutal poverty of Detroit while making a name for himself in the underground hip hop scene. While not all of the content is suited for all ages, 8 Mile showcases the work that goes into creating music and teaches important lessons about character, integrity and the power of choice.

Available on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes

- Emily Haan, Visitor Experience associate


Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt (2004) | documentary, biography, music; 1 hour 39 minutes

Be Here to Love Me, a documentary about singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt, gives a very honest look at the life of Townes, the good and the bad. The film is a compilation of interviews with his ex-wives, his kids and the musicians who knew him, including Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark and Willie Nelson.

Available on iTunes and Vudu

- David Stevens, Ceramics Program and Studio manager


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