A Selection of Great Banned and Unreleased Music Documentaries

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A trailer for a long-delayed documentary about M.I.A. leaked onto the Internet a few days back. The film seems to have run into similar problems with Interscope as M.I.A.’s album, Matangi — according to director Steven Loveridge’s Tumblr, he “[gets] an email every few weeks from Rocnation or Interscope saying it’s starting up again, then nothing.” This week he apparently lost patience and leaked an old trailer, then quit the project, suggesting this film will join the ranks of music documentaries that never officially saw the light of day. There are plenty more, some of which you can now watch on YouTube, and some that remain entirely chimera. Here are some of the most interesting.

The M.I.A. documentary

M.I.A. is such a fascinating and divisive figure that it’s surprising it’s taken this long to make a film about her. Of course, nothing’s ever straightforward with this artist, and sure enough, this has turned into an almighty shitfight. In a way, the delays around the film have been great publicity for an artist ever keen to burnish her outlaw image — she’s been telling the world that she’s been “blacklisted” and talking about using Kickstarter to get the film finished. She’ll need to find a new director, though — Loveridge posted an email on his Tumblr wherein he told Interscope he “couldn’t give a flying fuck” and “would rather die than work on [the film any further].”

Cocksucker Blues

For a lot of years, this was the Holy Grail of unreleased music films. It was ostensibly a documentary about their 1972 US tour, but became best known for capturing The Rolling Stones at the heights/depths of their drug abuse and general debauchery. The title, and the fact that the band decided it perhaps didn’t show them in the best light, were enough to get it banned. These days you can get a hold of it thanks to the wonders of the Internet, but it’s never been officially released and probably never will be.

Cracked Actor

On a similar note, this 1974 documentary is notorious for featuring David Bowie at a point where he was responsible for single-handedly generating much of Colombia’s GDP, so much so that it makes for pretty uncomfortable viewing. Years later, Bowie said of the film, “When I see that [film] now, I cannot believe I survived [that period].” Indeed. Again, you can find this on YouTube, but it remains officially unreleased.

Eat the Document

This unreleased Bob Dylan documentary is unusual in the respect that it was made by Dylan himself. It was originally commissioned by ABC, but they hated the end result and rejected it, meaning that the film’s never been shown in theaters or released on video. As such, it was a sought-after item for decades for Dylan fanatics, not least because of the (in)famous scene (above) that captures a rather dissipated Dylan and John Lennon in the back of a taxi.

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story

If you’ve ever wanted to see the sad decline of Karen Carpenter mapped out by Barbie dolls, then, um, knock yourself out. Todd Haynes’ experimental documentary was released in 1987 but withdrawn shortly afterward because of a copyright claim by Richard Carpenter — apparently because the use of the Carpenters’ music was unauthorized, although the fact that it implies that Richard is gay apparently didn’t go down particularly well chez Carpenter — and has remained out of circulation ever since.

The Wrecking Crew

Another film that fell afoul of licensing considerations, although in this case the situation seems particularly egregious, as the band in question played pretty much everything they’re not allowed to license. The band in question is the eponymous Wrecking Crew, a group of LA session musicians who played on a huge variety of 1960s hits. Although the film’s been shown at various festivals, it can’t be released on DVD until all the licenses are cleared, which is something that, given the machinations of the music industry, may well never happen.

One Nine Nine Four

And another: this long-mooted punk documentary has taken so long to finish and clear that director Jai Al-Atlas seemed more relieved than anything that it leaked onto YouTube, where you can watch it right now.

The Sweatbox

This documentary about the production of Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove leaked briefly online last year, but was quickly expunged from the Internet by Disney execs and hasn’t been seen since. It was made by Sting’s wife Trudie Styler, ostensibly as a documentary about her husband’s work on the film’s soundtrack, but ended up as a portrait of the way that interfering studio execs and suits essentially ruined what promised to be a worthy filmic endeavor. More information here.

Amazing Grace

This sounds amazing — apparently it’s a documentary made with a bunch of long-shelved footage of Aretha Franklin’s performance at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles way back in 1972. The footage was shot by Sidney Pollack, and was originally planned to be released concurrently with blaxploitation classic Super Fly as part of a double bill, but was instead shelved for the next 40 years. It seems there’s still no release date, although there were rumblings a few years back about it seeing the light of day. There’s more information about it on the Prince forums, of all places. And speaking of his Purpleness…

Prince, generally

The vault of unreleased Prince documentaries is the stuff of music industry legend — apparently the little genius is partial to inviting filmmakers to Paisley Park to shoot documentary footage, but the results never surface. The 2001 Kevin Smith doc is perhaps the most famous, but word is that there are plenty more. If they ever make their way into the public domain, they’ll doubtless make for fascinating viewing.