Michael Rapaport clearly loves music. It’s evident in every moment of his documentary, “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest,” the actor’s directing debut about the influential hip-hop group. The film includes the rift that divided the Tribe as well as the tensions that linger today, but a deep admiration for the music itself shines through.
So with the Grammy Awards on Sunday, where “Beats, Rhymes & Life” is nominated for best long form music video, we asked Rapaport to take over the Five Most space to pick his favorite music documentaries. (The film, which came out theatrically last summer, also won top documentary honors from the Producers Guild of America this year.) But since he’s so enthusiastic – and was so nice to join us this week – we let him pick six, in order of preference and in his own words:
– “Gimme Shelter” (1970): The Rolling Stones in their prime. Directed by the Maysles Brothers, this is musically incredible. You get to see the Stones being rock stars that don’t exist anymore, and just as important, you see them as vulnerable and as stunned as the audience who witness the shocking events at the overbooked and underplanned Northern California concert that goes really, really wrong. Look for the cameo by a Hells Angels dude wearing a wolf mask.
– “Soul Power” (2008): The concert film that was the backdrop for Muhammad Ali’s “Rumble in the Jungle” against George Foreman. James Brown, Bill Withers, The Spinners and many more perform in the African heat. The sweat pouring off everybody involved should’ve gotten its own listing in the credit sequence. Ali is so excited when all of the musicians are listed, he’s enjoying the show as much as the fans are. I really can’t push or recommend this film harder. It’s my favorite straight-up concert film.
– “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” (2002): I wasn’t a fan nor had I ever heard of Wilco before watching this film and I love it. The cinematography – shot in black-and-white film by director Sam Jones, who’s best-known as a photographer – is so lush and so beautiful, you can literally watch this film on mute and you will enjoy it. The real-time story and conflict that takes place between Wilco and the record label and themselves was a big inspiration in making my film “Beats, Rhymes & Life.” Watching the construction of their album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot right before your eyes will make any viewer a fan of the band.
– “Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser” (1988): This is my favorite jazz film. Watching Thelonious Monk spin around on stage in the opening performance is a scene I will always remember seeing for the first time. Every moment of this film is shot in deep black and white and jazzy color. Thelonious Monk has so much style and is such a unique personality. Hearing his son walk you through his dad’s mental breakdown is devastating at times. Watching Monk in the studio recording take after take live is like eating the best sushi meal of your life. And I have a secret to reveal: I’d bet my house that Monk’s funky and at times hard-to-understand dialect was the inspiration for Benecio Del Toro’s character in “The Usual Suspects.”
– “Style Wars” (1984): This may not be considered a straight music doc, but for me it’s the ultimate hip-hop film. It’s shot in the 1970s in NYC and articulates all four elements of hip-hop: MCing, DJing, graffiti and B-Boying during the culture’s youth, straight from the Boogie Down Bronx. Everything about this film is perfect and it also inspired me on “Beats, Rhymes & Life” as it takes on a real-time story line while walking you through the history of hip-hop during its purest time.
– “Buena Vista Social Club” (1999): This is a beautiful film about Ry Cooder’s making of the album. He rediscovers and actually forms a crew of 50-, 60- and some 70-year-old Cuban jazz artists and they made the Grammy Award-winning classic album. Watching these artists go from complete obscurity to performing in New York City at Carnegie Hall to this day reminds me to always be humble and never take any success for granted.