Film and TV

Fourteen Great Documentaries about Colorado Music

Live concert/performance DVDs and videos are hardly a rarity these days, but while documentaries about a band, a performer or a musical scene are relatively common for large cities like Los Angeles and New York, they are few and far between in Colorado. But they do exist. Here are fourteen of our favorite documentaries about music from Colorado — or with extensive footage shot in Colorado — presented in chronological order. 

14) Satanism Unmasked: The Return II, 1990
Originally airing in October 1990 on JCTV as part of the Fire by Nite variety show produced by Willie George Ministries and Church on the Move out of Tulsa, this segment on the dangers of Satanism in popular music and culture was filmed largely on location at the now-defunct Outer Limits store and Rock Island. The interview with the Warlock Pinchers is priceless.

13) Sweet Lunacy: A Brief History of Boulder Rock, 2001
This is an affectionate documentary about rock music in Boulder, from the founding of Tulagi in the 1950s through the early days of Big Head Todd and the Monsters. It is on YouTube in four parts.

12) Friends Forever, 2001
Created by documentary filmmaker Ben Wolfinsohn, this movie follows legendary experimental band Friends Forever on various tours as it plays out of its van. At the time, Josh Taylor of Friends Forever was living at the original location of DIY venue Monkey Mania, and the footage of that period in Denver is fascinating.

11) The Tornado Dream, 2003
Davis Coombe made this documentary over three years, following the Czars, Orbit Service and Rainbow Sugar. Over the course of the film you get the sense that all three projects are unraveling, but there is a beautiful poetry to it all; each of these bands was important to underground music in Denver in a way that didn't translate into worldly success. This documentary is impossible to find except on the rare occasions when Coombe screens the film. The video below is footage of Rainbow Sugar live and goofing off more than in the previous clip.

10) Everyone But You, 2008
This is Eric Shively's charming, candid and self-deprecating documentary about his trials and tribulations as a singer-songwriter struggling to make his mark in a fickle industry. Somehow Shively makes the mundane entertaining.

9) Wesley Willis's Joyrides, 2008
Eyeosaur released this documentary about the late, great songwriter/outsider musician Wesley Willis after he passed away. It includes interviews with his family in Chicago as well as extensive footage from when Willis lived in Denver at the turn of this century. You would often see Willis at shows at the 15th St. Tavern or near Wax Trax; that era is captured here. The film conveys Willis's brilliance without downplaying his struggles.

8) The Rise and Fall of Five Iron Frenzy, 2010
A lengthy, detailed and candid documentary about the great Christian ska-punk/rock band Five Iron Frenzy. It includes footage from the band's early days through its 2003 split. Well-edited from hundreds of hours of footage, this documentary is a great, endearing story even if you're not necessarily into the band and its music. FIF reconvened in 2011.

7) Iconoclast, 2010
Larry Wessel's 240-minute documentary about the life of notorious experimental artist Boyd Rice, who moved to Denver in 1989 and became an integral figure in local art and music culture. Love him or hate him, Rice created an impressive body of work, as well as controversy surrounding some of that work and his social associations. It would be impossible to pigeonhole Rice or describe his creative output as simply musical, and this documentary explores many corners of his life's work.

6) Soulz of the Rockies, 2010
This documentary reveals the largely secret history of hip-hop in Colorado from 1980 to 1993, incorporating archival footage and photographs along with present-day interviews. In the process, it shows how Colorado has a unique place in hip-hop even if has not established a regional sound. It's essential viewing, full of consistently fascinating stories.

5) Warlock Pinchers: Will There Be Blood?, 2010
This is part top-notch concert film and part behind-the-scenes documentary, with the kind of amusing interviews you'd expect from this notorious band.

4) Neon Savant & The Silent Trajectory, 2012
Made by Pete Bell for a high-school class, this documentary captures the sights and sounds of Rhinoceropolis in 2011. Bell managed to get rare interviews with many of the people who were involved with Rhino, playing or attending shows there. It can be found in four parts on YouTube; don't mind the parts that include Westword contributor Tom Murphy.

3) Filmage, 2013
This film captures Descendents, a beloved, melodic punk band. Former Black Flag drummer and Descendents co-founder Bill Stevenson has been living in Fort Collins since 1994, and much of the footage was shot there. Given that and Stevenson's great contribution to local music culture, this certainly qualifies as a documentary about Colorado music. 

2) Stages, 2013
This short documentary captures respected experimental pop musician Ian Cooke as he collaborates with 303 Choir, a vocal group whose members range in age from nine to sixteen. Together, Cooke and 303 Choir perform the song “Rover” from his then-latest album, Fortitude.

stages - music documentary from 1930pictures on Vimeo.

1) Austin to Boston, 2014
The filmmakers followed four bands for a two-week tour across the country in five VW camper vans. It shows the unglamorous realities of touring, as well as camaraderie and laughter. Colorado connection: Nathaniel Rateliff of pre-Night Sweats fame.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.