Stop Making Sense
Talking Heads claimed not to be rock musicians, but performance artists whose medium was rock. I insist all of my students watch this concert film. What I hope you can learn from it is how to develop a performance. Just like a song or album tell a story, a performance also needs to have a beginning, middle and end. It develops; it ebbs and flows; it peaks. While you might not go to the lengths of Stop Making Sense, it's easy to recognize the progress and flow of energy in this performance. You can apply many ideas you learn from this film into your own sets.
Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage
This is an excellent history of Rush. There's no telling how many musicians were inspired to start playing drums, bass, or guitar after listening to Rush. Bass players will not regret seeing this one.
Beware of Mr. Baker
Cream was rock's first supergroup: Jack Bruce on bass and vocals, Eric Clapton on guitar and vocals, and Ginger Baker on drums. In a trio, everyone has to be superb and there's a lot of room for stretching out with fewer competing instruments. Cream was a magic combination of musicianship, songs and energy. This entertaining doc is about the eccentric Ginger Baker and includes many great moments with Bruce, Clapton and others.
Fresh Cream - Live
Another great document of this important band: Cream. There's a lot to learn from interviews with all three of the greats.
History of the Eagles
This documentary is not only about the Eagles but the many musicians and bands surrounding them. It's long, but the first half is the essential part. Excellent.
Frank Zappa - Freak Jazz, Movie Madness & Another Mothers
There are many excellent documentaries on the genius of Frank Zappa. He's often (falsely) attributed to the quote "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture." You can learn a lot from what Zappa has to say about music.
Classic Artists: Yes
Interviews with members of the great progressive rock band Yes. This one is hard-to-find and is pretty good. Another for fans to check out is Yesspeak. Someone please make a Chris Squire documentary!
Tear the Roof Off: The Untold Story of Parliament Funkadelic
This is a great documentary on funk pioneers Parliment Funkadelic.
A great documentary on the reggae music legend Bob Marley.
Buena Vista Social Club
Cuban music is one of the world's most rhythmically rich, bass-driven styles. This documentary brings together many famous Cuban musicians to record an album.
The Fearless Freaks
This is one of the best music documentaries I've seen. Even if you don't like The Flaming Lips, this is worth watching. Many music documentaries are facts and music clips, but this one is very emotional.
A Band Called Death
This is an incredible story if you haven't heard it. Death was a little known punk band who existed well before bands like The Sex Pistols.
Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Anvil is a Canadian heavy metal band who were left behind their peers. This story is about never giving up on the dream. Inspiring, funny, excellent.
Can't Stand Losing You
This documentary is about the history of rock trio The Police and their reunion tour in 2007. Andy Summers' book One Train Later is excellent reading, too. Another fun Police movie is Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out.
We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen
The Minutemen are another great trio. Bassist Mike Watt speaks a lot about starting out and his friend and guitarist D Boon.
Iron Maiden: Flight 666
This is a really fun documentary about Iron Maiden's 2008 world tour. Bruce Dickinson pilots their tour bus-plane all over the world. I didn't know what to expect Iron Maiden to do between gigs, but it wasn't golf. Great!
Foo Fighters: Back and Forth
If you like the Foo Fighters, you'll love this documentary. It looks at the history of the band and the recording of Wasting Light.
End of The Century: The Story of The Ramones
This is an excellent documentary on The Ramones. There are lots of great interviews with the band members, not just music critics. Try searching for this title if it's not on a popular streaming service.
As the Palaces Burn
This documentary begins as a Lamb of God tour movie, but quickly turns into a tense court room drama. Excellent.
Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him?)
You've heard Harry Nilsson's songs. The Beatles said Nilsson was one of their favorites. Who is Harry Nilsson? This one is really good.
Under African Skies
Paul Simon revisits South Africa 25 years after recording his album Graceland. Interviews with bass great Bakhiti Kumalo and many stories of the great musicians of South Africa.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down a Dream
OK, this one is 4 hours long, but I really don't know what one would edit out. I think you'll enjoy seeing the evolution of a band, songwriting, recording, and music industry shenanigans.