The best “rock doc” of 2015 hit shelves via Blu-ray and DVD earlier this week, courtesy of Rhino: R.E.M. By MTV. The doc premiered at select theatrical screenings last month and manages to condense last year’s REMTV 6-DVD box set, containing nearly all the footage MTV ever provided about the band, into a cohesive documentary narrative by Alexander Young. The film is a nearly-genius exercise in editing, comprised entirely of archival footage that was originally shot and aired by MTV, whose history, rise, and downfall mirrors that of the Athens, Georgia rock band (Who are, let’s face it, one of the greatest American musical entities of the 20th century. Whether you think they’re too heady or too popularly accessible, just listen to the actual records.)
Watching the footage (which is, albeit, likely already seen, and over-seen, by most people who would watch the film), R.E.M. By MTV is a reminder of the programming that ultimately programmed my taste two decades ago, but it also reminds, with later footage, that the band actually managed to age more gracefully than arguably any other and produce admirable, chic, and un-laughable work well into their third decade, possibly the greatest accomplishment of any act able to fill arenas and sheds for more than twenty years. And although R.E.M. fans, depending on their age, tend to focus on particular periods, this doc nearly evenly covers each phase of their career (which might just be equally worth noting) from “folk rock” to “Rock’N’Roll” to “alternative” arena rock, and baroque pop and back again… several times… And although the footage found on R.E.M. By MTV may be footage we’ve already seen, it’s re-cut more logically than ever before to tell as beautiful a tale as any rock doc that immediately comes to mind, short of Dont Look Back or Dig!