10 Must Watch Documentaries for 60s & 70s Lovers
Words By Oona Pecson
From music to fashion and anything in between, vintage enthusiasts turn to the past to find inspiration. Today we are fortunate enough to have access to many visual mediums that help us out in that department, but I want to highlight one specific genre that’s often overlooked: documentaries.
The power of documentaries comes from the fact that they capture genuine moments. Whether those moments are planned or spontaneous, happy or distressing, the unknown of what the camera could see adds a unique touch to every single production. Along with the talent of the director, producers, editors and everyone who makes each documentary what it is, this movie genre emerges as an amazing experience, a means of learning, and a potential spark of inspiration for its audience.
So, buckle up folks! Whether you’re a fan of music and fashion from the 1960s and 70s, a history aficionado, or both, here is a list of documentaries that may (most definitely) pique your interest.
1) What’s Happening! The Beatles in the USA (1964)
I mean…it’s hard to picture the 1960s and not think about the Beatles. In 1964, their arrival in the United States gave way to what most people refer to as “The British Invasion”. The beginnings of this phenomenon are shown in this documentary, as the Maysles brothers accompany the Beatles during their first-ever trip across the pond. For a period of five days, the brothers capture everything from chaotic airport arrivals to preparations for that performance on the Ed Sullivan Show. To me, it was the juxtaposition between the intensity of Beatlemania and behind-the-scenes moments that made this documentary really striking and impactful. It’s hard to find online, but any Beatles fan should try and watch this at least once!
2) Monterey Pop (1968)Monterey Pop covers the festival with the same name that took place during the summer of 1967. It showcases artist performances, interactions within the audience, and anything else that captured D.A. Pennebaker’s eye. What I like about his documentaries is that he doesn’t hesitate to put the camera in the middle of the action and play around with perspective. This means that watching this documentary can feel like you’re actually at the festival and seeing these events unfold! Also, when it comes to fashion inspiration, I found that there was a lot to take in. Not only do you get to see the cool outfits the performers wore on stage during their sets, but you also get a feel for what people wore as festival attendees.
4) Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011)
5) House of Cardin (2019)
Pierre Cardin was a leading designer in the late 1950s and 1960s especially. From striking choices of colour and patterns to imaginative silhouettes, his designs challenged “the look” of the time and turned an eye towards the future. As a result, he is often referred to as the pioneer of Space Age fashion which took off in the 1960s and shook the world. However, he did a lot more than change things up through fashion alone. By watching this documentary you truly get an idea of the kind of futurist Cardin was as a creative talent and incredibly open minded individual. I was really surprised yet touched to see all of the ways he impacted the industry outside of designing clothes. As another one of my favourites on this list, I can’t recommend it enough.
6) Audrey (2020)
Audrey Hepburn was one of the most famous and adored actresses to come out of the old Hollywood era. However, there is so much more to her than meets the eye. Audrey observes her life and legacy both on and off screen, from the time she was a young girl growing up during the war, through to her humanitarian work in her later years and everything in between. Throughout this deep dive into her character, I really enjoyed learning about her working relationship and friendship with Hubert de Givenchy. In those moments where she put forward her design ideas and stood by them, you get a sense of how passionate she was for the things she put her mind and heart into. After watching, I could only think about how few people today could combine strength and class in the way that Audrey Hepburn did throughout her life.
7) Summer of Soul (2021)
The Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969 was held with the intent of celebrating African American culture through music, all with an emphasis on Black pride and power. Not only do you get to see moments from the festival, including performances by truly iconic headlining artists– including Mahalia Jackson and the Fifth Dimension– but you get to witness first hand accounts and experiences that depict the reality of what it meant to be Black in America during the late 1960s. It’s that important historical context provided through interviews and other archival footage that takes it to the next level. While watching, I couldn’t help but ride the waves of emotions that it creates. It’s such a powerful documentary, and the story of how it came to be is also truly inspiring. I don’t want to give too many spoilers away, so I can only urge you to watch and feel everything it has to offer for yourself.
8) Fanny: The Right to Rock (2021)
When it comes to iconic all-female rock bands of the 1970s, most people know about the Go-Go’s or the Runaways. However, not all are familiar with the band that influenced them: Fanny. I found this documentary to be particularly touching because of how little I knew about them beforehand, and how much I ended up learning and taking away from it post-watch. Personally, it was amazing to see two Filipina-American sisters– June and Jean Millington– be at the forefront of this band’s creation and ultimate success at the time. It was also really cool to hear names and mentionings of other widely known musicians pop-up throughout, and how they connected back to Fanny in some way. Due to the incredible music and touching story behind this band, I think that any and all music fans ought to watch this(…and pick up one of their records!).
9) The Beatles: Get Back (2021)
This is the only docuseries included on this list, but I felt like there was no way I couldn’t talk about it! The Beatles: Get Back focuses on the making of the Beatles’ last album: Let it Be. Each episode covers a certain amount of days over a course of about a month, leading to a pretty epic ending as the album is eventually wrapped up. Throughout it all, I really enjoyed how the main focus of the entire production wasn’t solely on the drama and tension the band was dealing with at the time (although it was definitely featured), but was on the music and artistry involved in the making of the album instead. After all, Paul McCartney manifesting bass lines out of thin air and George Harrison casually coming in the next day with a new song pitch is pretty epic to watch.
10) If These Walls Could Sing (2022)
If These Walls Could Sing is about Abbey Road Studios– known by most as the studio where the Beatles recorded a majority of their discography. However, what I really enjoyed about this documentary was how it wasn’t Beatles-centric. It covers the history of the studio as a whole– from its opening in 1931 all the way to today– and discusses the various musicians that had recorded there. If possible, some of those musicians or past employees came back to speak for interviews, adding another personal layer to the story that this production lays out for the viewer. By the time I reached the end credits, I couldn’t help but feel amazed to learn just how many talented people have spent time there and realise how much iconic music came from recording sessions there.
At the end of the day, it’s amazing to see how much you can take away from watching a single documentary. From new facts and perspectives to an entire world of inspiration, there is so much there to take in. The list of documentaries included in this piece all have their own unique focus, and thanks to the work of all of the talented people who brought them to life, each offers a truly amazing viewing experience. If you found something new to add to your watchlist after reading this, I hope you get the chance to see it and enjoy it to the fullest!