X: The Unheard Music (1986) is one of the great rock docs of all time.
Shot over a period of five years or so by W.T. Morgan, it is a lively, playfully-directed, scrapbook-style portrait of the seminal L.A. punk band of the eighties, filled with interviews, stirred through with tongue-in-cheek archival clips and highlighted by a wealth of live performance footage shot specifically for the film, including footage of the band in the studio recording “White Girl” for their second album, “Wild Gift.” In the era of early MTV, they were the real deal, and even the proto-videos created by Morgan for the film have a down-and-dirty authenticity and a sense of humor that honors the band’s aesthetic.
John Doe and Exene Cervenka articulate themselves well, Billy Zoom is a smiling charmer and D.J. Bonebrake’s time signature demonstration is a wonder. Witnesses to the band’s importance to the music culture (even though they were unheard on commercial radio of the day) include legendary L.A. deejay Rodney Bingenheimer and former Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who became a fan and produced their third album. But it’s not simply a band bio, it’s a survey of the music industry of the day and the struggle for independent music in the corporate mindset, which Morgan puts on display next to their story.
And remember, this is a film best enjoyed by following the directions given in the opening credits: “Play this movie loud.”