Home Sweet Homer: The Strange Saga of the Real-Life Simpsons House in Nevada

Courtesy of FOX
Courtesy of FOX

At first glance, the two-story stucco house located on Red Bark Lane in Henderson, Nevada, looks very much the same as the neighboring homes located in the South Valley Ranch community. Neutral exterior paint covers the sides and attached garage. A rock garden has been spread over the soil. A cement walkway leads from the driveway to the front door.

Look closer and the irregularities begin to appear. The house has protruding bay windows and a rounded front entryway, which are both unusual for the prefabricated construction on the block. A chimney juts out from the roof, though Nevada residents are rarely in need of a wood-burning fire. Around the garage, some of the light-colored paint is flaking, revealing a cornea-scorching bright orange underneath.

The exterior of the 'Simpsons' replica home as it appears in 2018
Courtesy of Private Owner

Once upon a time, the house on Red Bark Lane wasn’t just another address in a sprawling suburban development: It was originally built as a nearly exact three-dimensional replica of 742 Evergreen Terrace, the Springfield residence of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie Simpson. Working on a short schedule, architects and builders de-fictionalized the home featured in The Simpsons for a 1997 giveaway that was intended to leave one lucky fan with the ultimate in cartoon memorabilia. No detail was spared, from a food dish for their cat, Snowball II, to Duff beer cans in the fridge.

But controversy soon erupted in this faux-Springfield mock-up. The homeowner's association wasn’t keen on having a cartoon house that broke conformity requirements by being painted solar yellow. The sweepstakes winner rejected it outright. And the current owner had to learn to live with the property being a source of perpetual curiosity for fans of the show who brazenly turn her doorknobs and peer through her windows at all hours of the day and night. As it turns out, the reality of living in a fantasy can get a little complicated.

 
 

Heading into its 30th season in the fall, The Simpsons is the longest-running primetime scripted series in television history, surpassed in overall longevity only by daytime soaps, Sesame Street, and late-night institutions. Despite criticisms that the show has exhausted its potential, it remains a profitable empire for the Fox network, with no announced end in sight.

In 1997, the show’s future was less certain. Sales of tie-in Simpsons merchandise had fallen off from its high in the early 1990s, where it had raked in roughly $2 billion during a fevered explosion in popularity. Revenue had waned and so had licensee interest: The number of companies producing Simpsons goods dropped by 75 percent. In an attempt to reignite awareness, product merchandisers for the show planned a major rollout for best-of VHS tapes and a CD-ROM titled Virtual Springfield that would allow users to explore the family’s hometown and interact with its regulars.

What the network needed was a promotional vehicle—something to drive interest in both the show and its ancillary products. That idea came not from within Fox, but from an outside marketing expert who saw an opportunity for some corporate synergy. Jeff Charney was responsible for marketing at Kaufman and Broad, a home builder looking to promote both its brand and a new housing development in Henderson, Nevada, about 16 miles southeast of Las Vegas. While brainstorming in the shower, Charney got the idea to erect a replica of the Simpsons' home. He brought it to Kaufman and Broad’s builders, including project manager Mike Woodley. After determining it was feasible, the company pitched it to Fox, who gave their approval to proceed.

A look at the design of the Simpsons' kitchen
Courtesy of FOX

“It was a big deal for Kaufman and Broad because it meant all kinds of exposure,” Woodley tells Mental Floss. "The house itself was a pretty simple box-on-box design with a garage. I think I sketched it out in a day.”

There was some precedent for the stunt. In the 1970s, Kaufman and Broad chairman Bruce Karatz had agreed to build a house on top of Au Printemps, a department store in Paris, with the idea that it would intrigue people enough to visit the store’s upper floors. When they reached the summit, a Kaufman and Broad salesperson was waiting to pitch them on buying one of their homes.

The gimmick was hugely successful for both the builder and Au Printemps—it attracted more than 500,000 visitors in the four months it was open, and cemented the company as one that thought well outside the standard marketing boxes. “Bruce was an innovative guy,” Simpsons house architect Manny Gonzalez tells Mental Floss. “The easiest way to get publicity is to build a special house.”

 
 

Once the project was approved, Woodley and Gonzalez pored over 100 episodes of the show and storyboards on loan from the production to try and discern a layout. “We took a floor plan we already had and did things that still had to meet building code but was reminiscent of The Simpsons,” Gonzalez says. “We never would have put in a rounded door or windows in the spots they were in.”

The team’s goal was to be 90 percent normal, with occasional lapses into cartoon continuity. Door frames were widened and lengthened to accommodate Marge’s hair and Homer’s girth. The stairs leading to the second floor were slightly steeper than normal. The downstairs floor was poured and painted concrete rather than hardwood or carpet, the better to mimic the show’s flat colors. Bart’s treehouse was erected in the backyard.

“We knew someone had to live in it, so the kitchen was a little bigger than it is on the show,” Woodley says. “It had to be a real house.”

A look at the Simpsons' house living room
Courtesy of Rick Floyd

Construction was only part of the illusion. To get that lived-in look, a Hollywood production designer and photographer named Rick Floyd came in and accentuated the home with details that would impress the critical eye of series creator Matt Groening and die-hard fans alike. Floyd hung corn cob-patterned curtains in the kitchen; Bart’s bedroom closet held a row of identical shirts and shorts; mouse holes were painted on the walls near the floor; Lisa’s saxophone leaned against her bed. He even painted an oil stain in the driveway, a nod to Homer’s lack of automotive maintenance. He also flagged down a vehicle he saw while driving and offered the surprised owner $700 for it. Painted purple, it was a perfect match for the Simpsons' iconic wheels.

“We essentially disguised a regular tract home to look like The Simpsons home,” Gonzalez says.

As the house neared completion in August 1997 after just four months of work, local Kaufman and Broad employees sometimes came by for a look. “I drove by it when I was pregnant with twins,” Danielle, then a secretary for the company, tells Mental Floss. “Honestly, I declined to go in, because I wasn’t a fan of the show and it was too hot.”

By this point, Fox and Kaufman and Broad were arranging tours for locals and tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of the interior. Groening came out for an appearance and spray-painted some Bart graffiti on the garage before signing his name in the front path cement. Lines with wait times of more than two hours twisted around the block, and visitors were expected to wear surgical-style booties to avoid tracking in dirt from outside. Surprisingly, there were few attempts at swiping the decor.

“We glued a lot of stuff down,” Gonzalez says.

 
 

Fox kept the home open for tours that fall, all for the purpose of promoting the sweepstakes being advertised via Pepsi products. Buying Mug Root Beer, Brisk Iced Tea, or Slice would net consumers a numbered game piece. If it matched the one broadcast during the fall premiere of the show, they’d be the winner of the replica home, which Kaufman and Broad valued at $150,000. (First-place prize: a one-year supply of Mandarin Orange Slice.)

On September 21, 1997, those in possession of the game piece watched “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson,” an episode that was later pulled from syndication for a brief period after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks due to images and references to the World Trade Center. During the broadcast, the winning number was flashed onscreen.

Nothing happened.

A dresser sits in a replica of Lisa Simpson's bedroom
Courtesy of Rick Floyd

Whoever held the winning game piece (number 9786065) never stepped forward to claim their prize. The back-up plan was to choose at random one of the raffle forms that consumers could also submit via mail. In December 1997, it was announced the form chosen belonged to Barbara Howard, a 63-year-old retired factory worker from Richmond, Kentucky. She lived in an area so rural that Fox’s dispatched limo couldn’t get down the dirt road to her home. The network flew her in—her first time on a plane—with her two daughters and grandson. She gambled a little at the casinos and posed for photos with a ceremonial giant key to her new home. She told the press she was still trying to process her good fortune.

That December, with the adrenaline of defying the odds having worn off, Howard came to a decision. She didn’t want the house after all.

“She took the cash,” Gonzalez recalls of the sweepstakes outcome. “You had the choice of either the house or a cash prize, but the cash was substantially less than the value of the house.”

Howard accepted $75,000, which some observers found curious. Why ignore the property value? Why not keep it open for tours? The reasons were simple. Howard lived on an ostrich and tobacco (not tomacco) farm in Kentucky with her husband, was perfectly comfortable there, and had no motivation to relocate. Opening it for tourism was more or less prohibited; the homeowner’s association wanted the orange and yellow exterior repainted as soon as possible. She did briefly broach the possibility of having Kaufman and Broad move the house to her property, but the logistics of that made it implausible.

“I don’t think she was as blown away by it as her daughters were,” Gonzalez says. “I think she felt a little overwhelmed. There were all these photographers and writers. She was just a simple country homemaker.”

 
 

That left the fate of the house to Kaufman and Broad. Having sold over 100 homes in the development—which was eventually renamed Spring Valley Ranch from Springfield Spring Valley Ranch—the property had already served its purpose in marketing exactly as the Au Printemps roof house had two decades prior. “We were the fun home builder instead of the production home builder,” Gonzalez says.

Groening floated the idea of blowing the house up on live television, which seemed unlikely given its residential location. It was repainted in muted colors to appease the homeowner's association. As it sat vacant, Kaufman assigned 24-hour security so no one would ransack its contents. But by the second year, the guards' attention had waned, and people had managed to sneak in and swipe several of the design elements. Glue traces marked where Simpson family “photos” had been pried off the wall. Snowball II’s cat food dish was no more.

Kaufman and Broad considered tearing the house down or retrofitting it to conform to the neighborhood and attract conventional buyers. But the most cost-effective way was to simply sell it, even if it was below market value.

A look inside Bart Simpson's bedroom
Courtesy of FOX

One day in 2001, Danielle—the secretary who had previously shrugged at taking a tour—was browsing their inventory when she came across the address. At first, she didn’t associate it with the cartoon house she drove past four years prior. But the price was right, and she was in the market for a larger home.

“I asked how much, they told me, and so I bought it,” she says. “As is.”

With her husband and two boys, Danielle became the first—and only—occupant of the Simpson house. While the outside had been repainted, the interior was a dizzying palette of primary colors.

“They had put in flooring, but the paint was original, so no two touching walls were the same color,” she says. “The master bedroom had a lavender ceiling, pink moulding, and four different-colored walls. It was like being in a Crayola box.”

Someone had even stolen a tree from the backyard. Several doors that looked like pantry storage opened into a wall. “That was the state it was in,” she says. “People have said, ‘Oh, I would have just left it how it was.’ It would have made me nuts.”

Danielle—who prefers not to use her last name for reasons that will shortly become clear—repainted walls and repaired missing chunks of drywall where looters had pried off portraits. She replaced carpeting, exposing the red floor underneath that her sons wanted to keep exposed. (She declined.) She has to repeatedly remind the tax assessor that the house doesn't really have a fireplace.

Giving the home a makeover hasn’t deterred Simpsons fans from taking a pilgrimage there. Once, a group of drunken college kids were banging on the door, yelling to be let in. Danielle’s sons started chatting with them from the upstairs bedroom window. People will check to see if the door is unlocked. Many snap photos or video, then upload their pilgrimage. Few of them seem to stop and consider the intrusive nature of their sightseeing.

“We’ll be sitting watching a movie and someone will be yanking on the door,” she says. “We’re vigilant about keeping the doors locked.”

A look inside Marge and Homer Simpson's bedroom
Courtesy of FOX

After getting divorced, Danielle refinanced the home and bought out her ex-husband’s equity, leading some internet sleuths to determine the property had somehow sold for $14,000. (It didn’t.) When Danielle remarried in 2014, she told her new husband that kind of scrutiny around the property would be par for the course. “I kind of signed up for it," she says. "It’s not really a big deal. Most people are cool.” Because the family has Ring, the camera-equipped smart doorbell, she sees people come and go. One man came with a giant stuffed animal and sat down with it in front of the house. “That was a weird thing.”

The house also gets mail addressed to the Simpson family, a likely consequence of fans having some harmless fun. “I once got a letter addressed to Homer from the Salvation Army,” she says. “There have been shampoo samples for Marge and a flyer from PetSmart for Santa’s Little Helper.”

 
 

Even though it's gotten a facelift, the home doesn’t often get attention from potential buyers. “I’ve never really had an offer on it,” Danielle says. “People look for certain features, and they see a lack of closet space, no first-floor bathroom … it’s a fun idea but it doesn’t get far.”

The house’s legacy seems to have persisted beyond the giveaway. Kaufman and Broad briefly considered doing a house based on The Grinch Who Stole Christmas; Woodley, who was not a regular viewer of the series, continues to be surprised by the attention The Simpsons receives. “I didn’t realize how big a thing it is for some people. I looked at it as a design challenge. I didn’t think of it in terms of the grandness of it. When people today hear I designed The Simpsons house, it’s like, ‘Really, oh, my God.’”

A look at Maggie Simpson's nursery
Courtesy of FOX

For now, Danielle says she’s very happy in the neighborhood and only occasionally bothered by curious fans. (It’s better if you don’t stare into her windows.) And though she’s still not a huge fan of the show, she does acknowledge the looming yellow shadow she’s elected to live in. “My neighbor’s dad is actually a pastor,” she says. “It’s too easy to go there with a Flanders joke.”

Too Sexy to Last: The Right Said Fred Story

Ralph Orlowski, Getty Images
Ralph Orlowski, Getty Images

Guy Holmes popped the tape into the cassette player in his car and waited. The British record promoter was eager to hear new acts, but knew that the majority of them weren’t going to be good or unique enough to cut through the noise of the worldwide music scene. In 1991, it was still a multibillion dollar business, not yet smothered by file-sharing. Success was determined by decision-makers at record labels and radio stations, whose tastes were often mercurial and hard to anticipate.

The cassette had been given to Holmes by a friend, a 19-year-old named Tamzin Aronowitz. She was dating Rob Manzoli, the guitarist of an act called Right Said Fred, and insisted the group—which also consisted of brothers Richard and Fred Fairbrass—had a hook. He listened.

I’m too sexy for my car

Too sexy for my car

Too sexy by far

And I’m too sexy for my hat

Too sexy for my hat

What do you think about that?

Holmes was driving with a friend, a man of Russian descent who had been drinking vodka for most of the night. As Richard Fairbrass sang about other things he was too sexy for—Milan, Japan, parties, his shirt—Holmes noticed his passenger bouncing in his seat and mouthing the words.

This might be a dumb song, Holmes thought. A very dumb song. But it’s catchy.

By 1992, “I’m Too Sexy” was the number one tune in 32 countries, including the United States, and the Fairbrass brothers went from being gym managers and sporadic musicians to the kitschy pop act of the moment. But they wondered whether people knew they were in on the joke, and whether they had the ability to survive the plague that had taken down so many talented musicians before them—the affliction of being an overnight success.

 
 

Richard Fairbrass was born in East Grinstead, Sussex in 1953. His brother, Fred, followed three years later. Raised in a relatively well-off environment by Peter and Mary Fairbrass, Richard thought he might wind up becoming a politician; Fred was more interested in athletics. By their late teens, both had gravitated toward music, forgoing any thought of a formal career in exchange for odd jobs and band practice that led to small gigs with London punk bands. At one performance, an irate—or possibly enthused—fan managed to pee on Richard.

From 1977 to 1987, they performed under a variety of names, including Trash Flash and Money, and landed a series of not-quite-breakthrough gigs. Richard got a job as a session musician for three David Bowie music videos, while Fred had a stint backing up Bob Dylan. Their act wavered from punk to rock to a blend of the two.

After an unsuccessful tour of New York, the brothers returned to London in 1988. Both took to going to the gym to build their bodies back up and shaved their heads. They also met Rob Manzoli, a guitarist, and Brian Pugsley, who had access to computer synthesizers that the brothers thought might evolve their sound into something more palatable than their acoustic act.

Jamming in Pugsley’s apartment one night over a bass line inspired by Jimi Hendrix, Richard took off his shirt—it was hot in there—and proclaimed he was “too sexy” for it. From that line evolved an entire hook that played on the narcissism the brothers had witnessed both in the gym and among the models in New York’s fashion scene. The song wasn’t about the band thinking they were too sexy, but about the self-absorbed egos who really believed it. Supported by a backing track from a DJ named Tommy D, "I'm Too Sexy" was polished into an anthem about vanity.

 
 

Now going by Right Said Fred—a name they took from a 1962 Bernard Cribbins song about furniture movers—the trio started shopping the single to record labels. No one was interested. The only bite was from Holmes, who tried to entice executives but was met with the same resistance. In a self-admitted act of “belligerence,” Holmes produced copies of the single himself, while his secretary, Aronowitz, became the group’s manager. It was a homegrown operation, one in which the group was urged to formally record the final version of the song in an unheated studio because it was cheaper.

“I’m Too Sexy” made its way into the hands of producers at the BBC and Capital Radio. “I’m not sure if this is good or it’s crap,” one radio producer said, then played it anyway. The song spread quickly, making its way to the top of the most-requested queues in England. A DJ from Miami was on vacation in Europe when he heard it. From there, it spread to the United States and abroad, topping the Billboard Top 100 chart for three weeks straight and becoming a perpetual club selection well into 1992. (It only rose to number two in the UK, trumped by Bryan Adams’s “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You.”) The pop icon of the era, Madonna, announced she was sexually interested in Fred. Truant students announced they were “too sexy” for school. Stewardesses asked the brothers if they weren’t “too sexy” to be on a plane, a variation on a joke that they would wind up hearing thousands of times.

“It’s part of the job,” Fred said of the jokes.

Almost immediately, Right Said Fred underwent what industry veterans would call an "image makeover." A fashion designer squeezed them into vinyl outfits, fishnet shirts, and various half-clothed stage uniforms. Though they were in their early thirties, they fibbed and told reporters they were in their early twenties. They were advised to ease up on the weightlifting, as their pumped-up physiques were deemed too frightening for general public consumption.

Holmes produced their first album, 1992's Up, and helped them spin off two more successful songs: “Don’t Talk Just Kiss” and “Deeply Dippy.” They made the requisite MTV appearances and fended off speculation that “I’m Too Sexy” was a sign of them being the prototypical one-hit wonder.

Unfortunately, "I'm Too Sexy" wound up proving exactly that. But the brothers would argue that it was not their fault—it was Holmes’s.

 
 

Up had taken just five weeks to record. Their sophomore album, Sex and Travel, took nine months. Released in 1993, it failed to capture the public’s attention in the way “I’m Too Sexy” seemed to reverberate with kids, teens, and adults.

The brothers would later point the finger at Holmes, claiming he had chosen to release the wrong single tracks; Holmes countered that Richard and Fred had final say over what got the “A” side of the records. Subsequent albums followed—nine in all—but none ever reached the heights of their event-filled summer of 1991.

“I’m Too Sexy” remains a popular jab at people who indulge in vanity, and the brothers still perform it as part of their regular gigs. (Manzoli left the band in the mid-1990s.) They approved a new version targeting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad (who was revealed to have had the song on his playlist) and debuted it on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver in 2014. (“I’m too sexy for this shirt” became “You’re too awful for this Earth.”) To this day, however, Fred believes there’s still some confusion over whether the song is to be taken seriously. He tried to clarify it for Rolling Stone in 2017.

“They didn’t get the cynicism and the joke,” he said. “But the idea of the song is that you obviously can’t be too sexy, right? No one can be too sexy.”

13 Great Rockumentaries Every Music (and Movie) Fan Should See

The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

More people are watching documentaries these days, which likely means that more people are rocking their faces off with nonfiction. Far from Ken Burns’s soothing tones, these music-filled films demand amplification and an unseemly amount of perspiration.

Rock documentaries are tricky beasts. Though they often have the built-in advantage of following around famous people, they aren’t immune to boredom and eye-rolling faux depth. Keeping it simple by showcasing the music can be good, but it’s no way to be great. The best of the best manage to deliver a stellar soundscape, offer a backstage pass to the real humans who make it, and hold our ears even if we aren’t already devoted fans. If a little history gets made in the process, even better.

Grab a seat next to Penny Lane on the bus. Here are 13 of the best documentaries that every music—and film—fan should add to their Must Watch list.

1. WHAT’S HAPPENING! THE BEATLES IN THE U.S.A. (1964)

A singular piece of filmmaking where nonfiction talent met transcendent musical genius on the threshold of gargantuan stardom, this is the best Beatles documentary ever produced. Directed by legendary documentarians Albert and David Maysles, the film captures the band’s first frivolous jaunt through America, where they raised the screaming decibel level in The Ed Sullivan Show theater and goofed off in hotel rooms. It’s an explosion of youth before they changed music forever.

2. DON’T LOOK BACK (1967)

Another marriage of style, skill, and subject, Don't Look Back helped shape how the rockumentary genre could provide insights into the people who shape our popular culture. That so many iconic moments emerged from D.A. Pennebaker’s watershed work, which strolled with Bob Dylan through England in 1965, is a testament to the legendary musician's infinite magnetism. The cue cards, singing with Joan Baez in a hotel room on the edge of breaking up, the Mississippi voter registration rally, and on and on. Since it portrayed fame’s effect on the artist, the art, and the audience, most every other rock doc has been chasing its brilliance.

3. GIMME SHELTER (1970)

The rockumentary has evolved to be as diverse as the sonic landscape itself, which is why Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping can send up the current scene just like This Is Spinal Tap! did in the 1980s. Still, 1970 feels like the year that defined the rockumentary. Another Maysles joint, this profound doc captured The Rolling Stones touring at a time when they were one of the biggest bands in the world and only getting bigger. The music is powerful and immediate, and the film closes with their appearance at the Altamont Free Concert, which turned deadly when—after a day of skirmishes between concertgoers and the Hell’s Angels acting as security—a fan with a gun was stabbed to death when he tried to get on stage during “Under My Thumb.”

4. WOODSTOCK (1970)

The other 1970 film that helped define the genre allowed thousands to claim they’d been to the biggest concert event of the generation without actually going. If rock ‘n’ roll emerged from unruly teenage years into conflicted young adulthood in the 1960s, nothing stamped that image in henna ink better than Woodstock and the documentary that accompanied it. The bands that appear are legendary: Crosby, Stills & Nash; The Who; Joe Cocker singing The Beatles; Janis Joplin; Jimi Hendrix; and many more. It’s a fly-by of the three days of peace and music that you could play on repeat with summery ease.

5. ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS (1973)

Rock doc royalty D.A. Pennebaker captured David Bowie’s final performance in his red-domed sci-fi persona at London's Hammersmith Odeon with a flair that captures the frenetic energy of the room. The crowd is as much a part of the moment as the band is, as the camera places you in the middle of a transitional moment in music history. To see Bowie that close up now is a wonder. And, naturally, the music is out of this world.

6. THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION (1981)

Instead of following the famous, Penelope Spheeris’s debut dug its nails deep into the Los Angeles punk scene at the turn of the decade. Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, and other bands your parents have never heard of perform mosh pit-sparking anthems and show off their living conditions like a grungy proto-version of MTV Cribs. There’s a purity here missing from most music docs—a chronicle of people whose passion far, far outweighs their paychecks, and a screening that led the LAPD to request that the movie never be shown in LA again.

7. SIGN "☮" THE TIMES (1987)

Having Prince at the center of your concert doc is a shortcut to ensuring it’s one of the best of all time. There’s the music, of course. Hits like “Little Red Corvette” and “U Got the Look,” and Sheila E. beating the hell out of her drum kit. There’s also The Purple One's inexhaustible energy and stage presence. As a bonus, the film jumps between concert footage and (instead of candid hotel conversations) a sci-fi narrative where we get to go to Prince Planet. It’s a rocky, disorienting experience that could have only been held so tightly together by a master showman.

8. MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE (1991)

It might be hard to explain to a younger audience just how dominant Madonna was as an artist coming out of the 1980s or the kind of landmark event this film represented because of her status. The travelogue of her Blonde Ambition Tour was like peeking into the insane world of the ultra-famous—not least because Madonna was dating Warren Beatty at the time and part of the film involves her hanging out with Al Pacino, Lionel Richie, and more. There are threats that the Canadian police will arrest her for simulating masturbation in her show, the Pope trying to get the tour canceled in Italy, and a slightly awkward return home to see family. All par for the course for someone whose personal life was carved up for public consumption.

9. RHYME & REASON (1997)

An unparalleled look into the lyricism and lifestyle of rap musicians from the genre’s rise through its global domination of the 1990s, the concert and party footage is fantastic, and the number of interviews is staggering. Peter Spirer spoke with more than 80 rap and hip-hop artists to craft a snapshot of what life was like for a group of musicians who discovered their voices could echo across the world as well as those who followed after to even greater success. Instead of going deep on one person behind the music, it’s a historical document of the culture itself as seen through the eyes of those at its very center.

10. THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON (2005)

For those who don’t know Daniel Johnston’s music, this doc is a crash course not only in its stripped-down, anti-folk vibes but the head it all comes spilling out of. Instead of romanticizing or ignoring his bipolar disorder, Jeff Feuerzeig’s movie engages with it directly, drawing beautiful gems from a troubled mind. An absolute masterpiece, it’s less a vision of a musician giving glimpses into his real life than it is a vision of a human being who makes music.

11. AWESOME; I F*CKIN’ SHOT THAT! (2006)

Rockumentaries follow two major formats: the raw concert doc that’s like a ticket to a show you couldn’t attend, and the profile where artists drop quotables in between performances. They’re safe and familiar, which is probably why the Beastie Boys gave both styles the middle finger in favor of a grand experiment. A year before YouTube launched, the rap trio gave 50 fans in their Madison Square Garden audience camcorders to capture the concert. The result is a genuine, fans’-eye-view of the experience, and a chaotic mashup of perspectives.

12. THE PUNK SINGER (2013)

It’s astonishing how much time and ground Sini Anderson’s portrait of Bikini Kill leader Kathleen Hanna covers. It’s so much that labeling her Bikini Kill’s leader is woefully reductive. Artist, pioneer, feminist, activist, and a dozen other titles swirl around Hanna’s sweat-covered brow as we get to know her both as an artist and as a person. It’s also a punk fever dream of riot grrrl greatness, featuring incendiary archival footage and excellent talks with members of Le Tigre, Bikini Kill, and Julie Ruin, as well as Carrie Brownstein and the Beastie Boys’s Adam Horovitz (who is also Hanna’s husband).

13. JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE (2015)

A fairly recent addition to the pantheon, Amy J. Berg’s doc is a stirring tour of archival footage of the gravel-throated songstress. Narrated by musician Cat Power, instead of losing perspective to the fog of history, a blend of modern conversations and ghosts from the past offer fresh eyes and ears to create a heartsick celebration of one of music history's most beloved artists, whose career was cut woefully short.

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