50 awesome art, music and culture documentaries full-length and free on YouTube

in Resources / Learning

Watching documentaries is a healthy pursuit for creatives: it fills your brain with more dots to join up, and can make you feel more arty and up for it just from being in the ‘company’ of masterpiece-makers such as Banksy, George Harrison and Matt Groening.

If you must procrastinate, do it proactively. Check out this list of 50 super interesting docs instantly streamable on Youtube, all of them produced by reputable outfits like the BBC, Discovery Channel and Martin Scorcese (yes, the Stones movie is on there).

Art

1. Exit Through The Gift Shop: A Banksy Film
Banksy’s witty, subversive movie project. Starts as a straight up documentary and goes on a wonderful quirky tangent. 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, feature length on YouTube for free!

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2. Picasso Love Sex and Art
Influential Cubist, Surrealist and genius who couldn’t keep it in his pants…a 20th century hero laid bare by the BBC.

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3. Style Wars
Seminal 1983 doc on the graffiti epidemic in New York, a city where graffiti is a vocation, handed down through the generations.

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4. The Art Hitler Hated: The Sins of the Fathers
The eye-opening story of the art movement that the Nazi’s banned, labelling it ‘degenerate.’

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5. Andy Warhol: Master of the Modern Era
Explaining how Warhol is a key influence of everything from music videos, and reality TV to Facebook.

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6. How Art Made the World
5-part BBC series delving into how without art, the human experience would be completely different. Full of interesting insights into humankind’s relationship with images.

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7. The World's Most Expensive Stolen Paintings
Every year, more than 100,000 paintings are stolen from homes and galleries…this doc dives into the hows and therefores of major heists.

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8. Salvador Dali: Master of Modern Era
From anxious, troubled childhood to Freudian, rhino-obsessed king of surrealism.

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9. Treasures of the Louvre
Cracking history of the Louvre that captures the spirit of the Renaissance movement.

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10. Raphael: A Mortal God
Ace BBC dramatized doc on a mission to find the ‘real Raphael.’

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11. The Medici: Makers of Modern Art
How the Medici family transformed Florence through sculpture, painting and architecture and created a world where masterpieces fetch millions today.

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12. Paradise Found: Islamic Architecture and Arts
Interesting piece on Islamic Renaissance Men, their creations, how they influenced European art.

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13. Roy Lichtenstein
The life and times of the New York pop artist who was heavily influenced by comic books and ad campaigns.

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Music

14. The Distortion of Sound
Short film about how digital media affects the listening experience, compared to tangible media like vinyl and CDs. 20 mins. Essential viewing.

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15. How the Beatles Rocked The Kremlin
Intriguing film about the Beatles’ pivotal role in liberating Russians and bringing about the end of the Cold War.

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16. It Might Get Loud
Jack White, Jimmy Page and The Edge get together to discuss guitars and rock music, and have a bit of a jam. The opening scene features Jack building a guitar out of a coke bottle and a bit of driftwood, and it gets even better…insightful and delightful!

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17. Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap
An intimate journey into the heart and soul of hip-hop with the legends of rap. 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. An important film.

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18. Rolling Stones: Shine a Light
Martin Scorcese’s Stones film, full length for free on Youtube.

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19. George Harrison Living in the Material World
Scorcese’s feature length doc on George, not the most lauded of the Beatles, but probably the one who lived the most interesting life.

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20. A Year with Armin Van Buuren
Ever wondered what the life of a bona fide superstar DJ is like? Follow Armin round for a year and find out. In Dutch, with subtitles. Really enjoyable.

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21. Northern Soul: Living for the Weekend
Northern Soul is so hot right now, popping up everywhere, influencing new songs and many an ad campaign. Here’s 2014’s take on the full story of what it is and what it means…

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22. Northern Soul: This is England
…and here’s a 30-min Granada TV doc from the 70’s, when Wigan Casino was in full swing and going dancing all night was regarded as shockingly indecent.

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23. Soul Survivor: The James Brown Story
Feature length doc on the hardest working man in showbiz, who really did pay the cost to be da boss. Epic rags to riches tale.

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24. Queens of Disco
BBC doc on the story of disco, told through a prism of the divas who sung those still-popular and oft-sampled songs e.g. Gloria Gaynor. Without disco, the contemporary music landscape would look very different: people said it was dead, people said it sucked -but it’s never really gone away.

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25. The Legend of Woodstock 1969
The story of the legendary 3 day music festival attended by 400,000 young American hippies, with music from Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and The Who, amongst many others.

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Culture

26. Shakespeare's Mother the Secret Life of a Tudor Woman
Shakespeare’s mom has got it going on…this BBC doc proves we know much more about the Bard than is popularly believed. Essential. Down tools and watch now.

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27. The Secret World of Lewis Carroll
In-depth look at the creator of Alice in Wonderland, a huge influence on everyone from John Lennon to James Joyce, and beloved by billions of children worldwide.

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28. Sincerely, F Scott Fitzgerald
Super-interesting bio: the somewhat bumpy ride of the 20s lit icon’s life, told through studying letters he wrote to his daughter, wife and editor. Simply brilliant.

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29. Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds: Paris
Paris in 1928, the high point of an unusually creative decade, where one city was home to all the key artists and thinkers of the day. With Hemingway, Gershwin and Cole Porter lording it up, this is the story of ‘the bash before the crash’… makes you feel more artistic just for watching…

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30. Nietzsche - Human, All Too Human
If Nietzsche is a name you’ve heard of, but you don’t know much about, check out this sharp BBC doc on the influential existential philosopher/ author.

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31. Imagine - From Pencils to Pixels
2003 BBC doc on the rise of Pixar and the inner workings of the creative powerhouse.

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32. My Wasted Life: Matt Groening
One hour up close and personal with the creator of the Simpsons, talking inspirations, motivations and influences.

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33. The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets
Illuminating talk explaining how the Simpsons creative team is full of maths geeks, and highlighting their habit of slipping mathematical in-jokes into the show.

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34. BBC Culture Show: The Mormons are Here
South Park geniuses Parker and Stone take us behind the scenes of the Book of Mormon, and also discuss Mormonism.

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35. That’s Not Funny
Really interesting doc on the premise that with comedy, there’s a line between funny and bad taste. This 2014 doc goes in search of the line, to analyse it.

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36. Dream Interpretation
Cutting-edge experiments and anecdotal evidence on the hunt to find out, where do dreams come from? Do they have meaning? And ultimately, why do we dream?

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37. Planet B-Boy
Feature length global perspective on competitive breakdance culture, following breakers from the USA and Korea as they compete at what’s essentially the World Cup of breakdancing.

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38. The Story of Musicals
Ace BBC4 doc on How West End theatre came to be dominated by musicals, from World War II to the present day.

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39. The Real Blow Up Sixties: Fame, Fashion and Photography
Swinging London, when fashion photography comes of age, and photographers become as famous as pops stars…

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40. The Saatchi and Saatchi Story
Taking you on a rollercoaster ride from the legendary agency’s inception in the 70s to the ‘split’ in 1995, when M&C Saatchi was set up.

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41. Treasures of New York: Building Stories
Private life and creative process of Costas Kondylis, a modern architect thought to have more influence over the NYC skyline that any other.

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42. Great Britons: Isambard Kingdom Brunel
The most creative Brit who ever lived? Check out this awesome doc on the works of multi-talented designer IKB. Bridges, ships, buildings…easy. What a man. Legend.

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43. 10 Lost Cities That Have Been Found
Fascinating rundown of long lost towns that have been found during excavation.

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44. Peter Ackroyd’s London
London’s best biographer has written several epic, 500-page lurid histories of the capital, but did you know he’d also condensed them into a documentary series? Essential viewing for all London-lovers.

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45. The Bizarre World of Ancient Greece
BBC doc on the lifestyles of the people who set the blueprint for civilisation as we know it...

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46. Sex in the Ancient World
The sex secrets of Ancient Egyptians, inc. the Turin Erotic Papyrus…ooo er.

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47. World’ Strongest Materials
The latest innovations in materials. From bacteria that can make gasoline to gossamer thread that can hold up bridges.

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48. The Next Black: The Future of Clothing
Innovative fashion companies discuss 21st century garms, inc. sustainability, wearable tech and biocuture, which means growing clothing. Sound crazy? Embrace the future.

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49. Future of Glasses, Wearable Technology 2015
From wearable robots to give us super strength, to machines that can read our minds…

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50. Bionics, Transhumanism, and the end of Evolution
Scary Discovery Channel doc on how the human race is on its way out and we’re all becoming cyborgs.

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So there you go, proof that procrastination can be inspiration. Just be sure to set a time limit! Enjoy!

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