Lights, Camera … Play! A Select List Of Music Related Films Past

A romp through music related biopics, films and documentaries by Louder Than War’s Katie Clare prompted by the fact that 2013 is shaping up to contain quite a lot of such.


Ticket’s for Chris Coghill’s, “love letter” to The Stone Roses, ‘Spike Island:The Movie‘, which is to be screened at this year’s London Film Festival in October, went on sale yesterday along with those for Good Vibrations, a biopic of Belfast’s punk godfather Terri Hooley which LTW reviewed last week.

These films plus a recent message from Shane Meadows that suggests a pre Christmas release of his Stone Roses documentary is likely are just a few snowballs pre-empting an avalanche of music movies to come our way next year.

2013 kicks off with a documentary style biopic on Martin Hannett, while also going into production, are films dramatising the life of Jeff Buckley to be filmed by British director Jake Scott, a film focusing on Joe Strummer as The Clash recorded London Calling, to be directed by Julie Delpy plus Andre Benjamin is set in place to bring Jimi Hendricks to life as he creates his début album. Also Martin Scorsese looks set to direct Leonardo Di Caprio in his biopic of Frank Sinatra and Cynthia Mort is doing the same for Zoe Saldana in her Nina Simone movie. If all that is not enough Janis Joplin, Freddie Mercury and Miles Davis biopics to star Nina Arianda, Sacha Baron Cohen and Don Cheadle respectively are apparently well into their planning stages – even the late Ol´Dirty Bastard and N.W.A are set to get their stories told separately on the big screen.

So as we await delivery of the above, let’s take a look back at some of the biopics, rockumentaries, and musicals, from known names to fictional ones, that may have passed you by. A highly subjective list of great sounding, foot stomping and downright booty shaking music movies to check out, revisit or actively avoid.

Lights, Camera … Play! A Select List Of Music Related Films Past

24 Hour Party People

(U.K ”“ 2002) Director: Michael Winterbottom

“When forced to pick between truth and legend, print the legend”

Manchester maestro Tony Wilson played by Steve Coogan narrates us through some of the city’s ground-breaking music from the late 70s to the early 1990s, juxtaposing genuine and mock documentary style footage with fourth wall breaking delineation and gaudy titles, at the time an innovative, and post modern film with multiple emotional layers.
Boasting several outstanding performances, Sean Harris playing Ian Curtis and Paddy Considine as Rob Gretton especially, plus a cornucopia of ‘face spotting’ to indulge in, the film rolls through the years at a fast yet logical pace.

Steve Coogan struggles to be more than a two dimensional Tony Wilson but as he says, “I am a minor character in my own story, this is film about the music and the people who made the music” and the film does make the music the star but in short bursts which seize at the heart and have you hankering for the film to end so you can drop the needle on some of that sweet spinning black stuff yourself. What the film lacks in facts, continuity and depth it makes up for in energy, humour and a certain authenticity of feeling for the time, especially in the second hour.

Lights, Camera … Play! A Select List Of Music Related Films Past

It Might get Loud

(USA ”“ 2008) Director: Davis Guggenheim

“Who says you need to buy a guitar?”

An indulgent, luxuriously filmed and edited documentary with so many breath taking moments that fill your heart and plaster an unmovable grin across your face. It is impossible to find a flaw in this movie. Equally emotionally and aesthetically delightful it is also educationally thought provoking.

Treated to exclusively shot performances both solo and collectively Jack White, Jimmy Page and The Edge are the film’s narration, and it’s subject the music that inspires them and that they make.

Individually we are given biographical interview’s shot in styles as individual as the artists, while being taken through their musical history’s joyous in there depth and diversity. It was hard to not lick the screen it was all just so darn tasty.

Lights, Camera … Play! A Select List Of Music Related Films Past

Rock n’ Roll High School

(USA ”“ 1979) Director: Allan Arkush

“Don’t dance near the chemicals!”

AND

Can’t Stop The Music

(USA ”“ 1980) Director: Nancy Walker

“Corporate thinking sucks”

Two polar opposites of kitsch playfulness, the glitter and glamour of the fictional creation of The Village People to the sticky B-moviness of Rock n Roll High School both offering, dated and politically incorrect time wasting, neither will inform, enlighten or garner you any hipster points, you could well find yourself with a grin or two and a spring in your step as you grimace. A cheesy Steve Guttenberg air punches and grins his way from record store clerk to music composer with ‘his band’ kicking up a rainbow coloured shit storm in San Francisco, keep your eyes peeled for a cameo from Blackie Lawless.

Both features have energetic musical gym montages Can’t Stop the Music has it’s dripping with masculinity, while Rock n’ Roll High School sees Riff Randell (P J Soles) leading an all girl class as she sings ‘her song’ for The Ramones. The pursuit of concert tickets, a repressive new head mistress and a school full of horny and rebellious rock n’ roll loving students lead us unsurprisingly through too an unsurprisingly explosive conclusion, enjoy for The Ramones performances, especially the curious bedroom / bathroom performance, if nothing else.

Lights, Camera … Play! A Select List Of Music Related Films PastRoadkill: Move or Die

(Canada ”“ 1989) Director: Bruce McDonald

“…but now I’m back and I’m going to go all the way”

The bleakly seductive and mesmerising Canadian landscape is the back drop to this clever, witty and surreal rock n’ roll road movie. Seemingly unconnected characters are drawn together in an unforgettable climax as Romona sets out to locate the absent members of rock band Children of Paradise.

Amateur performances deliver bad lines and it’s low budget are clearly evident, however there is an abundance of richnesses, the iconography of numerous scenes are full of depth and beauty and both Russell the serial killer and Matthew the weenie boy / singer’s poetic personal monologues are polarizing.

If the quirky story of self enlightenment does not float your boat, then the sold gold soundtrack, that includes Matchbox, Woody Guthrie, Cowboy Junkies, 10 Seconds Over Tokyo and The Ramones amongst others, should see you through to the end credits.

Lights, Camera … Play! A Select List Of Music Related Films Past

The Year Punk Broke

(USA ”“ 1991) Director: Dave Markey

“..it seems we’re circling endlessly”

An essential on the road documentary following Sonic Youth as they travel, perform and grow across Europe with Nirvana, Dinosaur Jnr., Babes in Toyland, Mudhoney and well, the list does go on but you’re getting the cultural reference point for this movie. Shot home movie style it bottles the spirit of a time when it felt like not only did we have something to say but we had some talented ways of dong so ~ all the energy and fire drew the attention of commercialism and was all to quickly slickly packaged and sold as ‘grunge’ and the moment slipped through our fingers.

This film documents the very cusp of a time in which things still had a raw spontaneous attitude, throughout the film you can see little sparks pre-empting the implosion on the horizon. Thurston Moore’s constant blah really bites at your last nerve, but it is worth it for the music: Dinosaur Jnr‘s performance of ‘Freak Scene’ alone is an overpayment. Play it loud and use the furniture as a launching pad for some of the most sublime music to let yourself go too.

Lights, Camera … Play! A Select List Of Music Related Films Past

Breaking Glass

(UK ”“ 1980) Director: Brian Gibson

“Only the disco market shows signs of being steady”

Rebellious and vocally anti-establishment artist Kate deals with artistic conflict, compromise and control in exchange for popular success. The entire cast, most notably Hazel O’Connor, Jonathan Pryce and Phil Daniels, give engaging and fully realised performances in this post-punk low budget UK film, which while looks and feels authentic is occasionally jarringly out dated, while the musics lyrics on issues of governmental control, capitalism and anti-establishment sentiments remain strikingly relevant today.

 

Lights, Camera … Play! A Select List Of Music Related Films Past

American: The Bill Hicks Story

“We are the facilitators of our own creative evolution”

There were a lot of titles I could have included; Nothing Can Hurt Me: The Big Star Story, Pulp:The Beat is the Law and A Clockwork Orange County to name just a few ‘worthy of watching’ titles. But I leave the final hurrah to a film about a man who was the voice of challenge, a voice that wanted to frighten people out of their apathetic slumber and was to me was the very definition of punk and rock n’ blues attitude thus making into the list.

This documentary was made, and could only have been so, with the complete involvement of Bill’s friends and family, containing live action with a slightly mesmerising animation technique that manipulates photographs to draw you into the unfurling life story. Bill’s clearly loving family open up fully not just about his comedy but also his issues with self belief, alcohol and finally the cancer that ended his life at just 32.
From teenage ‘good boy’ chastising to the angrily self-righteous sermonising Bill’s style of comedy delivery is looked at and talked about. It includes a few shaky clips shot back in the day, but the sizeable amount are from the second half of his career & they show us a glimpse of his transformation and growth. We are treated to an insight into Bill’s non comedy persona & his friends talk openly about his music, his personal life and the impact he had on theirs. In the end there are no bold steps forward in the delivery of the documentary, plus it’s slightly sycophantic and glossy, both elements that Bill would have has issue with. However I’m not in the market for some one dethroning my hero’s and I found the film engrossing, emotional and informative.
On stage he’d bellow, rant and demand a reaction, he’d highlight social stigmas and the decline of the masses into the moronic and submissive TV watching sheep, while spotlighting the hypocrisy of governments, the rich and the powerful, he was of and before his time and we need him and his anti compliance discourse more now that we ever did.

You can buy tickets for the London Film Festival showings of Spike Island:The Movie and Good Vibrations via The British Film Institute London Film Festive website.

All words by Katie Clare. More articles by Katie can be found here.

Previous articleJimmy Shwartz RIP- Blackpool's beatnik artist and friend of Roy harper and Pink Floyd dies
Next articleGordon Raphael, the producer of two albums by The Strokes tells us about the Strokes and what he’s been up tos
Our Tokyo correspondent

8 COMMENTS

  1. This has reminded me I have Rock n’ Roll High School on DVD and I’ve never watched it. Both the Bill Hick’s one and 24 Hour Party People are worthy inclusions.

  2. I really liked the Coachella Tupac hologram thing… it gave me shivers. Jimi live would be amaaaazing imho!
    I’m going to have to buy ‘The Year Punk Broke’ now you know. I had forgotten that movie! I was so into that stuff back then :o) Wish I had bought more Dinosaur Jr back then. J Mascis is brilliant.

    • It was a really special time and Dinosaur Jr were, we still are, a class act. It is the way of great music. I came to these guys via great music and have discovered great music because of them even today I hear echos of J Mascis’s rhythmic melodic guitar work in new bands all the time. If you have the coinage after buying ‘The Year Punk Broke’ I recommend Dinosaur Jr’s new ‘I Bet On Sky’ album, it’s a more mature more mellowed Dino Jr than previous offerings it is for sure still great stuff.

    • It was a really special time and Dinosaur Jr were, well still are, a class act. It is the way of great music. I came to these guys via great music and have discovered great music because of them even today I hear echos of J Mascis\’s rhythmic melodic guitar work in new bands all the time. If you have the coinage after buying \’The Year Punk Broke\’ I recommend Dinosaur Jr\’s new \’I Bet On Sky\’ album, it\’s a more mature more mellowed Dino Jr than previous offerings it is for sure still great stuff.

  3. Thanks for that great review. I’d never heard of “It Might get Loud”, so I went out and got a copy of it. After watching it, I now feel like I’m not mad, or there’s something wrong with me. I’m not a freak because I get total pleasure from watching guitarists fingers when they play!
    If I may, I’d like to suggest a few more brilliant documentaries that weren’t included, Metallica’s “Some Kind Of Monster” which is more a therapy session on film than a music doc’, but the dissection of the band and their issues is quite shocking at times. And Anvil! The Story of Anvil, which is more about friendship, love and belief, than music, but still, it’s a truly beautiful documentary. If you watch it and don’t cry, you have no heart! And finally, what about The Clash “Rude Boy” ? Although scripted, it’s still full of real footage and more a Doc than a movie, and a true picture of Britain in the 70’s.

  4. Thank you Russell. It is great to hear you enjoyed ‘It Might Get Loud’. I agree with you that both ‘Anvil!’ and Metallica’s ‘Some Kind of Monster’ would have been great to add and they were on ridiculously long original list, it was very difficult to exclude so many great films, but I would have felt bad if readers were having to take the day off work to read my list of 100 great music movies. ‘Rude Boy’ is one I have not seen, I really appreciate the suggestion and I’ll be watching it very soon ~

  5. Thank you Russell. It is great to hear you enjoyed \’It Might Get Loud\’. I agree with you that both \’Anvil!\’ and Metallica\’s \’Some Kind of Monster\’ would have been great to add and they were on the ridiculously long original list, it was very difficult to exclude so many great films, but I would have felt bad if readers were having to take the day off work to read my list of 100 great music movies. \’Rude Boy\’ is one I have not seen, I really appreciate the suggestion and I\’ll be watching it very soon ~

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here