Essential Series - 2020 Rock Music And Films

ExplorerExplorer England
edited November 2020 in Essential Series

ARTICLE: Essential Series - Music Rock Films
WRITTEN BY: Explorer
YEAR: 2020



I'll start by saying this list is highly subjective, as there are literally hundreds of films out there portraying our heroes (and villains), in either full-on rock star mode (drink, drugs, women, etc), the sympathetic documentary, gritty kitchen-sink drama, or the obligatory (mostly awful in my opinion) biopic. This list is in chronological order to demonstrate how rock music has been portrayed on the big screen throughout the decades.

The Films

Rock Around The Clock (1956)
Arguably the first rock film ever made, with the plot going along the lines of a frustrated big-band promoter bumping into rock-and-rollers Bill Haley and the Comets at a local dance event in New York. He signs up the small-town band that then makes musical history as they hit the big time, and the rest as they say is history. Not the greatest film by any stretch of the imagination, but one that is not without a deep cultural importance.

A Hard Day's Night (1964)
The influence of this film cannot, in my opinion, be understated. Essentially a day in the life of The Beatles at the height of Beatlemania, and groundbreaking in so many ways, in that it's one part mock-documentary and one part comedy. This film alone laid down the template for so many music films to follow.

Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
On its initial release this film was universally derided, for being a). unfathomable and b).self indulgent, but time has been kind to this release, and it's now seen as a quite essential 'Art House' film, with the likes of Steven Spielberg counted as one of its many fans, and as with A Hard Day's Night it goes without saying that the music is of course absolutely fabulous.

That'll Be the Day/Stardust (1973/1974)
These two films were a vehicle for the then teen heartthrob of the day David Essex. The first being a warts and all drama focusing on late 50's early 60's Britain, all against a backdrop of the music of the day. The follow-up sees the David Essex character (Jim Maclaine) on his rise to Pop stardom and then the inventible fall from grace due to the usual rock star trapping of money, girls and drugs. Both films have cameos from the likes of rock's heavyweights Ringo Starr and Keith Moon.

Slade in Flame (1975)
In 1974, Slade were at the height of their powers (at least in the UK), and it was thought that a film featuring the lads from Wolverhampton would go some way to making them into credible rock stars on both sides of the pond. But, despite it being a really wonderful film about the rise to fame of the fictional band 'Flame', done with a gritty realism I might add, and the Slade lads putting in quite an acting performance. It was too much for the band's fans to take and it rather than propelling them on, it had an adverse effect and the band endured a slide into relative obscurity until a 1980's resurgence, due in no small part to the Quiet Riot cover of 'Cum on Feel the Noize' and a legendary Reading Festival performance.

This is Spinal Tap (1984)
What can I say about this that hasn't already been said? This is an American mockumentary film directed and co-written by Rob Reiner. Spinal Tap was a fictional English heavy metal band created by American comedians and musicians Michael McKean (as lead singer and co-lead guitarist David St. Hubbins), Christopher Guest (as lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel) and Harry Shearer (as Bassist Derek Smalls). The jokes come thick and fast and for some real bands, it was all a bit too close to the truth.

That Thing You Do! (1996)
Tom Hanks directorial debut is an affectionate look at early 60's America, through the eyes of the fictional band 'The Wonders' and their meteoric rise to stardom on the back of the ridiculously catchy 'That Thing You Do!, written incidentally by the recently deceased Fountain of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger. Yes, it's corny in places and a little twee, but nevertheless is one of my favourite music films. Also features Aerosmith's Steven Tyler's daughter Liv Tyler in a supporting role.

Velvet Goldmine (1998)
Directed by American Todd Haynes whose previous credits included Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story which was a film using Barbie dolls of all things to tell the story! Velvet Goldmine was his take on UK Glam Rock in the early 70's with the protagonist Brian Slade, a thinly disguised take on David Bowie, but Bowie wanted nothing to do with it, but regardless of that It's a quite captivating story of 70's excess and a time in music that for me will never be bettered. The film's non-linear storytelling while interweaving the vignettes of its various characters didn't really help it gain a mainstream audience but since its release has gained quite a cult following. There are also early appearances from the likes of future movie stars Ewan McGregor, Toni Collette, and Christian Bale.

Almost Famous (2000)
This is easily my favourite rock music film. It follows fictional 70's band 'Stillwater' as they trawl across America in the early 70's with their story being told through the eyes of up and coming journalist William Miller. It's all loosely based on Director Cameron Crowe's experiences as he was himself a teenage writer for Rolling Stone magazine in that time period. It's a beautifully staged film and totally authentic to the time frame it's in. The soundtrack is great too, with Heart's Nancy Wilson (who at that time was married to Crowe) helping out in that area, and very much like Queens' 'Bohemian Rhapsody' use in Wayne's World, the scene with Elton John's 'Tiny Dancer' in this film is equally iconic.

New York Doll (2005)
This unexpectedly heart-warming documentary memorably chronicles how a rock god, namely Arthur Kane of The New York Dolls became a bitter, drunken lost soul, then a committed Mormon, and then finally a rock god again, at least for one brief, shining moment. It's a rock 'n' roll fairy tale of sorts, with The Smiths Morrissey serving as Kane's unexpected fairy godfather, the man who allowed Kane to live out his dreams. It's both Poignant and moving, with an ending no screenwriter could improve on.

Anvil, the Story of Anvil (2008)
This documentary has at times been touted as 'a real-life Spinal Tap', following the (mis)adventures of Canadian heavy-metal band Anvil as it stumbles haplessly through under-attended tours and hanging onto dreams that probably should've died in the '80s. Along the way, the band visits Stonehenge, suffers their tour manager's ineptitude, and plays a packed gig in Tokyo. Whilst the film is frequently funny, the band is in no way a joke, it's a film that is both moving as it is hilarious.

In Summary

As I said at the very beginning, this is a very subjective list, and I'm sure there will be many that will question some of these entries. It goes without saying that all of these films have fantastic soundtracks, from the earliest green shoots of Rock 'n' Roll of Bill Haley through to the crunching riffs of Anvil.
I could have played it 'safe' and just included the usual blockbusters such as 'Bohemian Rhapsody', but I found little merit in said film and I for one couldn't stand the liberties taken with the timeline. There are though some honourable mentions that could have quite easily made this list. The Monkees 'Head', Boogie Nights, Grease, Saturday Night Fever, Woodstock, The Last Waltz and so many others, but for now I'll go with these 11.Happy Viewing!

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    Good, solid list! As I was scrolling down I’d think “he forgot this one”.... only to see it pop up next.

    Nice to see some titles that I wasn’t expecting or was unfamiliar with, rather than the usual suspects (purple rain, the wall, etc).
    Had no idea Slade made a movie!
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    DaveTDaveT Buenos Aires, Argentina
    I've enjoyed the hell out of this list. Bill Haley, Anvil, my favorite Beatles album (A Hard Day's) plus some movies I did not know and will investigate. Made me want to listen to the artists involved plus the 'Back To The Future' soundtrack.
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    Very enjoyable read this morning! Great job!
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    edited May 2020
    Great article Malc.
    The Anvil I found hard to watch - not because it was sub standard far from it, but because the guys deserve so much more for their determination. The story of Arthur Kane too is a fantastic documentary and probably my favourite of all the above he came across as a real gentle soul but apparently he was the big kitten of The Dolls despite his imposing looks by all accounts.
    As you mention there are so many music films - one of my faves being "Still Crazy" with Bill Nighy and another film with him in called "The Boat that Rocked". "Hi Fidelity" too with John Cusack another I need to watch as I haven't seen it for a while.

    Bad News though as pointed out is hilarious .
    "We're heavy metal, okay? heavy metal, heavy metal, heavy metal. Have I said it enough? We're heavy metal ok? Just like your f*ckin' brain".
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