In honour of Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon… these are my TOP 5 Music Movies. This of course refers to movies that have been made about the music industry either real or imagined. For the first time in doing this series I have hit the proverbial wall with my choices. I just found out I have a rather small sampling of films or documentaries about music that I have seen. Even worse is that I know I have seen some but I can’t remember a single moment from them. I mention this because every film I have mentioned in the past has met this personal criteria. Regardless I was still able to find many films that I did see and enjoy over others. But also I discovered that there are many that I want to see now. Like the countless who count Don’t Look Back (1967), a documentary about Bob Dylan, as the peak of the genre or 2007’s Control biopic about Joy Division and front man Ian Curtis’ way-too-early death. There is one that didn’t make the list but you should also see and that’s Sons of Norway (2011). I got to see it at TIFF a couple of years back and really enjoyed it. It also has the dubious pleasure of a John Lydon cameo… yes that John Lydon! Now onto the list.
Here are the rules…
- Must be about the music/industry… after that no limits
Sadly while many of these films are made only a few are worth watching. With that in mind, I wanted to highlight some films that are part of this group. Here are what i think are great examples.
This simply is one of the strangest and greatest films about music. William Finley plays Winslow Leach, an aspiring song writer who eventually gets royally screwed by Swan, played by the amazing Paul Williams. Over the course of the film as Winslow seeks revenge for the theft, he gets transformed into the Phantom of the Paradise. This movie is all over the place. Taking elements from Phantom of the Opera, Faust, The Picture of Dorian Grey and mixing in Rock ‘N’ Roll then spitting back out into your mind. It is a crazy trip that I gladly will take anytime. It also marks, in my opinion, Brian De Palma’s greatest masterpiece in film. His other films are pale, mundane examples next to this opus. I love The Untouchables but come on, the Phantom is the bomb yo’! Apologies to Jason Mewes.
I know, I know it’s an obvious one, but really?! It had to be here as it is just that good. Besides, when you essentially redefine an entire genre you know you are a big thing. Director Marty DiBergi gets up to no good as he decides to film a documentary about one the most infamous bands in rock history, Spinal Tap. During the film which chronicles their 1982 tour it is made abundantly clear that the band is made up of idiots. They also have the luck of the Irish because they have had 5 drummers over the years, each dying under strange circumstances each time. It is an utter clusterfuck of a tour. The irony is that for something that was almost completely improvised by the stars, it turned out to be pretty accurate. Many musicians who have seen it talk about about how sobering it is to watch something so real in regards to their experiences on the road or with major labels. After watching with a group of friends, Eddie Van Halen was actually laughed at for not finding the film funny because most of what happened had happened to him over the years in some way. It truly is the fakest real movie about music ever.
The first real documentary on the list. Hail! Hail! is one those special films that is just magical to watch. Other than Johnnie B. Goode and the reference to it in Back to the Future, my knowledge of Chuck Berry was pretty limited. Sure, I knew he was a big thing back in the day but to hear everyone talk about him and his influence on their music or music general is quite impressive. I just wish that I had not waited over 15 years to watch it. Yep, that’s how long I was sitting on this one for. Trust me, I was kicking myself after I finished watching it. It was like the first time I heard The Replacements or Iggy Pop… why did I not listen sooner? (Or watch in this case.) Regardless, if you like his music or not, Taylor Hackford does a pretty bang up job of making you understand a least a small part of Chuck Berry and his role in music. Also the performances are amazing to watch.
Cameron Crowe recounts many stories from his years when he worked for Rolling Stone back in the 70’s as a kid. Regardless of it’s veracity story wise, I know of 2 scenes which have been witnessed and confirmed true. One being the “I’m a golden god!” line which was said by Robert Plant and the second is confirmation of the plane crash scene which happened to Alice Cooper’s band (See Supermensch for that clip, priceless). It is still Crowe’s best film and the one everyone should watch. Everything about this film is engrossing and fun to watch even in the really painful moments of the story. The journey that begins as another coming of age story adds layers of friendship, family and what music means to people although in a dated fashion compared with today’s music industry. It’s a love letter to the days when we were kids and the world was limitless until the day that you realize that the world is not limitless and we are just one part of the big picture. How we deal with that is what matters, something William learns during his time with Stillwater.
I liked Nirvana. I like Dave Grohl. But now I am in love with this guy. This movie had me laughing and crying sometimes at the same time as he unfolds the story of the infamous Sound City Studio in LA. As he takes you through the years of the studio, you come to realize how many of the MOST important albums in rock history were recorded there. This of course includes Nevermind by Nirvana. Like Spinal Tap or the other films on the list, the music industry is shown warts and all here for its ridiculous nature. But putting that aside, there is a real sense of history and the studio’s importance to these musicians over the years that is palpable on screen. By the time we get to the end where Grohl has bought the famous sound board and begins the 606 sessions at his studio, we have been treated to an amazing who’s who of the music scene. Plus getting to watch Butch Vig tell Dave “yeah Dave, why don’t you tell Paul MacCartney what to do” is classic funny.
So there it is, my list. There are so many more that I could have added but I wanted to go with what I think of as the best representatives of the group. If you are looking for something to watch this weekend give one of these a try.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!