Rock At The Movies, Scene Four
Yo! This is it! The “who shot JR” of BRP’s take on rock at the movies. I hope you dig it. I’m impressed with you coming back four times. I’ll bet you have a “26.2” sticker on the back of your car, right? Haha, it’s only been a half marathon unlike, say, the rock ‘n roll ABCs. Enough! Let’s do this thing.
Let’s not leave out all of Elvis’s many pictures, my personal favorite being Jailhouse Rock. This was actually a pretty good film about life on the wrong side of the bars of justice – a fate I considered back in the day. As I recall, the rendition of the title song in the movie is an early prototype of the rock video. I haven’t seen any of Elvis’s flicks in years, but I watched them as a boy on Saturday afternoons when no one else was around. Nice memory of having some personal space during my otherwise crazy youth growing up with 6 siblings.
Should The Blues Brothers be included? I don’t want to blaspheme, but these guys were on a mission from God! Belushi and Ackroyd in their prime – a can’t miss film with great cameos, but also pretty funny. The dance scenes are particularly memorable – Belushi proving that sometimes those out-of-shape heavy guys can really move that body. And how can you not love a movie that pays huge respect to the blues, one of the progenitor musical forms that, along with country, brought us rock ‘n roll? Righteous.
While not a rock ‘n roll movie, Straight Outta Compton was a big budget Hollywood popular music film about NWA that was pretty enjoyable. It was also a sympathetic look at some guys who really made it big, but it left out some pretty atrocious behavior on their rise up the ladder. Nonetheless, it captures a time and place in a way not often done, particularly the brutality and routine hassling of the African American community by the police, and the response by some teens who went on to rap heaven. It was a very entertaining way to spend a few hours. Still not enough to make me want to listen to rap, however.
If you love the Ramones, what about Rock ‘N Roll High School? I remember some critic calling it the worst film he had ever seen, but he was clearly an imbecile. I watched it with low expectations, and enjoyed it a lot. It’s not Oscar worthy, but it was entertaining, has a literally explosive ending, and features great tunes from the Ramones.
Do you like Metallica? If so, be careful watching Some Kind of Monster, a picture that shows a lot of background into the band and makes you think they are remarkably creative … and also full of themselves. Metallica could very well be the best metal band in history, and Enter Sandman is a great song that is big for Hokie fans. But the band disagreements documented in the movie are the stuff of prima donnas. Nonetheless, the movie is worth watching.
And speaking of high school, have you seen the recent film Sing Street? It’s a coming of age movie set in Dublin in the mid-1980s. It follows the reeling life of its protagonist, Conor, whose home life is falling apart. He starts a band to impress a girl – hey, now that’s a thought! His older brother is the coolest character in the movie, and turns young Conor on to some of the best music of the mid-80s while also parsing out great advice that he himself cannot seem to follow. There is lots of terrific mid-80s new wave music featured, the story is sweet and accurate enough to pass the gag test, and it’s fun to watch the band develop. As for whether he gets the girl? Watch it and find out. It’s coolio.
Tommy was one weird movie adaptation of the Who’s rock opera. Rex Beans anyone? They’re fit for a queen! Anyway, I saw it when I was still in high school (hard to believe that they even had movies that long ago, right?), and it was strange even then. But it had great Tina Turner and Elton John vignettes that were precursors to the music video. The music itself is terrific, of course, but not as good as Quadrophenia, which itself is a decent movie, but isn’t a video soundtrack. It captures the young, angry, soul-searching youth of England in the 60s. Worth a late night spin on VH-1, for sure.
Remember The Commitments? How can you not like a movie about a bunch of rough and tumble Irish guys who love American soul music? The music scenes themselves are worth the price of admission, and it led to two best-selling soundtracks. You’ll want to join a band after seeing this one.
OK, here are two movies which I never saw, but have heard about and included because lots of people like them. The first is The Girl Can’t Help It, a movie that came out in 1956 and includes Little Richard, Fats Domino, the Platters, and Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps. Ed Ward in his The History of Rock ‘n Roll, Volume I, calls it “a brilliant time capsule of rock ‘n roll coming into its own.” Hmmm, that sounds cool. The second is The Last Waltz about The Band’s final concert. I would probably watch this movie if it came on TV, but I was never a big fan of Dylan or The Band. Who names themselves “The Band” as though there were no other? Pretentious bastards. They probably went to The University, too.
What about movies with great soundtracks? There are way too many of these films to recount – Hollywood long ago learned that great soundtracks were another way to make money off of one creative product. But a couple of them are truly memorable. Repo Man ring a bell with anyone? Fantastic punk/new wave soundtrack. Office Space uses gangsta rap to massive hilarity when paired with a bunch of young slacker office workers dealing with The Man and other modern corporate bullshit. Hawaiian shirt day, indeed. The Big Chill has a great Motown soundtrack even if the movie is somewhat trite. And let’s finish with American Graffiti. Both a great film and an early rock ‘n roll soundtrack that shows some of the music that was foundational for a lot of bands that came to fruition in the 1960s.
One last movie, and I have no idea whether or not it’s a rock movie or not. Drum roll, please … The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was a rock musical in some way, right? But it was also probably the most iconic cult film of the 70s. Everyone saw it and brought along their newspapers, etc. It was a unique, purely American teen phenomenon. Sweet Transvestite, hahaha.
Alrighty, that’s it for me. Phew. What did I miss? If it’s not listed, I may not have seen it, so Bring It On (which itself is a terrific campy cheerleader movie, a genre that may be worth exploring someday. “Brrr, it’s cold in here, there must be some Toros in the atmosphere”). Rock that movie, yeah, baby.
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My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.