Ever since Bill Haley & The Comets’ Rock Around The Clock starred on the opening credits of the 1955 classroom drama Blackboard Jungle, rock’n’roll has found a place on the big screen that would prove to be as vital as the concert stage.
A Hard Day’s Night, Help !, Gimme Shelter, Don’t Look Back, The Last Waltz, Woodstock, Stop Making Sense, The Kids Are Alright, High Fidelity, The Rocky Horror Picture Show … these are just a few some of the essential classics that most music fans have seen over and over again and are familiar with frame by frame, shot by shot.
But just like flipping through the trash cans of your local vinyl store – assuming you still have one – and finding some little-known treasure, you can come across gems and oddities rarely seen on DVD or VHS, rock movies. and roll that will surprise, stun, astonish and, in some cases, totally mystify.
Here are 10 you don’t know – but definitely, definitely.
Some will rock you, while others may want to have a few stones thrown at you. But hey, be cool – you’re still paying for that flatscreen TV …
In 1980, Robert Stigwood attempted to do for the New Wave what he had done for disco three years earlier with Saturday Night Fever. But this movie had John Travolta and was directed by the guy who made Rocky. This one, not so much. While the soundtrack featured amazing clips from The Ramones, XTC, Talking Heads, Pretenders, Lou Reed and Gary Numan, the film was a mess in which two teenage girls (one rich, one inevitably poor) flee to New York and find rebellion by joining a punk rock band. The cast is peppered with never-before-seen characters, with the exception of Tim Curry, who plays a DJ all night long. Still, it’s a fascinating 42nd Street time capsule from when it was still a pimps and prostitutes’ paradise, and most of the tunes hold up.
After helping turn The Beatles into movie stars in A Hard Day’s Night, manager Brian Epstein tried to do the same for another of his acts, Gerry and The Pacemakers. Of course, The Fab Four possessed undeniable charisma and more success than John Gotti. Gerry and The Pacemakers had about three hits, with the title track being their biggest. The plot of the film is somewhat hackneyed from A Hard Day’s Night – the boys have to play a talent show but their instruments have been misplaced – but it lacks the same spirit and whimsy of this period work. Shot on location in Liverpool – a big plus.
A London gangster played by James Fox meets a rock star played by – you guessed it – Mick Jagger. A captivating, frenetic, daring and a little baffled work, co-directed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg, Performance, released in 1970 but shot two years earlier, with her rock-solid sexuality (a threesome involving Anita Pallenberg – hey now!) and the violence offended Warner Brothers so much that they wanted to bury this then X-rated film – and pretty much did. It’s a shame, as Jagger turns in his most powerful display, er, performance, while Fox gets completely off balance. Jack Nitzsche’s deliciously insane Moog score, as well as Jagger’s Message From Turner (he even sings Robert Johnson), make it a musical bonus. British audiences know this is a late night television treat; American viewers haven’t figured it out yet.
Well what do you know He’s good old Mick again, except this time he’s brought his Rolling Stones buddies in this lightweight game that’s sure to delight kids ages 9 to 90. Well yes. In reality, that 1972 documentary about the Stones’ Exile On Main Street tour was filled with sex and sex and sex and more behind-the-scenes sex (not to mention the drug-laden trains). However, it is so light on the songs that it has been shelved, never presented in theaters, although a few art houses have managed to get their hands on it. With cameos like Truman Capote, Dick Cavett, Ahmet Ertegun, Stevie Wonder and Andy Warhol (no, they don’t all have sex – yuck!), Cocksucker Blues is a real voyeuristic bliss.
Long before he let everyone say hello to his boyfriend with Scarface, Brian De Palma pulled off this gloriously over-the-rock 1974 combination of Phantom Of The Opera, Faust and The Portrait Of Dorian Gray. Paul Williams plays an evil pint-sized rock impresario named Swan, who steals the souls of aspiring rock stars (William Finley, Jessica Harper) in exchange for eternal youth and, most importantly, successful records. Part tribute, part parody, more part self-parody, this Phantom is a dizzying and garish good moment.
In which The Dave Clark 5, very far from the formula A Hard Day’s Night, in fact tries to play fictitious characters, in this case stuntmen filming an advertisement. Directed by John Boorman, who would go on to direct masterpieces such as Deliverance, this 1965 song-a-thon featured a lot of antics (60s bands were known for their antics), but it also featured many drummers Dave Clark, who, as an actor, was not Barney Rubble. Originally called Have A Wild Weekend, it was later renamed Catch Us If You Can, after one of the group’s biggest hits.
There are traditional “rock” movies and rock “lifestyle” imagery – films that embody the pattern set by The Wild One and Rebel Without A Cause. This existentialist and well-crafted 1972 road movie, directed by Monte Hellman, stars James Taylor as “The Driver” and Beach Boy Dennis Wilson as “The Mechanic”. It also features one of the best actors of his time, Warren Oates, on loan from his usual gig – lead people in Sam Peckinpah’s windmills. As the characters run from New Mexico to the East Coast, the pace doesn’t pick up, however, it slows down, becomes amorphous and unsettling, hallucinatory. And no, we saw it quite right! Taylor and Wilson don’t play music, but that doesn’t matter – their acting kicks a donkey’s ass. Why they didn’t have great film careers is a mystery.
If ever a movie was made for a drive-in, it’s 1971 Gas-sss, a truly odd (and oddly entertaining) image. Produced by B-movie king Roger Corman, the gas in Gas-sss triggers a rapid aging process in anyone over 25, while those under 25 remain unharmed. Part road movie and apocalyptic fantasy, Gas-sss presents Country Joe McDonald without his fish as a self-proclaimed “deity” called AM Radio. But Country Joe manages to hook up with his Fish for some wild jam in a drive-through. How appropriate – and practical!
Released in 1973, here is a cute vintage photo that is really accurate. Perhaps this is because so many principles actually lived on in the present day, in this case Britain in the late 1950s and early 1960s when rock’n’roll was on the market. point of passing to America. David Essex plays Jimmy Maclaine, a humble worker who must choose between life as a husband and father and the lure of a musical career. Ringo Starr and Keith Moon put on astonishing performances. And the soundtrack, filled with gems from Del Shannon to Neil Sedaka, is perfect.
Want great dual functionality that you can watch from the comfort of your living room? Pick up That’ll Be The Day and chase it on with its 1974 sequel, Stardust. Set in the mid 60s and early 70s, Jimmy Maclaine is now a big star. He got everything he ever wanted, but the insane sex, endless drugs, and paranoia that come with crazy stardom quickly catches up with him. Also starring Keith Moon (whose real-life excesses matched Maclaine’s at a T) and Dave Edmunds. Another winner worth seeing.
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