In association with MokumGroupie.com, Picturenose’s Colin presents his take on the finest films on music to grace the silver screen.
Buena Vista Social Club (1999)
Ry Cooder, who has played just about everything with just about everyone goes back to the roots of music for this wonderful outing to Cuba, where he showcases the talents of a bunch of hitherto unknown, ageing jazz musicians – many of whom are now household names. At least, they are in my household. Bulging with infectious Latin rhythms and some interesting insights into pre-Castro Cuban culture – and almost impossible to think it was made 12 years ago. Click here.
Slash from Guns ‘n’ Roses appears early in the movie, telling us that Anvil were in the same league as Metallica and Anthrax – Canadian power-metal gods. While this may have been true, the two mainstays of the band, Robb and Lips, have to resort to menial jobs to keep the tattered dream of rock and roll alive. Their final push for world stardom comes from an eastern European woman one of the band met online, who informs them she has organized a big European tour. Disastrous, funny, touching and surprising, you’ll end up loving the guys, if not their music. All the more funny because it’s true. Click here.
This is Spinal Tap (1984)
Without a doubt, the best ‘rockumentary’ never made. If you have ever been in any kind of band for more than ten minutes, a lot of the gags may be painfully familiar to you. In fact, it’s probably easier to watch if you haven’t. A wonderful spoof about an ageing rock band attempting a US comeback tour, made difficult by the fact that they all appear to be terminally narcissistic or just plain stupid. A true cult classic and one that contains some of the most quotable lines in contemporary cinema. Many rock stars are unhappy with this, as many of them think it’s based on them. Which may or may not be true. It’s a pity I only had ten slots to fill, because this film goes to 11. Click here.
The Last Waltz (1978)
Put simply, if you ain’t seen The Last Waltz, you probably don’t know your rock from your roll. Having been on the road and in the studio since 1960 – and quite a few of those years backing Bob Dylan – The Band put on a final show on Thanksgiving Day in 1976. You’re doing something right if the biggest names of the day turn out to help you say goodbye. There’s Clapton, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Dylan, Van Morrison and a list of others longer than a Leonard Cohen song. It was the first gig shot in 35mm film, and who better to direct the action than Martin Scorsese? The interviews are all very well but the passion for the music pervades and drives the film at a heady pace. Click here.
The Kids are Alright (1979)
Although they seem resigned to be recognized for their contribution to the theme songs for CSI: Wherever, The Who remain a class act, and one that defies imitation. Roger Daltrey, before he was considering acting or a career farming fish, was the frontman of this seminal English band. The Kids are Alright is actually a bit messy in its execution, which is **** because The Who were indeed a bit messy in their approach to music. They existed as individuals, only becoming The Who we know and love on stage. The movie mostly captures this, jerking violently between timelines and situation but leaving us with one of the best rock docs ever made. Anything featuring Keith Moon’s swansong(s), Baba O’Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again can’t be all that bad. Includes footage of Pete Townshend busting up guitars, naturally. Click here.
Notes from a Jazz Survivor (1982)
Art Pepper is the eponymous survivor. Jazz musicians are often held up as those who suffer for their art but very few suffer both for it and because of it. A member of the elite West Coast Jazz set in California, alongside such luminaries as Gerry Mulligan, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz and Shorty Rogers, Pepper sadly became embroiled in the drug culture surrounding him and his art. He talks frankly in this all-too-short documentary about the years of addiction, prison and failed marriages that became the backdrop for his sax-playing career. Interestingly, the film hardly ever touches on his life before or during prison, only on his time thereafter. It all sounds a bit dreary but he is upbeat and philosophical and the film is often surprisingly comical – and boy, can he play. Click here.
I guess many of us would associate the partnership of John Carpenter and Kurt Russell with such enjoyable sci-fi nonsense as Escape from New York (1981) the Big Trouble in Little China (1986) romp or, of course, The Thing (1982). What would probably not spring to mind is their collaboration on Elvis (1979). This biopic was put on ice for many years after its 1979 release following a music-rights dispute. A shame because looking at Russell’s performance under the careful hand of the craftsman Carpenter, you’ll need to go and rinse your contact lenses to be sure it’s not the real Elvis Aaron Presley before your eyes. No, really – it’s just that good. Helpfully edited from three hours down to two for those with ADD, it’s only been available since last year. Click here.
Stop Making Sense (1984)
Shot over three nights by Jonathan Demme (of Silence of the Lambs (1991) fame), this documents dates on a tour undertaken by Talking Heads to promote their Speaking in Tongues album. The only thing remarkable about the film as a whole is its stark minimalism. The sets are non-existent and the colours bland. The show opens with David Byrne walking on stage, placing a cassette deck (remember those?) on the floor and pressing the button. The ticking of the beat box introduces Psycho Killer and the show – literally – builds from there, with new band members and equipment appearing all the time. Highlights are the big suit (it’s really big) and Byrne’s mad gyrations during Once in a Lifetime, like some kind of acid-head priest. Some call it pretentious and dated but hey, it’s a better show than many that seem to try too hard. Click here.
Walk the Line (2005)
Say what you like about the ‘method’ school of acting but there’s a lot to be said for studying your character so deeply that when you get in front of the cameras, you are him. Joaquin Phoenix did exactly this in his role as Johnny Cash in this biopic of the singer’s trials, tribulations and subsequent status as legend. The sheer effort put in by Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as his wife June Carter shines through not only in their uncanny portrayals of the people themselves but in their imitation of the stars’ voices. Near-flawless performances left lifelong Cash fans speechless and introduced a new generation to Cash’s catalogue of love, God and murder. Highly recommended for fans and JC virgins alike. Click here.
Before Geoffrey Rush reached the pinnacle of his career as Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean (yep, that was sarcasm), he played concert pianist David Helfgott in this quirky and controversial study of the performer’s formative years. Despite the inaccuracies that are claimed to exist by Helfgott’s sister, and the fact that the film suggests his schizoaffective disorder was caused due to attempting to master Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (which seems highly suspect), it remains something of a gem. All biographical pictures (and some books) embellish facts to push their point and Shine is no exception. Rush is brilliant and the film is great if you enjoy laughing and crying at the same time. Sad, funny and utterly watchable. Click here.