ROCK AND ROLL MOVIES
There are many good rock and roll movies. I’m not talking documentaries like Hail, Hail Rock and Roll!, The Last Waltz, or Stop Making Sense, I’m referring to rock and roll fictions. Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock is the grandaddy of them all but rock movies didn’t really take off until the eighties.
American Hot Wax appeared in 1978. It’s the story of the first great rock and roll show hosted by Alan Freed, played by Tim McIntyre. Inexplicably, this masterpiece has never been issued on DVD. It’s the only movie in which Jay Leno doesn’t play himself, unlike triumphant appearances by Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
Absolute Beginners is another overlooked masterpiece, this one about the birth of rock and roll in fifties England. Released in ’86, directed by Julien Temple, Absolute begins with the mother of all tracking shots putting A Touch of Evil to shame. It follows teen phographer Colin as he tracks the nascent movement and feature performances by Ray Davies, David Bowie, Sade, and the music of Charles Mingus.
Mark Wahlberg’s Rock Star is another excellent movie recounting the story of how the lead singer of a tribute band devoted to Steel Dragon actually becomes Steel Dragon’s lead singer. It is loosely inspired by the real-life story of Tim “Ripper” Owens, singer in a Judas Priest tribute band who was chosen to replace singer Rob Halford when he left the band. You will never forget the scene where Wahlberg debuts with Steel Dragon.
Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do perfectly captures the innocence and exuberance of the birth of rock and roll in America in 1964 as it follows the fortunes the hilariously misnamed “The Oneders,” whom, it turns out, are one-hit wonders. Stars Hanks look-alike Tom Everett Scott.
Still Crazy is my favorite. It follows the adventures of the heavy metal band Strange Fruit who fell apart at a rock festival in 1970, only to find them reforming twenty years later. Everyone is brilliant, particularly Billy Nighy as the pretentious lead singer and Billy Connelly as their stage crew/manager. We follow their hapless tour through Europe but a funny thing happens on the road. They keep getting better. And rock movies don’t get much better than this.
Some compare Still Crazy to Spinal Tap, but there’s a huge dif. Still Crazy takes its characters seriously. Spinal Tap remains the king of mockumentaries.