Turning it up to Eleven – Rock Bands on Film, Separating the Fact from the Fiction.

With both Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born in cinemas right now, those with a penchant for both film and music are pretty spoilt for choice. But bands on film, be they fictional or factual, have had something of a mixed success in celluloid form. For every This is Spinal Tap there’s a Spiceworld.

Regarding the aforementioned Queen, or should that be Freddie Mercury biopic, a friend of mine attended the world premiere and is a huge fan of the iconic band. He was rather honest in his appraisal of the film stating that it doesn’t really tell you anything an ardent or even casual Queen fan you doesn’t already know but it delivers an already lauded performance by Rami Malek as the outrageously flamboyant frontman, and the live recreations are remarkable, despite its rocky production.

Also, can I point you to the forthcoming biopic, The Dirt, about L.A. glam-rockers Motley Crue from director Jeff Tremane (one of the brains behind the hugely successful Jackass films and TV show). The book it’s based on is flat out startling in its luridly honest tales of excess, drugs, booze, sex, money, death and everything in between. Regardless of whether you’re a fan or not, it makes for essential reading.

So for a few minutes of your time here are some of the Rock Band films that you really should see:

This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

Rob Reiner’s original mockumentary is without doubt the funniest film on this list. It’s also probably the most honest in the dynamic of behind the scenes band interplay. It goes from talking head interviews to “live” footage of a band going through the motions of album-tour cycle and the pitfalls met along the way. It’s arguably one of the funniest films ever made (only Airplane! just about pips it for me due to its gags per minute ratio). Aside from being a great comedy, This is Spinal Tap still manages to convey an honest believability that raises it above all other mockumentaries.

A Hard Days Night (1964)

This is Beatlemania. The chaotic, exhausting, surreal world that opened to the most famous band of all time is dramatised into a screwball comedy very much of its time and place. It’s funny, charming and shows Ringo Starr seriously cutting some rug. The soundtrack is, unsurprisingly, fantastic and The Beatles themselves are rather adapt as actors playing themselves (if that makes sense). It might seem twee but in a way that only adds to its charm.

The Stone Roses: Made Of Stone (2013)

I have to say from the start that Shane Meadows’ film about the mythical Mancunian band The Stone Roses’ reunion is perhaps not objective enough and is more of a fan service piece from the director, however, his affection for the band speaks for a lot of people, myself included, and shows the energy of the band reunited and the live return made around the globe. Perhaps it needs some more behind the scenes of the band disagreeing to show more of the fractious relationships rather than the respectable distance from which it views the band. But then would that dispel the mythical status of the band themselves? Regardless, the live footage is electric, especially as the filmmaker himself states during the epic return show at Warrington’s Parr Hall and the opening bass line of ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ rings out – “Jesus Fucking Christ!”.

Supersonic (2016)

Matt Cross’s depiction of the origins of the Gallagher brothers meteoric rise in the first two years of their success is surprising in the amount of archival footage obtained and the honesty of both brothers. Even as a non Oasis fan, you can’t help but be fascinated as to how huge they were and what they achieved. The dynamic is very much based around the relationship between the warring siblings and recounted rather graphically at times but to be young at that time and soundtracked by the bands of that era is, for this author, pure nostalgic bliss. It doesn’t dwell on later events and rather than re-tread over what are obviously still fresh wounds, shows a small band becoming, for a very short period, bigger than The Beatles.

The Kids Are Alright (1979)

Released shortly after the death of Keith Moon, this shows the beginnings of The Who in swinging ‘60s London, right through to the rock and roll Goliath’s they became through innovation and a need to change. It doesn’t end with the death of the maniacally demented drummer but it adds some well placed poignancy it as it shows one of the last live performances of the original line-up. Once described as “four lead musicians all playing the same part” the band shouldn’t work on paper but it does, spectacularly.

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers: Runnin’ Down A Dream (2007)

Peter Bogdanovich’s three hour documentary reveals nearly every facet of Tom Petty’s hugely successful career to that point and includes some stark revelations from band members existing and previous (and who knew Dave Grohl turned down the opportunity to become a Heratbreaker?) It certainly doesn’t drag, and to see music legends talk about their contributions to each other’s music is enthralling (especially the Travelling Wilburys and Johnny Cash parts). Again, you don’t have to be a fan to appreciate the film, but if you are it’s hugely enjoyable.

Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster (2004)

Who in their right mind would allow a film crew to film the almost collapse and therapy sessions of the biggest Metal band of all time? Metallica, that’s who.

An utterly enthralling film showing what happened to a band dealing with issues that starts with a band member leaving and the reasons why he did so and takes things from there. The mechanics are laid bare and stark realities are met in a way not known to the average person in a way only multi-millionaires will ever know. It’s mix of the relative normalities (family life, personal issues) as well as the absurdities of being in a very successful band (the selling of very expensive paintings) which are shown truthfully via the help of Dr Phil and his remarkable collection of knitwear.

Whether it will change your opinion of the band and it’s music is unlikely and that is met at one point in the film.

The bass audition scene remains a highlight that I can watch over and over.

Stop Making Sense (1984)

Jonathan Demme’s film is basically Talking Heads playing live. Go watch. The simplest ideas often yield the best results.

(Dis)Honourable Mention – Purple Rain (1984)

The film is very much of its time and the script is neither good nor original but the live scenes are remarkable and the soundtrack/accompanying album is arguably one of the best of 1980s as far as I’m concerned. Prince was truly hitting his stride and it’s there on screen. Sign ☮️ The Times was more concert footage than actual film despite its dialogue scenes but then Purple Rain has the distinction of being a Number 1 Album, film and Oscar winner too.

Please feel free to hit me up on Twitter with your favourite Band on film choices.

One Reply to “Turning it up to Eleven – Rock Bands on Film, Separating the Fact from the Fiction.”

  1. Robert Archambault

    I would like to suggest two documentaries, the first is ‘If I Leave Here Tomorrow’ – an excellent Showtime documentary on Lynyrd Skynyrd. The second is ‘The Days of Our Lives’, a very in depth BBC documentary on Queen featuring interviews with just about everyone involved with the band as well as the band members and their crew. It is a must see for any Queen fan and a great companion for the new Bohemian Rhapsody film.

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