Posted May 3, 2009


Rock and Roll movies

There’s been a few of ‘em, mostly they miss the point by such a long way you wonder why the producers bothered, or if they ever had half a clue of what rock and roll is all about.

I ain't talking about concert flicks or docos, necessarily, but those fictional kinda things, perhaps based loosely on fact, that purport to show us the real meaning.

Almost Famous

There are chunks of this movie that are almost unbearably corny, none moreso than the ‘Tiny Dancer’ scene. After the first viewing I dismissed this flick as another uselessly crappy ‘rock flick’. Later, after stumbling over some references to it in an LA music website commending it for its depiction of the Continental Hyatt House, I gave it another look.

And it made sense! The band, Stillwater, are talentless dingbats. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of such bands crisscrossing the US in the early 70s, hollering lousy lyrics and playing bad guitar solos for far too long. The Rolling Stone folks are self-inflated pompous twats. The only characters in this movie that get rock and roll are William Miller, the kid based on writer/director Cameron Crowe’s younger self, and Lester Bangs, nailed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

And that, dear reader, is as it should be. The best sequence in the movie is a telephone conversation between those two. Lester Bangs is leaning back in an armchair in a dark smoky room, its walls lined by shelves crammed with albums, including ‘Back In The USA’. The second (and last) best sequence features Lester in a San Diego radio station, hollering abuse at the dickhead DJ and insisting on playing ‘Search and Destroy’.

The MC5, The Stooges…and Stillwater. Says it all, really.


24 Hour Party People

The best movie ever made about rock and roll, because it focusses on a fan, not a band. At the real level, rock and roll really is about fans, because, let’s face it, most musicians are clueless fools who pick up all their cred from pals with great record collections.

Tony Wilson was a fan, so much so that he started a record label so his fave bands could see their names in the record racks. This movie really captures the giddy sense of hitching a ride on a whirlwind and, in Tony Wilson’s case, he did it again and again. Contracts were sealed with a handshake, money was flung about regardless of consequences, records were made, reputations forged.

It’s a technically well-crafted, very watchable movie. Steve Coogan is great as Tony Wilson. It’s funny: Shaun Ryder and the pigeons; Peter Hook pinching Ian Curtis’ cigs while the singer’s having an epileptic fit – “He won’t be needing them”. Cameos are numerous and low key. And, whilst it might smarten things up a tad, it is pretty much a true story. Tony Wilson continued to produce light-hearted magazine pieces for Manchester telly whilst trying to display some semblance of managing Happy Mondays.

A life like that couldn’t help but put a smile on your face.

Down and Out With The Dolls

I saw this title on the spine of a dvd box and figured it to be about the New York Dolls, so I grabbed it. No, it aint about those Dolls, it’s a zero budget indie flick shot in Portland about a chick rock group playing parties and local clubs.

It aint half bad! Not at all. The folks who made this movie knew something about their subject matter, it really does capture the feeling of being in an underground rock&roll band. Sure, there’s some dodgy plot devices and ridiculous scenes, but overall it works. The guy in the record shop, the band arguments about songs and screws, it’s all there. Give it a look. I found it in Civic Vid at Enmore.

Garage Days

This doesn’t work. It’s terrible. I wavered between disgust and falling off the couch laughing at lines like “Four people with something to say and nowhere to say it!” Hard to believe that anyone who ever had anything to do with music had anything to do with this waste of celluloid, but they did. Talking about this with a mate yesterday, I discovered that he’s even got a song in here! He also played Homebake the day they shot the ‘climactic’ scene of this lame flick.

It aint just that it’s corny and stupid, it’s badly made. The CGI is overused, obvious and pointless. The acting is mostly terrible, the script unspeakable. It’s riddled with cliches. A single episode of a low-budget tv show from the 70s about SoCal teens hanging around on summer holidays would display more verisimilitude than this crap (such a show did exist, it ran for a few weeks in Sydney in ’78).

At least the drummer and bassplayer had fun.

Dogs in Space

Frankly, I can’t remember too much about this. I saw it once, at the cinema on first release. Waiting to go in with my gorgeous girlfriend, we saw 4 or 5 friends leaving the previous screening. It was like that. It was, especially when you’re 20, about US!

But chunks of the movie did ring true. Not the main story, nor Michael Hutchence’ character and especially not the glowing limousine from heaven (or wherever) that came to collect the chick that OD'ed. The side stories, the flatmates, the messy shared house, it rang true then. If I could track down a copy, I could tell you if it still did.

The Girl Can’t Help It

Strictly speaking, it aint a rock and roll movie. It features a host of 50s rock and roll and R&B acts singing in upmarket supperclubs. It may have been intended to be a pisstake of this new rock and roll thing. But there they are, in glorious technicolour, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, The Platters, Eddie Fontaine, The Treniers, Fats Domino, Julie London, Little Richard. And, of course, Jayne Mansfield – how could one not notice?

With this 1956 release, rock and roll grabbed a foothold in popular culture. No longer confined to regional radio and the occasional 30 second grab in a cheapie exploitation flick, teenagers across the English-speaking world saw it, got it, and went out and formed bands, bands like The Beatles.

Next time you’re in your local vid shop, look for it. If they don’t have it, go to another vid shop. Or download it. Just see it – and spare a moment for the passing of Technicolour, the richest, most beautiful hues ever seen on a screen.

I’m Not There

I really expected to hate this, but I plunged in, for the purposes of scholarly research. Everyone I’ve spoken to about this flick disliked it, even my 20 yr old flatmate, who knows more about Scipio Africanus than Ronnie Wood and speaks more Latin than she knows Kinks lyrics, didn’t like it. It’s pretentious, laboured, weighed down by casting seemingly done for novelty first and foremost and yet… I liked it.

I like the bit where Heath Ledger, portraying whatever-the-hell alter-ego of Bob Dylan, snarls “That’s ‘cos you’re a chick!”. I like most of the bits that Cate Blanchett’s in, stumbling around like she couldn’t decide whether method acting demanded benzedrine or codeine, so she did both. Fuck, I don’t like her much as an actor, but she gets a shitload of great lines. I should’ve writ them when I was watching it.

Richard Gere plays Billy the Kid – remember Bob’s cinematic presence in ‘Pat Garret and Billy the Kid’? “The beans…” The black kid features in a preposterous, but enjoyable fable. Shit, I dunno what to write to make this movie sound good, but I liked it. I thought ‘Mulholland Drive’ was a stroke of genius too.

Velvet Goldmine

Todd Haynes directed this 6 or 7 years before he directed ‘I’m Not There’ so you know it’s good. Except it aint. Like ‘Dogs In Space’, I only saw it once, unlike ‘Dogs’ I didn’t want to see it again. It creaks along, dragging a whole pile of pretentious, laboured (we’ve been here before, haven’t we?) concepts in its wake. Ewan MacGregor plays the obvious Iggy Pop character, which annoyed the Ig on account of Ewan displaying rather more fleshy rolls than Iggy ever has.

There’s a David Bowie kinda character and a ‘music journo’. As far as I recall, they all struggled, or whatever, with their homosexual lust for each other. Worth noting, however, that I saw the vid in Mudgee, of all places, whilst on a getaway with a woman who had access to a house there. We spent many hours in pubs, rang up her mum to tell her we’d married in the courthouse and still found time to fuck, on average, every one-point-five waking hours. So maybe it wasn’t all that homosexual, it could’ve just been me.

The Doors

A friend of mine thought this was great! I’d scored some great acid and passed some along to her, she was peaking in the cinema. Can’t imagine anything else that would make this dreary tale of the dreary Jimbo entertaining. Oliver Stone loves making movies about ‘big’ subjects and isn’t known for letting facts stand in the way of a pompous wankfest. A lot of women I knew at the time found Val Kilmer pretty damned sexy in this flick, which is the only positive thing to be said about it.

Sid & Nancy

Talentless junkies die pointless deaths, subsequently glorified to no apparent purpose.


Jennifer Jason Leigh was a great actress who faded from view. Perhaps she was dragged under by this well-intentioned flick. She’s the Janis Joplin type, only she can’t sing, whose career spans the breach between one hick bar and the next. Her big sister is the Shania Twain type, the ‘Georgia’ of the title. You’ve got all the schtick about the well-adjusted, happily married, wildly rich and famous superstar folkie whilst the gutsy passion battles away, pursuing her art, next fix, fuck, etc. Some folks have rated very highly the club gig scenes, which JJ Leigh and band filmed and recorded playing live. Those folks don’t know shit. It’s painfully embarassing.

Bloody hell, I best redress the balance a poofteenth and mention a doco or two…

A True Testimonial

A labour of love over several years, this MC5 bio is, as far as I know, still unavailable on general release. Best you check with the Barman on that, he’s got his finger a lot closer to the pulse than I do.

The MC5 were the greatest rock and roll band to ever walk the face of the earth. They dug The Who and The Rolling Stones and aimed to be better. They made it too, as you’ll see in the jaw-dropping footage and photographs herein. They described the archetypal rock and roll tale. They were the coolest band in town – and aint that what any rock and roll band of teenagers sets out to do? Then they got signed and bad decisions, poor advice, worse drugs, sent them down the endless slope to obscurity, addiction and federal prison. Throughout it all, they kept hitting the stage like a banshee thunderstorm and, mostly against the odds, produced three great albums.

I scored my copy one night in a pub. I walked in for a beer and 20 minutes later was standing on a seat yelling the “Brothers and sisters!” rant face to face with a cute girl who matched me word for word for volume. Natch, I burnt copies for friends and one of those copies went to, of all places, Ann Arbor, to a guy who lives in the next block from the MC5 house featured in this movie. Small world in rock and roll, hey?

Whatever the hell Wayne Kramer was on at the Wayne State University gig, I want some!

The Kids Are Alright

Dave Marsh wrote the Who bio ‘Before I Get Old’ which is the perfect template of a rock and roll band biography. This movie hits much the same point. By the time it was made, The Who were rich, famous and well-connected enough to get these things done properly. TV clips, live footage, interviews, this movie is masterfully constructed. It’s almost unimpeachably spot-on. As great as the band undoubtedly was, there’s the cross-tale of the decline of Keith Moon. It took a few attempts to get a decent version of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ on film, as none previously existed, yet it breaks the heart to see and hear Keith try so hard to keep up with his bandmates and not quite manage it. Anyone with a beloved copy of ‘Who’s Next’ will get it straightaway. After the song he all but collpases into Townshend’s arms. It’s hard to watch.

I’ve been looking for my copy of this for two days now. Not sure where my copy of ‘True Testimonial’ is either. That’s embarassing to admit, because these two flicks on a seventh generation VHS dub are worth more than all most of those other movies on a HD plasma put together.

Grab ‘24 Hour Party People’, it’s a great story told with wit and style. Grab ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’, living history. Grab the two docos, sufficient stock of preferred snacks and beverages, switch off the phone, get comfy on the couch and you’re all set for the next seven or so hours. Enjoy!