It shouldn’t be hard to make a decent rock n’ roll film, should it? You’ve got all the ingredients for a successful film – great music, sexy performers, sex, drugs, death, groupies travel etc. Yet making a good rock n’ roll film is one of the trickiest things for a film maker to do, and no matter what, fans will find something to complain about. Whether it’s fictionalised, a biopic or a live our tour film; few meet the criteria of a truly great rock n’ roll film. If you’ve got a bit of time over the Easter long weekend to indulge in a rock n’ roll film, here are our picks of the best 10.
The Ramones and their fans rebelling against teachers in high school, with the band coming to the rescue of lead character Riff Randell. Apart from the bad acting (particularly by the band who were only supposed to playing themselves) and the cheesy script and cheap production values, it is still one of the most entertaining rock films.
A film following the debauched hedonism of The Rolling Stones as they made their way across the USA in the wake of the 1972 release of Exile On Main Street, the film unashamedly caught footage of the band’s drug taking, groupie shagging and backstage partying. Director Robert Frank was stoned the whole time and the film was shelved after the horrified financial backers decided it was un-releasable. Still subject to a court order preventing its release, bootleg copies are much sought after by music fans.
Set amidst the Bank Holiday skirmishes between the mods and rockers in Brighton in the UK in the 1960s, the film starred Sting in a particularly wooden performance, as well as Phil Daniels, who would voice the spoken word part on Blur’s ‘Parklife’ single many years later. Cast member Mark Wingett would go on to have a long running part on cop show The Bill, while Ray Winstone is now one of Britain’s most acclaimed actors.
The film version of Pete Townshend’s rock opera of the same name. With The Who’s Roger daltrey playing the lead part of Tommy, the film also featured performances and cameos from Elton John, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton and Jack Nicholson.
Following the fortunes of The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, the film was filmed fly on the wall style over the course of several years. It paints a very unflattering portrait of BJM front man Anton Newcombe and his relations with the music industry, his band mates and rivals the Dandys. He accused film maker Ondi Timoner of taking several years work and turning the film in to "at best a series of punch-ups and mishaps taken out of context, and at worst bold faced lies and misrepresentation of fact." It nonetheless makes for riveting viewing.
They sure don’t make films like this in Australia any more. Director Richard Lowenstein’s acclaimed feature which featured INXS’ Michael Hutchence as a low level rock star sliding in to drug addiction was based on the St Kilda music scene in the late 1970s, and featured many cameos by acclaimed Australian music identities.
Anton Corbijn’s directorial debut was a biopic of the brief but tortured career of Joy Division front man Ian Curtis. Filmed in grainy black and white, it replicated the look the celebrated photographer captured of the band in photos he took of them in the late 1970s and early 1980.
Martin Scorcese’s 1975 masterpiece chronicles the farewell gig of The Band, and features appearances from acts such as Neil Diamond, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr and Ronnie Wood. Beautifully shot and directed, it’s a must see for any music fan.
Just missing out on best rock n’ roll film of all time, Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical depiction of life on the road with fictional American band Stillwater features Kate Hudson in a sterling performance as ‘band aid – not groupie’ Penny Lane. Chronicling the absurdity of being a famous band on the road, the film touched a raw nerve with music fans, the acute observations of touring and band life both touching and honest.
The motherlode when it comes to rock n’ roll films, this 1984 film is now 25 years old but has yet to be surpassed. An acute and incisive parody of bands and the music business, many lines and expressions from the film have now entered music and pop culture terminology. Following the story of fictional band Spinal Tap, anyone who has been in a band or worked in the music business will know that this film, while supposedly a parody, often slides dangerously close to the truth.