When Little Richard tore up the screen in The Girl Can’t Help It a new genre was born. Rock stars in film. While some of them have gone onto trying to act on the big screen, with various degrees of success, the rock doc has gone from strength to strength. So let’s turn up the amp […]
When Little Richard tore up the screen in The Girl Can’t Help It a new genre was born. Rock stars in film. While some of them have gone onto trying to act on the big screen, with various degrees of success, the rock doc has gone from strength to strength. So let’s turn up the amp to 11 and get going…
1. Don’t Look Back – the godfather of all music documentaries. Filmed on Dylan’s 1965 UK tour, it shows him on the last tour before he went electric and got booed off the stage. In this movie the folkies are happy, Donovan is present and can only watch and worship, Joan Baez is uncomfortably treated like crap, Ginsberg hovers over all like a benign Buddha, and Bob was about to hit his peak of cool. Director DA Pennebaker made the much-bootlegged follow-up Eat The Document the year after, which is worth getting hold of for the back-of-a-cab scene with a clearly high Lennon and Dylan talking rubbish.
2. The Last Waltz – The Band, a quintessential American (despite 4/5 of them being Canadian) jam band bade farewell at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom on Thanksgiving in 1976 and Scorsese was there to get it all on tape for posterity. Beautifully shot on film, the standout performances from Neil Young, Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell make it a must-watch.
3. Help! – The Beatles’ best movie, made in colour after the fabulous monochrome of A Hard Day’s Night, you can tell how much of it was made stoned. The adventure of Paul on the floor – where Macca is shrunken down by an injection and finds his way around an ashtray like a psychedelic version of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids – is a particular highlight, as is Lennon’s beautiful You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.
4. Cracked Actor – David Bowie? Meet cocaine. After Ziggy retired, his creator went off to discover America and embarked upon the Diamond Dogs tour in 1974. Alan Yentob went along to record the outcome and produced one of the most wonderfully bizarre rock docs of all time. Available only on bootleg, we take in the sights of a wax museum in the desert, a load of thrilling live footage, and a rail-thin Bowie, high, sniffing and paranoid in the back of a limo, convinced people are following him. Unmissable.
5. Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll – Chuck Berry is not a nice man. He was given a suspended jail sentence after installing cameras in the toilet of his own restaurant and he didn’t treat his own band much better. For his 60th birthday this life-story doc tells you his tale of legend, while Clapton and Keef try and get on with him in rehearsals for the gig that ends the film. They wouldn’t take this shit from anyone else and you can see it on screen. Keith’s patience wears thin but he keeps on playing. Key scene: ‘That’s not the way Chuck Berry plays it!‘
6. 25 x 5: The Continuing Adventures of the Rolling Stones – talking of the walking laboratory that is Keith Richards this doc (only available on VHS) is a wonderful 2 1/2 hours of life in the Stones bubble. When made in 1989 one imagines they never thought they’d go on for another 20 years.
7. New York Doll – Arthur Kane, the late New York Dolls’ bassist, saw big-hair metal bands steal his (their) act and make millions while he toiled in obscurity and poverty. When we’re introduced to him, as he works in a Mormon library in LA, we’re immediately struck by his innocent charm and burgeoning excitement at being invited to be part of Morrissey’s Meltdown in 2004. It’s a beautifully touching story, as you get to know Arthur and you cheer for him as he makes his triumphant comeback at the Royal Festival Hall. As if it couldn’t be more poignant, just three weeks after the show he died of undiagnosed leukaemia, making the Meltdown show his last appearance. Total tearjerker.
8. Monterey Pop – the first and best rock festival doc. It shows Hendrix at his breakthrough point, The Who’s first appearance on American soil, a viscerally thrilling Otis Redding barnburner, and the usual collection of stoner hippies talking rubbish into the camera. Also, it’s worth getting the 4DVD box set to get the whole of Jimi’s set, with its crazy opening scene.
9. The Fearless Freaks – this movie is inspirational on many levels. The Flaming Lips have never been what you’d call polished, coming from humble Oklahoma beginnings to headline festivals over the course of a decade and a half. Charming frontman Wayne Coyne takes us on a tour of the bleak midwest, taking in the setting of fires during gigs, musical lynchpin Steven Drozd’s heroin use (seen on screen in a compelling car crash of a sequence) and subsequent recovery, amid a blizzard of confetti, animal costumes, inflatable balls, balloons and the sci-fi movie, Christmas on Mars, that he made in his backyard.
10. 30 Century Man – he turned his back on life as a teen heartthrob to make dramatic, orchestral chansons. This doc, about the life of outsider singer Scott Walker, is just wonderful. With contributions from, among others, Jarvis Cocker, David Bowie, Radiohead, Brian Eno, Damon Albarn and the subject himself, in a rare interview, it’s a tale of how to get respect in the music industry by simply doing it your own way and refusing all commercial paths.
11. Anvil! The Story of Anvil - while their music may not be the best example of metal one might put on the screen, the story behind it, of Canadian brothers-in-arms Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow and Robb Reiner is a movie where you root for our heroes from start to finish. Like New York Doll, it’s a story of how an influential band never got the success they deserved. Anyone who is in a struggling band will sympathise with this tale of hopeless road managers, crooked promoters, missed trains and family loans to make that one album that’s going to put you into the big time. By the end you’re just hoping that these lovable old rockers get their reward, playing at a massive Japanese rock festival.