Ok, lets get over with the cliche part of opening the countdown with something like
music is an essential part of any movie director’s armory and that it provides an aural canvas that enhances and underlines the visual effects on-screen. To be completely honest, this seemed to be the easiest thing to do. As a (ever) armature musician and a complete movie buff, there is nothing more entertaining for me than to sit down in a theater, watch a film based on music – feature and documentaries. (…and when you’re out of ideas, you make a top 10 list of it)
There were many that are based on music just like those on sports or ghosts or anything else one can think of. Not all of them shared the same fate; most of them disappeared while some of them stood out. And then there were some. We have hand picked the Top 10 among those movies based on music of all genres. Invariably, there will be a few movies left out due to limited position while some films like “Detroit Rock City” is left out intentionally to get back on KISS for selling out in the worst possible way – being the first and till date only metal band to have released a disco album!
10. Dig (2004)
This documentary by Ondi Timoner is a compilation of seven years worth of footage following the development of careers of two bands – The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre.
Despite being termed as “a series of punch-ups and mishaps taken out of context, and at worse bold faced lies and misrepresentation of fact” by Brian Jonestown Massacre front man Anton Newcombe, the documentary won the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.
The film revolves around the rise of the front men of the two bands, their friendship, their coming together to stage a revolution in the profit-driven music industry as well as their bitter rivalry that leads to arrests and even death threats. Anton may not like his portrayal as someone who missed many opportunities due to drug use and because of differences with the record label but the film won accolades from both fans and critics alike and thus secured a spot on our list.
9. Amadeus (1984)
I am not a very big fan of opera (at least not until the part on Richard Wagner on Metal documentary) Despite my complete ignorance, I managed to learn two names – Mozart and Beethoven. Number nine on the list is a feature film made on the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
I prefer watching a film that entertains, educates, or has artistic value. This 1984 classic by director Milos Forman has it all. The film is narrated in flashback with the confession of glorified Viennese court composer Antonio Salieri who was responsible for the death of Mozart. The film follows the trials and tribulations of Mozart’s life in Vienna – the city of musicians. The film is a very apt portrayal of Mozart’s unpredictable genius, his adult work and his sad demise.
The movie has won eight Oscars and many other awards to validate every good thing written about it here and everywhere else.
8. A Hard Days Night (1964)
Making a comedy film starring the Beatles at the height of their popularity is what now called is a “sell out” idea. But this movie inspired a million people (including my Dad) & even after four long decades, it continues to awe. Time magazine has rated it as one of the all time great 100 films. Without this movie, we would not have any day-in-the-life of rock stars films.
The film gives us a hilarious sneak peek into the busy life as a Beatle member which according to them is “a room and a car and a room and a car and a room and car” affair. The film successfully captures the Beatlemania among crying teenage girls at the sight of the four handsome young band members. A Hard Day’s Night was followed by another popular film – Help! If we were doing a top 25 countdown, then maybe we’d have included it too. As of now, A Hard Day’s Night should be enough to please all the Beatles fans out there.
7. Ray (2004)
Ray is based on the life and career of the legendary popular music pianist, Ray Charles. His contributions towards race music (or Rhythm and Blues as they are called now) are immense. “Genius Plus Soul Equals Jazz” record is one of the all time classics that can get anyone to listen to it, over and over again.My personal favourite – “Hit the Road Jack”.
Jaime Foxx portrayed the maestro’s life’s struggle as a blind kid growing up in the South. The movie follows the life of Ray Charles, his rise from a world of racism and prejudice against the blinds to American popular music center-stage, his weakness for women and a terrible heroin addiction and ultimately his triumph over his personal demons. The most striking feature of the movie is that it never tries to sugar coat the harsh realities of the geniuses’ life – the truth with all its stickiness.
The movie tagline sums it all.
“The extraordinary life story of Ray Charles. A man who fought harder and went farther than anyone thought possible.”
6. The Wall (1982)
What I like most about the band Pink Floyd is that all its albums follow a certain theme and by the end of the album they drive home their point of view. Pink Floyd is one of the very few acts that do not believe in taking out a Greatest Hits compilation to make a quick buck. Instead, every album of Pink Floyd is an epic in its own rights.
The Wall is more like a video to the entire audio album with the same name. Though the film has a linier story of a rock singer “Pink” who lost his father in WWII and grew up under his over protective mother. The film follows his physical and mental development and how he made a wall around himself slowly and ultimately breaking it down.
The film is rich in symbolic imagery and is highly metaphorical – exactly like the music of Pink Floyd. If you are a psychedelic fan, I guess you must already have seen it, If not, shoot yourself!
5. School of Rock (2003)
Rock star Dewey Finn (played by Jack Black) is kicked out of his band No Vacancy. With surmounting pressure to pay his rent, Dewey fakes his way into a prestigious elementary school as a fourth grade substitute teacher to earn some quick money.
There he meet kids with real talent to Kick some Ass. What follows is a healthy mix of Rock n Roll philosophies and typical Jack Black ripper. He finally forms a band named the School of Rock to participate and win the “Battle of Bands.”
Though they ultimately lose the competition to a sell out band No Vacancy, the movie manages to capture the spirit of old school Rock and Roll, which was all about standing against the Man until it was spoilt with a thing called MTV.
4. Almost Famous (2000)
Another mainstream Hollywood movie to have made it to the list is the semi autobiographical account of a teenage journalist writing for the Rolling Stones magazine. Cameron Crowe – the director of the film Almost Famous himself was a teenage writer for the same magazine and used to tour with bands like The Allman Brothers Band, Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The movies is a coming of age story of aspiring teenage writer William Miller (played by Patrick Fugit) following a 70’s band named Stillwater while trying to write a cover story of them for the Rolling Stones magazine. The movie has its share of twists and turn in a world of Rock and Roll – an art form that has slowly turned into a profit center with many taboos attached to it.
The journey of a young wannabe journalist with his heroes, losing his virginity and stretching the limit of what is morally right or wrong as defined by his mother – it all comes together to tell a heart warming story about the glam as well as the dark underbelly of Rock and Roll. In its review, Rolling Stone magazine’s Peter Travers wrote, “Not since A Hard Day’s Night has a movie caught the thrumming exuberance of going where the music takes you”.
3. This is Spinal Tap (1984)
This is Spinal Tap is a mocumentary based on a fictional band named “Spinal Tap.” The film has many comic scenes inspired by the real life Rock and Roll excesses and over the years has become a common reference amongst the music fraternity. In fact, many musicians including the likes of Robert Plant (vocalist, Led Zeppelin) Dee Snider (vocalist Twisted Sister) and Ozzy Osbourne have said that there were instances in the film that actually has happened to them in real life – like getting lost in back stage arena while trying to find the stage to perform. After watching the movie, guitarist Van Halen said, “Everything in that movie has happened to me.”
The film begins with neophyte director Marty DiBegri (played by Rob Reiner) presenting his “rockumentary” on ageing British band Spinal Tap on their North American concert tour for the promotion of their latest album Smell the Glove. The movie is a series of goof up parodies of many bands. The incident of a complete black cover album after the controversy of their original album cover of Smell the Glove is clearly inspired by Metallica’s Black Album. Incidentally, Metallica’s first album was initially called “Metal up your Ass” before renaming it to “Kill ‘em All.” Similarly, Spinal Tap’s persistent problem with their drummer is a take on many bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who and Judas Priest who always had a drummer problem.
A memorable quote from the movie (while the band opened a concert in the US-
We are Spinal Tap from the UK – you must be the USA!
2. Stop Making Sense (1984)
For those who have not heard of the band Talking Heads, it is most likely that they will become a fan of the band after watching their concert movie titled Stop Making Sense. Unlike Dig! which was created after editing 2, 000 hours worth of tapes, this 1984 concert movie featuring one of the leading bands of New Wave was shot in just three days. This is considered by many critics as the best concert movie of all times and was directed by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia).
The movie opens with David Byrne coming up to the stage and sing “Psycho Killer” with only his acoustic guitar. As the concert progresses, other band members as well as many guest performers gets on the stage one after another to give what is regarded as one of the spirited performance by the band. Unlike other films in the genre, Stop Making Sense does not employ quick-cut editing popularized by MTV. Instead, the movie uses lengthy camera shots to give viewers a feeling of being actually there. Similarly, close up of performing artists are left out for full figure or upper body shots. Both audience shots and applause sound – which is considered to be a trade mark for all concert films, are kept at a minimal here.
Apart from these innovations, a major factor of the film’s popularity goes to the charismatic front man with high energy level backed by an equally inspired group of musicians. A must watch for those who are bored with all the concert films that looks the same.
1. The Last Waltz (1978)
Some of you might wonder why we have put a concert film of relatively less known band in the number one spot. The Last Waltz is a concert film held in Thanksgiving Day in 1976 by a Canadian rock group called The Band.
Rather than just a concert, the film captures the end of The Band’s illustrious touring career. After sixteen long years on the road, The Band had decided to call it a day and sum it up with The Last Waltz.
Watching it gives you a whole new appreciation for The Band. Amazing enough by themselves, the guest appearances by artists like Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, and Neil Diamond makes the movie even more enjoyable!