Film musical, drogue douce & rock’n’roll
A music film is unique in that the film and the music complement one another and are entirely inseparable: the music is ineffective without the visual aspect and vice versa. Let’s not confuse music films with musicals, though, because if you take the music out of West Side Story, you still have the story of Romeo and Juliet.
Some artists and bands have, more or less successfully, tried their hand at the music film genre, offering us a new way to experience their sound. In this article, we’re going to focus on « rock » films: rock operas, films with live shows, animations and biopics… Films that show the moment when you put down the mic and get in front of, behind, or even alongside the camera. Music films almost make you wonder if, due to rock musicians’ high-octane but fleeting lives, they perhaps don’t get the opportunity to immortalise the full scope of their talents, in film or otherwise.
As part of our ongoing collection of articles entitled « Music and Cinema », Limo presents you with our pick of the best « films with rock music in ». You have to watch these at least once in your life.
The Beatles – A Hard Days Night
The Beatles did everything (well, basically everything), so it’s not surprising that someone had the idea to make a music film about their adventures. We hear you cynics cry « but the Beatles are a crappy pop boy band! » Okay! Let’s not get all sensitive about a style that can perhaps seem rather simplistic. The fact of the matter is that, without The Beatles, music would have never evolved the way it did in the following decades. Aside from that, the film stays true to the group’s aesthetic at the start of the 60’s thanks to (among others) Richard Lester‘s production: the Fab 4 still have their neatly combed locks, their Colgate smiles and perfect goody goody image. It’s three days in the life of the stars, accompanied on their trip by Paul McCartney‘s granddad (well, an actor who plays his granddad) who creates havoc everywhere he goes. We see, above all, 4 close-knit young lads, who enjoy their life in the band without really understanding what’s happening around them. Their desire to downplay the prosaic image that they’ve been associated with (a boy band for screaming teenage girls) is already evident. Remember, the band were mocked from the minute they started out. On a side note, they originally wanted the call their film « Beatlemania » or « The Beatles ». One time, after a long day in the studio, Ringo Starr cracked up as he was leaving and said « It was a hard day’s night », realising that it was much later than he thought. John Lennon then decided to troll (as he often did) and use the phrase as it was said in the studio with the others to record the song. Logically, we see that characteristic English humour in the film. As The Beatles replied in an interview to the question « Why don’t you do covers of the American standards anymore during your shows? » – « Because now we write them. » Boom! Watch it with your BFF to celebrate the friendship and memories of youth.
The Who – Quadrophenia
The Who tried their hand several times at rock-opera (a sub-genre of music film). Directed by Franc Roddam, Quadrophenia is the second film they made after Tommy was released in 1969. Tommy was a hit when it came out, whereas Quadrophenia struggled to reach such heights. Though admittedly, just between us, the story of a blind man who becomes a pinball champion is a bit far-fetched, even for Hollywood. In this second film then, The Who tell us the story of Jimmy, a young mod dealing with the problems of youth (again) but also portray the 1960 Brighton riots between rival groups: the mods vs. the rockers. For those of you in the dark, here’s a photo depicting a fight between the bad boys and the good boys:
Like a real opera, the album is broken down into four themes that represent the four facets of Jimmy’s personality. Think Vivaldi’s Four Seasons but more edgy. The name Quadrophenia is mix of schizophrenia and of quadro which means…4! Thank you Captain Obvious. Each of Jimmy’s personalities is also associated with each member of the group: John Entwistle‘s romanticism, Keith Moon‘s lunacy, Roger Daltrey‘s stubbornness and Pete Townsend‘s hypocrisy. A rather balanced personality in theory. Some critics consider this album to be The Who‘s most accomplished album. The techniques used to produce these songs are rather impressive: two songs have neither a start nor a finish, since they start with a fade-in of the previous song, there’s a rhythmic arrangement, a poetic Dantean bass-line…Okay perhaps we’re not experts (do you know any?) but we think we can say that it’s an accomplished film. Watch it before a big gig with some beers, get completely senseless and enjoy your night.
Pink Floyd – Live at Pompeii
Floyd’s Live at Pompeii is to music film what Pulp Fiction is to cinema: a fucking masterpiece! At the same time, we’re not exactly being objective here as we think Pink Floyd are quite simply pure genius. Anyway. The guys said to each other « Look, we’re gonna hijack Pompeii’s amphitheatre, we’re gonna do a gig with no audience, we’re gonna film it and it’s gonna be big« . And the worst thing is they were right. Maddeningly, it was perfect!
Floyd released the first version in ’72 which is 60 minutes of scenes in Pompeii and those recorded in the studio in Paris. In ’74, they added 20 minutes of film showing them preparing to record The Dark Side of the Moon. At the end, what you get is a hybrid film, where the purity of the sound is remarkable. It takes you on a completely surreal journey. Watch it with a group of mates and a lot of weed.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Are you gluten free? Do you think everything is « nice« ? Can you bear not doing anything on a weekend? Without wanting to tell you what to do, don’t watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show, you won’t understand it. For the others, do not miss out on this chunk of insanity, a musical parody of B movies and other horror films. Acted masterfully by Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon and directed by Jim Sharman, the film to this day is still projected in several theatres around the world, more than 40 years after its release (in Studio Galande in Paris for example, ed), which shows what a huge cult status this film has gained.
Bowie-esque ambience, cabaret, rock, sex, satire…A completely grotesque melting pot of all that was mental about the world in 1975. Watch it at the cinema where fans like to regularly act out the film during the screening for a guaranteed atmosphere. A little extra something for you lazy people: the full film is available on Youtube (but shh, you didn’t hear that from us).
Let’s not forget the classic music film that is Spinal Tap, a mockumentary directed by Rob Reiner about a fake 80’s heavy rock band (think Scorpion, Motorhead, Kiss…you get the picture). Comprising all the ingredients of a documentary in one tour: interviews, concerts, the backstage stuff, soul-searching, arguments…it’s a complete piss take! Mockery and ridicule are inherent to the film’s vibe, and it is sometimes believable (except perhaps the ex-drummer who of course dies of…spontaneous combustion). The band went quite far with its realism by releasing an actual album with the film, reusing the band’s songs, which goes all out on the hard rock clichés (solo!!!). A strange comedy, OTT and very cult – watch it high of course.
Seu Jorge – The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
« Cousteau and his friends invented the idea of having a walkie-talkie inside a helmet. We put the aerial on the bottom which lets us play music. » Wes Anderson made it clear from the trailer: sound will be at the heart of The Life Aquatic with (the outrageous) Bill Murray. Just like Quentin Tarantino or Danny Boyle, the songs used in his films are always genuinely significant to the narrative. The director gives Seu Jorge, a Brazilian musician, the task of writing dozens of David Bowie covers in his native language. Wes Anderson involves music at every stage of the production process and integrates it perfectly into the film. He even goes as far as to record the soundtrack during the filming, which is not easy as you can imagine. To get a clear recording of a simple guitar or voice on a steamboat out at sea, impressive! You can judge for yourself on the video below.
So, okay, The Life Aquatic only features Seu Jorge songs, but even so, the film and its soundtrack are so inseparable that this is definitely classed as a music film. And anyway it’s our blog so we can say what we want, so there! Watch it on holiday in the sun with a Caipirinha.
Alex Turner – Submarine
This film, released in 2011 and directed by Richard Ayoade, features an original soundtrack composed by Alex Turner (singer from The Arctic Monkeys). The story of Oliver Tate, a 15 year old teenager, is cuter than a gif of a baby sea otter cuddling its mum! The theme is quite simple: how do you make your classmate realise that you like her? How do you make it so that your mum doesn’t leave your dad for a guru? How do you get through sixth form when you persist in wearing a suit ? In short, it’s the life of an ordinary teen in an ordinary town. But the film is so polished, the characters so endearing and the soundtrack immerses you so powerfully into this by-gone era of adolescence that you simply cannot remain indifferent to it. In 6 songs, Alex Turner transcribes all the film’s emotion, and the lyrics accompany the film beautifully. The songs fit the film so well that they are played in their entirety throughout. Pure and beautiful love we’re telling you! You have to watch it on a rainy Sunday with a hot chocolate.
Whatever kind of music you like, there are still loads of films that we can recommend to you: Daft Punk‘s dreamlike getaway Electroma, hardcore opera David Comes to Life by the Canadian punk band Fucked Up, Philippe Katerine‘s film/album Magnum, the famous docudrama 8mile about Eminem (which you’ve definitely already seen)… Don’t hesitate to dig around a bit, you may well come across something special. It could even be a film by an artist who you thought you knew everything about. Watching a music film really throws you into a different dimension where sound and film are inseparable, a real « user experience » to make the marketing departments of virtual reality headsets envious. Music films have the power to make you realise the full extent of a group’s artistic approach and showcase the wide spectrum of their talents, and that is what is so fascinating about them.
We’ll leave you then with this long list of films to (re)watch and we hope it makes you want to discover some others!