Total Recall

Our Favorite Rock 'n' Roll Movies

RT staffers share our favorite movies that rock.

by | October 26, 2009 | Comments

Rock music has been a big part of the movies since Blackboard Jungle made Bill Haley a legend in 1955, and although the marriage of the two mediums hasn’t always been a happy one (see: Elvis Presley in Harum Scarum and Paul McCartney’s Give My Regards to Broad Street — or better yet, don’t), it’s also produced some cinematic classics. With Pirate Radio hitting theaters, we thought it would be a good time to share our staff’s favorite rock ‘n’ roll movies — flicks that will get your toes tapping and your hands strumming the old air guitar. Hey, RT users, what are your faves?


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They don’t get much more Rock and Roll than this: unruly
rock-obsessed students take over a high school, invite the
seminal punk band The Ramones in, and let’s just say that by the
time Joey and the boys are done, school’s out permanently. And
of the Ramone’s own brand of blistering punk rock isn’t enough
for you, the soundtrack is augmented with tracks by Chuck Berry,
Alice Cooper, and Todd Rundgren. Although the movie was made in
1978, I didn’t get to see until a few years later on VHS. But
the film’s message was still relevant for me: school sucks,
let’s rock! (Come to think of it, that message is still
relevant.)

 

 

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In 1991, Bill S. Prestion, and “Ted” Theodore Logan returned
to the big screen (after the surprising success of their first
Excellent Adventure in 1989). This time around, instead of
bouncing through time, our goofy heroes must conquer Death
himself (it turns out Death is no expert at Battleship, Clue,
Twister, or electric football), just so that they can play in
the Fourth Annual San Dimas Battle of the Bands. It’s hinted in
the first film that Bill & Ted’s band, Wyld Stallyns, changed
the world with Rock and Roll, but we don’t really see that start
to happen until Bogus Journey, when they play Argent’s God Gave
Rock and Roll to You. Personally, I think a big part of how Wyld
Stallyns changes the world has to do with the fact that they’ve
got the Martian Station on board, and more importantly, Death
himself. I could go off on a long tangent about the
philosophical and metaphysical implications of having Death play
bass in your rock band, but suffice to say that if the Grim
Reaper himself is touring with you, you probably really could
change the world.

 

 


Tim Ryan, Senior Editor

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This summer marked the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock
Music & Art Fair, and with it came a flurry of media
retrospectives. However, whether the mother of all rock fests
was a cultural milestone or an overhyped, muddy bummer is beside
the point at this late date, thanks to Michael Wadleigh’s vivid,
immersive documentary Woodstock. With its three-panel
split screens and its four-hour runtime, no film has ever
captured the multiple facets of a rock concert with as mush
stylistic aplomb and tactile panache. The obvious draw here are
the musical performances, many of which have become legendary
(Carlos Santana’s mind-bending guitar work on “Soul Sacrifice,”
the Who’s thunderous run through Tommy, and of course,
Jimi Hendrix’s explosive, oddly reverent take on “The Star
Spangled Banner”). However, what makes Woodstock a
great film is that it gives equal weight to the crowd — 400,000
strong and each one convinced that the world is changing for the
better. Though the overall tone is communal and celebratory, a
certain sadness seeps in: given the immediacy of the film, it
comes as a poignant realization to know that the concertgoers,
who wouldn’t look out of place at a Fleet Foxes or Devendra
Banhart show are now only a few years shy of receiving social
security benefits.

 

 

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You might not think you need to see a documentary about the
Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, but you do. Ondi
Timoner’s Dig! is a lively, ironic chronicle of two
bands that go from friends to rivals, but what makes the whole
thing perversely compelling is the presence of the BJM’s Anton
Newcombe, an unhinged, self-sabotaging antihero for the ages.
While the Dandys chart a respectable career path, the BJM
continuously implode from Newcombe’s ranting, raging, and
onstage dustups with audiences and bandmates. Though it exerts
the train-wreck fascination of a real life Spian Tap, Dig!
also has something to say about the nature of success; it’s
further proof (if any were needed) that talent is often less
important than professionalism in the music biz.

 

 


Alex Vo, Editor

()

The universe of the music snob is an odd one, and High
Fidelity
shows it all with easy-cool swagger, romanticizing
its heroes just as often as it exposes them for the absorbed,
self-aggrandizing jerks they really are. But beneath the
convoluted musical discussions and John Cusack’s honorable
pursuit of the ultimate mixtape lies an insanely sweet romantic
comedy, about one’s age old quest to recapture lost love (Cusack
nails this role, his droopy, sad-sack eyes perfectly capturing a
man crushed by life and an obscene vinyl collection). And while
it’s hip to dismiss co-star Jack Black as loud and overexposed,
in 2000 he was still an unknown force of nature. In one of my
all-time favorite movie moments, he flips the crowd on its head
with a surprise, golden-throated rendition of Marvin Gaye’s
“Let’s Get it On.”

 

 

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Each year in Talking Heads’ existence seemed to find them in
a radically different place; theirs was one long evolution from
tweaked metropolitan rock to New Wave pleasure pop. Stop
Making Sense
captured them in their most exciting
incarnation, when the four-piece expanded to a crowded stage
ensemble, complete with a polyrhythmic rhythm section and a big
Afrobeat sound. The Heads hired an equally exciting director in
Jonathan Demme, and the result is a scorching experience that
gives the concert film a full cinematic treatment. Tight
editing, beautiful cinematography and even more beautiful music,
and one really big suit makes for a rare 1980s gem that’s never
lost its polish. (And you’re in luck: it just got re-released on
Blu-Ray!)

 

 

 

Ryan Fujitani, Community Manager

()

Say what you will about the goofy, sometimes inane antics of
basement cable access stars Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar, but
they know a thing or two about rock music. What started as a
popular recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live finally
made the jump to the big screen in 1992, and the duo (played by
SNL veterans Mike Myers and Dana Carvey) proved they could be
just as funny (if not funnier) in movies as they were on TV. air
this with the fact that they’re diehard fans of quality music,
not to mention the film is directed by Penelope Spheeris (The
Decline of Western Civilization
), and I think it’s fairly
obvious why I’d consider this one of my favorite rock and roll
movies. From the hilarious Alice Cooper cameo to the “No
Stairway to Heaven” rule to Garth’s lustful freakout set to the
tune of “Foxy Lady,” the fingerprints of rock fandom can be
found all over Wayne’s World. And let’s be honest: who
among us doesn’t picture the gang headbanging in Wayne’s AMC
Pacer every time they hear Bohemian Rhapsody now?

 

 

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In 2007, a small Irish film came out of nowhere to grab the
world’s attention, earning high praise from critics and going on
to win Best Original Song at the 2008 Academy Awards. Written
and directed by John Carney, former bassist of the Irish band
the Frames, the film stars the band’s lead vocalist and
guitarist, Glen Hansard, as a busker who forms a bond with a
girl (Marketa Irglova, also a musician, from the Czech Republic)
who sells flowers and happens to play the piano. The film is
notable for its striking musical performances (all original
pieces) and its powerful emotional core, but it also succeeds in
portraying the struggles of an aspiring musician and the
circumstances that shape his work. Once was one of my
favorite films of that year, and featured a stunning soundtrack
with performances by Hansard and Irglova that mirrored their
onscreen chemistry.

 

 


Jeff Giles, Contributor

()

It’s still a little hard for me to believe, but Penelope
Spheeris, the woman who directed Wayne’s World and Black
Sheep
was also responsible for two of the most important
rockumentaries of the ’80s: 1981’s punk doc The Decline of
Western Civilization
and its 1988 sequel, which forsook
critically respected acts like Circle Jerks and Black Flag for a
look at the hard rock scene in late ’80s L.A. Emphasizing the
hair metal of the era, The Decline of Western Civilization
Part II
includes classic interviews with stars of the genre
(such as Paul Stanley, Steven Tyler, and Ozzy) as well as less
popular acts like London, Odin, and Seduce. It’s packed with
memorable moments that are as entertaining as they are
terrifying — most notably the footage of W.A.S.P.’s Chris
Holmes dousing himself with epic quantities of vodka. More fun
than Poison’s entire discography, Decline Part II is 93
fascinating minutes, even if — like me — you were never a
whole-hearted hesher.

 

 

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Some people love it because it’s funny. Some love it because
of its insane climactic car chase. Some just love the sight of
young Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. Me? I count The Blues
Brothers
among my favorite rock ‘n’ roll flicks because of
the soundtrack — and because of the incredible lineup of soul
survivors Paul Shaffer recruited for the Brothers’ backing band,
including Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Willie
Hall, and…well, you get the idea. Humorless purists criticized
the Blues Brothers for trivializing the work of the genre’s real
artists, but that’s nonsense; Aykroyd and Belushi’s loving
homage to Stax soul and Chicago blues helped usher in a revival
— and, more importantly, helped keep more than a few unjustly
forgotten performers fed. They may not have been on a real
mission from God, but they came close enough.

 

 


Sara Schieron, Contributor

()

Franc Roddam’s mod opus Quadrophenia would have
been a light through the clouds to me — if I’d seen it when I
was 15. But I saw it late: years after my Doc Martens had been
sent unceremoniously out to the trash, years after my last
defense of Morrissey as a god-head whose name is not Mos and
moons since I’d listened to The Jam. But then Roddam and the Who
made it kind of late. Based on their 1973 rock opera, the film
version (released in 1979) saw delays in exhibition after
bandmember Keith Moon passed away. Perhaps as a result, the film
has a sense of mourning to it that feeds into its tragic
nostalgia for the era passed. It’s a messily specific valentine
to the era: an anti-coming of age story about kids as detached
from their realities as they are itching to get a glimpse at a
place darker and truer than their working class worlds. Sure,
the Mod we think of today is the 1980s resurrection of the
identity, but that stuff started somewhere, and knowing the
history can sure give the maudlin skies a little more clarity.

 

 

()

Nobuhiro Yamashita’s Linda, Linda, Linda treats the
process of starting a high school band like a team-building
exercise — and why not? Music doesn’t have to be all
identity-obsessed like High Fidelity, or drug-laden
like Sid and Nancy. This super-cute, Japanese concert
film is wholesome. That’s right, I said wholesome. About a
foursome of teens gearing up for a bandslam, Linda, Linda,
Linda
follows three Japanese schoolgirls and their South
Korean exchange student singer as each of them learns something
major: how to play drums, how to speak Japanese, and how to
reject a boy — all while they keep their grades up. The title
song, which the girls cover and play for their Battle of the
Bands, is a revival of a catchy little post-punk number by the
Blue Hearts, and its just the thing to unleash all the energy
these girls pack so tightly into their properly regimented
scholastic endeavors. This performance is like their opportunity
to break out — in all kinds of memorable ways.

 

 


Gabi Jacobs, Creative Director

()

This is the most sophisticated, edgy and unique musical I’ve
ever seen. It tells the story of a boy who escapes a domineering
mother and East Germany in search of stardom and love, embarking
on a journey that finds him, or her, living in a Kansas trailer
park and performing his music in strip-malls after a botched sex
change…hence the name of her band, The Angry Inch. It doesn’t
get more original than that. John Cameron Mitchell, adapting the
script from his own play, brings Hedwig to life in this very
successful and memorable film.

 

 

()

Loosely based on events in Prince’s life, this Academy and
Grammy award-winning movie takes me back to a magical starry
night at the drive-in during my teens. While perhaps not the
best-acted movie I’ve seen, one thing’s for sure: the music’s
great. Boasting a classic, hit-packed soundtrack, Purple
Rain
remains incomparable 25 years after its release. I
miss the 1980s!

 

 

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