Ten Best Rock and Roll Movies
Rock and roll movies are almost as good as rock and roll
The best movies are always hard to pick, and movies about rock and roll are no different. Many of the films on this list say something about the process of creating rock and roll, while others explore the kind of people who produce it and what this process does to their lives. The other films simply show the end product, that is, a rock concert, so we can watch it as we bang away on our air guitars.
Now here's the countdown for the Ten Best Rock and Roll Movies!
10. School of Rock (2003)
It could be said this movie was made for kids, but even if it was, you gotta love its spirit. School of Rock stars Jack Black, who plays lead guitarist Dewey Finn. Finn, after getting kicked out of his band, then has to form another band to pay the rent. So Finn finagles a job as a temporary teacher at an upscale elementary school. Unfortunately, the only thing Finn knows how to teach is Rock Band 101, which he does with some fifth graders. The resultant band, named School of Rock, enters a battle of bands competition, but loses. Nevertheless, the crowd loves the band, because they kick ass, like all great rockers.
9. The Blues Brothers (1980)
The Blues Brothers are Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, who developed these characters while performing a musical sketch on Saturday Night Live in 1978. Soon a band of established musicians was formed to back-up the Blues Brothers. Then, in 1980, Aykroyd and Belushi made the movie, which features numerous blues and soul artists such as James Brown and Aretha Franklin. And, as the cops chase the Blues Brothers, who are on a “mission from God,” more cars are crashed than any movie ever seen. The Blues Brothers - these original ones - were great fun, and could actually sing and dance. What a concept!
8. The Last Waltz (1978)
Directed by rock enthusiast Martin Scorsese, The Last Waltz is a documentary film about the farewell performance of The Band (formerly Bob Dylan's backup band) at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, the venue of innumerable fabulous concerts in the 1960s and ‘70s. Twenty or so special guests added their musical talents to the concert, including Paul Butterfield, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Muddy Waters and Neil Young. Perhaps more than anything else, the movie highlights the career of guitarist/singer Robbie Robertson, one of the film’s producers. The movie is often hailed as one of the best concert films of all time.
7. Tommy (1975)
Based on an album produced by The Who in 1969, Tommy is a so-called rock opera based on the story of a kid named Tommy, who sees his stepfather kill a man involved in an adulterous liaison with Tommy's mother. Traumatized by the event, Tommy goes into shock and becomes that deaf, dumb blind kid who “sure plays a mean pinball,” as described in the album's song “Pinball Wizard.” Lead singer Roger Daltrey plays Tommy and many other stars appear in the production: Jack Nicholson, Tina Turner and Ann-Margret. Tommy won the first ever Best Rock Movie Award as presented by the Rock Music Awards.
6. The Rose (1979)
There’s never been a biopic about the life of Janis Joplin, but The Rose came very close. Actually the original name for the film was Pearl, the title to Joplin’s last album, but the Joplin family didn’t want to sell the rights to the producers, so the story became a fictionalized one. Anyway, Bette Midler plays this troublesome, Joplin-like character who struggles with alcoholism and the stress of being a famous rock star. In the third act, she returns to her hometown with disastrous results, as Joplin herself once did. Midler was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.
5. Almost Famous (2000)
Then there are movies about people who write about rock stars. Almost Famous is about an aspiring journalist named William Miller who snags a $35 writing assignment with Rolling Stone magazine. All Miller has to do write about the band Stillwater, a fictitious group, as they tour about the country, without letting anyone know he’s only 15 years old! The story is an autobiographical one, since Russell Crowe, who also penned the screenplay and directed the flick, worked as a writer for Rolling Stone in the 1970s. Almost Famous lost money at the box office, but for the most part critics loved it.
4. Monterey Pop (1968)
The photography in this movie isn’t the best, but since the event it covers is such a seminal one in the history of rock and roll, how can it not be on this list? Monterey Pop was filmed at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967, launching, in a sense, the beginning of the storied Summer of Love and the hippie ethos of the Haight-Ashbury district in nearby San Francisco. Hendrix and Joplin and just about every major band from the San Francisco Bay Area played at this event. This movie evinces a freedom, openness and optimism that never should have waned. Well, at least we still have the movie.
3. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
A Hard Day’s Night came out during the peak of Beatle mania in 1964, when the Beatles were quite possibly even more popular than Jesus. (Hey, John Lennon intimated they were.) The film was made in black-and-white, and aren’t we glad for that! Everything about the film – the photography, music, dialogue, action, jokes – was perfect for highlighting the Beatles’ talents. The movie also stressed how trapped the Beatles were by their own fame. Wherever they went – girls screamed. This flick was a classy forerunner of all rock videos, as well as the plethora of rock movies to follow.
2. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
As in-your-face as rock and roll can be, movie producers must satirize it and/or parody the rockers themselves. Almost certainly the best of that genre of films is This Is Spinal Tap. Done as a kind of “mockumentary” of rock and roll documentaries prevalent at the time, the movie taps into just about every aspect of rock and roll’s numerous clichés – over-indulgent behavior, pretentious showmanship, reverence for the electric guitar and groupie worship. Rob Reiner directs the movie, and it’s written by Reiner and the members of Spinal Tap – Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer.
1. Woodstock (1970)
The Woodstock Music and Art Fair, as it was called, was three days of peace, love, dope and the music as presented by more than 30 bands. Even without a movie being made this was a phenomenal event and certainly one of the greatest in the history of rock and roll. The movie was beautifully photographed and its usage of multi-screen elements seemed revolutionary for the time. Another thing to remember is that immense music festivals were commonplace in those heady times, though Woodstock was certainly the best. Alas, there will probably never be another Woodstock (disregarding the sequels, of course), unless we can, somehow, “get ourselves back to the garden.”
Of course, as long as rock and roll prevails, there will be more movies about rock and roll, rockers and the people who write about and/or idolize them. Perhaps you’ll be the next producer to film such a video or movie. Hey, put it on YouTube, so we can all see it for free!
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© 2013 Kelley Marks