More (Mostly) Recent Rock Films

The Dave Marsh list from 1980 is a good one, but there have been a few notable movies with rock music since. This isn’t a best of, but a nod to some you may not have been aware of that are worth checking out.

Cocksucker Blues: Directed by the renowned Robert Frank (whose pictures grace the cover of Exiles on Main Street), the Rolling Stones did not approve the release of the film. For a long time the only way to see it was at a screening that Robert Frank attended (I first saw it in the 80s at Anthology Film Archives with Mr. Frank in the house). Now we have YouTube.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains: Directed by Lou Adler, Diane Lane’s first movie is a sordid and rocking look at girl-punky ambition running headfirst into the business and rock boys. Way overlooked movie.

The Runaways: In some ways the Fabulous Stains are built off of the Runaways, who many years later got their own Hollywood version. Not a great film, but great performances (especially Michael Shannon as Kim Fowley) and a good story with good music makes for a fine time.

Suburbia: Teen dystopia in Southern California, where the most fun is going to see TSOL. Directed by Penelope Spheeris, perhaps the greatest of our rock directors.

Decline of Western Civilization: Penelope Spheeris’s documentary look at the LA hardcore scene. Not available at this time.

Decline of Western Civilization: The Metal Years: Penelope Spheeris’s follow up, focusing on the LA metal scene of the ’80s. Not available at this time, either.

Pump Up the Volume: Christian Slater stars in this story of a new kid in town who becomes a secret hero dj operating his own pirate radio station. Directed by Alan Moyle.

Over the Edge: More suburban kids confront boredom and hypocrisy, starring Matt Dillon (maybe his debut) and directed by Jonathan Kaplan with a killer soundtrack that if nothing else will convince you how great a band Cheap Trick could be.

Sid and Nancy: Alex Cox’s biopic revels in the all the gooey awfulness of the Vicious-Spungen story, with great indelible acting.

Superstar: A movie telling the story of the Carpenters and Karen Carpenter’s bulimia, with all the characters played by Barbies. Todd Hayne’s film school thesis project could never be released because the Carpenter family refused to grant the rights. My wife got me a VHS copy back in the day from Haynes himself, but now we have YouTube.

Velvet Goldmine: Another Todd Haynes picture, this time a more traditional telling of a story of the glam life in the early 70s. Good fun, great music.

24 Hour Party People: It’s Manchester in the 1980s and a new kind of dance music is being invented by Tony Wilson at Factory Records.

Performance: Nicholas Roeg’s amazingly decadent portrait of a rocker in seclusion and the hit man who befriends him, or something like that. Starring Mick Jagger and James Fox.

Rude Boy: Not nearly as accomplished as the films listed above, it is notable because it stars the Clash but is the story of one of their roadies. Rough filmmaking, but a vivid punk work.

7 thoughts on “More (Mostly) Recent Rock Films

  1. I was in London a bunch of years back, walking through Golders Green, and walked right past Powis Square (Performance) and just stood there for like 10 minutes, excited, but not exactly knowing what to do other than just stand there.

    Does Nick Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth count, too? Not sure what makes a rock and roll movie? Is it just a movie with great music (Singles?) or a movie about music with great music?

  2. Loose definitions applied above. Over the Edge is a movie with a rock ‘n’ roll spirit and soundtrack. The rest are movies about and/or starring musicians or, in the case of Pump Up the Volume, the music.

    I wouldn’t include The Man Who Fell to Earth.

  3. Lawr, the Killer Cane movie is “New York Doll” and is, indeed, great. I’ll throw in “Turbonegro – The Reserection” and Hellacopters “Goodnight Cleveland” for the niche market of myself. Then there’s the T. Rex “Born To Boogie” movie which is dated as hell, but fun to watch. Finally, I’ll throw in mainstream “Dazed And Confused” which, to me, is the most true to what my high school years were like, except the music they’re listening to is way cooler than reality. Reality was shite like Kansas, Supertramp, Boston, Foreigner, etc.

  4. I’ve got my work cut out, having seen only three of all the movies mentioned. I will vouch for NY Doll and add All Dolled Up, a collection of Bob Gruen video from 1973, with hilarious attempted commentary from local NY news broadcasts at the time. There is also “The Punk Rock Movie,” interesting but hardly great Don Letts 8mm footage, which I saw in a real amurican theayter, and a really bad movie I also saw in release, can’t remember the name, but it starred David Essex and Keith Moon.

    • That’s a good list, lots of quirky and historic stuff, like Two Lane Blacktop and Elevator to the Gallows. Since this is a “music” list not “rock,” Gallows (and Jazz on a Summer Day) belong, because its Miles Davis score is awesome. But Davis’s music is also the drive behind Louis Malle’s more incendiary incest drama, Murmur of the Heart (did I spoil it? No.). These aren’t rock and roll movies in any sense, but the music is very important and powerful.

      There are some intriguing titles I’d never heard of, like Anna, starring the brilliant Anna Karina, and some bad ones, like Head, which seems like it should be great because it’s the Monkees and Bob Rafelson, but is rather, as the kids say, random. Not in a good way.

      I’d want to see Permissive, “Groupie Girls Who Really Want to Make it Big,” which I’d never heard of, for all the wrong reasons. But I can’t imagine how Ladies and Gentlemen the Fabulous Stains isn’t on this big list.

      Wicker Man (1973) is a very cool choice.

      Heavy Metal Parking Lot is one I forgot. It is highly recommended, along with a six pack. On a similar note, I would like to see Anvil: The Story of Anvil.

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