Where Have All the Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Movies Gone?
Just when you think a movie genre couldn’t be any more passe, it usually finds a way to resurrect itself. The western was tired, then Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah and Clint Eastwood reinvented it. Musicals were history, then they came back big with ‘Chicago,’ ‘Hairspray’ and other stage adaptations. So why hasn’t the rock movie made a big comeback yet?
It seemed that every decade a new movie would come along and try to relaunch a rock 'n' roll movie revival. In the ‘90s, it was ‘The Doors,’ in 2000 it was ‘Almost Famous’ (pictured above) and we saw it happen again in recent years with ‘The Runaways.’ There was even a new Spinal Tap that came along with ‘Anvil.’ Yet none of these movies were successful enough to get the rock movie going again.
Rock movies have been around practically since the dawn of the music in the '50s. Elvis had a couple of great films, like ‘Jailhouse Rock.’ The Beatles made wonderful movies in the '60s like ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘Help!’ ‘Woodstock’ made concert films a big draw.
In the ‘70s, which seems to be the peak of the rock movie, there were musicals that really pushed the envelope like ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ and ‘Tommy.’ And it doesn’t feel like any recent rock film has come anywhere near the risk-taking innovation of the past.
While a lot of rock flicks broke new ground, one of the biggest problems with a rock movie is we know all the stories by now. VH1 established the three-act structure of the rise/fall/resurrection of a band to the point that the story arc is overly familiar to everybody. While ‘The Runaways’ told the story well, many who saw it felt it was the same story we’ve all seen a million times already.
Another problem we all have with rock movies is the fact that they usually don’t attract the best writers and directors, and they often feel painfully inauthentic. A Doors movie was in the works for at least a decade, and the biggest stars and directors were clamoring to be involved, but we don’t see A-list filmmakers rushing to make rock films, and as a result, many of them don’t rise above the level of a lame TV movie. Think about the recent ‘CBGB’ movie.
Not to mention very few rock movies really tell the truth. A lot of what we saw in ‘Almost Famous’ was true about the journalism part of rock 'n' roll, but a lot of the stuff centered around the bands and the groupies was watered down by Cameron Crowe’s Pollyanna view of the world. And if the movie version of Motley Crue’s ‘The Dirt’ ever makes the big screen, it’s certain to be a self-congratulatory whitewash.
Yet another problem is casting. Reports pop up all the time about rock biopics in the works, like the Freddie Mercury movie that once had Sasha Baron Cohen attached, and the Elton John flick that currently has Tom Hardy signed up to star. Both are good choices to play these roles, and one of the biggest hurtles is trying to find actors that can really recreate the characters, and not come off as caricatures.
You certainly have to give Val Kilmer enormous credit for really bringing Jim Morrison to life, and in ‘The Runaways,’ Michael Shannon was so close to the real Kim Fowley, there’s moments you forget you’re watching an actor, but these are exceptions rather than the rule.
Just watch the documentary about the metal band Pentagram, ‘Last Days Here,’ which got made in the wake of the success of ‘Anvil.’ It was a pretty dark look at a musician who’s refused to let go of the fantasy of being a rock star, and who’s constantly on the verge of death from drug abuse. It certainly wasn’t ‘Wayne’s World,’ and most people, outside of fans of the band, have no idea of this movie’s existence.
Yet maybe it’s good that a lot of rock movies have gone underground like this. Here’s hoping the rock movie can rebuild from here, and one day resurrect itself on a big level.