It might be because I was in a band for 10 years, but some of my favorite movies are those that either tell the story of real bands (either documentary or biopic) or of fictional bands. Rock and roll especially lends itself to a compelling story. The life-style of late nights, loud music, girls, drugs and so on is fodder for a good story, as long as it’s told right. These are five of the best examples of movies about music.
“Untitled” (Director’s cut of “Almost Famous”) (2000) – Cameron Crowe wrote for Rolling Stone magazine as a teenager. In this film he draws from those experiences and tells the story of William Miller, a teenager charged with following a rock band as it tours the country. Crowe’s genuine knowledge of a band’s inner workings shines through in the performances by Billy Crudup and Jason Lee as the lead guitarist and singer of “Stillwater,” the fictional band William is following. If my kids ever ask me what it was like to be in a band, I”ll probably set them down and put in this DVD. The director’s cut adds more depth and richness to the plot and is so good, I don’t ever watch the theatrical version anymore.
“School of Rock”(2003) – Actor Jack Black is a multi-tool threat. His vocal abilities are showcased in his band Tenacious D, and he brings an authenticity of musicianship to this tale of a failing musician who’s forced to take a job teaching pre-teens to pay the bills. This movie got a PG-13 rating, and I’ve never been able to figure out why. It’s a great and heartwarming story about growing up without giving up your dream. The most amazing aspect of this film is that the band of 11-13 year olds that is put together for the film are all playing their instruments, masterfully.
“Metallica: Some Kind of Monster” (2004) – For much of my teenaged years Metallica was always playing in the background. I cut my teeth in “metal” with them. Like many, as I got older I felt like I outgrew Metallica. When Jason Newstead quit as the band’s bassist, that was pretty much the final straw for me. This film documents the recording process of the first album they produced after Newstead left. What transpires on screen is more than just a journey of creativity for James, Lars and Kirk; it’s a journey of emotional and spiritual import. It’s a gritty and real look into the absolute dysfunction that surrounds and in some ways sustains Metallica. The main take-away from this film? Kirk is the most sane of them all, and Jason was the smart one for leaving.
“Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” (2007) – John C. Reilly should’ve been at least been nominated for some kind of special Academy Award for his performance in this spoof of nearly every musical biopic. He sang about 25 different songs, in various styles. It’s a film with a hard “R” rating, and the director’s cut is even more brash, but it’s truly hilarious, and well worth a watching a couple of times.
“High Fidelity” (2000) – Music as an art form is the essential motif in this film, based on the amazing novel by Nick Hornby. In a rare bit of Hollywood kismet, the cinematic adaptation of a novel was just about as perfect as it could be. Sure, they moved the location from London to Chicago, but other than that Rob’s words and actions were translated and performed perfectly by John Cusack. I’ve seen this film probably 20 times, and read the book probably another six or seven. Any single man can relate to the story of a man who just can’t quite figure out the whole “relationships” thing. This should be required viewing for all males of the ages of 16 to 29.