Category Archives: music

Love & Mercy * Bill Pohlad (2014)

I often like films about musicians even when I do (did) not like the music. I expected this film to be about the Beach Boys. Actually this film is more about Brian Wilson, one of the brothers Wilson who started the band.

We jump back and forth in time. We see an adult Wilson (played by John Cusack) who is initially set as a bit of an odd person. In the past Wilson is played by Paul Dano and we see the Beach Boys already at the peak of their success. They are as big as the Beattles and ready to tour the world. Also here Brian is a bit off, but mostly in a ‘mad genious way’. He decides to stop touring with his brothers and to stay in the studio to write music. His music becomes more and more experimental and does not really sound like the Beach Boys’ success style. Brian increasingly appears to have autistic features.

In the present time Brian meets the pretty car sales woman Melinda Ledbetter. As Melinda grows into the group around her boyfriend-to-be, it becomes clear that more is wrong with Brian than him being a little odd. There is also something wrong with the people who say to want to take care of Brian. Especially his doctor Eugene Lendy (a good part of Paul Giamatti) is a questionable person.

“Love & Mercy” is mostly a drama. The music is secondary and you will learn little about how, when and why Beach Boys songs were written, so they add little to the atmosphere of the film. Perhaps (I do not know the Beach Boys very well) the film does give some insight in the less-popular recordings of the band (or Brian with other musicians).

An alright film, mostly to watch as a film about a person with a problem.

Whiplash * Damien Chazelle (2014)

Andrew is an ambitious drummer, studying at a jazz conservatoire. He manages to get the attention of the legendary teacher Fletcher who adds him to his band consisting of the best students.

Fletcher proves to be a despot driving his students over the edge to find the great new jazz musicians. His tyranical way of working brings up the worst and the best in Andrew.

“Whiplash” is an alright film about the tough top league of jazz music. It is more a film telling a story than a film about music(ians) though. I prefer the latter kind in music film.

Amy * Asif Kapadia (2015)

IMdB.comI do not listen to popmusic a lot, that is to say, music played on ‘regular radio stations’. One time in the gym I saw and heard “Rehab” and I actually enjoyed the soul-like music and old-time musicians in the video. On looking a bit futher, it proved that “Back To Black” is an enjoyable album. Winehouse’s star rose and it soon became obvious that this would not be a long life. Watching the documentary, it becomes obvious that there were many, many more people like me who discovered Winehouse with “Rehab” and “Back To Black” and that is when the problems became serious.

“Amy” is not a great documentary to me, but on the other hand, it shows very well how things came to be. The documentary is a compilation of (private) video recordings and interviews with different people either older interviews or interviews done by the director. We see Winehouse as a kid, how she roled into recorded music, how she started to make money, live on her own, start with alcohol, run into her husband-to-be and started to use drugs and then when things were already quite out of hand, the media jumped on her full force. The pressure to make a second album after “Frank”, the success it had and how (media) pressure grew bigger and bigger up until the time that Winehouse stopped caring and then ran downhill with the speed of light.

What is done well is that the lyrics are displayed when (a part of) a song is played, showing the enormousity of the personality of these lyrics. Also some lyrics get a bit of context from interviews.

There is not as much music in “Amy” as I expected. Much of the music was new to me. Of course Winehouse’s life was not all glorious, but the ‘high times’ seem to be a bit underrated, while the ‘hard times’ get much more attention.

“Amy” shows the troubled life of a young musician squashed by her success. A story of which there are many alike. I hope that the (so called) fans watch this documentary and realise their own part in the events, the same as the media and some other people around Winehouse who could have (should have) seen a person rather than a star.

Psych-Out * Richard Rush (1968)

I found this film in the cult section of my usual rental shop. The deaf, but perfectly speaking, girl Jenny sets out to find her brother and comes to the hippy town of San Francisco. There she runs into a group that is also a psychedelic rock band lead by Jack Nicholson. Soon Jenny is immersed in the hippie-scene of music, drugs and free love. “Psych-Out” is an amusing film with a few psychedelic scenes, mostly music of a band called Strawberry Alarm Clock (that really existed and was formed just before the film was shot), but also of The Storybook and of course Nicholson’s band Mumblin’ Jim.

9 Songs * Michael Winterbottom (2004)

“69 Minutes of sex and rock and roll”. That line from the box sums up this film. Actually it could be “69 Minutes of sex, poprock and some drugs”, but of course that does not sound so well. Matt and Lisa meet at a concert of Black Rebel Motorcycle club in London. Lisa is there as an American student, Matt lives in London. For the rest of the film we each time see one song of a live performance that Matt (and Lisa) attend and between them incorent short shots of their relationship, in most cases, the couple having sex. Judging the title, I suppose that the 9 songs tell the story of the young lovers. As the music becomes less interesting to my ears (there are bands such as The Dandy Warholes, Primal Scream, Franz Ferdinand and Super Furry Animals, some songs are nice, others less so), the sex scenes become more explicit and the lack (not entirely though) of other images, tends to wear off. The same I can say about the concerts. They are simply registrations of concerts in (I think) the same 5000 people venue with a few shots of the band and some of the audience. Just sex and music is not enough to make an interesting film!

Lemmy * Greg Olliver & Wes Orshoski (2010)

Again a music documentary, this time showing the 40 years carreer of the ace of spades: Lemmy Kilmister. Lemmy is of course the singer of Motörhead, before he started the band he witnessed the birth of rock music when going to the The Beattles. Later he roled into the early punk scene and played in the spacerock band Hawkwind. The first part of the documentary is mostly biographical. A whole range of famous (pop)rock musicians are interviewed, such as Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, members of Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Henry Rollins and many more. Of course Lemmy talks a lot and we see parts of his private and professional life. Lemmy is the embodiment of rock’n’roll. He was there when it started and he sticked to his dirty sound and looks. Even at the age of 63 he tours more than half the years and he still enjoys it immensely. Fortunately the second half the focus shifts more to the music. Life shows, touring with Metallica, rehearsals, finally the directors let the music do the talking. Also finally this is not a documentary about a tragic musician going down under the pressure of succes and the heavy use of alcohol and drugs. Lemmy’s only drink seems to be “Jack’n’coke” (and lots of it) and frequently the use of speed is mentioned, but even after 40 years, nothing has gone out of control. Lemmy is followed in the prime of his life, 63 years of age, 40 years of rock’n’roll and with no intention to quit. A great documentary!
What is more, I never look at all these extras on DVDs, but I enjoyed the extra disc to “Lemmy”. A live show, the great Metallica 50 years birthday show, but mostly We are the roadcrew.

Kill Your Idols * Scott Crary (2004)

In weekends I often listen to music with Last.fm. Contrary to when I play music from cds, I then often enjoy listening to these pretentious, noisy (electro)punk bands such as PRE, Arab On Radar or Les Georges Leningrad, bands that are obviously influenced by the New York artpunk scene. “Kill Your Idols” is a documentary about that very NY scene. Somehow there were different groups of people making ‘anti-music’ and living in NY. These “freaks” wanted to express their feelings about society and break with the laws of music. No melodies, no standard band-lineup, just raw energy and a lot of noise and screaming. The documentary contains images of the very beginning, 1971, that alternate the interviews that tell the story. Those interviews are mostly with Suicide (the original electronic punk band), Lydia Lunch (then of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks), the Theoretical Girls, Swans and (very shortly) Foetus. As second generation band we get Sonic Youth and the third generation bands in the form of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Gogol Bardello and Flux Information Sciences. Well, they are all on the poster. The original artpunk scene somehow exploded when bands found out about eachother. Soon many new people came to NY particularly for that scene, many of which were originally art-students, hence the term “art-punk”. The short (and tiny) hype lasted for only 18 months, a larger audience was there for the second generation. The original band-members keep stressing how anarchistic they were and how genuine and spontaneous it all was and how secondary the younger bands are. They on their turn claim that they do not look at the past. Fact is that the bands that are presented all come from NY, or actually Brooklyn, none of them really sound alike (but they do their utmost not to), save for the fact that they are noisy, atonal and weird. “Kill Your Idols” is really a documentary. There are only snippets of music. It is nice to see this old video material and the extras are tracks of the younger bands, but rather than the musicians, I would have preferred to have had the music itself do the talking. All in all a nice documentary about 30 years of art-related punk music.

Dig! * Ondi Timoner (2004)

This is a joined documentary about the upcoming poprock bands The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols. I am not too informed about popmusic, nor of the “indie” kind, but the name of The Dandy Warhols sounds familiar, but the other does not ring a bell. This is exactly the background of this documentary. There were two “visionary” musicians, Anton Newcombe and Courtney Taylor, who became friends and, especially over the years, rivals. Newcombe founded the ‘band’ The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Taylor The Dandy Warhols. Both had similar ideas about the world and about the art of music, but where Taylor is more of a group-player and more serious about his aim to create a (musical) revolution, Newcombe is a megalomanic egocentric person who is impossible to work with. Even though initiately it seemed the Brian’s star who rose rapidly, Newcombe saw to it that they did not become a very successfull band. Somewhat later the Warhols came to fame, especially when some telecom company used a song of theirs in a commercial. Timoner had followed both bands for 7 years making 1500 hours of footage. This is turned into an enjoyable 100 minute documentary. The focus shifts from one band to another making it hard to follow sometimes. The documentary is narrated by Taylor, thus creating some sort of ode to the band they owe their success to. “Dig!” consists of interviews with the band members, labels, managers, etc. and of course a lot of footage from tours, privat affairs and shows. The only thing that I regret is that the focus does not lay so much on the music, but on the characters. There could (should) have been a lot more music in “Dig!”. For the rest, an enjoyable peek into the world of popmusic.

The Runaways * Floria Sigismondi (2010)

Halfway the 1980’ies Joan Larkin found herself attracted to rock and punk music as a girl, while this was a male-dominated musical genre. She took up the idea to form an all-girl rockband and proposed this to producer Kim Fowley who thought that was a good idea. Fowley introduced Larkin to a drummer and the rest of the band was apparently selected on looks rather than on musical skills. In a trailer the band practiced and Fowley came up with the songs. After a rough training, Fowley managed to get the girls on stage and indeed the forced hype worked out well. Treating the girls like his employees, Fowley pushed the band to new heights with an American and later a Japanese tour and eventually an album. With all “Beatlemania” and especially when it became clear that all the attention focussed on the lead singer Cherrie Currie, tensions arose in the band and eventually Currie (who was not a rock’n’roll-girl in her heart anyway) decided to leave the band. The Runaways ceased to exist, Larkin, who named herself Joan Jett from the beginning, understood that when she wanted the attention for herself she had to be the middle of the band, formed Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and continued her success.
“The Runaways” gives an insight in the music business in which a band is created and hyped, rather than an existing band becoming famous. Girls want a piece of a men’s world, but it seemed that deep down, not all band members were really up for being a rockstar and the film mostly follows the young woman who was and who is best known: Joan Jett. As it always seems to go, fame rises to the girls heads and they start using drugs. Eventually they collapse under the fame. The music of The Runaways was nothing too special poprock or punkrock. Fowley tried to give the band a dirty image and perhaps it is just the time The Runaways made music in, but when the film is right, The Runaways did not sound anything louder than Jett’s famous song “I Love Rock’n’Roll”. Moreover, I did not recognise any of the songs, so the music surely did not stand the test of time.
Quite strange too is that when I read the Wikipedia article about The Runaways, the story differs significantly. Supposedly the band released their debut on Mercury records in 1976 and they toured the USA. The second album was released in 1977 and the band toured Japan. Of that tour a live album was released. In the film the band hears about the Mercury deal in Japan and the band splits during the recording of the debut album. Also there have been changes in the line-up before the band split and Currie’s sister actually performed on stage, while in the film she is the very normal home-stayer. The band supposedly became part of the punk movement while in the film they remain a popband. Strange. Is the film or Wikipedia incorrect and in the latter case, why make a documentary that is incorrect?
In any case, “The Runaways” is an alright film. The music is not too inspiring (only when Iggy Pop is used, the music goes well with the film) and for the larger part, the filming is nothing special either. There are a few more surrealistic scenes which are more interesting from that point of view. As a documentary the film is interesting, the first women-based band, the early punk/wave scene, etc., but with the strange contradictions between the story and the ‘factual history’ makes me doubt a bit about that. Conclusion, not a bad watch, but not a must-see either.

Crazy Heart * Scott Cooper (2009)

I like watching films about musicians, but this one did not really grap me. Could it be because the main character Bad Blake does not seem to have been an actual musician? Blake is an old country singer whose career is going down with his life. He plays in small venues while his former protegee attracts thousands of people. A meeting with a journalist seems to bring a turn into the life of the alcoholic, but something drastic has to happen before he realises this himself. “Crazy Heart” is a nice film about a charming lowlife. It has some nice humour and the music is allright, but like I said, the film and the music did not really get to me, until the endsong in which the music and the story finally do come together.