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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.

The Doors * Oliver Stone (1991)

This film is so old that I do not even remember if I ever saw it before, but I guess I did not. I wanted to see it (again) to compare it to that recent film about The Doors. In some ways these two films are diametrically opposital. Stone chose to have actors replay all scenes, whereas DeCillo used only original footage. I am sure Stone did not know about all material, but the clearest example is the scene on an airport where each bandmember is asked for his name and occupation, that Stone had his actors play exactly as the original film that DiCillo used. I am sure you have all seen this film decades ago. Val Kilmer plays Jim Morrison, but quite surprisingly, Kyle MacLachlan plays Ray Manzarek. There are some more big names present. Stone managed to make a great film with a lot of music, also lesser known songs, quite some focus on Morrison’s other efforts (film and poetry) and some more personal things of the band and its members. Both films have a perfect balance between film and music and it is impossible to say if one is better as the other. I suppose they should just be sold together in a boxset.

Brothers Of The Head * Keith Fulton & Louis Pepe (2005)

A pair of Siamese twins who have been protectively kept in a nomansland called “The Head” by their father, are “plucked out of obscurity” by a music promoter. Zak takes the twins to another protective environment where he tries to turn the twins into a punk freakshow. The plan succeeds and as “The Bang Bang” the twins and their band start to tour the UK. Not unsurprisingly the story rolls into one of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll towards an inevitable end of two adolescents sharing their digesting system and liver.
“Brothers Of The Head” is a (fake) documentary with interviews and flashbacks and makes a very nice film about a twins that develop different personalities, problems with relationships and a lot of music.

Chaostage * Tarek Ehlail (2009)

The original title seems like a wordplay, but it is actually a German word meaning “chaos days”. The international title is “Warriors Of Chaos”. “Chaostage” is Ehlail’s debut. A name like Tarek Ehlail does not immediately sound like someone who would make a documentary (or mockumentary?) about the early German punkmovement. But he did! The film is constructed of interviews with overaged punkers who were present in the early days, old footage of the events and newly filmed material to serve as a film (being flashbacks). The entire film I had the idea that is was all made up. None of the “legendary” bandnames rang bells and the music sounded more like the modern “punkrock” than the early punk of The Sex Pistols and The Clash. Looking around the world wide web, the “Chaostage” are really a known phenomenon (see here for German and here for a shorter English Wikipedia article), a band like Toxoplasma really existed and reading about these “Chaostage” brings flashes of the film. So contrary to what I thought just after seeing the film, it may actually be based on real events. On to the film then. “Chaostage” is a film with a punk attitude. There is little structure or conformity. It jumps from interviews to animations, to old film footage to newly filmed material to make some sort of story. The punks are displayed as mindless and violent youth with as only interests drinking, destruction, sex and music. We peek into the life of punks that remained punks, how they look back on their past and we also get a little insight in the counter movement which had similar music, but very different ideas (at some points; drinking, destruction and music are also their focus): the skinheads. The film is quite violent at times, it praises the violence of the old days and the mindless ‘dancing’ is displayed with rapid montage. There is weird sex and other hobbies of the main characters (in the past and present), a lot of vomit and a lot of punk (and some oi) music. A very enjoyable film indeed, but not giving much esteem for the punk movement.