The fictional rocknroll movie is a dodgy art form. All too frequently, the music doesnt measure up, the characters dont feel real, the mise en scene fails to ring true, and the plots can be thin, hokey and even silly. The most recent rock music film that squandered its potential is Pirate Radio, which had the makings of a great film in the story of Radio Caroline broadcasting from a ship off Southeast England from 1964 to 68. Alas, it was little more than a series of not-so-funny vignettes that had me asking, Dude, wheres the story? (A dear friend who watched the DVD says that more of a plot and a better movie can be found in the deleted scenes.)
Then theres the biggest clunker of the last decade, 2001s Rock Star with Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston. It was loosely based on a true story of how the hard rock band Judas Priest replaced its departed lead singer with the singer in a Judas Priest tribute band not bad fodder for a possible Alice in Wonderland tale about an everyday musician thrust into the strange and wild world of rock stardom. But alas, the plot was lame, the music stank, and the ending was so sappy and clichéd I was moaning out loud in the theater.
There are some that do work. The 1984 mockumentarty This Is Spinal Tap is a perennial favorite with anyone who, like myself, has lived and worked within the rock music industry, and rightly so. It gets the absurdities and weirdness to be found within bands and life on the road, had wonderfully hilarious songs, and its characters were vividly funny stereotypes. When I saw it on its opening weekend (in a near empty theater), it felt like my life was flashing in front of my eyes, as at the time I was doing publicity for Ozzy Osbourne (who Christopher Guests lead singer character Nigel Tufnel highly resembled in looks). A funny side note was how two metalhead fans a few rows in front of my friend and I must have obviously thought it was a real documentary about some obscure hard rock band, and kept turning around in confusion to gape at us laughing uproariously.
Even the intriguing if also flawed Velvet Goldmine has its merits, especially in how its a work of loving homage to Citizen Kane. Many so-called film buffs I know have scoffed when I point this out even though its dead obvious in its structure and many scenes and shots. (Its also worth noting that the films director, Todd Haynes, later made one of the best if also highly impressionistic rock biopics ever with his Bob Dylan movie Im Not There.)
But my all-time favorite rock movie is one that didnt even make the cut when the late Blender magazine compiled its list of the genres Top 100 in 2007, which is sad but not surprising. Its Still Crazy, released in 1998 and largely missed by America filmgoers (though it did get a Golden Globes Best Picture nomination). I rented the video when it was later released at the urging of a true film fan friend who was a clerk at my local video store, took it home, and fell in love.
I soon after bought the video and have watched it at least 10 to a dozen times and enjoy it again and again. Ive also shown it to a number of friends who never fail to enjoy it.
Its the tale of a fictional 1970s British hard rock band named Strange Fruit that failed to make it in their pursuit of fame, fortune, and fornication due to bad breaks and internal strife, and reunites for another try in the 1990s. Its characters are spot on: The ego-ridden lead singer (deliciously played by the wonderful Bill Nighy), the lovable doofus drummer, and the grizzled veteran roadie (which comedic genius Billy Connolly embodies perfectly). It gets the unique intra-band dynamics with real life resonance, and its songs are utterly believable, as the filmmakers had them written by real rockers. And it tells a tale that could be true that is rich with humor and genuine drama end ends with a heartwarming climax that never fails to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, its that good. (Its director, Brian Gibson, also made one of the better rock biopics: The Tina Turner story Whats Love Got to Do with It.)
When my talented Nashville pop-rock savant friend Bill Lloyd posted a YouTube clip from it on Facebook, it sent me to that site where I found scores of comments by fans like me who love the movie, watch it again and again like I do, and also feel its an overlooked classic. I decided to also buy the DVD from Amazon.com, and the many similar comments there convinced me that Still Crazy has become a genuine cult favorite. After showing it to yet another friend who was also won over, I went back to Amazon and bought the soundtrack album.
Yes, Still Crazy has made me an avid fan, just as good rock music and lovable movies should. If you love rocknroll, check it out, and dont be surprised if you are charmed and delighted by this little-known winner of a film.
Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2010
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