Paul Fitzpatrick: London, September 2022
There’s a lot of hype and excitement surrounding the upcoming David Bowie movie Moonage Daydream…. and why not?
The documentary features previously unreleased footage from Bowie’s personal archives and It’s the first film to gain approval from the Bowie estate.
The reviews are all very positive and the movie was well received by critics at this years Cannes Film Festival.
Roger Ebert describes the movie as “a wondrous, dreamy, ambitiously experimental take on the music doc formula” and its already attained a 93% approvals rating on the movie review site ‘Rotten Tomatoes’, by those who’ve seen it.
The trailer does a pretty good job of selling it too.
So if you’re a Bowie fan and you like going to the movies it should be a bit of no brainer then?
Well, you’d think so, except there’s been so many rock/music movies eagerly anticipated, which ultimately disappointed.
Before I get into this let me qualify what I mean by a rock movie.
The Elton John/Queen bio pics are not rock movies.
Fictional music-based movies like Purple Rain or Almost Famous, (great movie btw) are not rock movies.
Musicals like Grease are not rock movies.
By rock movie, I’m referring to performance based or documentary pieces featuring original artists…. like Woodstock or Gimme Shelter.
For example, I couldn’t wait to see Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same on its release in 1976.
They hadn’t toured for 2 years, and this would be an opportunity to see the best live band in the world in their pomp, albeit on the silver screen.
Billed as the ultimate concert movie, the director had cherry-picked and consolidated the best performances from each of their three sold out shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1973…. what could go wrong?
Well, for starters you could throw in the farcical fantasy segments (five in all, one for each band member plus manager Peter Grant) and an overblown 26-minute version of ‘Dazed & Confused’.
Robert Plant, who’s fantasy segment involved dressing up as a knight, rescuing maidens and frolicking about in search of the holy grail, probably got it right when he called it “A load of bollocks”
Don’t get me wrong, as anticipated, some of the concert footage was electric but the overall viewing experience was unfortunately marred by the movies self indulgence.
Similarly, I remember being coaxed to the cinema to behold T-Rex’s Born to Boogie, another decent concert movie scuppered by off-stage folly.
There were several bewildering scenes infiltrating the live performances in this one, unfortunately a couple still linger in my mind 50 years later….
One with Bolan dressed as a nun performing as part of a string quartet at a tea party on John Lennon’s lawn, and a bizarre routine featuring Ringo Starr driving a car dressed as a mouse accompanied by a character described in the credits as ‘car eating dwarf’, who during the course of the scene, starts to…. well, the clue’s in the name!
The film was directed by Starr, inspired by the Beatles 1967 movie, Magical Mystery Tour.
Poor Ringo must have hammered the mushrooms that summer.
Still, the Bolan devotee I saw the movie with absolutely loved it, couldn’t get enough of the monosyllabic Marc and was totally oblivious to the car eating dwarf.
If we’re talking turkeys however, then perhaps the biggest gobbler of the lot…. (although, not a concert movie as such), is Robert Stigwood’s calamitous, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
How a movie featuring the music of the Beatles and some of the biggest acts of the decade (Bee Gees, Peter Frampton, Aerosmith, Earth Wind & Fire, etc), could turn out to be so bad, is quite an accomplishment.
The trailer should have been enough of a red flag, but back in the day I was partial to a bit of the Bee Gees brand of blue-eyed soul, so I was prepared to give the movie a chance.
I should have listened to that wee voice in my head.
Between the cheesy performances lay a plot so bonkers and convoluted I couldn’t start to explain it, but if I tell you that it features Billy Preston as the magical Mr Pepper, so magical it transpires, that he can turn bystanders into nuns by zapping them with lightning bolts from his fingertips… then you’ll get the picture!
On top of this, we had to bear witness to Beatles song after Beatles song, being systematically ravaged, including an excruciating version of Maxwells Silver Hammer by a young comedian on the cusp of greatness called Steve Martin.
Even the soundtrack was a mess, with only Earth Wind & Fire’s version of ‘Gotta Get You into My Life’ gaining any credit. This was probably the biggest shock because after his achievements with Saturday Night Fever and Grease, Stigwood was seen as the man with the Midas touch, when it came to soundtracks.
The fact that this rotten movie scored 11% on Rotten Tomatoes, tells you just how rotten it was.
So, enough about the turkeys, what about the best rock movie’s – well off the top of my head I’d say there’s two I’m more than happy to revisit on a regular basis.
The first being The Last Waltz by The Band, directed by the great Martin Scorsese, and described as a lavish, dynamic act of fan worship, on his part.
The concert in question was The Band’s farewell gig, held on Thanksgiving Day in 1976. The event was beautifully captured by Scorsese and is augmented by an incredible supporting cast including – Dylan, Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond, The Staple Singers and Van Morrison.
The film is a mix of live performances and studio segments plus interviews with the group reminiscing on their 16 year journey together.
Scorsese captures a host of great performances, one of the stand-outs being The Band and The Staple Singers collaboration on ‘The Weight‘.
When all’s said and done however, in my book, there is one rock movie that stands head and shoulders above all others – Stop Making Sense by Talking Heads
I can’t say I was a massive Talking Heads fan before I saw it, but I became one soon afterwards.
Directed and crafted by Oscar winner Jonathan Demme before he became Hollywood royalty (Philadelphia, Slaughter of the Lambs), the film was described as “close to perfect” by famed critic Pauline Kael.
The concert kicks off with a solitary David Byrne on an empty stage with a boom-box and an acoustic guitar and the momentum slowly builds with each song as the other band members join him. Eventually there are nine musicians on a fully dressed stage, with the four core band members supplemented by the cream of P-Funk musicians.
Cinematically it’s great, it’s almost impossible to take your eyes off the enigmatic Byrne, whilst his madcap antics (and wardrobe) all add to the theatre.
I’ve watched this movie at the cinema, I’ve purchased it on VHS, on DVD, and on Blu-ray and I’ve also streamed and downloaded it. I never get tired of watching it and any friend interested in music who comes to my house and hasn’t seen it is encouraged to join me in front of a screen with a supply of cold beers for the next 90 minutes.
So….. I expect I’ll go and see Moonage Daydream when it’s released on the 16th September, although my expectations will be relatively low.
I’ve learned my lesson… you don’t get disappointed that way.