Dig Those Groovy Tunes!

the only sound that's left after the ambulances go

I have a bone to pick with “Q”… April 12, 2009

Filed under: Rants and Raves — yourbirdcansing88 @ 5:06 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

A couple weeks ago, I bought the latest issue of “Q” magazine (April 2009; the one with Lily Allen on the cover with black leopards), mostly for its listing of “The 25 Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Movies of All Time”.  Since I love “Top [increment of 5]” lists almost as much as I love rock and roll related movies, I knew I had to get this issue and check it out.  While I’m glad that the list includes under-appreciated masterpieces such as “HEAD” and “The Rutles”, as well as well-deserving popular films like “Almost Famous”, “A Hard Day’s Night”, and the immortal “This is Spinal Tap”, some of the inclusions in the list are inexplicable and/or inexcusable.  Now, I can handle the inclusion of “The Doors” at #21.  I myself abhor “The Doors”, finding it pretentious and, at times, baffling (for one thing, I can’t tell if Oliver Stone is trying to make Jim Morrison look like a hero or a jackass), and furthermore think the title is very misleading.  It’s the title’s fault that I erroneously expected the film to be about the whole band and not just the lead singer (perhaps if Stone gave the film an honest title like “The Jim Morrison Story”, “Jim Morrison”, “The Lizard King”, “Mr. Mojo Risin'”, or even simply “Jim”, I may have been able to enjoy the film more and wouldn’t have been left feeling cheated by the lack of importance that Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, or John Densmore have in the film).  For all the personal issues that I have with “The Doors”, I can still recognize the film’s merit and understand why other people might love the film so much (I don’t think anyone else could have played Jim Morrison as well as Val Kilmer did.  And his singing voice was perfect).  What I can’t even begin to comprehend, however, is the list’s #22 entry, “Backbeat”, a film that I griped about in detail several weeks ago (if you missed my rant on “Backbeat”, you can read it here). As with “The Doors”, I honestly did try to look at “Backbeat” as objectively as I could, hoping to find something in it that might warrant its inclusion in this list.  But no matter how objectively I try to view it, it still seems mediocre at best.  The important characters are uninteresting, the interesting characters are unimportant, and the overpowering romance kills what could have been a powerful story about the tumultuous pre-fame years of a larger-than-life band.  The film also suffers from gratuitous love scenes, lame jokes, and unforgivable historical inaccuracies.  If there’s anyone reading this who disagrees with me and thinks “Backbeat” has any reason at all to be in the list, please, enlighten me (I’m serious.  Feel free to comment.  I’d appreciate the input).

 

Another thing I just don’t get is the inclusion of “Easy Rider” in the list.  Yes, “Easy Rider” is an amazing and iconic movie.  However, what I don’t get is why it’s included in a list of rock movies, when it is not, in fact, a rock movie.  There are no musical artists in the movie, either as characters or as actors (well, Toni Basil’s in it, but this was over a decade before her one hit song, “Mickey”, came out.  Back in 1969 when “Easy Rider” came out, she was known primarily as a choreographer.  Not that there was anything for her to choreograph in “Easy Rider”).  The film isn’t about music in any way, shape, or form.  Yes, “Easy Rider” has a killer soundtrack that drives the action in the film.  This I am well aware of.  But if that’s all it needs to be included on the list, then why is “American Graffiti” not on the list as well?  That movie has, arguably, just as good a storyline and soundtrack, and the film’s action is driven at least as much by its soundtrack as is “Easy Rider”.  Plus, it has a subplot involving one of the characters meeting the elusive DJ Wolfman Jack and trying to win over the woman of his dreams through the power of radio, which makes it slightly more music-related than “Easy Rider” as far as plot goes.  But did “American Graffiti” make the list?  No.  So what makes “Easy Rider” qualify as any more of a rock film, I’d like to know?

 

 One other thing that really irks me about “Q” magazine’s “25 Greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll Movies Ever” list is its sexism, however unintentional that sexism might have been.  Looking through the list, I noticed that not a single one of these films has a female as a main character (to my knowledge, the one that comes closest to having a female main character is “Almost Famous”, and, although Penny Lane has a more important presence in the film than any other supporting character with the possible exception of Russell Hammond, the film isn’t really so much about her as it is driven by her).  Which is a real shame, when you consider that the list neglected “The Rose”, a heartbreaking film starring Bette Midler as the troubled Janis Joplin-based protagonist, but included the aforementioned barely-qualified films “Backbeat” and “Easy Rider”.  I’m not saying “Q” intentionally excluded films with female main characters from their list; I’m just saying that there’s at least one film with a female main character that deserves more recognition than some of the films that wound up on the list.

 

I’m not saying the list is terrible; in fact, I quite enjoyed most of it.  What I am saying is that it could have been much better.  Which can only mean one thing, of course:  eventually, I’m going to have to post my own list of top rock ‘n’ roll films to make up for the “Q” list’s shortcomings.  I don’t know when I’ll get around to posting it.  It may not be for a couple of weeks; it may not be for another month or so.  But I’ve already gotten it into my swelled little head that it’s my duty to present my readers with the “definitive” list of rock-related films, and so it shall be done.

 

The Beatles’ Films March 26, 2009

During their career as a band, The Beatles made five films together — in fact, if I’m not mistaken, they were under a contract to make at least five films.  For a while, after filming their first two or three films, they were throwing some crazy ideas around which never came to fruition, including a “Lord of the Rings” adaptation (I kid you not), but what they ultimately wound up with were  two full-length comedies, one short “experimental” film, an animated feature, and a documentary.  Each film has its own particular style and plot (when there is a plot, that is.  Not all their films had one) that sets it apart from the other four, and each film shows a different side of the Fab Four, due in part to their ever-changing interests, musical style, appearance, and tolerance toward each other.

 

 

The Beatles attempt to flee from their screaming fans in "A Hard Day's Night"

The Beatles attempt to flee from their screaming fans in "A Hard Day's Night"

“A Hard Day’s Night” (1964)

 The Beatles made their first film, “A Hard Day’s Night”, right when Beatlemania was on the verge of becoming an international craze.  What better way, then, to represent The Beatles in film, than to show them running from flocks of screaming fangirls?  With the exception of “Let it Be”, “A Hard Day’s Night” is the most realistic portrayal of The Beatles as a rock band.  Not that “A Hard Day’s Night” is an extremely realistic movie, but it does feature the band having to deal with the usual strains that come with superstardom:  bossy managers, humorless newspaper reporters who don’t “get it”, humorless teen magazine publishers who think they “get it” but don’t, fussy TV producers with no fashion sense, and of course, the stampedes of hormone-charged teenagers.  And when they’re not dealing with those things, the boys have to struggle to keep Paul’s sinister grandfather from causing mayhem.  Songs featured:  “A Hard Day’s Night”; “I Should Have Known Better”; “Can’t Buy Me Love”; “And I Love Her”; “Tell Me Why”.  Recommended if:  You’re a fan of The Beatles.  Avoid if:  You simply cannot endure to watch anything in black-and-white (what’s wrong with you?!  Don’t you know how many great films you’re missing out on?!  Jeeeeeez).

 

The Beatles making music on a snowy slope in "Help!"

The Beatles making music on a snowy slope in "Help!"

“Help!” (1965)

After making a relatively realistic (if a little far-fetched) black-and-white film about a day in the life of a typical world-famous rock group, The Beatles took a totally different approach with “Help!”  While the majority of “A Hard Day’s Night” took place all in the same city, “Help!” has The Beatles traveling all over the world with the life of their very own Ringo at stake.  It all starts when a religious cult all the way out in the “East” (i.e. Asia) are about to make their daily sacrifice to their goddess, Kaili (at least I think that’s how it’s spelled), when they find that their sacrificial ring, without which they cannot continue the sacrifice, has gone missing.  But how did it wind up on the finger of The Beatles’ drummer?  And what will happen to Ringo now that the ring won’t come off?  And why are a couple of third-rate mad scientists suddenly after the ring as well? Whatever the case, pretty soon the boys will either have to find a way to get that ring off their drummer’s finger, or find themselves a new drummer.  “Help!”, unlike “A Hard Day’s Night”, is in color, which really enhances the aesthetic effect of certain scenes, like the ones inside the band’s groovy color-coded apartment.  Songs Featured:  “Help!”; “You’re Going to Lose That Girl”; “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”; “Ticket to Ride”; “She’s a Woman”. Recommended if:  You like action/adventure films; Ringo Starr is your favorite Beatle; you enjoy Monty Python-type humor.  Avoid if:  You are extremely sensitive to outdated ethnic stereotypes, particularly those pertaining to Asians.  This movie isn’t racist or anything, and the stereotypes are pretty mild for a movie made at that time, but I know those things bother some people, so I’m just putting it out there.

 

John is the walrus!

John is the walrus!

“Magical Mystery Tour” (1967)

“Magical Mystery Tour”, having virtually no plot and playing out like an hour-long acid trip, is panned more harshly than any other Beatles movie.  However, there are many who still enjoy it nonetheless (Me, for one.  Steven Spielberg is apparently also a big fan, and it just so happens to be my roommate’s favorite Beatles movie).  It also features some memorable musical sequences, which are basically music videos inserted between scenes.  And keep in mind that this is almost two decades before MTV.  Also notable is a guest appearance by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (I’m not quite sure who they are, either.  But my Uncle Mark loves them), who sing “Death Cab for Cutie” (way before the title became the name of a band) during a striptease (nothing explicit — a huge censor bar covers up all toplessness).  There’s not much more I can really say about “Magical Mystery Tour”, since the movie is just too weird for words.  But if your movie tastes are anything like mine, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, now is it?  Songs Featured:  “Magical Mystery Tour”; “Fool on the Hill”; “I am the Walrus”; “Blue Jay Way”; “Your Mother Should Know”  Recommended if:  You like weird movies; you’ve even heard of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band; you’ve always wanted to see John Lennon in a walrus suit.  Avoid if:  You prefer movies that have plots.  There’ll be none of that in this movie!

 

The Beatles in cartoon form.

The Beatles in cartoon form

“Yellow Submarine” (1968)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this one.  I’ve been watching “Yellow Submarine” since I was a little kid, even though the first time I saw it, it scared the crap out of me.  In this film, animated versions of the Fab Four travel the seven seas in the titular submarine in order to aid their new friend, Old Fred, in rescuing the undersea utopia of Pepperland from the tyrannical Blue Meanies.  How do The Beatles defeat the Meanies?  With music, of course!  Sadly, The Beatles do not provide their own voices for the cartoon versions of themselves, and in fact had very little to do with the film at all.  It wasn’t until after they saw the film that they decided that they liked it, and a brief live action scene of the four of them was filmed and tacked onto the end of the film.  Songs featured:  “Yellow Submarine”; “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”; “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”; “All Together Now”; “When I’m Sixty-Four”.  Recommended if:  You’re looking for an animated movie that looks nothing like Disney; you like fantasy films.  Avoid if:  You hate the sight of 1960s psychedelic posters; you’re looking for a good animated movie to show your very young scaredy-cat child (just wait a few years, and then they’ll love it).

 

The Beatles' rooftop concert at the end of "Let it Be"

The Beatles' rooftop concert at the end of "Let it Be"

“Let it Be” (1970)

“Let it Be” was a documentary filmed in 1969.  It was meant to document the recording of an album, but it wound up being most of all the portrait of a band falling apart.  The Beatles were practically at each other’s throats at this point, with Paul bossing everyone around and John’s girlfriend Yoko Ono encroaching on the band’s recording space.  At one point, Paul and George get into a huge argument over a guitar solo in a song.  Nevertheless, this film also shows that, when The Beatles put aside their differences long enough to make music together, the result still sounds incredible.  And in spite of all their quarrelling, they really all seem to have a lot of fun during the rooftop concert at the film’s end.  The movie also features lots of great keyboard work by Billy Preston, one of the people most frequently regarded as the “fifth Beatle”, due to his work on the “Let it Be” album.  Unfortunately, due to the fragile egos of the two remaining Beatles, “Let it Be” will not be released on DVD any time soon.  But if for some reason you ever get the opportunity to see “Let it Be”, I would not recommend that you pass it up.  Songs featured:  “Let it Be”; “The Long and Winding Road”; “Don’t Let Me Down”; “For You Blue”; “I’ve Got a Feeling”.  Recommended if:  You ever wondered what a band breakup looks like; you want to see an honest portrayal of The Beatles, warts and all.  Avoid if:  You want to continue thinking of The Beatles as a happy band that never had a quarrel in all the years they were together.

 

Worst. Biopic. Ever. March 21, 2009

On Sunday night, I unfortunately had nothing better to do than watch the 1994 Beatles biopic “Backbeat” on VH1 Classic.  And now I’ll never get those two hours of my life back.  The movie takes place during The Beatles’ pre-fame years, back when they were touring in Hamburg, Germany.  At the time, they had five members:  John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, drummer Pete Best (who would later be replaced by Ringo Starr), and bassist Stuart Sutcliffe.  The film is mostly Sutcliffe’s side of the story, focusing on his friendship with John Lennon (who was really the only reason he was in the band in the first place), his romance with German photographer Astrid Kirchherr, and finally his 1962 death of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 21.  “Backbeat” plays out like a movie adaptation of a mediocre fanfiction, complete with gratuitous love scenes and gay subtext.  And those were some of the less horrific aspects of the film.

 

As characters, all the Beatles besides John and Stu are pushed far into the background, having barely any part in the film whatsoever.  For no apparent reason, “Backbeat” decides to impose some “silent drummer” stereotype on Pete Best (which is expanded upon in the form of a weak joke much later in the film, long after the viewer has forgotten that Pete even exists as a character, much less as the “silent drummer”).  Ringo Starr is introduced halfway through the film and is never mentioned again.

 

Oh, and the music!  The music was the worst part of the film.  During the performance scenes, rather than having the actors merely lip-sync The Beatles’ own recordings or at least decent soundalikes of The Beatles, the film instead chose to have the actors lip-sync (and lip-sync poorly, I might add) re-recorded versions that sounded nothing like The Beatles.  After doing some research on this aspect of the movie, which I assumed to be the result of mere carelessness, I found it to be much worse:  it was fully intended.  According to the film’s trivia section on the Internet Movie Database, the film used 1990s punk artists to re-record the songs performed in the film, since, according to whatever pretentious twit was behind this decision, the savage rock that The Beatles performed in Hamburg was “the punk of its day”, so using punk-rock versions of “Long Tall Sally” and “Good Golly Miss Molly” was somehow an attempt “to better convey the way the music felt to the early Beatles audiences.”  Give me a break.

 

As for the plot itself, I would have much preferred a film that documented The Beatles’ Hamburg days from a more omniscient point of view.  Stu’s relationship with Astrid was a poor subject to focus on, since so little is known about it.  If you ask me, the attempts to flesh out their romance sabotage the only thing that made it marginally interesting, which was its mystique.  The lovemaking scenes, though thankfully brief and not at all graphic (though I did see a TV version, so some stuff may have been cut out), are overabundant, and worse still is the nausea-inducing scene in which Stu first romances Astrid, peering at her over his sunglasses as he croons “Love Me Tender”.  In addition, there were so many more interesting (or at least more amusing) things that happened to the other Beatles while in Hamburg, which the film either neglects to mention or makes only passing reference to.  The Beatles were all relatively sheltered boys from Liverpool; when they got to Hamburg, their eyes were opened to an alien world full of strippers, hookers, transvestites, and amphetamines.  A seventeen-year-old George Harrison, who had to lie about his age so the band could play in the seedy Hamburg nightclubs, lost his virginity to a practical stranger.  Paul McCartney and Pete Best had to spend the night in jail after a childish prank involving a condom, a concrete wall, and slightly pyromaniacal tendencies.  This period of The Beatles’ career could have made a great film about the loss of innocence that comes with breaking into the music business, but instead it chose to focus on a romance that no one really cared too much about and the largely unprovoked (and possibly homosexual) jealousy it may have sparked in one John Lennon.  The result was a movie so painful to watch that I would gladly exchange the two hours I spent watching it for two hours re-watching “The Doors”, which, until Sunday night, was by far my least favorite music-related movie.