Films About Music: Our Favourite Bands Share Their Recommendations (Part One)

It happens every now and again when making Joyzine, often at a point when I’m wondering why I spend so much of my precious free time sifting through hundreds of mediocre, or completely unsuited, review submissions; we strike sudden, unexpected gold – a band, a song, a piece of art of such revelatory brilliance that in an instant nothing else in the world matters.  A diamond in a gravel pit that refuels my fervent enthusiasm for loud guitars, lyrical depth and the independent spirit.  There have been plenty over the years – early releases by bands like Art Brut, Bloc Party, Vienna Ditto and Scout Niblett, watching slack-jawed as Thomas Truax wove his fantastical stories from a menagerie of invented instruments and many more besides.

The most recent moment of clarity hit while watching Swedish director Lukas Moodysson’s touching, anarchic film We Are The Best!.  Following 13 year old outsiders Klara, Bobo and Hedvig from the moment they first pick up thier instruments to spite the obnoxious hair-rock boys at the local youth club to their riotous first ever gig, it’s one of those films that reminds us of why music is so vital.  Based on the graphic novel Never Goodnight, created by Moodysson’s wife Coco about her life as a pre-teen punk in 1980s Stockholm, it’s an inspirational testament to friendship, rebellion and the power contained within three chords.

And watching it sent me on a binge of music-film viewing, taking in a number of noteworthy pictures including excellent Northern Irish record label biopic Good Vibrations, the real-life Spinal Tap documentary Anvil and Hole drummer Patty Schemel’s autobiographical Hit So Hard, but then we started to run out of steam – who better to ask then than some of our favourite bands?  We contacted them for their top recommendations, and got a wide array of responses from well-known favourites to obscure curios, fanciful adventures to raw truth documentaries, 70s glam rock excess to World War 2 French opera, each of them wonderful in their own way.

Searching for Sugar ManSearching for Sugar Man
Recommended by Piney Gir

I love music movies so it’s really hard for me to pick just one.  From the biopic style of Walk the Line to the gritty underground film Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains to the epic Beatles Anthology box set or the Scorsese directed Bob Dylan documentary No Direction Home, The Band’s Last Waltz is like a snapshot of music history; 20 Feet from Stardom gets me every time, or what about Cabaret and Liza Minelli’s doe eyes singing right atcha!  I love them all, so it was really hard to pick just one!  But I managed to… and it’s got to be Searching for Sugarman, the story of the search for Sixto Rodriguez, a relatively obscure American musician who became a cultural icon in South Africa.

*Spoiler Alert* I love that from the get go, you really don’t know if they are going to find him.  There are those rumours that he died in the 70’s.  But he was just living this peaceful life in Detroit completely unaware of the impact his music had on the rest of the world.  The fact his words inspired an entire nation and he was as famous as Elvis Presley in South Africa, but he was oblivious to that fact, it’s inspiring.  He carried on working his blue collar job, struggling to make ends meet until one day these documentary film-makers came along and changed his whole life.

Since the film came out he’s experienced what it’s really like to be a rock star, headlining big venues, selling loads of albums, and touring the world, sharing his music with everyone.  But he remains humble… when the documentary won an Academy Award he didn’t attend the ceremony because he didn’t want to overshadow the filmmakers’ achievement.  It’s a warm, touching and human story with twists and turns that make it impossible to switch off.  I’ve since got really into his music, his songs tell a great story in their own right.

Piney Gir is currently touring the UK in support of her latest album ‘mR hYDE’S wILD rIDE’.  Her new single ‘Mouse of a Ghost/Tilt A Whirl’ is released via Damaged Goods on 25th September.

One Trick PonyOne Trick Pony
Recommended by Fergus Lawrie of Projekt A-Ko and Urusei Yastura

It’s 1980 and Paul Simon is hanging out with Lou Reed, Tiny Tim and the B-52s

Paul Simon’s neglected vanity project from 1980 is an understated minor gem, a downbeat and unassuming story of a washed up musician that hides a bleakly comic assault on the music industry, somehow combining cold fury and resigned sorrow.

My Dad had the soundtrack album, so it’s embedded in me in the way that only music from your childhood can be. I can’t really say if its good or bad… it’s not the kind of thing I normally listen to but I love it because of its associations. From a technical point of view its sublime, Simon’s heartfelt, oddball take on blue collar American rhythm and blues is both enhanced and rendered slightly inauthentic by his sometimes over-literary wordplay and subtle key changes, beautifully arranged and produced, and played with passion by a superlative band.

In the film Simon plays a parallel version of himself, a sixties one hit wonder at the fag end of his career. It is a grimy, naturalistic portrait of touring life, capturing the excitement of performance, the boredom and camaraderie of the tour van and shot through with telling scenes that skewer the vanity and self-delusion of musicians and the banal stupidity of a corrosively exploitative music industry.  A waitress has given up everything to be the next Janis Joplin, but when she sings her voice is ordinary. The band play a game listing all the dead musicians they can think of. After a triumphant set they are followed by the B-52s whose arch new wave ‘Rock Lobster’ shows how out of time Simon has become. The band show up to play at a venue that has closed down. Simon reprises his not-quite-mediocre Sixties anti-war hit at a cheesy nostalgia fest. Lou Reed’s impassively malevolent producer adds middle of the road backing vocals and sax to the band’s songs.

I finally saw the film for the first time this year. There are some gauche moments (the brief moments of unnecessary female nudity seem tasteless by today’s standards) and it will never rank among the great music films but this slight, understated tale will resonate deeply with anyone who has been in or worked with a band. Simon’s film seems to portend the end of an era and yet 35 years later, well, venues are still closing, record executives are still idiots and musicians burn out everyday. Somehow despite everything, even if it isn’t worth the effort, the music still persists.

Further reading:

monterey popMonterey Pop
Recommended by Elephants & Castles

Fifteen, in bed on a school night, headphones plugged into the black and white portable, late night BBC 2. A teenage musical dawn.

Monterey Pop – three days in California captured in feature length 16mm crystal-sync glory. The Mamas and Papas, Country Joe and The Fish, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding,Simon and Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane…the festival goers, watch them.

So many musical highlights but 15 year old me thought Country Joe and The Fish were bonkers, watch this clip, check out the girl at the end, her expression says it all.

Elephants and Castles play The Tooting Tram & Social on Saturday 19th September, followed by shows at Elefest at The Long Wave Bar, Elephant & Castle on 26th September and The New Cross Inn on 1st October.  A new EP is in the pipe-line.

La Grande VadrouilleLa Grande Vadrouille / Don’t Look Now We’re Being Shot At
Recommended by French for Cartridge

Since I can remember, La Grande Vadrouille (lit. The Great Stroll, released as Don’t Look Now We’re Being Shot At), a 1966 film by Gérard Oury starring Louis de Funès, André Bourvil and Terry-Thomas, has been my favourite movie. The film is about two ordinary Frenchmen, one of them a conductor at the Paris Opera, the other a builder/decorator, helping three stranded RAF pilots in WWII to escape arrests in occupied Paris. As a French film which employs a mix of European languages as well as makes great use of music, it also makes for a perfect French For Cartridge favourite.

One of the best scenes happens at the beginning of the film, when conductor Stanislas Lefort (Louis de Funès) conducts the opening of Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust in an orchestra rehearsal at the Paris Opera. Playing on the caricature of a conductor but with a great sense of comedy and musical timing, Louis de Funès, who was himself an accomplished pianist, is my hero here. After the orchestra practise the first few bars, the conductor goes from complimenting the orchestra onto declaring their performance was abysmal within a few sentences – which makes for a hilarious monologue. If you know the film, you will never be able to listen to the opening of that opera again without seeing Louis de Funès conduct in your mind, which is not a bad thing in our book.

French for Cartridge are currently recording a new album in collaboration with contemporary classical ensemble Chroma.  Pre-order via their Pledge Music page now and get exclusive goodies!

instrumentInstrument: Fugazi
Recommended by Flash Bang Band

Instrument is a documentary about Washington DC post-hardcore legends Fugazi, constructed from footage shot between 1997 and 1998 by filmmaker Jem Cohen, a childhood friend of frontman Ian MacKaye.

Outside of this film there isn’t that much footage of the band as they hardly ever did interviews and choose to never make music videos.The documentary gives you a glimpse into their lives, shows how they stuck to there ideologies and how the wanted to present themselves. Also the drummer has a church bell in his set up, NICE!

Flash Bang Band’s split single with Mohit, ‘Spooky Action At A Distance / Alright’ is out now via Earworm Music.  The band play Kuistax Festival in Brussels on 10th October.

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