For movie-going music fans, the rock and roll film genre is something precious. Utterly forgivable in about every facet, where such pettiness as narrative, acting and production value are just about totally irrelevant so long as we get some swinging performances, a killer soundtrack, or at least rock stars playing actors in who knows what kind of role. It’s all in fun.
The genre is deep with memorable pictures: This is Spinal Tap, Quadrophenia, Empire Records, School of Rock, A Hard Day’s Night, Heavy Metal, Almost Famous, The Last Waltz, and the list goes on and on. But it doesn’t stop there, not by a long shot.
Without further ado, here are five notable-yet-forgotten rock movies:
Phantom of the Paradise
Though Brian De Palma’s best known for directing thrillers like Carrie, Scarface and Mission: Impossible, Phantom of the Paradise, which he wrote and directed, stands out as an oddity and cult classic. Pulling influence from The Phantom of the Opera, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Faust, we see a disfigured composer selling his soul to an evil record mogul who ultimately betrays him. It’s a truly cautionary tale for anyone looking to enter the music industry.
Straight to Hell
“A story of blood, money, guns, coffee & sexual tension,” as the original film poster teased, Straight to Hell stars Clash frontman Joe Strummer and Courtney Love, along with band members from The Pogues, Amazulu and The Circle Jerks. Grace Jones, Elvis Costello, Jim Jarmusch and Dennis Hopper all make cameos too. But, despite the stacked cast of musicians, they’re not jammin’. They’re running around the Spanish desert playing bank robbers and maniacs with basically all hell breaking loose.
Though largely overlooked and forgotten since it was a made-for-TV miniseries, The Temptations is a solid piece of work, chronicling one of music’s greatest groups with a stellar cast that makes you feel for each of the characters, regardless of their faults. Beyond all, Leon steals the show as the group’s amazing yet disastrous David Ruffin.
Detroit Rock City
Anyone who was a teenager in 1999 will remember Detroit Rock City. It may not have been the most remarkable or original movie, but it sure as heck was a lot of fun. In it, four members of a high school rock band who are obsessed with KISS are forced to beg, borrow, cheat, strip and steal their ways to see their musical icons, each of them wind up on their own journey to the greatest show on earth and coming of age as they do so.
Rock & Rule
Don’t get it wrong: As a movie, Rock & Rule is a crummy Canadian-made animated musical science fiction fantasy. But when you’ve got Debbie Harry, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Cheap Trick and Earth, Wind & Fire lending their talents to the soundtrack as post-apocalyptic mutant humanoids little else really matters. In it, an evil rock star kidnaps a female singer with the intent of using her voice to summon a powerful demon from another dimension and it’s up to her band to stop him. Uh, okay. Whatever you say. You had us at Debbie Harry, anyway.