The News Gazette
Frank’s Faves: Rock goes to the movies
Thu, 01/07/2016 – 7:00am | Frank Pieper
If there’s a rock ‘n’ roll heaven, you know they’ve got a hell of a band …
Sure as I’m sitting here, that heavenly rock band got a whole lot deeper this past year.
Closest to the hearts of many in this area was the death of former REO Speedwagon lead guitarist and Peoria native Gary Richrath in September. The year that was also saw the passing of legendary bluesman B.B. King, Yes co-founder and bassist Chris Squire, Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister, lead singer Scott Weiland (of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver) and Toto bassist Mike Porcaro, among others.
What can we say that hasn’t already been said of such a stellar lineup? Words can scarcely do justice to the musical void these losses leave â€” but that doesn’t mean Hollywood won’t try. Or shouldn’t. Some really fine movies have been made about some of music’s fallen greats. Just thinking of what superb performances we got from Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in “Ray” (2004) or Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line” (2005) gives me hope for what biopics we may someday see about King and others on this list.
In fact, some of the best movies ever made about rock ‘n’ rock have been about popular rockers who left us far too soon. But that doesn’t mean that rock-centric films have to be tragic or even serious; some are outright hilarious.
Check out my faves in this genre, and you’ll see what I mean. Ladies and gents, I give you (in no particular order):
MY 10 FAVORITE ROCK ‘N’ ROLL MOVIES
“School of Rock” (2003). Jack Black is an absolute riot as a failed rocker who intercepts a substitute-teaching gig from his roomie and dedicates himself to educating a class of elite elementary students in the principles of rock-godhood with the ulterior motive of competing in a regional battle of the bands.
“A Hard Day’s Night” (1964). Screenwriter Alun Owen turned out a pretty clever script after spending time with The Beatles and getting to know them personally. The result, directed by Richard Lester, is a trend-setting, madcap romp that follows the Fab Four from Liverpool to London for a TV show while relentlessly pursued by a mob of crazed fans.
“La Bamba” (1987). Lou Diamond Phillips delivers a magnetic performance as Ritchie Valens, backed by a terrific soundtrack by Los Lobos and a gut-wrenching supporting turn by Esai Morales as Valens’ resentful brother.
“This Is Spinal Tap” (1984). Rob Reiner was way ahead of his time â€” and over the heads of his audience â€” when he directed this mockumentary starring Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer. Initially a box-office flop, the movie eventually (and deservedly) achieved cult-classic status and still gets smarter and funnier with each viewing.
“Almost Famous” (2000). Cameron Crowe wrote and directed this semi-autobiographical ode to rock based on his experiences as a teenage reporter for Rolling Stone magazine, while making a star out of Kate Hudson and a hit out of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.”
“The Doors” (1991). Val Kilmer gives one of his finest performances as the uber-talented, steadfastly self-destructive Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s hallucinatory biopic of the title 1960s rock group.
“Pink Floyd â€” The Wall” (1982). One of the weirdest yet most powerful rock movies you’ll see, this film adaptation of the classic Floyd album about a rocker’s descent into madness mixes memorably trippy imagery with some marvellously transcendental jams.
“The Buddy Holly Story” (1978). Gary Busey’s performance as the title rock legend reaped him a well-deserved Oscar nod as he sang and played his own guitar on the soundtrack and even shed more than 30 pounds to look the part.
“The Rose” (1979). Bette Midler was also Oscar-nominated as a self-destructive 1960s rock star loosely based on the life and early death of Janis Joplin.
“Tommy” (1975). Roger Daltrey, Ann-Margret and Oliver Reed star backed by Tina Turner, Elton John and Eric Clapton, among others. Can you hear me?
Honorable Mention: “Eddie and the Cruisers” (1983).