A Different Kind of Musical

Dec 8, 2008 by Derrick Faw · 2 Comments ·
Filed under: Cinephile, Music 

When film and music come together, the collaboration can be magical. I’m not referring to soundtracks or films from the musical genre. They can be in the form of a movie, documentary, or even concert footage. Of course rather or not the film appeals to you ultimately depends on your own personal taste in music. Music was my first love and has always been my companion. Only after meeting Samantha did my appreciation for film start to grow, and I am happy to have introduced her to my world of music. I appreciate most types and styles, but always my true love remains traditional, folk, and country. Being from the Blue Ridge mountains, I was blessed with growing up in an area rich in musical tradition. It is a unique place truly, you could have someone as great as Wayne Henderson for your mail carrier or see Doc Watson play on a Friday morning at Minton’s Pawn Shop. I often joke that Samantha is the only French woman that loves country music, though I have heard rumors of a few others.

James Stewart as Glenn Miller

James Stewart as Glenn Miller

Even in the days of silent movies, music played an important role in movies. Many films released included sheet music for performers at the theater. This helped set the mood for the viewing audience. With the arrival of “talkies”, more control was given to the filmmaker of how music could be used. Actually the first “talkie” was The Jazz Singer by Alan Crosland, it is the story of a man’s quest to become a jazz singer. Through the years, more and more films appeared that were about music and musicians. Occasionally they would even feature artist, such as St. Louis Blues with Bessie Smith by Dudley Murphy. Films would also begin to tell the life story of popular artist like The Glenn Miller Story by Anthony Mann. Gradually the musical became a big sensation, and reached its climax in the 50′s. We even saw the singing cowboys hit the screen with a different twist on the Western. In 1956, Elvis Presley jumped from radio sensation to the big screen. He would go on to act and sing in a long string of feature films, up until the end of the 60′s. The 60′s brought us a whole new kind of film, documenting specific artist and musical events. It was the perfect time for film and music to blend as they were both in the process of change, as was culture as a whole. In the mid 60′s the Fab Four would bring Beatlemania to cinema. None of the Beatles movies can particularly be considered to be great films. They are mostly second rate comedies used as a vehicle to their music. The film Let it be by Michael Lindsay-Hogg on the other hand takes a different approach, being in the form of a documentary. Meant to be a film about the making of the album of the same name, it captures the beginning of their end as a group. Many consider though the films of the Beatles to be the beginnings of what we now know as the music video.

DA Pennebaker Filming Bob Dylan

DA Pennebaker Filming Bob Dylan for Eat The Document

D.A. Pennebaker, armed with his hand held camera and stovepipe hat would help forge the way in Direct Cinema. Direct Cinema deals with attempting to truthfully document events and persons. His film Don’t Look Back was a major breakthrough in the power of cinema to tap into music. In this film we follow along with Bob Dylan on his 1965 UK tour. It documents antics with the press, private jam sessions, and stage performances during this legendary tour. Pennebaker would go on to film Dylan again in Eat The Document and then the Monterey Pop Festival 1967, which documented not only the music itself but the atmosphere of the crowd. Next would come Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock, which documents what could be noted as the most important and influential concerts in history.

Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie in Alice's Restaurant

Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie in Alice's Restaurant

In subsequent years many great films would be produced about live performances, documentaries, and about the life of musical icons. Some would even be inspired fictionalize the documentary like in Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap. Artist would also have their songs developed into films, such as Arlo Guthrie acting out his Alice’s Restaurant by Arthur Penn or even Kenny Rogers as The Gambler. Many more films have been made about the lives of musical icons, to name a few: Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Richie Valens, The Doors, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams Jr., and the loosely fitting portrait of Bob Dylan I’m Not There. Concerts with a documentary feel have also lodged themselves in cinema beyond Monterey and Woodstock with films like: The Last Waltz, The Song Remains The Same, The Grateful Dead, Rust Never Sleeps, Year Of The Horse, Gimme Shelter, and Martin Scorsese’s IMAX splendor Shine A Light. The Rock Band The Who would open a whole new door in the Musical with Tommy. Pink Floyd would bring to life an entire album in Pink Floyd The Wall. Some very great documentaries have also appeared in recent years like Ken Burns in depth look into Jazz, Martin Scorsese’s personal look into Bob Dylan in No Direction Home, Sam Jone’s extraordinary film covering Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot dilemma I’m Trying To Break Your Heart, Another honorable mention is the Classic Album series which documents the making of some of the most influential albums.

Pink Floyd The Wall

Pink Floyd The Wall

This is the first part of a series I am excited to write about as music is very dear to me. There are a few films dealing with music that stand out in my mind as the greatest ever and deserve further discussion. In future post I will be writing in more detail about such films as The Last Waltz, Don’t Look Back, Masked and Anonymous, I’m Trying To Break Your Heart, and Pink Floyd The Wall. There are many more films not mentioned in this post, the subject would take an entire book to document. Feel free to comment on any of your favorites or any opinions you may have on the subject.

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  1. [...] taking what he had to offer. By 1965, Dylan had already reached a legendary status. As mentioned in Volume 1 in this series of post, filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker captured Dylan’s remarkable UK tour on 16mm for his [...]

  2. S. says:

    When film and music come together, the collaboration can be magical http://t.co/7wTphZ9f

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