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Another frivolous question

Here’s a question, Gentle Readers. You know how Help! and A Hard Day’s Night are both brilliant movies? I mean, even if you don’t particularly like The Beatles, these are funny, funny movies. I suspect you could forward through most of the songs and still enjoy the movies enormously. They aren’t just good because of the Beatles, or because the Beatles are good actors (although Ringo is a very funny man, John is wicked, and George is, well, George). So, has there been any band since that time for whom making a movie was a good idea?

I mean a movie like Help!; not a documentary or a concert movie, but a movie where the main characters are band members playing fictional versions of themselves, and that has a plot of some kind. The closest I can think of is Tommy, which is sui generis, and although the band appears, they aren’t playing the band. And, honestly, I’m not altogether sure that the movie of Tommy was a good idea after all, but I don’t think there was a better way to get the soundtrack made. The Spice Girls made Spiceworld, which I haven’t seen but have heard was actually nearly watchable, but was generally agreed to be a bad idea. The Pogues movie was clearly a bad, bad, bad idea, and if any Gentle Reader has the soundtrack on CD I will give them an absurd amount of money for it right now (For that matter, do any of you have in digitizable format the Pogues cover of “Wild Rover” that appeared on the B-side of “Sally MacLennane”? That must be mine, and soon).

The various members of the boy bands have been in various movies, but that’s not the same thing. Nor is it the same thing when the band exists for the purposes of the movie, such as the Monkees (OK, it was for the TV show, but still) or Josie and the Pussycats or The Commitments. I mean, why isn’t there an REM movie, or a Pretenders movie? I can’t believe that the guys in, oh, Queen never said “Hey, let’s make a movie like Help!” I know Sting wanted to be in the movies, why not a Police movie? Could the Dixie Chicks not have hired any (lefty) writer and director they wanted?

My Best Reader suggests that video killed the movie star, at least for that sort of thing. Every band needs to make movies, three-minute movies, but movies, and any successful band makes dozens of them. Maybe that gets it all out of their systems. Or maybe they all discover that actual movie-making is tedious and unrewarding, except the ones that decide they want to be Actors! and make actual movies where they play thinly disguised versions of their stage personas but without the band. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just that movies really are crap these days, and with the music business what it is, and the movie business what it is, and Richard Lester dead and all, it really is a bad idea. But you’d think ...

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,


okay let's start with this. richard lester directed and essentially conceived both the good beatles movies. his other important film of that period, the knack... and how to get it, is quite brilliant on its own and established the mod story style outside of the famous band. (some of his other nifty films include the mouse on the moon, the funny thing movie, the 3 musketeers & the 4 musketeers, juggernaut, robin and marian. bio.)

so what's rare about the beatles-lester movies, that puts them ahead and apart from the elvis movies, is that they were a rare convergence of pop-art shifts in the different media at the same time, each medium represented by the most energetic and most talented of each. in other words, the beatles movies weren't just the best the beatles had to offer, but represented the peak of english pop art at the time.

matching that is tough, even beyond the difficulty of reaching the transformational height of the beatles' music itself. however. the next enormous transformer of english-language pop music after the beatles was just as prolific with film. name him and his hugely popular 1984 showpiece and win a prize.

Oooh, oooh, I know! I know!

Well, my gut is that you're talking about David Bowie, but The Hunger was 1983 and Labyrinth was 1986...

Michael Jackson and the Wiz? Michael Jackson wasn't particularly prolific in the movie field, tho...

I just don't know. I'm stumped.

Also, Vardibidian: what about Prince and the "The Kid" movies? Purple Rain, notably, was kind of a Help! analogue... if unwatchable...

i'll have to consult the judges about that entry.

I think Matt wins the Golden Twinkie of Death on that one. Purple Rain is, indeed, the 1984 movie of which david speaks (if I may speak for him). I don't know if it's unwatchable, though, as I've never tried...

I think I have to stick by my distinction between a musical movie (such as The Wiz, or The Man Who Fell To Earth, or Elmo in Grouchland) in which a pop star comes in and sings a song or even acts, and a movie like Help! or Spiceworld, which is the band's movie. Part of it is the difference between a pop star and a rock band; if it's just Sting, he's stretching his artistic boundaries and whatnot, but if the other two are in it then it's part of who the band is.
I'll also take a moment to opine that Diana Ross (of not only The Wiz but Lady is as good an answer for enormous transformer of english-language pop music as the artist formerly known as.

hmm. that's tricky. i went from the beatles to prince because of the breadth of the changes they brought in - subject matter, structure, roots, production. in my head i imagined a timeline. in pop music there is definitely before/after beatles. there is also before/after prince. they changed all pop music. skipping other bands who were unfathomably influential was hard. i didn't think of the supremes but i don't know if they pass this test as i've structured it. as i thought of it, there are good players at the table, and then there is the dealer.

*does the Golden Twinkie of Death dance*

I thought my David Bowie guess was better than my Prince guess tho. Certainly Bowie made more movies than Prince, and it seemed like you were talking prolificity of movies...

How'd you like THAT word? Prolificity? I think I deserve the Golden Cheeto of Samsara for that one!


Seems to me that another criteria for a movie in which a band plays themselves being really fun is whether a significant portion of the audience is likely to have a sense of the individual personalities of the band members. In the mid-60's, of course, everyone on Earth had a sense of who John, Paul, George, and Ringo each were. Are there equivalents now?

I know what the three guys in The Police are like, but I'm a fan. And there are plenty of other bands that I like a lot but don't know anything about the band members. What's Larry Mullen like? Or Tina Weymouth?

I did, actually, really enjoy the Michael Apted documentary about Sting's original solo band (Bring On the Night). A lot of those folks are really fun. I'd have enjoyed a feature-style film with them.

For me, there's only one semi-current band for which a movie would really be fun. In fact, very few things would make me happier than a Help-style movie featuring the members of Moxy Fruvous. But again, that's only because I'm a rabid enough fan to know what all the band members are like.

I think a Magnificent Seven-style Western starring Bruce Springsteen and the members of the E Street Band would be pretty fun too.

I suppose Buckaroo Bonzai doesn't count at all, but in another universe it would :-)

Oooh! Oooh! How about the Ramones playing themselves in Rock n' Roll High School? Sure, they're not the main characters, but I think it counts.

Excellent memory, Jacob! I had forgotten entirely about the Ramones movie. I can't remember now how much the Ramones are actually in the thing;I remember being disappointed by their lack of screen time when I saw it, but I may have been wanting Help!
Plus, exploding mice! Clearly a good idea.

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