Rock ’n’ roll movies ain’t what they used to be, but then they never have been. You can’t just make a classic rock movie. It has to be allowed to ferment in its own juice for at least two decades before its merits can be fairly assessed, as Independent craphound cum laude Bryan Ramirez discovers in the following roundup—on the occasion of our annual Rocktober issue—of the good, the bad, and the unspeakably inviting from the last 25 years of cinema du rock.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (1981)
Written by Jonathan Demme and featuring a tender young Laura Dern, this early-’80s release never really had a chance to make an impact, as it was shelved immediately after completion. For the many who never saw it—as I did, on “Night Flight”—Diane Lane plays Corrine Burns, leader of the drumless, Shaggs-styled three-piece The Fabulous Stains. A band in concept only, they find themselves opening for Metal Corpses (featuring Fee Waybill & Vince Welnick from The Tubes) and The Looters (check out this rhythm section: Paul Simonon from The Clash with Steve Jones and Paul Cook from The Sex Pistols). Despite the fact they can’t play, the Stains surge in popularity, their dress code and skunk hairdos influencing many young grrrls. The premise has the makings of comedy but the movie itself is far from it, with constant in-band fighting, ego clashes, drugs, overdoses and everyone revealed as self-serving asses before the film is finished. A great coming-of-age film to put one’s trust in, as opposed to something like The Breakfast Club. This has never had an official release and the bootlegs are pretty pricey. If anyone has a copy, let me know!
Rock and Roll Nightmare (1987)
The ’80s are guilty as hell when it comes to one of the weirdest movie sub-species of all: the rock-horror film. “Classics” like Black Roses and Hard Rock Zombies rank as fine examples, but when it comes to the ultimate of the genre, Rock and Roll Nightmare takes the prize. Written (to put it kindly) by Canadian body builder/heavy metal front man Thor, this film has all the ingredients: not-so-special special effects (demon sock puppets), fake English accents, really lousy acting, a Thor butt-shot and, of course, heavy metal played at the drop of a hat. The story can be summed up in about a second: Thor’s band moves into a haunted house and is slowly knocked off by the sock puppets. Definitely for those with warped senses of humor and a fondness for really bad movies. Plus, the ending answers every metaphysical question you’ve ever asked.
URGH! A Music War (1981)
Amazing two-hour concert film shot over a span of several weeks in Paris, London, New York and Los Angeles in late 1980. With New Wave bands galore, ranging from The Police and The Go-Go’s to XTC, Magazine and Echo & The Bunnymen. Show-stopping performances by The Cramps, Gang of Four and Dead Kennedys. I’m shocked this hasn’t come up for reissue, considering how influential a lot of these bands continue to be. A few of them, on the other hand, are schlock and best forgotten, but overall this period piece is vital.
Decline of Western Civilization, Part II:
The Metal Years (1988)
With the first Decline and Fall, director Penelope Spheeris gave us a vital piece of punk history, but part two is simply unbelievable. This flick follows the same threads as part one, interviewing musicians and fans of the music, though this time it’s heavy metal, circa 1988. Instead of the alienation described in punk commentary, we’re treated to metalheads who feel destined to make it, flashing devil’s horns and egos all around. War stories from the likes of Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister and the Toxic Twins (Steve ’n’ Joe of Aerosmith), fresh from rehab, play jadedly against up-and-coming hair bands who insist they don’t recognize the word “failure.” Plus, there’s lots of live metal from screaming BC Rich guitars, exceedingly bad taste at every level and some sage advice from cavemen. It’s brutally honest and one of the best documentaries ever done.
What began as a document of the Sex Pistols’ 1978 tour of the states ended up looking like it was filmed on a Sears super 8 camera with horrific sound quality. Some of the best moments on D.O.A. are spent with the Pistols’ fellow UK bands X-Ray Specs, Generation X and—my personal favorite—Terry and The Idiots. The last group alone is almost worth the cost of the film, showcasing a punk aesthetic that is, at best, the worst you could ever hear, but the exchanges between singer Terry and bewildered pub patrons are priceless. As for the Pistols, you get some live footage of Sid smashing his bass over some redneck’s head in Texas, and a Sid and Nancy interview complete with Sid nodding out, from which touching lovers’ moment Alex Cox stole scenes for Sid and Nancy.
Rude Boy (1980)
This incredibly dark pseudo-documentary, tailing a directionless British youth who lands a roadie gig with The Clash, drags along slowly for the most part, unless you look at it as a period piece from a sociological point of view. In which case it’s only slightly less boring. Main character Ray has a depressing lifestyle, living on the dole, working at a porn shop and getting harassed regularly by cops. But the clouds seem to lift when he witnesses The Clash’s amazing performances on stage during the band’s 1978 tour. A reissue of this movie just came out on DVD with all kinds of extra stuff. Fully worth it for live footage that could transform anyone into a Clash fan.