DVD Review: THE T.A.M.I SHOW (1964)

THE T.A.M.I. SHOW (Dir. Steve Binder, 1964)

This time capsule of a concert film finally gets a proper DVD release and that’s a great thing because it’s a joy from start to finish. If you happen to like ’60s rock, pop, and soul that is. The Teenage Awards Music International show featured a mighty roster of the days biggest acts including Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Lesley Gore, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, and The Rolling Stones filmed live in glorious black and white at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in 1964. Era heart throbs Jan and Dean hosted the event and also performed.

It’s major proof that the teens at the time screamed at more than just The Beatles. The fact that they scream throughout the entirety of this concert can be as endearing as often as it’s annoying. They even scream at the third tier bands: Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Barbarians and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. But the music, most of it instantly recognizable if you’ve ever listened to oldies radio, shines through the squealing as well as the cheesy presentation featuring TV variety show style sets and go-go dancers constantly bopping behind most of the acts.

Most amusingly, one of those go-go dancers was a 17 year old Teri Garr (pictured above between the Supremes) who can be seen dancing her ass off almost the whole show. She’s given plenty to shake to when James Brown hits the stage. Backed by the Famous Flames, Brown steals the show out from everybody with a ferocious 5 song set in which an incendiary “Please Please Please” featuring his patented cape routine is the shows undeniable highlight.

The Rolling Stones almost backed out after learning they were going to follow Brown. Maybe they should have; their set is fine but a bit lacking in fire. The band responsible for the classic album “Aftermath” come off a bit like an afterthought here. However by the time they get to “It’s All Over Now” a good deal of their power gets restored. It’s all the same to the shrieking audience though, they scream as loud as ever right to the end.

Bonus Features: This digitally remastered film comes with a smattering of extras including several radio spots and an informative commentary by director Steve Binder assisted by music historian Don Waller. Director John Landis (ANIMAL HOUSE, THE BLUES BROTHERS, THREE AMIGOS), who attended the show as a teenager and said that the Rolling Stones were boring following Brown, also puts in a sprightly commentary on the trailer.

More later…

GONZO: Fawning & Loafing On The Bio-Doc Trail


Every book on my shelf has a different definition of the word “Gonzo”; it’s a style of journalism, it’s an ethic – when I was a kid it was a Muppet. The basic meaning, as best I can gather, is when a commentator, reporter et al. is so intensely immersed in their story that they become part of it. The alternate meanings can be summed as an ‘in your face’ fact and fiction blurred aesthetic where anything goes. Despite Spanish or Italian roots (again depends on what book you read) the term became part of the popular lexicon in the introduction of an article by Hunter S. Thompson in 1970. Thompson who by then already had a reputation as an gun-toting druggie “Freak Power” anarchist is the subject of this over reverant documentary by Oscar winning dierctor Alex Gibney (TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE).

Thompson spent much of the last 40 years in front of a camera when he wasn’t shooting up (in every possible way) so there is much fascinating footage to wade through with news reports about his Hell’s Angels meddling, talk show appearances, and amatuer film of his campaign for Mayor of Aspen, Colorado making for a juicy narrative. Johnny Depp, who played the man in Terry Gilliam’s 1998 adaptation of FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (which this film uses too many clips from), frames a number of segments with readings from Thompson’s work but since that device drops and he isn’t heard from throughout lengthy chunks of the film he can’t really be considered a narrator though he’s credited as such.

Then there’s the music – with some of the most obvious 60’s songs employed to make easy points this has to go down as one of the least imaginative soundtracks for a period doc ever. I mean, how many times am I gonna have to see “All Along The Watchtower” * cut to war footage? Stones, Joplin, CCR, Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side”; come on! Gibney makes a movie that feels like it was made by somebody whose never seen any 60’s or 70’s docs before. It’s also so not neccessary to go through the deaths and overused footage of MLK, RFK, and General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon to get to the heart of Hunter S. Thompson but there it is and go through it again I guess we’re doomed to do forever.

* To the films credit the version of “Watchtower” used is from Bob Dylan and The Band’s live performance on Before The Flood” (1974) not the incredibly done to death (movie-wise that is) Hendrix version.

Concentrating mostly on Thompson’s early career and glossing over the rest since the 70’s to his death in 2005, GONZO does have its merits. There are interviews with the charming yet still smarmy asshole Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner, former Nixon-aid turned Republican Presidential candidate now full-time Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan (who surprisingly has reams of insight), 1972 Democratic Presidential nominee George McGovern, and especially Thompson’s ex-wife Sandy Conklin Thompson (whose name is now Sondi Wright). There are many great anecdotes with Ralph Steadman’s iconic splattered cartoons injecting the proceedings with some much needed rough edges. For the uninitiated this portrait may be an eye opening overview; to those well versed in the counterculture and the beginnings of the new media” this may come off as an incomplete too respectful playing of Thompson’s greatest hits with very little new insight gleemed. In the end it’s just more than a bit disapointing that a film about the Gonzo mind-set and output of one of the most notorious and unruly writers of the last half century could be such a standard straight forward bio-doc; in other words so non-Gonzo.

More later…

Clash Frontman Joe Strummer Gets The Julien Temple Treatment With Great Rock Doc Results

“I need some feeling of some sort – hey, we’re all alive at the same time, at once, you know!”

– Joe Strummer yelling at the US Festival crowd 5/28/83

I sadly missed this film on its extremely brief theatrical run in my area but happily just viewed the newly released DVD so here’s my review:


Tracing Joe Strummer’s life from a “mouthy little git” to “punk rock warlord” (Strummer’s words) Julien Temple’s lively and loving documentary is full of insights and powerful ideology that render it immediately essential.

As the frontman for the seminal British punk rock band The Clash, Strummer was rawly outspoken, always passionate, and brutally honest so he’s the best one to tell his story and by way of BBC radio recordings of him as guest DJ and audio from many interviews over the course of his career – he does.

These archival Strummer soundbites are helped along by a bountiful bevy of talking head comments from such stars including Johnny Depp, Steve Buscemi, Bono, and John Cusack as well as those with a more personal connection – former bandmates, girlfriends, and family members who I wish were better identified.

That’s one of the only beefs I have with this project – we know who Matt Dillon or Bono are when they appear at a campfire shot to offer their takes on Strummer but without a name and caption many folks like girlfriend Palmolive (from the lesser known but still vital bands The Slits and The Raincoats) fly by with their context not properly placed *. Also would be nice to have concert dates and events better titled. Small quibbles though, the rest is rockumentary gold or at least rock doc crack.

* Luckily the DVD has an over an hour and a half of bonus extended interviews which does identify each participant and is also essential. A couple of the highlights: Angela Janklow tells of a hilarious chance meeting of Strummer and Monica Lewinsky & Martin Scorsese relays how Clash music fueled his inspiration making RAGING BULL and later GANGS OF NEW YORK.

Born as John Mellor, the son of a British diplomat and a Scottish nurse, his family moved quite a bit during his childhood; living in Eygpt, Germany, and Mexico before John ended up at a boarding school in London. It was there that he was turned on to The Rolling Stones, learned to play the ukulele, and starting going by the name of “Woody” ostensibly because of an affection for Woody Guthrie. He went to art school with cartoonist aspirations (many of his drawings are sprightly animated and interspersed throughout) but music was his real calling and he was soon playing guitar in a band called the Vultures which didn’t last long. At the same time he toiled in such vacant career opportunities as carpet salesman and grave-digger. Because of his style of guitar playing he changed his name to Joe Strummer and angrily derided anybody who called him by another moniker.

As it certainly was suspected the center piece here is Strummer’s years with, as the hyped phrase goes, the “only band that matters”. Having disbanded another band – the popular pub rockers The 101ers, Strummer met guitarist Mick Jones and manager Bernie Rhoades. With bassist Paul Simonon, drummer Terry Chimes, and another guitarist Keith Levene they formed The Clash. They were immediately embraced by the blossoming British punk scene and signed to CBS within a year of their live debut (in 1976) with Chimes replaced by Topper Headon and Levene being axed. Great grainy footage abounds – most notably The Clash playing to a giant crowd of pogo-ing punksters at an Anti-Nazi League benefit. Their political themes, fueled by Strummer’s leftist views, were not lost on their fans as Bono from the mega-band u2 pretentiously but accurately explains: “I never knew who the Sandinistas were or where Nicaraqua was, the lyrics of Joe Strummer were like an atlas; they opened up the world to me and other people who came from blank suburbia.”

“I couldn’t believe we turned into the kind of people we were trying to destroy” Strummer laments as we see The Clash reap the rewards of success/excess. Contrasting professional arena concert footage from the early 80’s with the grimy black and white basement video of their early days of the same song illustrates beautifully his case: “we were part of the audience, part of the movement. Once it became thousands of miles removed from that I began to freak out.” Mick Jones final appearance was at the US Festival in 1983 (which again, is not properly identified) at which point Strummer, most likely way after the fact, describes the band as a “depleted force”. The Clash carried on however with some replacement blokes but the glory was gone so yep, here comes death. The death of the band that is, Strummer had many years of soundtrack work, acting roles (he appeared with Buscemi in my favorite Jim Jarmusch film MYSTERY TRAIN, solo recordings, and powerful performances with his band the Mescaleros. As a former global punk superstar he struggled a bit: “You meet a 17 year old guy and he’s never heard of The Clash; that’s the moment my feet touch the ground again.”

Strummer died of a congenital heart defect on December 22nd, 2002. Just weeks before he played with Mick Jones for the first time since 1983. It was an impromptu appearance with Jones getting on stage to join Strummer and the Mescaleros on the Clash classics “Bankrobber”, “White Riot”, and “London’s Burning”. The footage from that gig, albeit brief, adds enormously to the emotional last third of the documentary. Temple’s clever construction of the different strains of pop culture, even utilizing clips of ANIMAL FARM and the classic British flick IF…. to symbolize oppressive British society, is incredibly compelling from the before mentioned concert footage to even an appearance on South Park (1998). As both a enjoyable touching tribute for the long-time fan and a teaching-tool for the uninitiated, Julien Temple’s JOE STRUMMER: THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN is one of the best of its kind and a new addition to the definitive rocumentary checklist.

More later…

Exile On Mean Street Part II – Shining A Light On Scorsese & The Stones Yet Again…

At the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year Mick Jagger made the joke before anybody else could: “I want you to know that SHINE A LIGHT is the only (Scorsese) film that ‘Gimme Shelter’ isn’t played in.” I had written before about Martin Scorsese’s Stones obsession with “Gimme Shelter” singled out in Exile On Mean Street – Or Scorsese & The Stones Together Again (October 22nd, 2006). In that post I speculated about the proposed concert film/doc and how it may capture the definitive performance of “Gimme Shelter” – well alas, as Jagger quipped this is not to be. No matter – the prospect of America’s greatest director taking on the greatest rock band in the world (just go with their own self generated hype on this will you?), in a ginormous IMAX feature no less, is enough to wipe away such pop culture pigeon-holing persnickety. So let’s get on to the show:

SHINE A LIGHT (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2008)

The Rolling Stones are no strangers to being the cinematic subject of famously impulsive control-freak film makers. Jean-Luc Godard, The Maysles Brothers, and Hal Ashby have had their turns at capturing the legendary rockers on celluloid but now the British hitmakers have met their match with Martin Scorsese – not because he is a more of a meticulously-minded master director than those luminaries but because he is more of a giddy hardcore fan of the band in the spotlight. As the film begins in grainy black and white Scorsese is seen scurrying around trying to get the setlists for the 2 Stones shows at New York’s Beacon Theater he is preparing to shoot, with 18 cameras * mind you, and comically getting the rock star brush-off from frontman Mick Jagger. This opening has a frenetic almost SPINAL TAP-ish quality to it but when the Stones hit the stage splashing into full color with the picture expanding to the full screen I was swept up into the cross-fire hurricane of the ferociously jolting “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”.

* Helmed by such cinematographers and behind the scenes A-listers as Robert Elswit, Robert Richardson, John Toll, Emmanuel Lubezki and Albert Maysles (GIMME SHELTER!)

As the Glimmer Twins (the nickname and producing credit of Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards) and their mates tear through their classics (“Sympathy For The Devil”, “Brown Sugar”, “Start Me Up”, etc.) and a few obscurities for the faithful (like “Far Away Eyes” for one) Scorsese’s cameras swoop down and around the band, barely ever pausing to rest lest anyone would get bored with a shot. Scorsese’s scrupulous sense of timing and exciting effective editing rocks as hard as his subject material making this the best concert film since Jonathan Demme’s STOP MAKING SENSE. It’s awe-inspiring to watch Jagger conducting his fellow Stones, the back-up singers, the audience, and all the cameras into a riotous groove then drive it into a frenzy over and over again. The effect was so powerful and absorbing that I had to refrain myself from clapping at the end of several songs, having to remind myself I wasn’t in the audience at the Beacon – I was just one of a handful of people at an IMAX theater in Raleigh.

The 2 shows (Oct. 29 and Nov. 1, 2006) this film was constructed from were star studded affairs – both onstage and in the audience. Former President Bill Clinton, whose 60th birthday was being celebrated by this charity benefit, introduces the band (which is fitting because he was called the first “Rock ‘N Roll President”) and Bruce Willis can be seen but despite this Scorsese thankfully keeps audience shots at a minimum. What’s more notable is the musical guest stars – blues legend Buddy Guy calmly appears to throw gas on an already raging fire by duetting with Jagger on Muddy Waters’ “Champagne & Reefer” and a starstruck Jack White (from The White Stripes) joins the band for a infectious moving rendition of “Loving Cup”. Christina Aguilera helps bring out the raunch in the lusty “Live With Me” gyrating then grinding with Jagger while long-time Stones sideman Bobby Keys’s saxophone levels out the showbiz sleaze with some pure class. The only minor quibbles I have would be with some of the archival footage from old interviews that serve as segues between some songs. They are brief though and only cut into one song (the Keith Richards sung “Connection”) so they don’t hold up the proceedings much.

Living in a town of snarky hipsters (Chapel Hill, N.C.) I am highly aware that many have long ago dismissed the Stones (especially their recent output) as overplayed Baby Boomer bombast long past its expiration date. I wish those folks would get their bed-heads out of their asses and make the trip to their nearest IMAX theater to see SHINE A LIGHT. It’s as fast paced and exciting a concert experience that can be imagined on the big screen (no, I haven’t seen U2 3D!) and it is powerful enough to re-ignite the fanatic spark in even the staunchest Stones cynic. Sure, they’ve become part of the machine they used to rage against with inflated ticket prices and infinite rehashes of their greatest hits but they’re still THE ROLLING STONES. When these grand old men who can still bring the rock are seen through the loving lenses of Scorsese I doubt many rock movie lovers will complain that they get no satisfaction.

More later…

Blasting Bogdanovich & 10 Definitive Rockumentaries

Who knew Peter Bogdanovich could rock?

This guy – the refined ascot wearing autuer who directed THE LAST PICTURE SHOW but is best known to the masses as Dr. Melfi’s shrink on The Sopranos not only can rock but he can rock for a long ass time. 4 hours in fact – the length of his new rock documentary TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS: RUNNIN’ DOWN A DREAM.

I made it through the whole thing and loved it (I hope my review below won’t take 4 hours to read) and it got me to thinking about other great rock documentaries, or rockumentaries if you will, so yeah – I made another official Film Babble Blog list. First though let’s take in Bogdanovich as he goes off on a Tom Petty tangent:


“Marty took 3 hours and 40 minutes to tell 6 years of Dylan and I figured, if that’s the case, why shouldn’t we take 4 hours to tell 30 years of Tom Petty?”
– Peter Bogdanovich on Sound Opinions (broadcast January 7th, 2008)

A big package this is – 4 discs, 2 of which are the 4 hour 15 minute director’s cut of the documentary, the 3rd disc is the complete 30th Anniversary Gainesville, Florida concert from September 30th, 2006, and the 4th is a soundtrack CD featuring 9 previously unreleased songs. Whew! Hard to claim to be just a casual Petty fan after absorbing all of that. Bogdanovich’s film even at its bloated length is engrossing and never lags.

Framed by footage from the before mentioned concert we are taken through the history of the band with interview segments spliced with photos, fliers, home movies, TV appearances, grainy videotape material, and every other source available. The ups and downs are perfectly punctuated with Petty standards – the punchy pop bright Byrds influence that brought forth the break-through single “American Girl” captures the band on a television stage young and green while the promotional video for “Refugee” shows them freshly on the mend from battles with lawyers and declaring bankruptcy.

Of course there are unavoidable rockumentary clichés that are as old than THIS IS SPINAL TAP – recording studio squabbles, the trials of transporting drugs over the borders, and the “Free Fallin'”-out of the band when they aren’t on the same page but they are amusingly displayed in a knowing manner that transcends the usual VH1 classic fodder. It’s hard not to think of Scorsese’s landmark Dylan doc when putting in disc 2 of RUNNIN’ DOWN A DREAM for the most obvious reason – as Part 2 starts the first words uttered, by Petty, are “Bob Dylan, I don’t think there’s anyone we admire more”. So the collaboration with Petty and Dylan begins – there is great footage from the HBO special Hard To Handle. Bob thrusts his hand behind him while playing his harmonica on the intro of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” to stop the band from coming in too soon and it’s an amazing moment – the greatest songwriter ever (as Petty and I call him) directing the best working class Americana band of the mid 80’s and beyond.

Tom and Bob’s collaboration led to the Traveling Wilbury’s – the ultimate supergroup filled out by former Beatle George Harrison, legend Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne of the elaborately Beatle-esque Electric Light Orchestra. Petty’s approach was forever altered – which we see as certain band members have to cope with his new direction. Especially former drummer Stan Lynch, (who refused to be interviewed for the film but is presented in archive footage) who says bluntly of Petty’s biggest selling album “Full Moon Fever” – “there were more than a couple songs I just didn’t like.” Through the 90’s up to now we see Petty and the Heartbreakers weather grunge (Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl played with them on SNL right after Lynch left), a death of a long time but still considered “new kid” bassist Howie Epstein, and the competition from a world in which “rock stars were being invented on game shows” all with their self declared “I Won’t Back Down” spirit.

Though you ordinarily wouldn’t think of him in the same company as Orson Welles and John Ford, this masterful showcase of material makes a solid case that Petty is indeed in the pantheon of those previous subjects of Bogdanovich’s. Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, who seems to show up in every rocumentary or rock related movie these days (even WALK HARD), appears at one point to sing a duet with Petty on “The Waiting” at a recent concert. When the song ends and the giant audience erupts Petty says to Vedder, “Look at that, Eddie – rock and roll heaven.” He’s right – for 4 hours and 15 minutes it sure is.

So since Bogdanovich’s Petty opus joins the ranks of great rockumentaries and because this year new docs ’bout U2, Patti Smith, and Marty’s huge Rolling Stones project will be unleashed on the market it’s time to appraise those ranks. So here’s:

10 Definitive Rockumentaries

1. A tie – DON’T LOOK BACK (Dir. D.A. Pennebaker, 1967) /NO DIRECTION HOME: BOB DYLAN (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2005)

Despite the fact that I hate ties this shouldn’t surprise anyone, I mean have you met me? D.A. Pennebaker’s document of Bob’s 1965 British tour coupled with Marty’s wider scoped portrait of Dylan’s rise to fame are equally essential so I could not separate them. The Bob shown in these docs, with the wild hair, sunglasses and mod clothing is the same Bob that Cate Blanchett portrayed in I’M NOT THERE – the one most caged in his persona and held to the highest levels of scrutiny. Incredible concert footage flows through both films and hits its pinnacle in May 1966 when Bob faces a hostile crowd and a historic heckler – “Judas!” is shouted from the darkness one night in Manchester. “I don’t believe you – you’re a liar!” Dylan sneers before launching into a mindblowingly rawking “Like A Rolling Stone”. Scorsese and Pennebaker both capture lightning in a bottle and leave us with glorious glimpses of the greatest songwriter ever in his prime serenading the world even when most of the world wasn’t quite ready for his weary tune.

2. I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART (Dir. Sam Jones, 2002)

Not a career overview but a capsule of one particular plagued period when a great band – Wilco – made a great record (“Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”) and it was rejected by their record company. Chicago critic, and co-host of the great NPR show Sound Opinions Greg Kot puts it best: “It’s not a VH1 “Behind The Music” story. It’s a not a drugs-groupies-celebrity kind of story at all. This band’s story is the music. 20 years from now their probably going to get more of their due than now.” Well let’s get them their due right now because this a compelling black and white film full of great music both in the studio and on stage. Key scene: leader Jeff Tweedy and guitarist Jay Bennett have a tense awkward argument over a crucial edit while mixing the album that shows how far they have drifted apart as collaborators. Indeed Bennett was asked to leave the band while the film was being made. The band grows stronger and gets a label and has a hit album which gives this rockumentary a happy ending and a nice second placing on this list.

3. THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT (Dir. Jeff Stein, 1979)

Sure there’s that new more extensive and correctly chronological AMAZING JOURNEY: THE STORY OF THE WHO but this hodgepodge of Who with its odds ‘n ends, warts ‘n all, kitchen sink approach is much more exciting. In the first five minutes explosives go off in Keith Moon’s drumkit from a performance on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Show then we zigzag around to such ’60s shows as Shindig and Beatlcub, seminal gigs like WOODSTOCK and the Monterey International Pop Festival and then conclude with specially shot for the film footage from Shepperton Film Studios mere months before Moon’s death in ’78. We don’t get narration or anything in the way of historical context – none of the bits are titled and nobody is identified and it is all out of order – but the collage effect satisfies and everything jels together like one of best movie mixtapes ever. Key scene: The Who blow the Stones off the stage on their own TV special with a ferocious “A Quick One, While He’s Away”.

4. GIMME SHELTER (Dirs. Albert Maysles, David Maysles & Charlotte Zwerin, 1970)

The 60’s dream died here, or so the tale goes – just ask Don McLean. That fatal night at Altamont Speedway where Hells Angels acted as security for a free Rolling Stones gig made what could have been just an assembly line concert film (see LET’S SPEND THE NIGHT TOGETHER
for that) into a piece of true crime documentation that could play on MSNBC as well as VH1 Classic. The Stones had shed psychedelia and were getting back to their roots so in 1969, touring with Ike and Tina Turner and we get a good sampling of a Madison Square Garden concert (also featured on the album “Get Your Ya-Yas Out”) and a stirring performance of “Wild Horses” at Muscle Shoals Studio in Alabama before proceeding to the scene of the crime in California. We see Mick Jagger and Keith Richards watching the Altamont footage in the editing room and they freeze the image of a knife in the hand held above the fighting crowd and it is one of the most chilling images in cinema that has ever been seen. I don’t know if Satan was laughing with delight like McLean sings in “American Pie” but he was sure smirking.

5. LET IT BE (Dir. Michael Lindsay-Hogg, 1970) Actually the 60’s dream died here too. The break-up of the Beatles with their final public performance on a rooftop in London is a tough sad watch but one that’s vital in understanding exactly how the mighty can fall. Unfortunately because as producer and former Beatles assistant Neil Aspinall said recently “When we got halfway through restoring it, we looked at the outtakes and realized: this stuff is still controversial. It raised a lot of old issues” – the film may not see the light of a DVD player anytime soon. That’s too bad – even though it’s not the Beatles at their best it’s them at their most human and as uncomfortable as George Harrison’s studio squabble with Paul McCartney is (George: “‘ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all if you don’t want me to play, you know. Whatever it is that’ll please you, I’ll do it.”) we still somehow feel the love in what they were trying to make. And in the end isn’t that what they were trying to tell us all along?

6. DiG! (Ondi Timoner, 2004) Though most haven’t heard of either of the bands studied here – The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre this tale of the sometimes friendly rivalry will make people listen up. Billed as “a real-life Spinal Tap” DiG! follows these bands with their retro rock through a few years of touring, arguing, getting wasted, busted, and getting up to do it all again. Despite the fact that DW frontman Courtney Taylor narrates, BJM member Anton Newcombe steals the show over and over with his asshole antics and crazy talk like “I’m not for sale. I’m fucking Love, do you understand what I’m saying? Like, the Beatles were for sale. I give it away.” Maybe the funniest rockumentary on this list.

7. TIME WILL TELL (Dir. Declan Lowney, 1992) Bob Marley’s story is pretty glossed over in this doc but that is okay because it is so full of great footage with many full songs represented. Interview footage doesn’t really provide insights – except that Marley was always stoned – but footage from the One Love Peace Concert and various 70’s TV shows (particuraly the footage from the Old Grey Whistle Test, BBC 1973 pictured left) is worth many repeat viewings.

8. MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE (Dir. Alek Kekishian, 1991) I’m sure there are those who will scoff but I added this not just because I realized that this list was too much of a sausage party but because it’s seriously a notable rockumentary. There sadly aren’t many docs about female artists so this will have to some representin’. This follows Madonna on her controversial Blond Ambition tour and has the backstage bits in DON’T LOOK BACK-esque hand-held black and white while the concert sequences are in color. We do actually get some amusing insights like when Warren Beatty, who briefly dated Madonna during the filming of DICK TRACY, says of her when she’s having a dental appointment filmed: “she doesn’t want to live off-camera, much less talk. There’s nothing to say off-camera. Why would you say something if it’s off-camera? What point is there existing? ” None I can think of.

9. THE LAST WALTZ (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1978) Sure Marty and the Band (they were Bob’s band in 1965-66 under the name The Hawks) were both represented at the #1 spot on this list but this film deserves to place on its own. It’s a doc wrapped around a seminal concert film – the farewell performance of arguably the greatest Canadian band ever who play an incredible set helped out by their friends – including ace work by Eric Clapton,Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell, Ronnie Hawkins, Ringo Starr, Neil Diamond (!), and their old bandleader Bob Dylan. The interview segments with Scorsese sitting casually around for conversations with Band members Robbie Robertson and Co. were parodied by Rob Reiner as director Marty DiBergi in THIS IS SPINAL TAP and they set a precedent for rockumentary etiquette. But for my money, the sequence in which Neil Young sings “Helpless” with The Band and accompanied by the beautiful backup singing of Joni Mitchell in the wings is one of the most infectious pieces of musical celluloid ever presented. That Marty had to visually edit a nugget of cocaine hanging off Young’s nose by rotoscoping in post production only adds to the affecting edge.

10. STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN (Dir. Paul Justman, 2002) This film provides a great service – it shines a light on the largely unknown supporting players on some of the greatest music of the 20th century. The Funk Brothers provided the backing for literally hundreds of hits that defined “the Detroit sound” – the memorable melodies behind Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, The Supremes, and many others. This film gives us interviews with Bandleader Joe Henry and various other surviving Funk Brother members and we see new live performances where they play with such soul notables as Me’shell Ndegeocello, Chaka Kahn, and Bootsy Collins. An incredibly entertaining and emotional experience with a band that should be grandly celebrated for, as narrating actor Andre Braugher tells us, “having played on more number-one records than The Beatles, Elvis, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys combined.”

Postnotes: I tried to focus on wide-ranging documentaries not straight concert films hence the ommision of the Jonathan Demme’s amazing STOP MAKING SENSE (which would place high on a list of straight concert films) and other worthy films of that caliber. Some other honorable mentions:

THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON (reviewed on filmbabble Oct. 11th, 2006)
GIGANTIC (A TALE OF TWO JOHNS) – A great doc about They Might Be Giants, a band who many left behind in college but is still part of our Daily Show lives.
THE BEATLES ANTHOLOGY – If you ever have a day to kill you could do much worse than watching this 674 min. production.
METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER – This hilarious doc about a once mighty metal and going into therapy is the real-life Spinal Tap IMHO.
THE FIFTH AND THE FURY– Julien Temple and the Sex Pistols – need I say more?
THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILISATION This and its 2 sequels which cover the history of decadent underworld of punk and metal are as essential as rockumentaries can get.

Whew! Okay, that’s enough rockumentaries for now. If you think I’ve left out your favorite – that’s what the comments below is for.

This post is dedicated to
Brad Renfro (1982-2007)

He appeared as Josh in one of my all time favorite movies – GHOST WORLD (2001). At least he fulfilled that old maxim to die young and leave a good looking corpse. Sigh.


More later…

Exile On Mean Street – Or Scorsese & The Stones Together Again

“He could stay up for days on end talking about movies and music, more about music than movies. He had this rock ‘n roll head, knew every lyric and every title. He understood that the music was really a critical aspect of the zeitgeist of the times.”
– Don Simpson (Warner Bros. Producer) on Martin Scorsese *

Okay so I loved THE DEPARTED as did most people I know and the majority of th
e critics but I didn’t just want to write a formal review for it so I decided to do a piece on the notable reappearance of the Rolling Stones on the soundtrack of a Martin Scorsese film. I know it is far from surprising – Scorsese has made many movies that are chock full of ’60s and ’70s classic rock chestnuts. I mean he got one of his first movie gigs editing the movie WOODSTOCK (arguably the sunny flipside to the Altamont Hell of GIMME SHELTER which George Lucas worked on weirdly enough) And of course Scorsese made the seminal concert film THE LAST WALTZ and the definitive pre-motorcycle crash Dylan bio NO DIRECTION HOME, sure but it’s his telling cinematic relationship with the music of the Stones, one song in particular that is the theme of this post which I call:


Or : Scorsese and the Stones Together Again

Martin Scorsese’s THE DEPARTED opens with a gruff Jack Nicholson voice-over monologue over archival news film of violence during Boston’s anti-busing protests in 1974. Eerily winding it’s way through the grainy footage comes Keith Richard’s stinging guitar intro to “Gimme Shelter” – the all-too familiar but still potent 1969 Rolling Stones classic. The film shifts to the present with shots of Nicholson’s character- Irish mob boss Frank Costello shrouded in a darkness that remains even when he enters a fully lit store-front. The piercing familiar strains of Richard’s guitar fade as the scene is set. The song has done its job of setting the ominous tone and spooky feel and can exit. Thing is, Scorsese has played this tune before – twice before as a matter of fact.

Several Scorsese soundtracks have been peppered with Stones tracks, always from the 60’s and early 70’s era and always as scene carrying tone-setters. MEAN STREETS, Scorcese’s 1973 breakthrough, has an early scene in which the 2 main protagonists each respectively get stamped with their own Stones songs. A barroom jukebox blares the soulful “Tell Me” to present a cool, calm and collected Charlie (Harvey Keitel) as he glides half-dancing through the smoky red-lit tavern. A few minutes later wild rough unpredictable Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) gets the jarring rollicking “Jumping Jack Flash” to greet him at the door. We assume back stories, identify the moods, and form some sort of a connection to these guys just from these songs doing their thing.

The Stones don’t show up in a Scorsese film again until GOODFELLAS (1990). Rightfully considered a return to form and probably his most popular film, the soundtrack was an amazing mesmerizing ride – mix-tape moviemaking at it’s finest with 3 Stones songs (or bits of) in the mix. Some kind soul (or someone with way too much time on their hands) posted an extensive listing of the 43 songs – most of them appearing as punctuating excerpts – and the place they occur in the film to the IMDb Message board for GOODFELLAS. When the era defining icons (Tony Bennett, the Moonglows, Johnny Mathis, Bobby Vinton) of Henry Hill’s (Ray Liotta) 50’s childhood descent into a crime filled adulthood dissolve into the unglamorous 70’s downfall we have “Gimme Shelter” make its Scorsese film debut. Only a minute of the song appears and its from the second half when Jagger’s and guest vocalist Merry Clayton’s wailing is at its peak. It defines the shot of Henry cutting cocaine at his girlfriend on the side Sandy’s (Debi Mazar) apartment. The jump-cut montage masterpiece finale sequence features bits of the Stones “Monkey Man” and “Memo From Turner” mixed in with snatches of the Who (“Magic Bus”), Muddy Waters (“Mannish Boy”), Harry Nilsson (“Jump Into The Fire”), and George Harrison (“What is Life”). These jarring song excerpts give a frantic jagged heartbeat to that one fateful day when Henry is on the run trading guns, setting up a major coke deal, hiding from helicopters, and trying to get a proper meal made at home (“keep stirring the sauce!” he yells on the phone to his wheelchair bound brother).

“Casino ? Caseen it . The first time when it was called Goodfellas. “
– David Spade (Hollywood Minute, Weekend Update SNL 1995)

Point is well taken – it’s true CASINO (1995) presents same the tone, tension, some of the same cast as GOODFELLAS (Robert Deniro, Joe Pesci, Frank Vincent, Scorsese’s Mother Catherine) and this time 4 Stones songs among them “Gimme Shelter” as well, appear in the just as extensive soundtrack. CASINO does offer some good filmmaking and involving narrative drive but even for this hardcore Marty fan it has too much of ‘been there, done that’ feel. “Sweet Virginia”, “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” and “Heart of Stone” make their brief snatch cameos and it’s 5 Stones songs if we count Devo’s cover of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. Which I have to admit is an inspired choice here considering.

With the intro to “Gimme Shelter” setting off THE DEPARTED it’s almost as if Scorsese could argue that he’s never used the same part of the song in a film. Not sure if that’s true – I didn’t want to watch CASINO again but maybe someone will edit together a version of it from all three films and Youtube it. The new Stones addition to the Scorsese canon is “Let It Loose” from the 1971 album Exile On Main Street, possibly the most obscure Jagger/Richards composition to be chosen for his soundtracks. Appearing in a crucial scene it underscores the fear and intensity of boss Costello (Nicholson) roughly intimidating undercover cop Billy Castigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) in a barroom backroom. The Stones sound best playing on some sleazy jukebox in a run-down dive you understand. The scene is timed to “Let It Loose” – the entire song plays never dropping out or fading away. An searing effect that lingers comes off this standout scene. It makes the case for Marty to continue digging up, polishing off, and setting to visceral action whatever Stones song he wants (‘60s to early ‘70’s era only, mind you).

So why has Martin Scorsese used the Rolling Stones “Gimme Shelter” in three different films? Probably the same reason Woody Allen has used Benny Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing” (more than once – it’s an effective, exciting and historic piece of music. “Gimme Shelter” was born out of the same era that Scorsese was being born as a filmmaker. No other song captures the darkness that came when the ‘60’s Utopian dream went deadly wrong with such wicked passion. It is a depiction of a floodgate of war, rape, and murder threatening to break violently open and drown us all. It seemed to be talking about Vietnam, talking about race riots, it seemed to foreshadow Altamont (the documentary concert film of which was named GIMME SHELTER), and it seemed like it illustrated everyday life in that scary era.

While writing this I learned that one of Scorsese’s next projects may be a concert film of the Rolling Stones current tour. According to the info circulating Scorsese will be following the aging rockers between two shows at New York’s Beacon Theatre on October 29 and 31. The shows will be part of former US President Bill Clinton’s birthday celebrations. Ah, well it all makes sense now. Very good chance we’ll have “Gimme Shelter” in a fourth Scorsese film. Maybe this time he’ll really nail it. I mean, in our current scary era a live in the moment performance of this dark scorching song (with a former President in attendance no less) might get the real cinematic treatment that the previous appearances of the songs were mere auditons for. Scorsese might just yet capture the true force and nature of that rock classic beast and tame it with his camera and later master editing. I mean as the song says “it’s just a shot away”.

Notes :

* This quote was taken from Peter Biskind’s excellent book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (Simon & Schuster 1999)