As the title says, this is a list of movies about music that you’ve probably passed over or never heard of. They all have some sort of cultural relevance, either about the piece of music history they explore or the film itself.
So when you have a free weekend and are wondering what to do, here’s the answer (you can even watch number 1 right now for free). Big thanks to Patrick who helped put this list together.
1) Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987)
Possibly the only movie staring Barbie dolls. Soon after itâ€™s release, Richard Carpenter sued the director, Todd Haynes, for failing to obtain the music licensing from either him or the Carpenters’ label, A&M Records. As a result of the lawsuit, all copies of the film were to be recalled and destroyed – as if that’s actually possible. The highly stylized film has been bootlegged and distributed via the Internet, and for your viewing pleasure, you can watch it in its entirety below.
2) Let’s Get Lost (1988)
Bruce Weber, a renowned fashion photographer, put up a million dollars and countless hours to film his jazz hero, Chet Baker. Captured at the end of his life, family, friends, and Chet himself discuss his life in a way that almost feels literary. Often described as â€œmagicalâ€, Letâ€™s Get Lost is more than a film for jazz aficionados or documentary buffs; itâ€™s a film for people who love music.
3) Stop Making Sense (1984)
This is a concert film like no other. Directed by Jonathan Demme and comprising of three consecutive live concerts by the Talking Heads, the film starts out with David Byrne walking out onto a bare stage carrying a portable tape recorder. With each song he is joined by another member of the band.
4) The Last Waltz (1978)
After touring for 16 years, The Band called it quits on Thanksgiving Day, November 25th, 1976. They held a farewell concert at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, but were joined by more than a dozen special guests including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, and Eric Clapton. This once in a lifetime concert was filmed by Martin Scorcese and released in 1978 along with the special edition double LP. It is a beautiful look at a sad moment in rock and roll history.
5) The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)
At a time when punk music was almost completely ignored by the public, Penelope Spheeris (Wayne’s World) documented punk bands and their fans in 1979 and 1980.Â She filmed and interviewed members of Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, X, the Germs and many more. Eerily, Darby Crash (the lead singer of the Germs) appears on the poster lying like a corpse. He died eight months before the filmâ€™s release.
6) The Blues Brothers (1980)
The Blues Brothers started out as a skit on Saturday Night Live with Jim Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as the lead singers. The film has amazing musical numbers, not to mention it held the record of most car crashes. It was released just two years before Belushiâ€™s death in 1982 and had many guest musical acts, including Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, James Brown, and Ray Charles.
7) Woodstock (1970)
Woodstock is a groundbreaking look into a generation of musicians, fans, and activists. Featured artists include Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; Joan Baez; Janis Joplin; The Who; Arlo Guthrie; Joe Cocker; Jefferson Airplane; and Jimi Hendrix. This film won the Academy Award for Documentary Feature and Best Sound. Woodstock represents a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but one thing that can be agreed upon is something special happened in that town in upstate New York in 1969.
8 ) The Wall (1982)
Written by Pink Floydâ€™s bassist and vocalist, Roger Waters, and directed by Alan Parker (Evita, Fame), The Wall was supposed to only consist of concert footage, but the film that was made is highly metaphorical and wildly visual; it watches like an album side music video. It blends animation, wild sets and costumes, and surreal visual effects to both disturb and entrance.
9) Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
This musical is about Hedwig, played by writer/director John Cameron Mitchell, who is the East-German transgender lead singer, and her band, The Angry Inch. The films infectious tunes, sometimes poignant and sometimes hysterical, and utterly wild subject matter combine for a great time. Hedwig and the Angry Inch won the Best Director and Audience Awards at the Sundance Film Festival in 2001.
10) Heavy Metal Parking Lot (1986)
In 1986 filmmakers John Heyn and Jeff Krulik spent an evening outside of a Judas Priest concert hanging out and interviewing the partying fans. This film is a hilarious look at the young, wasted, mullet-sporting fans of heavy metal. This film could only be viewed on pirated VHS tapes until 1997 when it had itâ€™s theatrical debut.
11) Coal Minerâ€™s Daughter (1980)
Loretta Lynn was one of the first female superstars in country music and remains a defining presence within the genre. Lynn introduced a feminist mindset to Nashville years before the phrase “women’s liberation” was a common phrase. She personally chose Sissy Spacek to portray her, making the decision based on a photograph of the actress despite being unfamiliar with her films.
12) 24-Hour Party People (2002)
Graphically depicting the music and dance heritage of Manchester from the late 70’s to the early 90’s, this comedy documents the vibrancy that made Mad-chester the place in the world that you would most like to be.
13) Bird (1988)
Bird, directed by Clint Eastwood, is a tribute to the life and music of jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. It is constructed as a collage of scenes from Parker’s life, from his childhood in Kansas City, through his marriage to Chan Richardson, to his early death at the age of thirty-four. The production was postponed continuously, until the producer/actor Clint Eastwood took over the film project
14) Quadrophenia (1979)
Set against the soundtrack of The Who’s 1973 concept album of the same name, Quadrophenia brings us an array of young British acting talents who bring back London’s neneteen-sixties Mods and Rockers. With its extremely realistic language, violent overtones and classic sixties soundtrack, this illness is bound to be contagious.
15) The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Just take a jump to your left. If you ever wondered where the Time Warp came from, look no further. I haveÂ yet to experience Rocky Horror in a theater with all the interactive paraphernalia, a place where my mom spent most of her teenage years. But even viewing in the comfort of your own living room is still a lot of fun. Tim Curry in drag, a young and hot Susan Sarandon, Meatloaf in a cameo – what more could you want?
16) Performance (1970)
Performance was the first feature film to employ the cut-up technique, a precursor to the MTV type music videos we’ve become so used to.
17) Pump Up the Volume (1990)
Mark, an intelligent but shy teenager, gets a short-wave radio so he can talk to his pals, but instead he sets up shop as pirate deejay Hard Harry, who becomes a hero to his peers while inspiring the wrath of the local high school principal.
18) What We Do is Secret (2008)
What We Do Is Secret is a punk rock biopic about Darby Crash, the Germs, and the start of the punk-rock movement. The film centers on Darbyâ€™s five-year plan to become a legend, such as buy instruments, perform, learn how to play (in that order). The bandâ€™s history culminates with Crashâ€™s tragic planned suicide, which was ironically overshadowed in the media by the assassination of John Lennon.
19) Sympathy for the Devil (1968)
20) Kill Your Idols (2004)
A documentary examining three decades of New York art-punk bands including: Suicide, Teenage Jesus & the Jerks (Lydia Lunch/Jim Sclavunous), Theoretical Girls (Glenn Branca), DNA (Arto Lindsay), Sonic Youth, Swans (Michael Gira), Foetus (J.G. Thirwell), Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, Black Dice, A.R.E. Weapons, Flux Information Sciences, and Gogol Bordello.
21) Velvet Goldmine (1998)
22) Wild Zero (2000)
23) Heavy Metal (1981)
A sweeping story of the battle of good against evil is told through an anthology of short animated films about a glowing green orb (the Loc-Nar) that is the personification of ultimate evil in the universe.
24) Flash Gordon (1980)
25) Dogs in Space (1987)
Set in the post-punk “little band scene” in Melbourne in 1979, Dogs in Space is a stylish and chaotic film about a group of alternative music fans sharing a house in a virtually plot-less film. The plot-less and artistic style of the film is a legacy of director Richard Lowenstein’s background in advertising and music video production.