Local H's Scott Lucas picks 10 essential rock movies
The manner in which people watch movies has changed dramatically over the years – catching a bit of your favorite flick on a smartphone or tablet is now a common part of flying, everyday commuting or general time killing. But don't expect Local H guitarist and frontman Scott Lucas to join the mobile movie movement anytime soon.
"I'm not a fan of seeing movies on computers or anything else," he explains, "and I totally draw a line in the sand if it's the first time I'm seeing a film. Some things you just can't and shouldn't do."
Lucas, a hardcore cineast since his teens (and now a film critic for the Chicagoist), is so serious about aesthetics that he recently purchased a DVD projector and screen. "If you're really interested in an authentic film experience, it makes a big difference," he says. "If I can’t see a movie in a theater, I’ll try to watch it at home on my screen with really good sound."
This holds especially true for rock movies, a genre that Lucas reveres to the point of obsession. "There's a lot of films you have to see in a theater," he says, "and if you're talking about a movie about a band or something involving music, that's a no-brainer. Growing up, going to see Pink Floyd's The Wall was an event. You’d get high, they’d crank up the big sound system, and you’d watch Bob Geldolf turn into a screaming blob. And c'mon, you couldn't see Zeppelin in concert, so The Song Remains The Same was the next best thing. I can't imagine somebody seeing that for the first time on a computer. That's just wrong."
Local H (with new drummer Ryan Harding) are playing select dates in the US ahead of a full tour, which kicks off April 16th (for more info, visit the band's website). On the following pages, Scott Lucas runs down his picks for 10 Essential Rock Movies.
Purple Rain (1984)
“For me, it shows Prince in his prime playing at a great rock club, First Avenue. It’s sort of the best of the MTV-era rock movies. It’s basically a music video, especially during When Doves Cry, which is pretty much the Prince video of the song. But the whole thing is so great that it doesn’t matter. And The Time are hilarious.
“This is also one of those rare moments when black and white audiences agreed on something. That doesn’t happen very often. Maybe the last time was Hey Ya! by Outkast – everybody was in on the same thing there. But Purple Rain felt like a real moment in that regard.”
Alternate: Streets Of Fire (1984)
“It’s got all of these fake bands, but the original music was written by Jim Steinman, so it sounds like Meatloaf outtakes. It’s got a lot of that ‘80s editing, but it’s very much Walter Hill and some of his Warriors bits. All in all, it’s actually a pretty funny and terrific movie.”
The Kids Are Alright (1979)
“It’s a lot of fun to watch, and it's sort of the first rock movie that was made by a fan. Jeff Stein wasn’t really a director at the time; he was just a guy who loved The Who. He got together all this footage of the band and turned it into something pretty brilliant. It predates so many things we see nowadays with people making films on Kickstarter.
“The footage is amazing. The performance of Won’t Get Fooled Again – I don't know how much coke Pete Townshend was on, but it worked. It looked as if he was ready to come out of his body. He's totally possessed.”
Alternate: Quadrophenia (1979)
“A terrific movie that's kind of the opposite of The Kids Are Alright in that it uses the music to tell a story. The Who aren’t even in it, but it’s still great.”
A Band Called Death (2012)
“There’s tons of rock movies now, and it seems as if they’re all on Netflix. You don’t even have to have made a record to have a movie made about you. Probably my favorite at the moment is A Band Called Death. It’s about this band from Detroit that is sort of the missing link between the MC5 and the Bad Brains.
“I saw a bunch of rock movies last year – the Ginger Baker film and the one about Levon Helm – and I sort of got sick of seeing rich rock stars bitch about how they lost their money. They spent it all on planes and drugs and horses. Listening to Levon Helm talk about how much Robbie Robertson owes him – I just got tired of it.
“This is a movie that isn’t about any of that shit. It’s about the love of music and the love of family. That’s pretty rare and pretty great. The fact that people discovered this band through their own means is really cool. Rock doesn’t have to be just about youth. The fact that this band is getting their second act is very inspiring.”
Alternate: Almost Famous (2000)
“This is another movie that sees music with sort of a wide-eyed wonder. Cameron Crowe was there, he lived it, and so he certainly knows his stuff. Here he presents an idealized version of rock – and life. It’s nice to have a film that’s so full of positives. The Director’s Cut is fantastic, one of the few times where the full version trumps the theatrical release.”
Sid & Nancy (1986)
“Now let’s get to something darker. This is one of my favorites. There’s a lot of people who may still not like it – John Lydon being not the least of them – because it doesn’t tell the true story of the Sex Pistols. Who gives a fuck? It still gets the spirit of so many things right, and it’s the perfect continuation of what Alex Cox did with Repo Man, which in itself could be a punk-rock movie.
“It’s really, really funny even though it’s really, really dark. It’s about drugs, and it’s about what happens when somebody’s girlfriend gets involved in the band. Those are important parts of being in a band – and rock music, in general.”
Alternate: Rock 'N' Roll High School (1979)
“Completely the opposite direction from Sid & Nancy. It’s cartoony, it’s wild and zany, and it’s totally essential. Plus, it’s got P.J. Soles, so how can you go wrong?”
Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii (1974)
“It’s one of my favorite rock movies, and it’s just about the performance. There’s a Director’s Cut with some pretty silly interviews, although there is one part where Roger Waters talks about the fans and how if they don’t like the band, they won’t come back. That’s always stuck with me.
“But it’s all just pure freak-out, a perfectly lensed concert movie. There’s no audience; it’s just the band in a Roman coliseum, and they’re great. It’s the ultimate Pink Floyd film experience.”
Alternate: Pink Floyd – The Wall (1982)
“This one is interesting in that it proves how you don’t really need Pink Floyd for a Pink Floyd concert movie. As a kid, that kind of bothered me, but it’s still a pretty important rock movie.”
24 Hour Party People (2002)
“You get Joy Division, you get Happy Mondays, but what you really get is a portrait of a scene and a label, Factory Records. And Steve Coogan is hilarious – he does a brilliant job.
“There’s endlessly quotable dialogue in the movie. I think my favorite line is “Jazz is the last refuge of the untalented. Jazz musicians enjoy themselves more than anyone listening to them does.”
Alternate: Hype! (1996)
“This is the documentary about Sub-Pop and the Seattle scene. I guess it’s the American counterpart to Factory and Manchester. It’s interesting to watch the two movies back-to-back.”
A Hard Day's Night (1964)
“It would be impossible to talk about anything without The Beatles. I thought about leaving it off for a second because it’s so obvious, but it’s such a building block. And besides, it’s just so enjoyable.
“What can you say? There’s the songs, there’s The Beatles, the great characters, the dialogue – it kind of wrote the book on the whole thing. You just can't not acknowledge how well made it is and how smart it is. There’s innovations all over the place in it.”
Alternate: Don’t Look Back (1967)
“Even though A Hard Day’s Night isn’t about The Beatles’ invasion of America, there’s something about Bob Dylan going to England that really does relate. If nothing else, the scene between Dylan and Donovan at the hotel is just terrific.”
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
“We’re getting down to the movies that you can’t not mention, and Spinal Tap is one of those. I was just watching it yesterday, and I kept wondering how much time those guys spent in actual bands. I mean, how could they know some of this stuff? The scene with the deli tray – how did they know that this is what breaks bands up?
“Some of the bits are from other movies – The Kids Are Alright looms large here. There’s that great scene where Spinal Tap try to sing Heartbreak Hotel at Elvis’ grave, which is totally from a scene where The Who are trying to sing The Beach Boys’ Help Me, Rhonda. Nobody can get it right in either movie. And the way they use old footage and then cut quickly out of it – that’s in Jeff Stein’s movie.
“It's funny because it took me years to realize that Spinal Tap’s songs weren’t really good. I recorded their songs whenever they came on the radio, and I’d play them for friends. They’d look at me and be like, ‘Wait a minute. That’s bad music.’ I kind of didn’t care. My love of movies and music was so strong that the idea of putting them together sealed the deal for me."
Alternate: The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)
“It’s amazing to me that this movie came out after Spinal Tap. I can’t imagine somebody watching Spinal Tap and not saying, ‘Dude, we gotta change. We can’t do this because look how fucking stupid we look.’ The fact that people like this could still exist, that they hadn’t been shattered by Spinal Tap, is a mystery. I guess some people are pretty clueless.
“I mean, there’s the scene in Spinal Tap where they’re playing Heavy Duty Rock ‘N’ Roll, and the keyboard player has this stupid shock treatment helmet on, and he’s making these weird, spaced-out faces. I’m thinking, ‘All right, that's going a little too far. Nobody would actually do that in real life.’ And they’re doing it right and left in Decline Of Western Civilization – and they’re being serious about it! Unbelievable.”
The Last Waltz (1978)
“It’s the most beautifully made rock movie ever. The set, the lighting, the camera movements – everything about the way the movie looks is just perfect. It’s funny: Growing up, I was like, ‘Who the fuck is The Band, and why do they have a Martin Scorsese movie about them? Why is this important? Why are all of these amazing stars coming out and playing with these guys?’
“All of those questions were answered when I saw the film. I couldn’t believe how amazing The Band were, their brilliant songs and their musicianship. Their influence is enormous – you could fill a stadium with the bands that have ripped them off.
“There’s the tendency to downplay the movie because it features too much of Robbie Robertson. He and Marty were big drug buddies at the time, so that undoubtedly played into him getting more screen time. But that doesn’t matter – when I watch the movie, I don’t think Robertson comes out of it more than anybody else.
"The performances are unbelievable. Danko singing Stage Fright? Absolutely heartbreaking. And Levon Helm is killin’ it with Up On Cripple Creek. That’s probably the hottest performance of the song you’ll ever hear.”
Alternate: Stop Making Sense (1984)
“Another really well-done concert film. A lot of thought obviously went into it – they didn’t just show up with some cameras and hope for the best. There’s a lot to be said for spontaneity, but The Last Waltz and Stop Making Sense are beautiful examples of visions being fully realized by consummate filmmakers.”
Gimme Shelter (1970)
“It’s the king. Gimme Shelter is a brilliant snapshot of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band during what was arguably their peak. They had just released Let It Bleed and were starting to make what would be Sticky Fingers – you couldn’t have picked a better time to follow them around.
“The band is on fire, everybody looks so cool, and then the other shoe drops – Altamont happens. It’s horrible and it’s disgusting, but at that moment the film really becomes about something. It turns into a very serious piece of work, and it totally puts all those other rock documentaries to shame. It’s one of the best summations of the ‘60s I’ve ever seen.
“Musically, the Stones are top-notch. I love how they changed the guitar riff to Jumpin’ Jack Flash – it sounds so mean. The playback of Wild Horses is beautiful. It’s an early version of the song – it’s very different from the final cut that’s on Sticky Fingers – but it’s gorgeous.
“And the Stones weren’t afraid to look bad at times, too. In that Wild Horses scene, Charlie Watts is nodding out, and then he notices that he's being filmed, and he just stares at the camera for the longest time. He so does not want to be filmed. And there’s the bit where Jagger has to confront his own bullshit; he’s watching a film of himself during a press conference, and he knows he’s just talkin’ shit, and his response to himself is ‘rubbish.’ It’s pretty daring. They weren’t trying to create this myth around themselves.’”
Alternate: Montery Pop (1968)
“The flipside to Gimme Shelter is the happiness and sunniness of Montery Pop. I actually saw it on a double bill with Gimme Shelter last year, and by the end of Montery Pop I was totally sick of those kids. At the same time, I was happy because I knew that some of them were gonna get killed in Gimme Shelter.
“Depending on which way you want to pair the movies, it’s a palette cleanser either way. But Montery Pop is perfect for the Otis Redding stuff alone. If you get the Criterion Edition, it’s got the entire Otis Redding performance on a separate Blu-ray DVD, and it’s exceptional. It’s one of greatest rock performances of all time. I’m amazed that he was so young at the time. He comes on with such authority, and he’s such a man. You can’t believe that he was only in his mid-20s.”