The James Clayton Column: Resurrecting the rock ‘n’ roll film

James considers going to watch Bandslam, for a nanosecond, before wondering where the real music movies went...

If you want a rocktastic time this weekend but can’t be bothered battling it out in the mosh pit, you can wander down to the local multiplex and get a much cleaner rock concert experience. Scream for me Screen 9! Here’s High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens and Phoebe from Friends with Bandslam, a movie all about a battle-of-the-bands competition.

Bandslam follows fast in the footsteps of Disney productions Hannah Montana: The Movie and Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience as yet another feature-length release that revolves around, like, totally rockin’ teenagers. Except they aren’t rockin’: they are resolutely bland and insipid. This isn’t rock ‘n’ roll. Rock ‘n’ roll is edgy, dirty, challenges authority, lives dangerously and doesn’t push you in the direction of the Disney Store. Whatever this is (I’d say, subjectively, that it’s poor quality pop product) and whether it’s bad or not, it definitely isn’t burning with the rebellious spirit of rock ‘n’ roll.

Heavy duty thrash and horn-throwing metal isn’t to everyone’s taste and, though not my bag, I can’t bemoan the existence of stuff like Bandslam as a blockbuster that caters for a particular audience. What offends me is that this sort of stuff is currently flying the flag for rock ‘n’ roll at the movies and, as a fan of the hard rock riffage, that is deeply unnerving. What is Vanessa Hudgens doing holding a guitar? Who do these people think they are with their pseudo-axemaster posing? Is this really as good as it gets for music in the movies these days?

Things were all looking so good a few years back when School Of Rock was released. As Jack Black and his students kicked out the jams to wide acclaim, I had high hopes that the rock ‘n’ roll movie was back with a bang. Sadly, the world turned its back on Black and his axe-whacking amigo Kyle Gass when Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny was met with indifference.

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Since then it seems like Disney stars and drippy popsters have monopolised the music movie. Flicks like Wild Zero (Japanese garage rockers versus alien invaders) and Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny (the ‘Greatest Band in the World’ fight the Devil and quest after a mystical plectrum) find no appreciation beyond the cult fanbase and all the while real rock ‘n’ roll is absent from cinema auditoriums.

In my view, this is a sad situation that needs resolving as soon as possible. Once upon a time, a band was not a big deal until they had a motion picture appearance to their name. For the likes of The Beatles (stars, of course, of A Hard Day’s Night and Help!) and The Who (Tommy and Quadrophenia), ‘cinema’ was the unspoken 4th element in the ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ formula. To revive the rock ‘n’ roll film reel, I reckon its time more bands look to get a part in a motion picture (like the Ramones in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School) or even star in their own cinematic project (like Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny and Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park).

Venturing onto the silver screen would also be a good move for musical groups considering that CD sales are apparently nosediving in the age of digital downloading. There’s no guaranteed safety net for touring rock bands in these days of recession, so musicians need to diversify and do all they can to make a living. Glancing at recent award ceremony shortlists for scores, the sight of names like Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder – composers for There Will Be Blood and Into The Wild, respectively – proves that moving into the movies is a viable option for rock artists faced with an uncertain music scene.

Canadian heavy metal stalwarts Anvil have only found something resembling success in not-so-ripe middle age off the back of documentary Anvil! The Story Of Anvil and likewise, psychotherapy doc Some Kind Of Monster acted as a cinematic shot in the arm for Metallica. Consider also Martin Scorsese’s non-fiction features on Bob Dylan (No Direction Home) and The Rolling Stones (Shine A Light) and you can see how music and movies may operate in tandem to the benefit of artists from both fields and please both the casual and committed fan.

Despite this, what I really want to see is fictional film material. Definitive band documentaries are all good, but it’d be great to see more rockers rig up their own mythology and appear in unreal, imaginatively created stories. By offering fantastical visions and popcorn escapism all backed by a brilliant soundtrack amped up to 11, I reckon that the rock ‘n’ roll movie can be resurrected as a force for the greater harmonic good in the next future.

It wouldn’t be too hard for bands to make a blockbuster; it’d be just like shooting a really long music video and, if we cite the craptastic schlock of Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park as the benchmark, standards and expectation are not high. Because I no longer wish the words ‘rock band movie’ to make me think of Kiss kung fu fighting their evil robo-clones in a theme park, I beg the heavy metal heroes of the globe to act now (literally) and offer cinema audiences the required rock out to raise the spirit of real music on screen.

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Don’t be deceived by Bandslam and Disney’s stable of teen idols, for rock ‘n’ roll isn’t dead and lives on; all we need is for practitioners to raise their game and reclaim the cinema from the pop machine. After the sad ill treatment of Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny a few years back, the movie industry owes the average headbanger and I’d say that, to counter the dominance of bland pre-pubescent pop-rockers, some screaming thrash and bludgeon riffage should be brought to the screen as soon as possible. Let’s have that Motörhead exploitation biker flick, the Nostradamus movie made by Judas Priest and Scottish pirate metallers Alestorm’s adaptation of Treasure Island. For those about to rock out in a theatre near you soon (at least in my imagination), we salute you!

James’ previous column can be found here.