Air-Guitar Picks and Pans: Movies About Rock Bands
I was a teenage Runaway wannabe. Growing up, I copied Cherie Currie's shaggy feathered hair and dreamed of having a band like The Runaways. But, as usual, reality spoils the fantasy and if I’d sneered “Hello daddy, hello, mom!” my parents would have told me to quit being a goofball and go clean my room. So, as The Runaways --the biopic on the long-overlooked ‘70s teen rocker chicks--opens in selected theaters this week, I’m hoping Hollywood won’t break my still-adolescent heart. Can Dakota Fanning hold a torch to the real Cherie? Is Kristen Stewart too one-dimensional as Twilight’s Bella to be a decent Joan Jett? We’ll soon see. Until then, here’s a look at a few faux rockers who didn’t disappoint – and some that barely struck a chord.
- The Doors: In this 1991 film by director Oliver Stone, a svelte Val Kilmer plays the late Jim Morrison and bears an eerie resemblance to the singer, who died in 1971. Say what you will about Stone's heavy-handed treatment of the '60s in some of his films, this one holds a few surprises, such as Crispin Glover as the best Andy Warhol ever.
- Sid and Nancy: Gary Oldman is the goofily, drugged-out Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious in this 1986 film directed by Alex Cox. Chloe Webb gives a memorable performance as Sid’s screeching girlfriend Nancy Spungeon (best quote: “I look like @$#*$) Stevie Nicks!”). The tragic tale of the ill-fated lovers is marked by ethereal cinematography – and it’s also worth watching for a glimpse of a pre-plastic surgery Courtney Love as one of Nancy’s punker pals.
- Buddy Holly Story: Long before Gary Busey’s stint on Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew, he received a Best Actor nomination for this 1978 tale of rocker Buddy Holly. Holly’s blooming career was cut short in a tragic plane crash that also took the lives of fellow stars Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson in 1959. Valens was later memorialized by Lou Diamond Phillips in 1987’s La Bamba.
- Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story: My friend Jim owns a DVD of this made-for-VH1 movie. “It’s pretty bad,” he said, popping it into the DVD player. So I braced myself for the worst. No, this tale of the UK's metal rockers is GREAT-bad in the same way that Showgirls is GREAT-bad. Why it hasn't become a cult classic is beyond me.
- Control: As a major Joy Division fan, I thought Sam Riley did a brilliant job as Ian Curtis, lead singer of the influential British band who took his own life in 1980. I was cynical at first, but director Anton Corbjin won me over quickly by staying remarkably true to his subject.
Ray: Jamie Foxx took home an Oscar for his electrifying performance as Ray Charles in this 2004 biopic which chronicles the life and struggles of the blind singer/pianist. I'd always thought of Foxx as just this funny guy from TV, but he's earned his stripes as an actor – even going so far as to wear prosthetic eyelids in order to relate to his blind character.
Here are a few more biopics worth noting that overlap the country, R&B and rock boundaries. For a music lover, that's a great thing.
- Jacksons: An American Dream: After the death of Michael Jackson, this 1992 TV miniseries can now be considered a time capsule of sorts. It's interesting to watch family patriarch Joe (played Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs AKA Freddy “Boom Boom’ Washington to us Welcome Back, Kotter kids) in light of his actions since his son's death. With Angela Bassett as mom Katherine and Billy Dee Williams as Berry Gordy.
- Walk the Line: Reese Witherspoon won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of June Carter Cash in this 2005 film about the life of singer Johnny Cash (played by Joaquin Phoenix – before he got weird).
- Coal Miner’s Daughter: Michael Apted directed Sissy Spacek in her Oscar-winning role in this 1980 tearjerker bio of country singer Loretta Lynn.
- What We Do Is Secret – As a longtime Germs fan, I couldn’t wait to see this movie. I was sorry when I finally watched the DVD. Shane West (E.R.’s Dr. Ray Barnett) growls and thrashes his way through this otherwise boring mess as late singer Darby Crash. It's difficult to tell what's on Bijou Phillip’s head (maltese? bichon frise?) as she mangles her role as bassist Lorna Doom.