Total Recall: Our Favorite Rock 'n' Roll Movies

RT staffers share our favorite movies that rock.

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Rock music has been a big part of the movies since Blackboard Jungle made Bill Haley a legend in 1955, and although the marriage of the two mediums hasn't always been a happy one (see: Elvis Presley in Harum Scarum and Paul McCartney's Give My Regards to Broad Street -- or better yet, don't), it's also produced some cinematic classics. With Pirate Radio hitting theaters, we thought it would be a good time to share our staff's favorite rock 'n' roll movies -- flicks that will get your toes tapping and your hands strumming the old air guitar. Hey, RT users, what are your faves?


Matt Atchity, Editor-in-Chief

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Rock 'N' Roll High School

They don't get much more Rock and Roll than this: unruly rock-obsessed students take over a high school, invite the seminal punk band The Ramones in, and let's just say that by the time Joey and the boys are done, school's out permanently. And of the Ramone's own brand of blistering punk rock isn't enough for you, the soundtrack is augmented with tracks by Chuck Berry, Alice Cooper, and Todd Rundgren. Although the movie was made in 1978, I didn't get to see until a few years later on VHS. But the film's message was still relevant for me: school sucks, let's rock! (Come to think of it, that message is still relevant.)




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Rotten

Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey

In 1991, Bill S. Prestion, and "Ted" Theodore Logan returned to the big screen (after the surprising success of their first Excellent Adventure in 1989). This time around, instead of bouncing through time, our goofy heroes must conquer Death himself (it turns out Death is no expert at Battleship, Clue, Twister, or electric football), just so that they can play in the Fourth Annual San Dimas Battle of the Bands. It's hinted in the first film that Bill & Ted's band, Wyld Stallyns, changed the world with Rock and Roll, but we don't really see that start to happen until Bogus Journey, when they play Argent's God Gave Rock and Roll to You. Personally, I think a big part of how Wyld Stallyns changes the world has to do with the fact that they've got the Martian Station on board, and more importantly, Death himself. I could go off on a long tangent about the philosophical and metaphysical implications of having Death play bass in your rock band, but suffice to say that if the Grim Reaper himself is touring with you, you probably really could change the world.




Tim Ryan, Senior Editor

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Woodstock

This summer marked the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, and with it came a flurry of media retrospectives. However, whether the mother of all rock fests was a cultural milestone or an overhyped, muddy bummer is beside the point at this late date, thanks to Michael Wadleigh's vivid, immersive documentary Woodstock. With its three-panel split screens and its four-hour runtime, no film has ever captured the multiple facets of a rock concert with as mush stylistic aplomb and tactile panache. The obvious draw here are the musical performances, many of which have become legendary (Carlos Santana's mind-bending guitar work on "Soul Sacrifice," the Who's thunderous run through Tommy, and of course, Jimi Hendrix's explosive, oddly reverent take on "The Star Spangled Banner"). However, what makes Woodstock a great film is that it gives equal weight to the crowd -- 400,000 strong and each one convinced that the world is changing for the better. Though the overall tone is communal and celebratory, a certain sadness seeps in: given the immediacy of the film, it comes as a poignant realization to know that the concertgoers, who wouldn't look out of place at a Fleet Foxes or Devendra Banhart show are now only a few years shy of receiving social security benefits.




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DIG!

You might not think you need to see a documentary about the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, but you do. Ondi Timoner's Dig! is a lively, ironic chronicle of two bands that go from friends to rivals, but what makes the whole thing perversely compelling is the presence of the BJM's Anton Newcombe, an unhinged, self-sabotaging antihero for the ages. While the Dandys chart a respectable career path, the BJM continuously implode from Newcombe's ranting, raging, and onstage dustups with audiences and bandmates. Though it exerts the train-wreck fascination of a real life Spian Tap, Dig! also has something to say about the nature of success; it's further proof (if any were needed) that talent is often less important than professionalism in the music biz.




Alex Vo, Editor

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High Fidelity

The universe of the music snob is an odd one, and High Fidelity shows it all with easy-cool swagger, romanticizing its heroes just as often as it exposes them for the absorbed, self-aggrandizing jerks they really are. But beneath the convoluted musical discussions and John Cusack's honorable pursuit of the ultimate mixtape lies an insanely sweet romantic comedy, about one's age old quest to recapture lost love (Cusack nails this role, his droopy, sad-sack eyes perfectly capturing a man crushed by life and an obscene vinyl collection). And while it's hip to dismiss co-star Jack Black as loud and overexposed, in 2000 he was still an unknown force of nature. In one of my all-time favorite movie moments, he flips the crowd on its head with a surprise, golden-throated rendition of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get it On."




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Stop Making Sense

Each year in Talking Heads' existence seemed to find them in a radically different place; theirs was one long evolution from tweaked metropolitan rock to New Wave pleasure pop. Stop Making Sense captured them in their most exciting incarnation, when the four-piece expanded to a crowded stage ensemble, complete with a polyrhythmic rhythm section and a big Afrobeat sound. The Heads hired an equally exciting director in Jonathan Demme, and the result is a scorching experience that gives the concert film a full cinematic treatment. Tight editing, beautiful cinematography and even more beautiful music, and one really big suit makes for a rare 1980s gem that's never lost its polish. (And you're in luck: it just got re-released on Blu-Ray!)



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