Rock ’n’ roll and the movies have always had an uneasy relationship. For every film that hits all the right notes, like Quadrophenia or A Hard Day’s Night, there’s a host of tone-deaf films like Light of Day, featuring Michael J. Fox and Joan Jett as musical siblings, or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a glam-rock-and-disco re-imagining of the Beatles classic.
Rock ’n’ roll biographies are equally hit-and-miss. In The Buddy Holly Story, the toothy Gary Busey earned an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of the rock legend, but Roger Ebert sneered that Dennis Quaid played Jerry Lee Lewis in Great Balls of Fire “as a grinning simpleton with a crazy streak.”
This weekend, Jersey Boys — directed by Clint Eastwood, and based on the Tony Award-winning musical — tells the story of ’60s hitmakers The Four Seasons. Songs like Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like A Man and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You made them one of the biggest-selling rock acts of all time.
Lesser known than the Four Seasons but louder, faster and dirtier were The Runaways, the subject of a rambunctious 2010 movie. Set back when you could still drink a bottle of stolen booze in the shade of the Hollywood sign, The Runaways focuses on two glue-sniffing, tough girls named Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) who formed the underage all-girl band. The music of The Runaways was described as the “sound of hormones raging,” and this film captures that.
I’m Not There is a hard movie to describe. It’s a metaphoric retelling of Bob Dylan’s life, but none of the characters in it are called Bob Dylan. Most of them don’t look like Dylan, and the one who most looks like Dylan is a woman. Unlike Walk the Line or Ray, which were both standard-issue Hollywood biopics, there is nothing linear here, but then there is nothing straightforward about the man, so there should be nothing straightforward about the movie.
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll is the title of eccentric English singer Ian Dury’s biggest hit and the 2010 biopic about his eventful life. Starring Andy Serkis, the film is as high voltage as one of Dury’s legendary live performances.
Finally, the film Control details the short life of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis (Sam Riley). After seeing the film at Cannes, Curtis’s bass player Peter Hook said he knew the movie “would be very well received because, even though it’s two hours long, only two people went to the toilet the whole time. In fact, one of them was (Joy Division founding member) Bernard (Sumner). The other one was a 70-year-old woman.”