Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Music as a Focus for The Movies

darby for robot BW
Darby Crash and The Germs are both high and low points in The Decline of Western Civilization
Darby is the film's poster boy

In 1981, the documentary by Penelope Spheeris called The Decline of Western Civilization made its debut on the big screen on July 1 in New York City.

On this date, April 2 in 1902, the first structure in the United States to have been built specifically to be a movie theatre in its own building, from the ground up opened in Los Angeles, California. It was called the Electric Theatre. Thomas Lincoln Tally was its proprietor. In 2006, The New York Times wrote, in a piece reviewing a television documentary about the 10 events that changed history:

... a radical new venture devoted to movies and other high-tech devices of the era, like audio recordings. "Tally was the first person to offer a modern multimedia entertainment experience to the American public," says the film historian Marc Wanamaker. Before long, his successful movie palace produced imitators nationally, which would become known as nickelodeons. America's love affair with the moving image -- from the silver screen to YouTube -- would endure after all."

rodney pretty baby
Rodney Bingenheimer outside a movie theatre on Sunset Blvd.
Pretty Baby starring Brooke Shields was his fave movie at the time
Rodney himself was the subject of a documentary - Mayor of the Sunset Strip


Indeed, the marriage of sound and vision has entertained us since the dawn of time, and with each passing technological breakthrough, we have more options on how to see music presented on film, tape, disc or digits.

I find it peculiarly appropriate that the best of LA Punk Rock, music from the land that gave rise to the motion picture industry, was presented in a documentary that premiered in New York City, the place so renowned for its contributions to punk rock that other notable cities and contributions seem like also-rans.

David & Syl
New York Dolls - they started it all and it led to punk rock!

Clem & Syl
Clem Burke of Blondie with Syl Sylvain of the Dolls
NYC punk rockers who hit the BIG TIME


In the years since the End of the Golden Age of Punk Rock (coincidentally, I ear mark Decline as the book-end of said Golden Age) there have been many stabs at documenting punk rock on film and for television. Being a diverse culture and musical genre despite being a niche culture and genre, punk rock and punk culture isn't monolithic or easy to document in one fell swoop. That results in a surfeit of cultural products, some good, some bad, some necessary, some superfluous.

john and exene96
John Doe, Exene and X are also in The Decline of Western Civilization

In recent days new products featuring vintage bands have hit the DVD marketplace shelves - Ghost on the Highway, the Gun Club / Jeffrey Lee Pierce documentary and a release of a 1986 Dead Boys reunion concert, Return of the Living Dead Boys: Halloween 1986. (just scroll down to read about both of them)

stiv dee dee stop small
Stiv Bators of the Dead Boys... Dee Dee Ramone stands behind him

I am not going to make this a list of movies about music - just know that there are so many of them out there that you could watch them for the rest of your life and probably not repeat anything... and of course, you've got YouTube as an option as well.

Last night, I saw a screening of the IMAX version of Martin Scorsese's concert film of the Rolling Stones performance at NYC's Beacon Theatre (2006), called Shine a Light.

I am most likely the harshest critic of both Scorsese and the Stones. Both made such strong career starts that the only two ways to go are down in flames or to better themselves. "Good enough" won't work in either of their cases. Each of them has disappointed (me) along the way. I feel Scorsese made a couple movies that lacked the laser-like focus of storytelling achievement that Raging Bill and Taxi Driver had. I feel the Stones can phone it in, and have...

Twenty-odd years ago, Keith Richards walked into the life of one of his idols and influences, Chuck Berry and assembled a band for him to play a concert that Taylor Hackford documented, Hail Hail Rock and Roll. For me, that is one of the better documents of a musical relationship and a presentation of live music. There wasn't a lot of flashy camera or editing work... instead, it was a never-ending microscopic look at two determined iconoclasts, master and pupil, trading roles, barbs and most gloriously, rock n roll. It was ugly and uncomfortable as much as it was beautifully transcendent.

chuck and keith

Twenty-odd years after going toe-to-toe with Chuck Berry on film, Keith Richards and the rest of the Rolling Stones allow Martin Scorsese and an army of brilliant DPs (that's directors of photography, or as they are humbly credited: camera operators) follow them around as they plan and perform a concert at the Beacon Theatre. The Beacon holds around 2000 people... which is considered an intimate crowd for a band of the Stones' magnitude. I highly recommend that you see this... Keith Richards ought to win an Oscar for his performance of You Got the Silver, easily one of the best moments ever performed by any musician anywhere at anytime in the history of mankind, and certainly the best moment of musical performance ever filmed.

Its not punk rock but ... it is perfection.

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