The late 70s were one of the most fertile periods for the rock movie. Between 1977 and 1979, some of the biggest movies of the time (and genre) were released. Scan the list: Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Thank God It's Friday, The Wiz, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Rock 'n' Roll High School, Quadrophenia and Hair. Not to mention one of the most maligned movies in the annals of cinema: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978). A musical based on the songs of The Beatles, this monstrosity features a virtual who's who of musicians and stars of the moment: The Bee Gees, Peter Frampton, Steve Martin, Aerosmith, George Burns, Billy Preston, Earth Wind & Fire, Keith Carradine, Jose Feliciano, Heart, Dr. John, Curtis Mayfield, Tina Turner, Donovan... and that's just the tip of the iceberg! It seems no one can escape blame for this turkey, except maybe The Beatles themselves. Although all four members had the misfortune of seeing this baby brought to life, aside from the use of their music, the band had nothing to do with this production.
If you thought moving on to the next decade would bring any relief from movies like Sgt. Pepper's..., think again! 1980 ushered in two more truly misguided efforts in the form of Xanadu and Can't Stop the Music. As mentioned above, Xanadu paired Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly as they danced and roller-skated along to music by ELO, Newton-John, Cliff Richard and The Tubes. Although the music is still quite enjoyable today, Kelly is embarrassingly misused. Can't Stop... starred The Village People, Valerie Perrine and Bruce Jenner (!). Both movies dredged the very depths in terms of story and performance and can only be considered redeemable for their camp value.
Johnny Rotten in The Filth and the Fury
But the 80s brought more than bad news; the decade also offered the first punk additions to the rock movie collection. Julien Temple's first film about the Sex Pistols, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, was released in 1980 and was immediately banned due to offensive imagery and rude behavior - what, from the Sex Pistols? who would have guessed? - and effectively marked the end of the band. (Temple would release a documentary on the band and the time called The Filth and the Fury in 2000.) Not to be outdone, The Clash released Rude Boy in 1980. A very slow, murky semi-documentary about the band, it featured some electric early performances by The Clash, but the time focused on the "story" feels interminable.
1981 saw the release of the acclaimed documentary of the burgeoning LA punk scene, The Decline of Western Civilization. Directed by Penelope Spheeris, who would go on to direct two more volumes in the Decline series, (as well as Wayne's World and The Beverly Hillbillies), the first Decline... is chock full of excellent performances by X, Germs, Fear and Circle Jerks in all their early, angry, fearsome power. Spheeris would also direct the punk-themed drama Suburbia in 1984, which relied heavily on the music of southern California punk bands D.I., TSOL and The Vandals, as well as a dramatic turn by Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers. Decline... Part 2, released in 1988 and subtitled The Metal Years, focused on the Hollywood metal scene of the late 80s and featured some unintentionally hilarious documents of the egos, drugs and excesses that made that scene what it was. Also in 1981, we saw one of the earliest performances by Oscar®-Nominated Actress Diane Lane as the lead singer of an all-girl punk band in Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains. The film also starred Laura Dern in an early performance as well as members of the Sex Pistols and The Clash and, though out-of-print for several years, has become a cult favorite.
It was around this time that two very different animated rock movies appeared: Heavy Metal and American Pop (both 1981). Heavy Metal is a series of stories in the fantasy/erotica mold, each with a different soundtrack by (mostly) hard rock bands of the day, including Iron Maiden, Dio, Devo, Cheap Trick and others. It did decent business, becoming a popular midnight movie, and there was even a sequel, made in 2000. American Pop had a similar soundtrack as Heavy Metal's, had an actual plot, but is more well-known for being the product of animation bad-boy Ralph Bakshi, best known for creating the first X-rated animated movie, Fritz the Cat (1972) and later remembered for what some argue is an underrated version of The Lord of the Rings (1978).
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