On the Concert Films of Yesteryear
For a time, I was mad about concert movies. Not just any old taped concert, but those strange hybrids of concert and documentary that actually had theatrical releases. I guess it was because I was born too late to see the bands that I liked in concert, and this was the only way that I could experience them outside of an album. However, I always felt these films were really unsatisfying. Seeing the bands playing their music was always a plus, but inevitably you wouldn’t see a full song before the film would cut to something banal, like a roadie lugging equipment around. These documentary aspects always seemed weak. I always got the feeling that the film makers only followed the band/artist around for a really short amount of time; just long enough to get a few talking heads and a bit of a flavour of their personality. It’s never good to meet your heroes, but even seeing them in this context made me think less of them.
I suppose Dont Look Back [sic] fits into this category, although it favours the documentary aspect over the concerts. I don’t mind this too much, as how much more could one gain from watching a solo Dylan playing his well known songs? Actually, I think that the problem with this film is Dyaln himself. He comes across as self-satisfied and angry throughout the movie. He seems to be trying to reject his status as a Messianic figure, whilst on a deeper level, completely embracing it.
Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii was always one of my favourites. Director Adrian Maben wisely let the band perform their songs in their entirety, albeit with the epic ‘Echoes’ being split into two parts. On the VHS and DVD version of the film, there are documentary segments as well. We get to see the band recording parts of Dark Side of the Moon. These parts are tantalising, as I’d like to see more of that. However, the ‘behind the scenes’ and talking heads elements are again, weak. In an absurd scene, drummer Nick Mason asks someone to fetch him a piece of apple pie, but stipulates it must be one without a crust. Upon being told there’s only ‘crusty’ bits left, he looks gloomy and says he’s rather go without. Also, I think that I can see Roger Waters – The Tyrant, beginning to shape in a few places.
I can forgive Woodstock for its mix of musical performances and general mayhem, as that was a festival and a genuine cultural event. One of that film’s editors, Martin Scorsese, went on to make The Last Waltz, which I have more of a problem with. A lot of the music is great, but Robbie Robertson’s coked up ramblings are treated as if they’re incredibly profound. Scorsese was using cocaine heavily at the time, so that might be an explanation. Also, ‘guest star’ Neil Young also had cocaine visible in his nostril, which had to be rotoscoped out of the film.
The nadir of this genre has to be Led Zeppelin’s – The Song Remains the Same. It suffers from all the weaknesses I mentioned above, but adds mid-song fantasy sequences. During the many instrumental breaks, there are specially-filmed sequences from the band members. With Page, Plant and Jones, these are the usual sword-and-sorcery nonsense that you might expect. However, John Bonham’s sections are much more down to earth. It shows more documentary like footage of some of his favourite pursuits, like drag racing and playing pool. It’s as if Bonham told the film crew he couldn’t be bothered LARPing and that they should just film him dicking around.
There’s probably a lot more to say on this topic, but I think This is Spinal Tap said it better. That film surely must have done a lot to bring about an end to this movie genre. However it’s amazing how many of the musical tropes that it lampoons, are still present in Rock Music.