When it comes to telling music stories in film, there are those that fall within the mainstream like Bohemian Rhapsody, which told the PG version of Freddie Mercury’s Queen, or Rocketman, which took the broadway glitz of Elton John to a screen near you. Then there are the indie releases that focus on the lesser-known, yet equally powerful personalities who paved the way for future generations of rock and rollers.
We’ve put together a list of five flicks that tell the important stories of leading voices. From Suzie Quatro’s spotlight-stealing visions to Robbie Robertson leading The Band to their well-deserved place in Americana history, these are the films that are more than worthy of a movie night at home.
Suzi Q is the story of Suzi Quatro, a badass Detroit native who never achieved the same level of success in her home country that she did internationally. In the mid-70s, she was celebrated as the first woman to play bass, sing, and be the lead in a band. Needless to say, she inspired many other female musicians to pick up the guitar. Suzi Q documents Quatro’s life from her early days watching Elvis on television while dreaming of her own time in the spotlight to a life of writing and performing her own material.
The film was shot across three continents over four years and featured nearly 400 pieces of archival footage with cameos by leading ladies in rock and roll, Joan Jett and Deborah Harry, to Lita Ford and Donita Sparks. Still on the road touring five decades later, writing and recording new material, this film makes it easy to see why Quatro has earned her title as the Queen Of Rock and Roll.
Joan Jett began her career while still in her teens, forming her first band, The Runaways, before going solo as Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. “Joan Jett is the essence of rock and roll,” says director Kevin Kerslake when asked why he wanted to make this film.
Bad Reputation cuts straight to the heart of rock and roll, giving viewers a behind the scenes look at Jett and some of her closest friends as they reveal what the industry was like during the burgeoning 70s punk scene. Watch for appearances by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, Miley Cyrus, Iggy Pop, Pete Townshend, and many more.
The Public Image is Rotten
Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) thankfully had the drive to persevere as a solo artist after the Sex Pistols disbanded in 1978. In a matter of months he had formed Public Image Ltd. (PiL), began recording, and hit the road.
As with the Sex Pistols, PiL became notorious for inciting riots at their shows, often being cut short as security and police dispersed the crowds. Over the years, Lydon has become an idol in the punk scene. Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth cites Lydon as his inspiration for getting into music, while Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers recalls an audition he did to join PiL, but in the end declined and continued on to his own notoriety.
This is a no-holds-barred account of Lydon’s life, with much of it filmed inside his home while he smokes, drinks, hacks, and clears his nostrils with no remorse. There’s also some awesome vintage footage of both the Sex Pistols and PiL that will transport you back to a time when punk rock was still fresh, even if it did smell bad.
The idea for Coachella didn’t just come out of thin air. Desolation Center is the untold story of a series of guerrilla-style music and art performances in Los Angeles in the 80s that inspired the birth of contemporary festival culture such as Burning Man, Lollapalooza, and Coachella.
Directed by the organizer of the original events and co-founder of Amok Books, Stuart Swezey, this film tells the true story of how the risky and sometimes reckless actions of a few outsiders were able to incite seismic cultural shifts from the middle of the desert.
The documentary combines archival footage and interviews with Sonic Youth, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Perry Farrell, Redd Kross, L7, and Einstürzende Neubauten. Desolation Center will be available digitally via Apple TV (iTunes), Google Play, Amazon Instant Video, and more on June 23.
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band
Inspired by Robbie Robertson’s memoir, Testimony, Once Were Brothers is the tell-tale story of Robertson’s life; from being a child first discovering his love of music on Six Nations Reserve just outside of Toronto in the late 50s, to becoming the leader of one of the greatest Canadian bands in history, The Band.
The film blends rare archival footage and interviews with many of Robertson’s friends and collaborators, including Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Taj Mahal, Peter Gabriel, and David Geffen who was instrumental in bringing The Band its fame. The movie is produced by Martin Scorsese, who also directed the music documentary, The Last Waltz, another must-watch that chronicles The Band’s final star-studded performance.
Once Were Brothers is streaming now on Crave