the great concert movies
The concert movie is a genre unlike any other. Many people who hate Adam Sandler admit a tolerance for his performance in Punch Drunk Love. Even the most committed enemy of Jerry Lewis must recognise his brilliance in The King of Comedy. Hell, you don’t really need to like Dylan to enjoy the chatty No Direction Home. But the dedicated concert film is aimed solely at fans of the artistes on stage. So, with apologies to Band-ophobes and Bowie haters, here is the definitive list.
Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1960)
Monterey Pop (1968) Stop Making Sense (1984) Neil Young: Heart of Gold (2006) Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1973)
DA Pennebaker’s rambling documentary suffers, like the similar Woodstock, from a surfeit of Country Joe & the Fish. It is, however, by far the greater movie. Otis Redding is particularly incandescent. It’s Pennebaker again. The great man records all the highs and lows (oh, Lord, that mime sequence!) of David Bowie’s legendary last concert in 1973. Boy, could he play guitar (he being Mick Ronson).
The Last Waltz (1978)
It’s Jonathan Demme again. The director’s touching record of a Neil Young concert somehow received less attention in 2006 than Lian Lunson’s profoundly ordinary Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man. Redress the balance. Buy Heart of Gold on DVD. Allegedly an inspiration for This is Spinal Tap, Martin Scorsese’s obituary for The Band somehow made the likes of Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison appear interesting to the punk generation. A beautifully composed record of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival by Bert Stern, a photographer of note, featuring fine performances from the likes of Thelonious Monk, George Shearing and Dinah Washington. So, there were too many woolly-minded hippie acts. So, there wasn’t enough of The Who. Never mind. This remains the definitive record of the last moments of a great collective delusion.
How I Wrote Elastic Man: A Film about The Fall (1979) Sign ‘o’ the Times (1987)
Buena Vista Social Club (1999) Yes, yes, yes. I recall how nauseating it was that Ry Cooder’s Cuban pals became the unavoidable soundtrack to middle-class dinner parties everywhere. Don’t blame Ibrahim Ferrer or Compay Segundo for the digestibility of their music. Though there are some fine documentaries on the punk scene in New York, no notable feature-length records of the events in CBGB and The Mudd Club remain. Jonathan Demme’s fine study of late Talking Heads will, however, do well enough. It played in Dublin for centuries. This doesn’t exist, but we can dream. Sadly, there being so little money around at the time, there were no features detailing concerts by Cabaret Voltaire, Joy Division, Wire, PIL or The Pop Group either. Mind you, The Fall are still around. So, you never know. Before Prince degenerated into playing homogenous sludge-funk, he managed to combine oomph with top-quality tunes. This record of a concert from Rotterdam catches the Purple One at the height of his powers.
Heart of Gold:
Jonathan Demme’s touching record of a Neil Young concert is a