SEVENTIES MUSIC AT THE MOVIES

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Back in the day, every man that worked in a record company were drunken lunatic's who murdered each other, felt up every woman within reaching distance, and had their assistants stockpiling narcotics just to keep their bands in line. Well, if you've watched the new show from Sky Atlantic, 'Vinyl', that's what we are led to believe. But is that really true? Are men like Richie Finestra chauvinistic dick-head's who have the uncanny ability to turn shit into gold, maybe platinum, disks?


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In many way 'Vinyl' is classic Scorsese through and through: dark, violent, unabashedly over the top, and a celebration of the mania of the seventies, a time when anything went the way of the wind. It's also a love letter to one of the richest periods in musical history, and laced with phenomenal sounds, ranging from soul, Motown, and disco, to the ongoing transformation of rock and roll plus the genesis of punk. So I tell you what, as I'm on the subject of punk, let's check out the following film list to see if cinema can answer my aforementioned question?


Almost Famous


Cameron Crowe’s semi-autographical rock ‘n’ roll road movie from 2000 is about as nostalgic as it can get. Essentially it's about a 15-year-old budding rock-writer and “uncool” kid named William Miller who finds his way on tour with a band, and muddles his way through a riot of stadium shows, in-band rivalries, lovestruck groupies, badly executed drug binges, and all the mundane, exhausting day-to-day stuff in between.

On the whole it's a highly rose-tinted view of the sunny seventies, yet it ably captures the heady feeling of being part of the in-crowd, the bewitching glamour of music, and the band's sense of having the world at their feet. Kate Hudson shines in a breakthrough role as the mesmerising Penny Lane, a mysterious and adored groupie who, it turns out, is just as lost as everyone else. But where Almost Famous succeeds most of all is its soundtrack, almost a collection of characters in itself.


Dazed and Confused


If Almost Famous is about a kid escaping real life for a rock and roll fantasy, Dazed and Confused is just the opposite: Its a one-night-only look through the keyhole into what ordinary suburban kids got up to in the seventies. All in all this 90s gem follows a varied cast of Texas high-schoolers on the first day of the summer vacation, as they bomb around in fixed-up cars, flee the alarming initiation rites inflicted on them by over-excited seniors, and seek fun wherever they can find it.

Obviously, Dazed and Confused owes an enormous debt to American Graffiti, but it maintains a freshness of its own, in no small part down to the cast who were recruited locally; including a young and helmet-haired Matthew McConaughey.


The Last Waltz


It would be bloody sacrilegious to list movies about music made in the 70s without including Scorsese's elegant concert movie about grass roots rock heroes, The Band, and their legendary 1976 swansong performance at San Francisco's Wonderland ballroom. By no means is this an ordinary gig, the great and good of rock and roll (Dylan, Clapton, Joni, Ringo) take turns onstage with them, interspersed with interview snippets with the band and intimate little performances and jams.

By this stage in their career The Band had been playing and touring for 16 years. “I don't think I could live with 20 years on the road”, says singer / guitarist Robbie Robertson, and while their exhaustion shows, there's guileless warmth between them on and off stage as they reminisce and play with friends and heroes. 


Detroit Rock City


Although it may seem like a daft choice, on the whole Detroit Rock City does accurately distil what it is to be an obsessive teenage music fan, lusting over their obsession. The story of four boys who want -- no, NEED -- to see shock-rock heroes KISS, and will stop at literally nothing to achieve their goal, is crude, funny, and occasionally heart-warming.

It also nails the way musical tribes battle each other despite sharing a common love of music, as the four grungy rock kids wage war along the way with a group of disco kids who are on a similar pilgrimage into Detroit to scratch their own musical itch.


Saturday Night Fever


One of the quintessential movies of the 1970s is none other than Saturday Night Fever. On a surface level there's fun to be had howling at the glowing white disco suits and the high kicking dance moves on offer. Yet on a deeper level, it's a sobering story of a working class Brooklyn kid's dissatisfaction at the bleak and limited future he sees ahead of him.

On a more brighter note the soundtrack is pure disco gold, and is one of the Bee Gees' better cinematic moments (let's not talk about their ill-advised collective turn as the Beatles in the Sgt Pepper film). Like Vinyl, it's also a pretty damning indictment of misogynistic 70s attitudes towards women, mainly directed at by the men that dominate the story, including John Travolta's immature Tony Manero character. Trust me, they're not PC by any standards. More ogga-ogga AC with a touch of caveman DC.


The Filth and the Fury


This standout rockumentary charts the rise and fall of the 'Sex Pistols' and the wider British punk movement. The second of Julian Temple's documentaries about the band, this one tells the story decidedly from the band's point of view. Unsurprisingly, Malcolm McLaren doesn't come off well. 

It's a searing piece of filmmaking, capturing the truly bad old days of life in bleak 1970s Britain, and the electrifying effect of the Pistols on fans and appalled detractors alike. What comes across is a band who were too embattled from all sides to ever really have much fun with their music or fame -- San Francisco's Wonderland's second appearance in this list is an ignominious one, as the venue where it all fell apart. It also paints a truly saddening picture of Sid Vicious; in John Lydon's eyes, calling him a kid too young to handle what the music business, New York, and Nancy Spungen threw at him. 


The Runaways


Based on Cherie Currie's book, 'Neon Angel', The Runaways is a film full of heady, hopeful teenage excitement, charting the band's shit-kicking rise to stardom and Currie's substance addictions which brought it all crashing down. 

Yet in the wake of recent revelations, this flick makes for some disjointed viewing. Jackie Fuchs (aka Jackie Fox), estranged from former bandmates Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, has said that manager and producer Kim Fowley sexually abused and humiliated her, and that the rest of the band failed to support her. While I'm on the subject of Currie and Jett, both Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart bring equal parts naivet√© and nonchalance to these two teenage girls, what with how their fractured home lives transforms into a jarring reminder of what the music world was like forty years ago. 


Velvet Goldmine


Todd Haynes' gorgeous and gaudy dissection of glam-rock was unfairly written off by critics on its 1998 release. A shame really, because this bold, campy piece of filmmaking is a dazzling sonic and visual treat, and bears repeated viewing. Very loosely pinned around the relationships between David Bowie, Lou Reed, and Iggy Pop, Velvet Goldmine follows Jonathan Rhys-Meyers' fame-hungry Bowie-alike Brian Slade, his ill-fated marriage to an Angie-esque Toni Collette, as well as his obsession with Ewan McGregor's drug-soaked, unhinged Curt Wild -- and Slade's fall from grace after faking his death onstage. 

It also marked an early role for Christian Bale as a fan, ten-years-later journo trying to figure out where it all went wrong. The glitter, the glory, and the mayhem are twinned with something more troubling -- a sense of insanity, oblivion, and destructive ambition fueling it all from underneath.

Vinyl is available to download from April 19th


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