Not intended to be even remotely comprehensive, the following is a short list of films in which music and the people that make it -- or are otherwise involved with it -- constitute the main theme of the movie. This deliberately excludes concert videos. Ditto for TV programs. The intent was to only list items that could be purchased on DVD or video. Numerous moonies suggested specific films to help assemble today's nuggets.
Koyaanisqatsi: Released in 1983, the title is Hopi for "Life out of balance". The film was shot over a 7-year period by director Godfrey Reggio and director of photography Ron Fricke. Their images of nature, industry and cities were put to music by composer Philip Glass. The film captures the beauty and cruelty of the US and the Western world both by regions and as societies.
Unfaithfully Yours (1948, redone in 1984) stars Rex Harrison as a conductor who suspects his wife of infidelity. During several extended sequences while conducting, the conductor imagines ways to confront his wife and her lover and the gruesome outcomes of said confrontations.
A Night at the Opera (1935). The Marx Brothers bring down the opera house to promote a young singer who lacks credentials. Financial support comes from Margaret DuMont who doesn't get the joke.
I Married an Angel (1943, Jeanette MacDonald with Nelson Eddy), The Firefly (1937 Jeanette MacDonald with Allan Jones), Maytime (1937 Jeanette MacDonald with Nelson Eddy), Rose-Marie (1936 Jeanette MacDonald with Nelson Eddy) and Naughty Marietta (1935, Jeanette MacDonald with Nelson Eddy) were films that attempted to bring operatic-style singing to a wider audience. They offered simple plots with lovely performances. The two singers with the best voices fell in love and enjoyed a happy ending for a pleasant way to escape the depression of the '30s.
What's Opera Doc? (1957) The death knoll of opera? Perhaps. However, seeing Elmer Fudd as Siegfried and Bugs Bunny as Brunhilde is enchantingly perverse. Similar in concept is Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies, Disney's early attempts to wed music to animated art. His master piece of course is Fantasia (1940) with Stokowski and the Philadelphia Symphony, one of the largest early experiments into what we now know as surround sound.
Calle 54 runs more like an extended series of music videos but the scene with Gato Barbieri is a hoot and Tito Puente's scene in white is mesmerizing!
Little Voice (1998) is a weird English movie about a young singer who can emulate all of the great popular female singing voices and may have a career if she can overcome her extreme stage fright. Michael Caine delivers a sterling performance as a washed-up producer suffering a breakdown.
Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993) are a series of short glimpses into the life and mind of Glenn Gould that "completely blows the pretentious and far-too-serious Immortal Beloved out of the water" according to Mike Healey.
Down with Love (2003) is a hilarious singing/swinging movie where Ewan McGregor croons and Renée Zellweger coos while Moulin Rouge! (2001) is a visually astounding dance rave-up that offers new twists on pop hits and stars Nicole Kidman.
Gesualdo - Death for Five Voices (1995) is directed by Werner Herzog and on the life and death of Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa (1560-1613) who apparently was a real nutcase and musical visionary. Herzog videotapes interviews with, among other local characters, the caretaker of Gesualdo's dilapidated castle. Lots of talk about ghosts and sexual obsession, with some nice performances by two vocal groups -- Il Complesso Barocco and the Gesualdo Consort -- which are woven in-between the interviews to good effect.
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (directed by Roy Rowland; sets, screenplay & lyrics by Dr. Seuss): Little Bart has only one enemy in the world, piano teacher Dr. Terwilliker. Bart has a nightmare and we have a film. Dr. T. has a plan to force 500 young boys (hence the 5,000 fingers of the title) to practice at his 5,000 key'd piano 24/7. When you're inducted or ensnared, you get a hat with a rubber hand on top slapped on your head and off you go. Bart manages to put together a machine that sucks up all sound from some spare parts lying around his cell, which leads to mayhem and surprises.
Mahler, Lisztomania, The Music Lovers, all directed by Ken Russell. Adds Michael Lavorgna, "I'd recommend Mahler with some reservations. You've got to be able to relax and let Russell's visual and narrative indulgence run its course. If you can, you're in for a ride - Mahler's internal struggles juxtaposed against his music."
Let's Get Lost (directed by Bruce Weber, starring Chet Baker) is a documentary on the life of Chet Baker, including interviews with family, friends and Baker himself. While Weber seems to be as interested in Baker's physical appearance and its decline as he is in the music, the film "really brings home the discrepancy between Chet's fondness for love songs and how rotten he was to his wife and family" opines Lavorgna.
The Tango Lesson (written & directed by Sally Potter) is about Sally Potter who is struggling to direct a film while taking tango lessons with Pablo Veron. Trying to get her film produced in Hollywood, Sally gets shot down and seeks relief in London, Paris, Buenos Aires and of course in the tango. Then it occurs to Sally that hers is really a movie about the tango.
High Fidelity (based on the eponymous cult novel by Nick Hornby) stars John Cusack and Jack Black and is about how Pop music influences people. The opening line "Which came first, the music or the misery?" says it all. What follows is the 'mid-life' crisis of Rob (Cusack), a thirty-something record-store owner who must face the undeniable facts - he's growing up. In a hilarious homage to the music scene, Rob and the wacky offbeat clerks who inhabit his store expound on the intricacies of life and song all the while trying to make their adult relationships work. Are they listening to pop because they are miserable? Or are they miserable because they listen to pop music? This romantic comedy provides a touching and whimsical glimpse into the male perspective on affairs of the heart.
This is Spinal Tap is a hilarious rockumentary about the loudest (though fake) band in the world, directed by Rob Reiner -- the Meathead according to Archie Bunker -- who uses the music video format to tell his story.
The Blues Brothers needs no introduction and then there's School of Rock with Jack Black and Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the desert, a great Australian road/drag/music movie that revives the gay scene of the 70s.
Round Midnight by Bertrandt Tavernier has Dexter Gordon take you along into the hard life filled with music while Saturday Night Fever glorifies Disco and kicks of John Travolta's career.
Carlos Saura celebrates Flamenco in Flamenco (starring some of the greatest living Flamenco performers in individual vignettes), Carmen (starring Paco de Lucia as himself plus famous dancers) and El Amor Brujo (starring the exceptional Flamenco dancers Antonio Gades and Cristina Hoyos). El Amor combines on and behind the stage plot lines to bring new meaning to the art-imitates-life notion while Tango, no me dejes nunca celebrates the life form known as Tango. All four films are stellar examples of true art films.
The Red Violin (directed by François Girard) is a stunning meditation on the destiny of a famous instrument and the subsequent lives it touches, of the performers who play it through the ages in Vienna, China, Transylvania and finally Toronto.
Rock my World (directed by Sidney J. Furie) is a hilarious mistaken-identities flick about two elderly royals in debt who must rent out their castle to a Rock band that's preparing new songs in seclusion from the paparazzi. Peter O'Toole and Joan Plowright play the aristocrats who experience head-on culture shock within their own four walls when, disguised as butlers, they host five young Punk musicians and help them sort out their lives.
Shine (directed by Scott Hicks) features the breakout performance of Geoffrey Rush as the adult David Helfgott, a deeply troubled child prodigy on the piano who goes through a period of madness before finding resolution with his overambitious father.
Assassination Tango (written and directed by Robert Duvall) follows an aging assassin to Buenos Aires on an assignment where a delay in his schedule gets him involved in the salon scene of Tango. Though the story is implausible, the many interludes on the dance floor and the closing credits feature some of the most erotic and mesmerizing Tango dancing ever put to screen.
Together (directed by Chen Kaige of Farewell my Concubine) is a glorious and epic movie about the father-and-son travails in the big city when child prodigy Xiaochun accompanies his ambitious dad to Beijing in search of a violin teacher. Hiding his savings underneath a his skull cap, the father quickly loses all his money and destiny, talent and perseverance must step in to unfold in a cinematic spectacle of Chinese film craft.
Honeysuckle Rose (directed by Jerry Schatzberg) follows Willie Nelson in a semi-autobiographical turn as a touring singer/songwriter who starts an affair with a young band member. Plenty of on-stage action and songs make this a quasi documentary.
Meeting Venus (directed by István Szabó) stars Glenn Close as an operatic diva and Niels Arestrup as the Hungarian conductor in love with her. With many performances by real-world opera greats like Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, this is a biting satire on life behind the scenes of the opera and a united though divided Europe.
Diva (directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix) kicks off with the accidental switch of a surveillance tape with a bootleg opera tape and leads to a young mailman falling in love with an operatic diva.
Chicago (directed by Rob Marshall) is one of the best cinematic translations of a musical to the silver screen, featuring Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere and Queen Latifah in the lead roles.
|Besieged (directed by Bernando Bertolucci) is an elegiac story about a black live-in servant (the ravishing Thandie Newton) and her composer/pianist employer played by David Thewlis who, unbeknownst to her, begins to sell off all his possessions to finance the liberation of her black boyfriend in Africa while he secretly falls in love with her. Features some gorgeous and lengthy modern piano improvisations.|
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