Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cinema Trend: Musician Movies

This fall sees the release of Control, the bioptic about Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, who hung himself in his kitchen at the age of 23, right before the release of the band's 2nd album Closer, which I would put at or near the top of a list of "Most Depressing Albums Ever" even though it's a piece of melancholy genius. We're getting I'm Not There, the Bob Dylan movie where the character of Dylan gets split among 6 actors, among them Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Cate Blanchett.

Is it just me, or are movies about musicians getting better? Ray was all right, but Ray Charles isn't in my short list of favorite artists, and I didn't really think Jamie Foxx deserved that Oscar over DiCaprio in The Aviator. Walk the Line was a fantastic step in the right direction for bios of rock musicians, and Joaquin Phoenix deserved his nomination in full. Now with the impending release of Control and the festival buzz that the Kurt Cobain documentary About a Son has been getting, maybe we'll be getting some better movies about musicians in the next couple years.

The past few years of music movies is not that different from the re-emergence of movies based on comic book characters. Ever since Spider-Man wreaked havoc on a May box office and raked in over $100 million in a single weekend back in 2002, studios have been trying to duplicate that buisness. We've seen some great flicks come along (Spider-Man 2, Batman Begins, Sin City), as well as some pretty decent attempts (Hellboy, 300), and some miserable failures (The Punisher, Catwoman, Hulk).

I think the same could go for movies about musicians in the coming years. Before Ray got released in 2004, the most recent good film about a recent musician was the Oliver Stone helmed The Doors. After the awards attention that Ray got, hopefully studios will see fit to start production on films about some of my favorite bands like Joy Division. (I'm Not There is certainly getting helped by critical buzz, but I think a lot of it is just people that loved Dylan trying to make him relevant again. New albums from Dylan and Bruce Springsteen are among the best reviewed of the past few years, but the music on those CDs sound the same as pretty much the entire catalog of their music. I'm sorry, but I don't want to hear The Boss singing 14 songs that aren't discernable from one another for over an hour, it's just not interesting. Give me something like Joy Division, with a small catalog that opens itself up and reveals its secrets to you on successive visits to the albums. Blood on the Tracks did that, but these recent albums just don't have the same creative spark.)

All of the positives aside, I am a little nervous that it will spiral out of control and we'll end up with movies about bands that really weren't all that great. Let's be honest, we're all a little tired when we hear about the next new comic-to-movie adaptation coming out; we've seen enough of them, we need more space before we're willing to accept another worthy transfer from page to screen. I'm worried that in about three years we'll be getting a movie about Foreigner, W.A.S.P., or some other hair metal band from the 80s that nobody really wondered about. The enigmatic figures are few and far between, and I just hope we don't start scraping the bottom of the barrel too early. The great films about musicians have risen so far above the novelty of Behind the Music, I'd really hate to see these movies take a dive back towards that low point.

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