WATTSTAX movie poster detail (19723.

Celluloid Heroes


  1. Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour movie opened
  2. Websites have found that numeric lists are really popular

. . .various websites have come up with lists of the “best” concert movies of “all time.” That “all time” adverb is a bit odd given that in the grand scheme of things, movies haven’t been around for a hell of a long time.

The Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis, essentially started the movie theater business in December 1895. Early movies were, of course, silent. But people including Thomas Edison figured that having a musical soundtrack would be useful, so some early films came along with sound-carrying cylinders. Coordination was often iffy. So in some cases there were entire orchestras in the theaters providing movie music in real time. The first full-length movie with synchronized sound, including singing, didn’t appear until 1927: The Jazz Singer. For each reel of film there was a record to accompany it.

While many of the “best” lists are predicated on the person who is making the list, in this case we’ll go with the choice made by the Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer®” as it “represents the percentage of professional reviews that are positive for a given film or television show.”

In other words, instead of being the opinion of one guy sitting in his parents’ basement, it is the opinion of multiples: “A Tomatometer score is calculated for a movie or TV show after it receives at least five reviews.”

Five is presumably better than one.

Their The Eras Tour-provoked list is of 60 concert movies. Which seems a bit excessive, but presumably having a longer list helps Rotten Tomatoes not necessarily with its SEO but with its parent companies’—Comcast’s Fandango Media is the majority owner and Warner Bros. owns a piece of the action—financial interests (e.g., selling tickets to currently available movies).

But be that as it may. . .

  1. Stop Making Sense (1984). Hmm, interesting that it was just re-released and so something one can buy tickets for. But all-time best?
  2. Amazing Grace (2018). Aretha, filmed in a Baptist church in L.A. in 1972, could probably cause atheists to drop the “a.”
  3. Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé (2019). Given some of the films that follow, this seems as though there might have been a bit of lycopene inflation in this ranking.
  4. The Last Waltz (1978). Although Martin Scorsese is generally associated with Robert DeNiro and crime-themed films, he may be the leading director of concert films bar none.
  5. David Byrne’s American Utopia (2020). A well-made performance piece on stage, but 5th? Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace, Music. . .and Love (1970), a film of one of the great concerts of the 20th century is at 21st, and the Hendrix performance alone trumps a whole lot of everything.
  6. Marley (2012). According to RT itself, this is “The life story of musician, revolutionary and legend Bob Marley, from the early days to international superstardom. Features rare footage, performances and interviews.” So how does that qualify as a “concert movie”?
  7. Festival Express (2003). I will admit to not having even heard of this “spellbinding documentary that nostalgically chronicles five days in the summer of 1970, when a train full of now-legendary rock performers”—as in Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead—“jammed its way across Canada.” Train? Canada?
  8. Springsteen on Broadway (2018). David Byrne’s Broadway show beats the Boss by three slots. In the movie business if a director doesn’t want to be associated with a film the name “Alan Smithee” is used instead. Strangely, this movie, which came out five years ago, so it isn’t like there should be archeology involved, is directed by “Unknown Director.”
  9. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (2005). Jokes meet music in Brooklyn.
  10. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese (2019). See #4. And do we really need Marty’s name in the title of the movie? Shouldn’t Dylan be more than enough?
  11. Buena Vista Social Club (1999). When you think of “Germans and music” it is probably Beethoven or Rammstein. One interesting aspect of this film is that it is directed by Dusseldorf’s own Wim Wenders, who received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature for it. (He didn’t win.)
  12. Neil Young: Heart of Gold (2006). The concert film at the top of the list was directed by Jonathan Demme. And he directed this one, too. Young at the Ryman.
  13. Beat, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest (2011). According to the RT “Critics Consensus,” “This documentary focuses less on the music and more on the personality clashes and in-group tensions to great, compelling effect.” This is a “concert” movie? “Less on the music”?
  14. Wattstax (1973). Two words: Isaac Hayes.
  15. Neil Young Journeys (2011). Neil in Canada. (Our northern neighbor makes it into the top 15 twice. And Neil is a big Lionel train enthusiast.) Jonathan Demme directs. (“Take that, Scorsese!” you can imagine Demme thinking.)
  16. Shine a Light (2008). Ah, but the riposte. Scorsese films the Stones at the Beacon Theater in 2006. I’m giving the nod to Scorsese over Demme. (Let’s face it: the Stones are simply the concert performers par excellence.)
  17. Soul Power (2008). Those who are fans of the sweet science (I don’t know what is particularly sweet about two people pounding the snot out of one another nor what is particularly scientific about it) undoubtedly remember “The Rumble in the Jungle,” a world heavyweight championship matchup held in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 1974 between George Foreman, who was the champ, and Muhammad Ali. Foreman was favored. Ali, who debuted his rope-a-dope tactic, took the fight in the 8th Oh, Soul Power is about a three-day concert with performers including James Brown and the Spinners that preceded the fight.
  18. Michael Jackson’s This Is It (2009). This is Jackson in March-June 2009 preparing for his 2009 tour. He died June 25, 2009.
  19. Metallica: Through the Never (2013). This, apparently, is part concert film and part, well, according to RT: “As the rock band Metallica performs a roaring set for fans in a sold-out arena, a young roadie named Trip (Dane DeHaan) is sent on a mission to meet a disabled truck and retrieve a particular item. However, the routine task turns into a surreal odyssey when Trip’s van is hit by another vehicle and he finds himself up against a death-dealing horseman. As Trip flees through desolate streets, he has only his wits to help him avoid the deadly equestrian and. . . .” Ah, yes.
  20. Katy Perry: Part of Me (2012). Realize that this is Katy Perry on her California Dreams Tour of 2010, when she was still a fresh, fabulous confection, not a judge on “American Idol,” whose repetitiveness subtracts from her innate whimsy.

I give up. There are 40 more. You can see the list here.

But a couple more items of potential interest.

  1. Jonathan Demme makes the list still again, at 22, with Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids. That puts him one up on Scorsese. But were this a Rumble in Concert Documentaries, I’d give the points to Scorsese for the lineup of musicians he captured.
  2. A. Pennebaker deserves honorable mention if for no other reason than Monterey Pop (1969), which is 28 on the list. Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1973) is at 48.
  3. Morgan Spurlock is well known for his Academy Award-nominated Super Size Me documentary (2004), about his eating at McDonald’s for 30 days running. He went on to other docs including The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011), about product placement in movies. Spurlock is at 53 on the RT list with One Direction: This Is Us (2013). Man’s gotta eat.

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