(From Selena, Credit: Getty Images)
Cinema and popular music, two modern art forms that were made for each other. If you love music and you love movies, then you probably know the exquisite joy that your favorite part in your favorite music movie provides and reliving the first time you saw it is probably up there with reliving your first kiss. Unless your first kiss was one of those botched jobs where your hair got stuck in someone’s braces.
Music movies are never like that. Music movies (and we aren’t talking about concert films, documentaries or musicals here) are magical streamlined affairs designed to deliver mindlessly sublime thrills, one after another, kind of like a Pez dispenser. The best ones juxtapose transcendent performances from iconic musicians with godawful dialogue and perfunctory plots.
Increasingly, it seems musicians and directors alike are trying to bottle that lightning. With Flying Lotus coming out with his short film Until the Quiet Comes and Dirty Projectors releasing Hi Custodian with their new album Swing Lo Magellan (among many others) there is some kind of media convergence afoot. In addition to all the artists putting out straight0-up movies, music itself is getting more like film soundtracks and music videos are getting ever more like short films.
It’s a good time to take stock of what has made the traditional music movie so irresistible. And from The Runaways to A Hard Days Night, we’ve seen our share. For the sake of discussion we’ve gathered ten of our favorite on-screen music moments. All would-be musical auteurs should study these clips closely. Secrets lie herein.
Feel free to chime in with your favorite music movie moment. Unless it’s from SLC Punk. That movie is the worst.
10. Linda Linda Linda, 2005
In what might be one of the most punk rock movies ever, ever, three Japanese girls put together a band for their high school cultural festival. They recruit Son, a Korean exchange student not yet fluent in Japanese, to be the singer. The ad hoc ensemble scrambles to pull together a few covers by real life punk band The Blue Hearts. When the moment of truth arrives and the band takes the stage Son begins haltingly and then kills it. The crowd goes wild. So beautiful.
The only thing that disqualifies Linda, Linda, Linda from being the best music movie of all time is that it’s well shot and acted and the script is good.
9. Selena, 1997
If this biopic starring Jennifer Lopez as plucky, bustier-rocking Mexican-American singer Selena doesn’t make you want to cry bittersweet tears the whole way through, you aren’t a real American. Still, the best bit is probably when, clad all in white, she pacifies an unruly over-capacity crowd in Monterrey, Mexico with a soothing rendition of “Como La Flor.” Does your heart not swell?
8. Dil Se, 1998
All Bollywood movies are about music, people. And few scenes from Bollywood’s storied history are as iconic as “Chaiyya Chaiyya” or “the train scene” from the insanely romantic, if more than slightly disturbing, Dil Se. Even if you haven’t seen it before, you’ll feel like you grew up watching it.
7. No One Knows About Persian Cats, 2009
Films of recent vintage rarely pack the sheer joy and yearning of a classic music movie like this one does. It tells the true story of Iranian musicians who, whether they play traditional music, rap or indie rock, risk arrest just by pursuing their passion. Director Bahman Ghobadi filem it illegally and packed it with brilliant performances from artists who essentially played themselves.
The most haunting part is when rockers Take It Easy Hospital rehearse “Human Jungle” in secret. Interspersed with scenes from Tehran’s bustling streets, what the clip it lacks in corn, it makes up for in exhilaration.
6. Krush Groove, 1985
Behold, a young L.L. Cool J gives zero fucks and lands a record deal against all odds in this seminal hip-hop film. Here be life lessons.
5. Dancer in the Dark, 2000
This is a musical, yes. We cheated. But this Lars Von Trier joint fits the music movie criteria well in the sense of being a stupendous vehicle for Björk, especially the big number “I’ve Seen It All.”
4. Quadrophenia, 1973
The climax of this film, inspired by The Who’s rock opera and starring their music, comes when troubled mod Jimmy discovers his idol Ace Face (played by Sting) is a lowly hotel bell hop. In a fit of sleepless, amphetamine fueled pique, Jimmy steals Ace Face’s scooter and launches it off a cliff. Supposedly, this has to do with society and identity and coming of age. Whatevs.
3. The Harder They Come, 1972
When Ivan, an aspiring reggae star, turns outlaw (played by Jimmy Cliff), hijacks a car in The Harder They Come and proceeds to do donuts in a field with “You Can Get It If You Really Want” playing on the soundtrack, it might be one of the most ecstatic moments in film history. On the other hand, the palpable urgency in Cliff’s actual performance of “The Harder They Come,” is a pretty solid contender.
2. Wild Zero, 1999
Citizen Kane? Booorring. Casablanca? Pure schlock! Wild Zero, with all the zombies, explosions, nonstop rock ‘n’ roll and transgendered romance a cinephile could hope for, might be the greatest film of all time. It’s really hard to pinpoint the best moment of this movie, starring Japanese garage punk band Guitar Wolf, but it might be somewhere around here:
1. Purple Rain, 1984
Come on. You know the best part of Purple Rain. It’s “Purple Rain.” But apparently that clip is waaaay too hot for Youtube, so here’s Morris Day and the Time doing “Jungle Love” with Prince smoldering/lurking at about 2:06.