50 greatest music films ever



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Rust Never Sleeps

(Neil Young, 1979)This tour film is one of the last great things Neil Young did before his experimentalist ’80s meltdown. In hindsight, you can see that was on the cards in the outsize stage furniture, Woodstock samples and Young’s reinvention of his crew as ‘Star Wars’-style creature ‘Road Eyes’.Greatest hit All this and a reggae-fied reworking of ‘Cortez The Killer’!What Time Out critics have said about the film
37 k Russell.jpg
Majestic: Ken Russell on the set of 'Elgar' (© BFI)



(Ken Russell, 1962)In 1962, the BBC arts strand ‘Monitor’ gave the tyro Ken Russell his first break, and he wrote and directed this 60-minute chronicle of the untrained son of a shopkeeper who became the greatest English musician since Purcell. If you’ve long considered Russell over-reliant on superficial excess, this makes for instructive viewing. Since BBC arts chief Sir Huw Weldon ruled that the actors shouldn’t speak in the dramatised sequences (perhaps lest it distract from his own fact-filled voiceover), Russell had to make the pictures and the music tell the story.At times it’s sheer poetry. The sequence of the young Edward Elgar riding a white pony along the Malvern Hills to the strains of the ‘Introduction and Allegro for Strings’ simply makes the heart soar. Moreover, there’s a strong political edge, highlighting Elgar’s feeling of disillusionment that ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ (his ‘Pomp & Circumstance March’ with added lyrics he hated) was being used to dress up the empty jingoism of a government sending young men to the Great War. The juxtaposition of the flag-waving anthem against archive footage of blinded casualties hanging on to one another makes a powerful and still-relevant point about the human price of ideological posturing. ‘Elgar’ remains a high-point among Russell’s many films on composers. ‘Song of Summer’, the 1968 BBC TV drama about the dying Frederick Delius, also belongs in the front rank of his work, as do 1970s Tchaikovskian melodrama ‘The Music Lovers’ and ‘Mahler’ (1974), which proves particularly astute in its selections from the father of the modern symphony. Unfortunately, the garish ‘Lisztomania’ (1976) and too much of Russell’s subsequent output exposed the filmmaker’s other side – ill-disciplined and would-be shocking – tarnishing a reputation which deserves more respect than the one-time ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ contestant has been afforded of late. Trevor JohnstonGreatest hit The image of the boy Elgar silhouetted against a magnificent sky.


Notes From A Jazz Survivor

(Don McGlynn, 1982)Only 48 minutes long, but a prime contender for the greatest jazz doc ever made. Back in the ’50s, Art Pepper’s quicksilver alto sax made him a legend, but his devotion to drugs destroyed his body and landed him in jail. Here we see him in 1981, cleaned up and playing his heart out in an LA club. It’s the jazz life encapsulated and the fact he’s basically chosen life over heroin becomes incredibly moving. Trevor JohnstonGreatest hit Art returns to the LA streets where he used to score.What Time Out critics have said about the film


Sweet Dreams

(Karel Reisz, 1982)Country chanteuse from humble beginnings makes it big, marries badly and pours her pain into her songs. Sounds obvious? Actually, the great thing about veteran director Karel Reisz’s biopic is that it never pushes the melodrama too far, instead allowing the aching tug of Patsy Cline’s recordings and Jessica Lange’s gutsy central performance to carry the movie, aided immeasurably by Ed Harris’s brilliant turn as the volatile hubby. To cap it all, a climactic plane crash which is a white-knuckle ride in itself. Still seriously undervalued. Trevor JohnstonGreatest hit She sings ‘Crazy’ and, given her choice of partner, the song acquires an awful new resonance.

'The Devil And Daniel Johnston'


The Devil And Daniel Johnston

(Jeff Feuerzeig, 2005)Jeff Feuerzeig’s documentary is that rare thing, a biopic that neither deifies nor demonises its subject. Johnston is a naive, comic book-styled artist and American singer-songwriter whose heroically lo-fi aesthetic has earned him a cult following. Through interviews, personal film archives and gig footage, the movie builds an intimate, hugely affecting portrait of the man and his music. Sharon O’ConnellGreatest hit Johnston’s father recounting how his son wrestled the controls of a plane away from him, causing it to crashWhat Time Out critics have said about the film


The Decline of Western Civilization

Parts I

(Penelope Spheeris, 1981, 1988)Penelope ‘Wayne’s World’ Spheeris’ rockumentaries are both classics. Part I is a study of LA punk at a key stage in its development, featuring some of the only footage filmed of the likes of Black Flag, Circle Jerks, The Germs, X and Fear, and marked by the youth, innocence, naivety and occasional stupidity of the bands and fans interviewed. Part II, on the other hand, features American metal at the peak of its self-indulgence, with Ozzy Osbourne, WASP, Aerosmith, Megadeth, Kiss and Motörhead espousing the virtues of excess to hilarious and depressing effect. Peter WattsGreatest hit In Part I, when The Germs reminisce about the day they found a dead guy.What Time Out critics have said about part I | What Time Out critics have said about part II


Bound for Glory

(Hal Ashby, 1976)Let’s be frank, had small-town dustbowl troubadour Woody Guthrie never decided to pick up a guitar, Bob Dylan would probably be doing shift work in the Meatpacking district and Billy Bragg sure as hell wouldn’t have had a road in Barking named after him. Starring David Carradine in a rare non-Chop Socky role, ‘Bound for Glory’ stands as perhaps the jewel in the crown for one of New Hollywood’s most underrated figures, Hal Ashby. For a music biopic, it’s an uncharacteristically elegiac and sombre film which manages to evoke the work of directors such as Leone, Ford, Altman and Malick. Haskell Wexler scooped an Oscar for his gorgeous camerawork which perfectly captures the unease of 1930s Depression-era America and which inspired Guthrie to spread his message of working-class upheaval. David JenkinsGreatest hit Woody strumming his guitar on the roof of a train.What Time Out critics have said about the film


Scott Walker: 30 Century Man

(Stephen Kijak, 2006)This intriguing celebration of Scott Walker’s life in music explains, without destroying any of the man’s eerie mystery, just how a ’60s heartthrob falls out of the charts and into obscure, experimental musicianship. Even over 40 years it’s one almighty transition from boyband member to a deep- and dark-thinking ambient noisemaker who orders befuddled percussionists to punch pieces of raw meat harder and with less rhythm than their already random slaps. In spite of worship from all the talking heads (Jarvis Cocker, Brian Eno, David Bowie), Walker would rather hide from sight and unsettle old fans by being himself than become a gurning Jagger figure. Chris Parkin
Greatest hit
A bemused percussionist is requested to punch a slab of raw meat.What Time Out critics have said about the film


Rude Boy

(Jack Hazan, David Mingay, 1980)
Rude Boy’ tells the story of listless young punk Ray (played by listless young punk Ray Gange), who scores a job as a roadie for The Clash and loses it as a result of his ideological inertia. Set pieces with Ray talking to the various members of the band about life, the universe and socialism are interspersed with... READ MOREWhat Time Out critics have said about the film


The Last Waltz

(Martin Scorsese, 1978)
Scorsese's lustrous concert film of The Band's last stand at Winterland, San Franciso, 1976, is a testament to a bygone era. The Band bowed out with an all-star concert featuring, among others, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell and Eric Clapton. And then they invited Scorsese to film it all. Apparently, even the director didn't expect the resulting visuals to be quite so lush. But they are. And the musicianship is exquisite. Them were the days. Derek Adams
Greatest hit Lvon Helm's rousing, syncopated drum fill-cum-vocal scat in 'Up On Cripple Creek'.What Time Out critics have said about the filmTop 50 index | 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11 | 10-6 | 5-1

Author: Dave Calhoun. Written by Derek Adams, Geoff Andrew, Dave Calhoun, Wally Hammond, Michael Hodges, Martin Horsfield, Martin Hoyle, David Jenkins, Trevor Johnston, Eddy Lawrence, Sharon O'Connell, Chris Parkin, Graeme Thomson, Peter Watts

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