Cinema's 50 greatest flops, follies and failures: part 7

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Yes, it's Number One... well, actually, we cheated: our pole-position entry could almost be a whole Top 50 list on its own. Rock on...

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1. The Entire Rock Musical Genre (1964-the present day)


Directed by various The gift of sound and visionYou can count the truly successful rock musicals on the fingers of one hand. On the fingers of one finger, in fact. A finger with ‘A Hard Day's Night' written on it.

Richard Lester's first film with The Beatles wrote the rulebook for the great pop movie - screaming girls, cheeky chaps, bolshy banter and backstage antics. Then, a year later, their second collaboration ‘Help!' rewrote it to include Technicolor chase scenes, dayglo villainy and scenes filmed in exotic locations for no apparent reason. Guess which template stuck.

Not every rock movie is bad: there's a case to be made for the likes of ‘Catch Us If You Can', ‘Head' or ‘Slade in Flame'. But even the half-decent examples are, at root, follies, fuelled by ambition and a misguided desire to break down the barriers between the artforms, and sunk by boatloads of cash, drugs and woeful, wilful stupidity.



Just think how many otherwise respectable musical heroes had their careers ruined by the movies. Elvis Presley watched his entire reputation disappear down the tubes in the wake of a series of movies in which he played a Hawaiian postman who keeps a monkey, races speedway and falls for his own cousin. The Bee Gees were riding high on 'Saturday Night Fever' until they went and agreed to Robert Stigwood's legendarily dire, Beatles-free music hall free-for-all 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'. Lucky for them, the bucktoothed boys bounced back, which is more than you can say for wavy-haired dreamboat Peter Frampton. Even someone as sturdy and unflappable as Neil Young came a cropper in 2003 when he attempted to sell his fans on ‘Greendale', a small-town eco-warrior epic in which every line is set to music.

But the undoubted high-water mark for the rock extravaganza is, of course, the '60s - or rather, that part of the '60s that hung around until about 1977. We're talking ‘Magical Mystery Tour' and ‘Tommy', we're talking ‘The Song Remains the Same' and ‘200 Motels', we're talking ‘Renaldo and Clara' and ‘The Wall' (made in 1982, but let's not kid ourselves, it's a '60s movie). We're talking any situation in which a fully grown man can dress up as a sign of the zodiac, relive his first acid experience, improvise a 15-minute dialogue scene or reconstruct his childhood as a series of lurid, grotesque semi-animated tableaux. The ultimate fusion of ego and extravagance, these movies kept being made despite the fact that pretty much every one of them a) lost money and b) was utter, utter nonsense.




Matters progressed in the '70s and '80s, and suddenly it wasn't so much about exploring one's inner turmoil as about celebrating one's happy, carefree, insanely wealthy inner child: ‘The Wiz' sprang from a half-decent idea – a ghettoised take on The Wizard of Oz with an all-star cast of Motown legends – but then they got Joel Schumacher in to write the script, and cast 34-year-old Diana Ross as Dorothy, and the whole thing started to seem increasingly creepy. But not half as creepy as ‘Moonwalker', which was billed as coming ‘from the imagination of Michael Jackson', which only gives you half an idea how freaky this part-baked parade of music videos really is.




Even the Minneapolis midget Prince, who'd had a rare near-success with leatherbound pubic explosion ‘Purple Rain' (great songs, dire dialogue) went completely off the rails not once but twice, with flapper-gangster disaster ‘Under the Cherry Moon' and largely forgotten weirdo ‘Purple' sequel ‘Graffiti Bridge'. And what the hell Paul McCartney was thinking with excruciating day-in-the-life industry caper ‘Give My Regards to Broad Street' is anyone's guess.

And it doesn't end with movies which have actual rock stars in them. There's a whole branch of moviemaking – spearheaded by ‘Hair', and taken up by Andrew Lloyd Webber and his satanic ilk – which took the overblown ideals of the rock movie and took out those pesky stars (unless you count David Essex), resulting in abominations like ‘Jesus Christ Superstar', ‘Godspell' and ‘Absolute Beginners', and an entire generation of kids with a completely twisted idea of what rock music actually is.

And it ain't over yet. Just when you thought the Lloyd-Webber juggernaut had finally ground to a halt, along came the likes of Ben Elton and Bjorn Ulvaeus with a bold new idea, the jukebox musical, and resurrected the whole sorry mess. Now we've got ‘Mamma Mia', we've got ‘We Will Rock You' (movie inevitable), we've got unholy Beatles-based abortion ‘Across the Universe', each of them hell bent on taking the songs you love and deforming them into some grim, slick, daytime-friendly Dave-Lee-Travesty of their former greatness.

Is nothing sacred? Well, if this list has taught us anything... Not in Hollywood.TH




Explore the list: 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11 | 10-6 | 5-2 |

Author: Adam Lee Davies, Tom Huddleston, David Jenkins and Anna Smith



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