Against the advice of NME’s own Tim Chester (who awarded it one out of ten), and every other review, I sought out the film Powder this week. I quite enjoyed the book back in the late-’90s, about the plight of a fictional Britpop band who watch their ideas get xeroxed into public view by a lesser, rival band. I was thus curious to see how it would translate to the silver screen, especially given the author Kevin Sampson was directing it himself.
Big mistake. This is a bad, bad film. No-one wants to slag off an independent British movie from a first time director, or jump on bandwagons, but honestly, every aspect of ‘Powder’ is simply abysmal. The lead guy does the moody, I-need-to-be-alone-right-now smouldering thing ALL THE WAY THROUGH, but just comes across as a spoilt brat. And he’s the closest thing in the film to a character who doesn’t make you want rip his head off. His nemesis in the rival band is a ridiculously overplayed fop, who is just beyond irritating, and several light years off being even slightly believable. The music journo guy is even worse. The Ralf Little white rasta guy just… dreadful. The songs are by James Walsh of Starsailor. The plot is limp. I could go on.
Anyway, it got me thinking about other bad music movies. And there are plenty. To be fair, it’s a difficult thing to accomplish, to capture the essence of a band. And people who know their onions are always going to sneer at any slight lack of authenticity. But it can work. The Doors, for example, is a pretty ludicrous deification of Jim Morrison, but as a movie, it sort of works. There are others that are passable, but in truth “passable” is about as good as it gets. The thing that works to music films’ advantage, though, is that they’re still intruiging to music fans no matter how bad the reviews might be, in a kind of horror show sort of way.
So here are the worst ten I can remember, all of which are worth watching.
1. Velvet Goldmine
A fantasy glam film that features Christian Bale, reimagines Ziggy Stardust as Maxwell Demon and also has a weird Iggy/Lou Reed hybrid called Kurt Wilde (played by Ewan McGregor). To be fair, this project was seriously hampered when Bowie himself pulled his involvement – and his songs (you can see the original script online, including several Bowie songs). “My feeling about it was that it was based fairly substantially on Ziggy Stardust,” he said, “and as I intend to do my own version of that I’d rather not work with a competitive film.” He has yet to come through on this.
2. Sid & Nancy
Ridiculous cartoonified version of punk’s most famous couple, but it’s the John Lydon character who is the worst. The real life Rotten said of this film: “I cannot understand why anyone would want to put out a movie like Sid And Nancy and not bother to speak to me; Alex Cox, the director, didn’t. He used as his point of reference – of all the people on this earth – Joe Strummer! That guttural singer from The Clash? What the fuck did he know about Sid and Nancy? That’s probably all he could find, which was really scraping the bottom of the barrel”.
3. Breaking Glass
Watch the trailer below. “Finding trouble… EVERYWHERE!” Amazing. “Breaking Glass: the experience… is SHATTERING!”
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4. Rock Star
Mark Wahlberg has given us Entourage, so for that we must be forever grateful. That series is based on his experiences as a heroically superficial Hollywood golden boy, fucking his way round LA’s hottest bars with his mates, rarely being troubled by much more than a headache. It’s believable. Him trying to play a tortured rock star, less so.
Biggie’s story is such a compelling one, and has been told through his songs, but in this all the key characters – him, Tupac, Faith Evans – are reduced to one dimension, with all their complexities scrubbed out. Only Puffy comes out of seeming vaguely likeable and he produced it. Funny, that.
6. Sgt Pepper’s
A truly, truly ridiculous folly, that bankrupted everyone involved and was edited into oblivion when all the dialogue was scrubbed out, because the crew felt the stars – the Bee Gees – couldn’t act. Newsweek described it as “having a dangerous resemblance to wallpaper”, but that’s nonsense. It is unbelievably awful, yes, but compellingly so. It is certainly not boring. Listen to how shite the version of ‘Oh Darling!’ is in this clip.
7. Taking Woodstock
Of the many scathing reviews of this, my favourite is Melissa Anderson’s from Village Voice. “Ang Lee’s facile Taking Woodstock proves that the decade is still prone to the laziest, wide-eyed oversimplifications…little music from the concert itself is heard. On display instead are inane, occasionally borderline offensive portrayals of Jews, performance artists, trannies, Vietnam vets, squares, and freaks.”
8. Last Days
A dangerous conceit, imagining what Kurt Cobain might have got up to in those fateful final hours of his life. Directors don’t come much better than Gus Van Sant, who two years earlier had made the staggeringly brilliant ‘Elephant’, loosely based on the Columbine massacre. This was not to match it.
9. It Couldn’t Happen Here
A musical film from 1988 about the Pet Shop Boys, that began as an extended video for their ‘Actually’ album, but ended up as… this. A very strange, and not good, piece of work, that shoots for surrealism, but falls woefully short. Neil Tennant has said it made him realise “one thing. That I Can’t act.”