Whether they’re straight-up dramatisations a la 2015’s Eden or factual documentaries like Amy, films about music scenes always get us going. It’s often easier to play fast and loose with the truth when it comes to documenting the country’s clubs and venues though, so this list only features fictional films. Here are nine of the best that tell you all you need to know about everything from 1960s folk and 1970s classic rock to disco, soul and punk…
Based on The Who’s 1973 rock opera, this iconic movie follows scooter and speed obsessed Jimmy – Parklife shouter Phil Daniels – on a bank holiday weekend of violence and dancing in Brighton, including a seafront riot. From the costumes to the music and casting, everything about this film perfectly captured Mod culture, conjuring up the drizzly mid-1960s with its fine soundtrack and crazed characters.
A gawky teenage music nerd runs away from home, school and life’s other boring traps to join a rock’n’roll band on the road in the early 1970s: sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But director Cameron Crowe’s classic tapped into his own experiences as a teenage scribe for Rolling Stone magazine as he found himself journeying through the looking glass into a world of drugs, debauchery and good-time hedonism. Stillwater, the band that 15-year-old William Miller joins on tour, are fictional – Crowe has said they’re essentially a composite of various groups he met during the time – but everything else about the film is an insight into the 1970s world of classic rock, from famed journalist Lester Bangs pontificating in coffee shops to fleeting glimpses of David Bowie in a hotel elevator, and name-drops of Black Sabbath, Humble Pie, Eric Clapton, Led Zep and countless others to boot. And, of course, the most memorable bus sing-along in cinema history…
Sid And Nancy
Punk’s most notorious couple got the big-screen treatment in 1986, with Gary Oldman burrowing under the skin of Sid Vicious and Chloe Webb playing his girlfriend Nancy Spudgen. Their doomed, destructive relationship might take centre-stage here, but just as the fair streets of Verona are integral to Romeo And Juliet, the filth and fury of London’s punk scene is equally important here, mixing gritty flavour and the spirit of rebellion with the story of two star-crossed lovers.
24 Hour Party People
Director Michael Winterbottom immersed himself in the mania of Madchester for 24 Hour Party People, following the strange life of Factory Records boss Tony Wilson through the decades, from his work with Joy Division (including the memorable scene where Wilson, played by frequent Winterbottom collaborator Steve Coogan, inks their recording contract in his own blood) to the opening of the iconic Hacienda nightclub. It’s a strange blend of fact and fiction – real life footage from the Sex Pistols’ legendary gig at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall rubs shoulders with a make-believe scene in which Buzzcocks member Howard Deveto seduces Wilson’s wife in a toilet – but it’s still a loving tribute to one of British music’s most intriguing and larger-than-life movements.
A haunting but thinly-veiled portrait of Kurt Cobain’s final days on earth: Gus Van Sant’s underrated indie gem depicts the harrowing descent of Blake, an introspective and sensitive artist who is crumbling under the weight of stardom, pressure and failing relationships. Much of the narrative focuses on Blake’s isolation (although there are appearances, too, from music industry bods: record label execes, other musicians and managers), but it’s still a chilling snapshot of the darkest days of grunge, when the angst and anger and self-loathing became all too real.
A small, localised scene, but a scene nonetheless, Swingers nailed the uber stylish swing dance revival of the mid-1990s. Set in the retro bars and diners of east Los Angeles, the film was penned by its star Jon Favreau (who went on to direct Iron Man and Elf) and saw Vince Vaughn’s breakout role as a Rat Pack-loving lothario sporting the finest vintage 1940s garms California’s thrift stores had to offer, as well as young Heather Graham in victory rolls and a tea dress.
Walk The Line
This near perfect biopic didn’t just respectfully tell the story of one of the greatest singers of the 20th century – Mr Johnny Cash – but also gave a brilliant insight into the North American country music scene from the 1940s through to the 1960s. The legendary Carter Family, Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sun Records’ Sam Phillips and Elvis Presley are all present and correct, as are evocative scenes set at the ‘church’ of country, the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
Last Days of Disco
Set in and around the nightclubs of Manhattan in the early 1980s, Whit Stillman’s wry drama saw Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale traversing the final gasps of NYC’s vibrant disco scene during the birth of the yuppie. A heady soundtrack features Chic, Sister Sledge and Amii Stewart, while the club-set scenes succeed in creating a shimmering
insight into Studio 54 style decadence.
The fascinating story of the world-famous Chess Records and the soul, blues and jazz revolution it helped spearhead in the US in the 50s. Adrien Brody is on hand to play founder Leonard Chess, but it’s the supporting cast (and the top-notch soundtrack) who are the head-turners, here, including Mos Def as Chuck Berry and Beyonce as Etta James.