What Makes A Great Rock Film?

You’ve probably seen the trailer for Rock Of Ages by now.

A tale of small- towners grasping for the Hollywood dream, it was a popular musical that, in its recent West End version, saw Justin Lee Collins and Shayne Ward adopting fright wigs to belt through rock ballads that were bigger than their Brazilian blow dry bills.

In its film form we have Mary J Blige sporting a massive Afro, Tom Cruise stomping round like a less flexible Axl Rose and Catherine Zeta-Jones playing a sex-hating right wing religious nut. It’s hard to tell whether ROA will be air-punchingly fun or blood-coolingly awful, but it got us wondering: what makes a great rock film?

1) A Great Soundtrack
It seems obvious right? But a great soundtrack can elevate a substandard script and/or acting. As much as we love Purple Rain as a campy pop culture moment it was never going to win any Oscars for its screenwriting or performances was it?

But the soundtrack is, of course, a stone-cold classic.


2) Realism
Mariah Carey playing a struggling singer? Totally unbelievable, sorry Glitter. Meg Ryan as Jim Morrison’s drug addled girlfriend? No way, The Doors. That the music industry was full of clueless, sexist morons? Yes, This Is Spinal Tap, yes!

3) Less of the Behind The Music-isms
We know the classic narrative of the rock musician so well (rags to riches, then drugs / bottoming out and ending with some sort of redemption) that we want something more from our rock films. A different angle, a change of pace. That’s why Almost Famous worked so well. Its protagonist was a wide-eyed outsider, looking in at the chaos and the ‘predictability factor’ was pretty low.

4) A script you can relate to
Who could relate to the way-out-there imaginings of Led Zeppelin during The Song Remains The Same or the high gloss fantasy of Man In the Mirror? Answer: no one. But what music geek didn’t see a bit of themselves in John Cusack’s hapless Rob Gordon in High Fidelity or the young John Lennon in Nowhere Boy?

5) Carefully placed nostalgia
Why has A Hard Day’s Night dated better than Spice World? Arguably a whole load of reasons, but partly because 1964 was a very different era to 1997. We will always pine for those early days when rock ‘n’ roll was just a wee thing and by 1997 it was all about in-your-face, nasty old “brands” and focus grouped ideas. It’ll be interesting to see how the 1987-set Rock Of Ages fares on this front.

What other ingredients are vital for a rock film?