With the release of The Runaways biopic this Friday, we thought we’d take a quick look at some of the best music-inspired movies…
1. Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll
Line-up? Andy Serkis stars as Ian Dury, alongside Naomie Harris, Ray Winstone, Noel Clarke and Mackenzie Crook
Lyrical content? Serkis gives an uncanny portrayal of punk musician Ian Dury, depicting not only his rise to fame but also his relationship with his son and his struggle with the disability he is left with after contracting Polio.
Bum notes? In an attempt to re-create Dury’s chaotic world, this film falls victim to a few bizarre stylistic choices, such as over adventurous camera tricks and constant cuts back and forth to a circus-like stage performance, in which an omniscient Dury offers commentary on his own life story.
2. Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque)
Line-up? Eric Elmosnino plays French singer Serge Gainsbourg, with Laetitia Casta as Brigitte Bardot and (the late) Lucy Gordon as Jane Birkin
Lyrical Content? This recently released film follows the life of French singer Serge Gainsbourg, from growing up in 1940s Nazi-occupied Paris through his successful international songwriting years in the 1960s, and gives Édith Piaf biopic La Vie en rose a run for it’s money on the way.
Bum notes? If you don’t know Gainsbourg’s story already, then this one can be a little tricky to follow.
3. Velvet Goldmine
Line-up? Loads of big names, including Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Christian Bale, Ewan McGregor, Toni Collette and Eddie Izzard.
Lyrical Content? Set amongst the early 1970s glam rock scene, Velvet Goldmine tells the story of a pop star based mainly on David Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’ character, and is otherwise influenced by the likes of Marc Bolan and Iggy Pop.
Bum notes? Despite a strong cast and narrative concept, The New Yorker claimed that “Todd Haynes revisits the world of London glam rock and manages to make it look dull”. Ouch.
Line-up? Jamie Foxx plays Ray Charles
Lyrical Content? Ray documents the way blind rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles revolutionised the way people appreciated music, whilst combating segregation, fighting for artists’ rights within the corporate music business, and struggling against his drug addiction.
Bum notes? Critics complained that the film suffered from a mediocre screenplay that was saved by its poignant acting performances.
Line-up? Sam Riley plays Ian Curtis, alongside Samantha Morton (with a guest appearance from poet John Cooper Clarke)
Lyrical Content? This biopic of the life of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis was co-produced by his widow, and documents his marriage, struggle with epilepsy, and his extramarital affair, as well as the bands rise to fame and Curtis’ eventual suicide.
Bum notes? Joy Division band member Stephen Morris disputed the film’s accuracy, reportedly saying “None of it’s true really”. However, fellow band member Peter Hook praised the film for being “a hell of a lot more accurate than 24 Hour Party People” – another film which nearly made out list.
6. Walk The Line
Line-up? Joaquin Phoenix (before he decided to become a rapper…) plays Johnny Cash, with Reese Witherspoon co-starring as June Carter Cash
Lyrical Content? Based on the life of country music artist Johnny Cash, with focus on his rise to fame and his relationship with fellow musician June Carter. Phoenix is acclaimed for his performance, and Witherspoon finally manages to shake the stigma of Legally Blonde.
Bum notes? The film was accused of getting too swept up in Cash’s romantic affiliations, and skimming over the last twenty years of his life.
7. I’m Not There
Line-up? Marcus Carl Franklin, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger and Ben Whishaw ALL star as Bob Dylan
Lyrical Content? Using non-traditional narrative techniques, I’m Not There tells the story of six different Dylan-inspired characters, confusing biography with fantasy in this quirky biopic.
Bum notes? Critics argued that the film was not generally accessible, and focused more on being being pretentious than historically accurate.
Line-up? Forest Whitaker stars as Charlie Parker (with direction by Clint Eastwood)
Lyrical Content: Bird is a tribute to the life and music of jazz saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker, collating various scenes from his childhood in Kansas City, through to his marriage and his early death at the age of thirty-four. Whitaker’s performance won an award for Best Actor at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival, as well as a Golden Globe nomination.
Bum notes? The Washington Post claimed that “You’ll leave Bird‘s smooth flow of nightclub images, dark motel rooms and recharged Parker tracks with new respect for Eastwood the Director. But you’ll also leave none the wiser about Parker the Man”.
9. Nowhere Boy
Line-up? Aaron Johnson takes on the role of John Lennon, alongside Kristin Scott Thomas, Anne-Marie Duff and David Morrissey
Lyrical Content? This biopic chronicles John Lennon’s adolescence, the creation of his first band The Quarrymen and its evolution into The Beatles. Nowhere Boy received four British Academy Film Awards nominations, and just pipped 1994 Beatles-inspired film Backbeat to the post in our top ten.
Bum notes? Frustratingly, this film ends just as things start to come together for Lennon & Co. Not to mention that kid from Love Actually who shows up claiming to be Paul McCartney.
10. Almost Famous
Line-up? Kate Hudson plays ‘Penny Lane’, with Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup and a young Zooey Deschanel
Lyrical Content? Almost Famous isn’t a biopic of one musician or band, but rather a collection of director Cameron Crowe’s experiences whilst working as a journalist for Rolling Stone magazine in the early 1970s and touring with rock bands Poco, The Allman Brothers Band, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Bum notes? Despite a positive reception and four Oscar nominations, the film failed to break even at the box office.