Summerfest on screen: The top five movies about music
In one day, the world's largest musical festival will gloriously begin. The Summerfest grounds will be filled with the sounds of terrific music and screaming fans, and Summer Shandy will flow like the Nile River.
But, what if you can't make it down to Summerfest for every single day of the festival's 11-day run? What if your boss is a pop cultural cretin and has the nerve to schedule you to work within the next week and a half? Luckily, here are five melodious movies that can provide the musical rush of Summerfest without getting beer spilled on your shoes.
Before its wildly successful Broadway adaptation and its stars' adorably modest Oscar acceptance speech for Best Original Song, "Once" was just a tiny Irish musical with a $150,000 budget. While the film's funds may have been small, its heart is huge. The movie tells the touchingly earnest story of two lost souls in Dublin (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) who help bandage one another's emotional wounds with music.
And what glorious music they play. "Falling Slowly" was the movie's hit, but it's the group's performance of "When Your Mind's Made Up" that will make your soul fly. "Once" doesn't have the big budget or the extravagant musical numbers of most Hollywood musicals; it only needs a guitar and a piano to make an audience fall in love.
"This is Spinal Tap"
For the sake of keeping the list at only five films, I vowed not to place any music documentaries on this list (my apologies, "Gimme Shelter," "Anvil!" and "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster"). However, I didn't say anything about mockumentaries because Rob Reiner's "This is Spinal Tap" had to be included. Christopher Guest, who co-wrote the movie and stars as Nigel Tufnel, has made several music-themed fake documentaries, most recently 2003's "A Mighty Wind," but their deliriously goofy rock epic takes the prize. Whether discussing an amp's maximum loudness (preferably 11) or ruining anyone's hopes of looking at Stonehenge with a straight face ever again, "Spinal Tap" brilliantly pokes fun at the pretentions of rock. "Rock of Ages" should've taken notes.
"Hustle & Flow"
I'm not a huge rap fan. There are a few exceptions, of course, one of which is the rap-infused 2005 film, "Hustle & Flow." Craig Brewer's movie, which follows a Memphis pimp (an outstanding Terrence Howard) as he attempts to make a new career as a rapper, has a terrific set list, including the Oscar-winning "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," which gets even better while watching it recorded in a room sound-insulated with cardboard fast food soda trays.
What makes "Hustle & Flow" memorable, though, is its sense of location. Brewer films Memphis with a sweaty, grimy authenticity that makes the music, as well as the struggle to make it, feel genuine and unique. When the opening credits roll to the growling sound of Buddy Guy's "Baby Please Don't Leave Me," it's movie music heaven, no matter your preferred genre.
"No One Knows About Persian Cats"
It's probably safe to say no one knows about "No One Knows About Persian Cats," and that's the way the Iranian government would most likely prefer it. The 2009 Iranian film, a 2010 Milwaukee Film Festival selection, chronicles the growing music scene in Iran, forced underground due to restrictive anti-music laws. Director Bahman Ghobadi and his actors were arrested twice during filming, and his lead actors, Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Koshanejad, fled the country soon after (they have yet to return). The movie ends on a heart-breaking note, but the performances, mostly by real Iranian musicians filmed secretly guerilla-style, that comprise a majority of the film provide a vivid, energetic and hopeful argument for the irrepressible power of music.
Every movie on this list so far as been about making music, but what about the fans, the people who bow at the feet of musicians the way most people praise gods? 2000's "High Fidelity" is the perfect tribute to those fanatics and the music they obsessively love. The film's plot is technically about Rob (John Cusack at his affable best) attempting to figure out why his girlfriend (Iben Hjejle) dumped him for the hipster upstairs. But the key romance is between Rob, his two dweeby record store co-workers and pop culture. The script, adapted from Nick Hornby's book of the same name, absolutely aces how pop culture geeks talk, how a conversation is often a condescending, yet warm-hearted battle of references and tastes. It's a movie about fans that deserves fans of its own.
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