By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
5. The Clash, Westway to the World (SMV, 1999). What is it about middle age that makes formerly ferocious British punks such sentimental weepers? If the sight -- or rather the sound, since he was filmed in a dark room -- of Johnny Rotten crying over Sid Vicious in The Filth and the Furywasn't enough of a jolt, Clash front man Joe Strummer getting misty over the lost potential of his band will convince you that London's no longer calling. This documentary, directed by longtime Clash associate Don Letts, can be frustrating because it constantly cuts off concert footage in midsong, but it's more than justified by the chance to see these aging -- thicker-around-the-middle, and thinner-on-top -- former gobsmackers tell their epochal tale.
6. Neil Young, Human Highway (Shakey Pictures, 1982). If Journey Through the Pastis a migraine-inducing mix of Eat the Documentand Renaldo and Clara, this is Young's Graffiti Bridge. An intentionally cheesy mix of lowbrow humor and environmental preachiness, Human Highwayis surprisingly entertaining. Young is a hoot as a bespectacled, doofus mechanic (oddly reminiscent of Jim Varney's Ernest character) who dreams of being a famous singer, just like Johnnie Ray. The members of Devo make a welcome appearance as nuclear power plant workers who glow in the dark. Simultaneously futuristic and retro, Human Highwayexplains how Young could have released the techno Transand the rockabilly Everybody's Rockin'in the same year.
7. Paul Simon, One-Trick Pony (Warner Bros., 1980). Simon is too fastidious to just wing it like Dylan or Young, so his screenwriting debut is characteristically thoughtful. Simon is appropriately understated as Jonah Levin, a '60s-era one-hit wonder trying to hang on to his career. With the help of Lou Reed as a sleazy producer and Rip Torn as a ball-busting record exec, this film skewers the shallowness of a record industry bent on radio-ready hooks. Unfortunately, Simon's Kramer vs. Kramer-esque domestic scenes are a bit awkward, particularly his tearful singing of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" while embracing his wife, played by Blair Brown. I also could have lived without his bathtub tryst with a nude Mare Winningham. But that's just me.
8. David Byrne, True Stories (Warner Bros., 1986). Like many of the films on this list, True Storiesdid damage to the auteur's career, but not because it sucks. In fact, it's a clever, if slightly off-putting, homage to small-town Texas eccentrics, and it shows an impressively sure touch for a first directing effort. But Byrne's Talking Heads compatriots felt frozen out by all the coverage the film got, and relations within the band never recovered. Since Byrning down the house that made him famous, "the Orson Welles of rock," as Byrne was then branded by Timemagazine, has been about as productive as the post-1940s Welles.
9. Wings, Rock Show (Miramax, 1980). Sure, Paul McCartney's greatest cinematic transgression against good taste was 1984's Give My Regards to Broad Street, but I'd rather clean Kenny G's sax reeds than sit through that piece of tripe again. So, in the generous spirit of the New Year, I've chosen this concert film, which documents the final show of Wings' 1976 American tour. Strangely, this film didn't see the light of day for four years, by which time Wings was nothing but a bug stain on Paulie's rearview mirror. Methinks me knows why the delay. Crowd-pleasing as these shows were, they also seem highly quaint when set against the punk movement that grabbed England by the throat only months after this was filmed. In retrospect, even the most-interpreted songwriter in history had to realize that "Magneto and Titanium Man" wasn't likely to get covered by the Damned.
10. Monkees, Head (Rhino, 1968). Better as concept than reality, Headgets off to a great start -- with a Monkees suicide scene set to the trippy "Porpoise Song," and a series of wicked social-commentary vignettes. But the stoned weekend retreat that produced this screenplay simply couldn't sustain a full-length film about the destruction of the Monkee myth. But pop-culture obsessives should take note: This is the only film you'll ever see that features both Frank Zappa and heavyweight boxing champion Sonny Liston.