Making a concert movie is harder than it looks. Beyond pointing a camera at a stage full of performers, it takes an original conception, deft editing, and, of course, a unique and unrepeatable performance to immortalize on film — it’s no a coincidence that some of the best concert films have been directed by the greatest directors. Some of the best movies about bands and musicians don’t qualify as concert films. Dont Look Back , for example, is more a behind the scenes look at Bob Dylan’s 1965 European tour than a film covering his shows. The following are the top 10 live experiences brought to the movie theater.
10. The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (1996)
Mick Jagger was so unhappy with the Stones’ showing in the 1968 made-for-TV event they orchestrated and headlined, Rock and Roll Circus remained unseen until 1996. To be fair, the Stones were only really outdone by the Who, whose killer performance of “A Quick One While He’s Away,” with Keith Moon at his most animalistic, blows away everyone else, including, Jethro Tull Marianne Faithfull, Eric Clapton and John Lennon in this terrific expression of the ability of late-’60s rock to command both an audience and ambition.
9. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (2005)
During the height of his television show’s enormous popularity, Dave Chappelle put together an old-fashioned block party in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The idea was to update the community project of Wattstax , with Chappelle acting as a contemporary Richard Pryor-like MC, and the acts are all on top of their game in giving the people what they want to hear, from Kanye West to Mos Def to a reunited Fugees who absolutely steal the show in this exuberant, hilarious ode to the power and participation of the masses.
8. 1991: The Year Punk Broke (1992)
No concert film is as accurately titled as Dave Markey’s document of an early-’90s alterna-romp through Europe featuring Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Babes in Toyland and a little band called Nirvana, all of whom were on the cusp of participating in the mainstreaming, or “breaking,” of punk and indie rock in America and around the world. The behind the scenes antics of Thurston Moore and Dave Grohl are obvious highlights, but look for scintillating performances of Sonic Youth’s “Brother James” and Nirvana’s “Negative Creep,” prime evidence of the crest of the alternative wave.
7. Let It Be (1970)
The Beatles’ legacy on film began with the zany frolic A Hard Day’s Night and ended with swan song Let It Be, a document of the making of the penultimate Beatles LP and their final live performance, a spontaneous, much-imitated set on the roof of Apple Records headquarters in Picadilly Circus. Let It Be is how many fans probably don’t want to remember the Fab Four — the movie captures moments of the disintegrating group’s bickering and fighting during sessions — but it culminates in one the sweetest, saddest goodbyes from a monumental rock band to its audience.
6. Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1973)
On July 3, 1973, David Bowie shocked the multitudes gathered to see him perform as Ziggy Stardust when he famously announced, “Not only is this the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do.” Thankfully, legendary documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker (Don’t Look Back, Monterey Pop ) was on hand to preserve Ziggy’s surprise farewell in his spine-tingling document of Bowie at his sexiest, wildest, and most extravagant, an androgynous alien personifying the gender-bending theatrics of glam rock.
5. Wattstax (1973)
Galvanized by the seven year anniversary of the Watts Riots, Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, the Staple Singers, and others came together for a landmark concert organized by Stax Records that was much more than a music festival. Invocated by Jesse Jackson’s poem “I Am – Somebody” and featuring interviews with Richard Pryor and others on what it means to be an African-American, Wattstax works as a poignant commemoration and celebration of a people’s struggle for its voice to be heard in a racially divided country.
4. The Last Waltz (1978)
For their farewell show at the Winterland Ballroom in 1976, The Band and director Martin Scorsese went all out — rounding up guest performers like Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Neil Young, and a mesmerizing Bob Dylan, filming exclusive interviews about The Band’s roots and life on the road, and offering songs performed on a studio soundstage. With The Last Waltz, Scorsese and his oft-harried crew (they were the first to film a concert in 35mm) captured more than a proper send off for the enormously influential folk rock outfit; he captured history.
3. Woodstock (1970)
How to summarize the most famous concert in rock history in a single feature length film? Somehow Woodstock, directed by Michael Wadleigh, did just that even if only depicting a fraction of the festival and the swelling counterculture who descended upon Bethel, New York in 1969. Chock full of astounding performances (Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Joan Baez, Santana, Jimi Hendrix) and innovatively edited to portray the event’s evolution from organized be-in to mud-caked celebration of anarchy, Woodstock is as close as fans unlucky enough not to have been there will get to understanding their weird uncle’s tall tales of the legendary happening.
2. Stop Making Sense (1984)
Jonathan Demme’s concert film, compiled from a three-day stint in 1983, was ostensibly a record of Talking Heads at the height of their powers, but it was really a showcase for the stage antics and unique theatrical sensibility of David Byrne. Masterminding the group’s art-rock multimedia performance with monitors of odd images and words, Byrne complemented the music with his goofy, vigorous dance moves. Demme’s decision to shoot with as few cuts and crowd shots as possible assured Stop Making Sense would be a show molded to fit a film as much as a film molded to fit a show.
1. Gimme Shelter (1970)
The exhilarating highs and violent lows of rock ‘n’ roll’s peak period, as embodied by the era’s peak band, the Rolling Stones, were both in attendance at the Altamont Free Concert of 1969. In the spirit of free love and music, the Stones headlined a show with the Jefferson Airplane, Santana and others, but the bad vibes surrounding the event won out, leaving four people dead. Albert and David Maysles’ Gimme Shelter followed the ominous build-up to the horrifying events as well as the Stones’ seminal performance, and used penetrating techniques to confront the band with their own culpability for the disaster and question how a generation had devolved from the Summer of Love to “Sympathy for the Devil.”
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