Concert films come and go all the time, with most of them not leaving much of an impression on the world after they premiere. But some of them do last, and those are the ones that offer engaging and often different experiences to the norm. Some even transcend the limitations of a simple stage performance, and the more inventive the directors presenting them get, the better they prove to be.
With the impending release of multiple concert documentaries on Miami screens over the upcoming weeks -- Björk: Biophilia Live at O Cinema and Duran Duran: Unstaged at Miami Beach Cinematheque and Tower Theater (both of which look to be far out of the norm) -- it's time to take a look at some of the must-watch concert flicks of the last decade.
5. Shut Up and Play the Hits (Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern, 2012)
The most modern of these choices comes in the form of LCD Soundsystem's farewell concert that enjoyed a limited theatrical release two years ago. It's not a perfectly put together film, amateurish at times and featuring one too many cutaways to James Murphy's post-show lifestyle, but it's one that shows just how energetic and genuinely entrancing a show the band could put on. It's the kind of film that almost completely immerses you in the concert experience and with the all guests that join the group for their last show, it's doubtful any fan of theirs will be disappointed in it.
4. The Last Waltz (Martin Scorsese, 1978)
Scorsese's profound love for music has shown up on film in many different ways: full-blown musicals (New York, New York), music videos (Michael Jackson's "Bad"), and more than one documentary on a music icon. And as exciting as Shine A Light is, The Last Waltz is the true shining gem of Scorsese's music doc career. While most folks won't have any clue who The Band is (they're a band named The Band), the film does have a massive collection of stars (Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, etc) whose combined performances with The Band prove to be pretty damn great. The short bursts of interviews between tunes give you a little bit of info on them, but it keeps you at arms length, only allowing the viewer to fall for the performances and not the performers themselves. But boy, they're tunes well worth checking out.
3. Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (Adrian Maben, 1972)
I can't tell you the amount of times I've been sitting around at home in the mood to listen to Pink Floyd and thought, "I'm gonna watch 'em play Pompeii." But it's not solely to listen to their music; it's about the presentation of it all. The way the camera pans in on the band dead in the center of an empty Roman amphitheater -- no real audience whatsoever -- in a drawn-out, nearly three-minute take, is impressive enough on its own, but it's only the intro to a film packed with grade-a editing and cinematography. Every close-up to a face, an instrument, a sculpture, a natural formation, the use of split screen, the camera that rotates around them as though on a leisurely stroll (even the added-in overlaid images in newer editions); it's all intended to mix together beautifully with the music being played, and it achieves its goal damn well.
2. Dave Chappelle's Block Party (Michel Gondry, 2006)
So this might actually be a controversial choice because it's more than just your straight concert flick. It sort of transcends that by being a film about a well-known dude, comedian Dave Chappelle, gathering folks together to have a great time together at a free show. It's not just about the great performances that are included throughout the film -- Kanye West, The Fugees, Jill Scott, and Common among many others -- it's about simply enjoying Chappelle's humor and the way Gondry places it all on screen. Their combined goofiness definitely comes across on screen, and it all comes together to present the kind of feel-good music doc you wish there was more of.
1. Stop Making Sense (Jonathan Demme, 1984)
Have you ever seen a better concert film than this? Because it's sure hard to imagine one, even 30 years after its premiere. And if you ever get the chance to watch it in a theater with dozens of folks who love the band just as much, you'll realize just how stellar a work this is. Shot by genius cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth (Blade Runner) over a series of four nights, and extensively storyboarded by band frontman David Byrne himself, Stop Making Sense is a masterwork of both sound and sight when it comes to concert flicks.
If you're not into the music that Talking Heads provides, then you might be out of luck, but it's hard not to fall in love with the way songs like "Once in a Lifetime," "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)," and even Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love" are performed. The band and its back-up singers and dancers are charismatic, the camera is constantly interested in showing off the actions of all nine performers on stage, and the way the tunes and themes are presented are consistently innovative. Let's be real: who doesn't want to see Byrne dancing in a giant suit?
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