It takes a unique kind of confidence to take millions of someone else’s dollars to make a movie. To possess that confidence because you’ve made a hit album seems almost heroically misguided. It’s like thinking you can fly a commercial plane because you’re an experienced formula one racer. Giving the GDP of a small country to a musician to make a movie can lead to grand artistic statements, weird pieces of outsider art that trained filmmakers never would have made. They can also be unprecedented disasters on an amazing scale.
Preceding the invention of music videos, The Beatles were integral to to merging pop music and cinema with Hard Day’s Night, Help! and Yellow Submarine. They weren’t so much filmmakers though, as the face of the Beatles brand.Their personal contribution seemed to lessen with each film, to the point that the vast majority of the voice work of Yellow Submarine was performed by professional, non-Beatle actors. Meanwhile their weird American doppelgängers, The Monkees, were producing one of the most bizarrely personal band films ever, with 1968’s Head. The original outline is rumored to have been conceived by The Monkees and Jack Nicholson with the aid of a tape recorder and monstrous amounts of marijuana. Head isn’t a polished band film, it’s an anarchic stream of consciousness that takes direct aim at the Monkees’ reputation. “Hey hey we’re the Monkees,” they sing, “…A manufactured image/ With no philosophies”. It’s a plotless, formless oddity that includes horrifically violent Vietnam war footage, an extended belly-dancing sequence and Frank Zappa dragging a cow through a studio backlot for no explained reason.
Unlike The Beatles’ image franchising and the Monkees’ almost calculated self-destruction, many musician filmmakers make films that seem a natural extension of their music. Both The Who’s Tommy and Pink Floyd’s The Wall are exorbitant spectacles that expand on the concept albums that gave them their name. Last year Belle & Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch released a directorial debut completely keeping in with his musical oeuvre. God Help the Girl was by turns tongue-in-cheek and poignant, a tribute to the healing power of pop music. The Flaming Lips’ film Christmas On Mars, meanwhile, was as insane and psychedelic as you would hope for from the band who sang She Don’t Use Jelly.
Movies made by musicians often have different artistic priorities. There’s less of a focus on narrative and more on creating a sustained mood through the use of emotional imagery and top notch soundtracks. They can be weird, visceral experiences, made by proven artists working in a new form. It might not be advisable to let a racing car driver fly a plane, but god knows the results would be interesting.
This Saturday we will be playing Pink Floyd’s The Wall in 70mm
When: Saturday the 19th December, 7:30pm