Who needs Woodstock when you've got a VCR?


July 25, 1999|By Ann Hornaday

Kids these days. Here they are, tromping off to the wilds of New York for a weekend of mud, music and misbehavior when they could so easily snuggle up with their parents in front of the VCR and enjoy all the benefits of a rock concert with none of those annoying odors and half-naked writhing bodies.

Indeed, several films relay the concert experience so sensitively, so poetically (and so noisily) that you'll be tempted to paint a flower on your forehead and fire up a Bic lighter right there in your living room.

Herewith, a short list of concert films to watch at home this or any weekend. Pop some popcorn, lay in the beverages and remember: Under no circumstances take the brown antacid.

* "Monterey Pop" (1968): The granddaddy of them all, this documentary chronicles the landmark 1967 concert that anticipated Woodstock and had a lot more soul. It features historic performances by Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. Director D.A. Pennebaker might not have captured Joplin's first performance of "Ball and Chain," which turned the world upside down. But he did capture the second, which is guaranteed to make your hair stand on end.

* "Gimme Shelter" (1970): Albert and David Maysles' influential cinema verite film following the Rolling Stones' 1969 tour is most notorious for capturing a murder by some Hells Angels during the Altamont show, but can also be credited for inspiring one of the greatest concert films ever made, that being ...

* "This is Spinal Tap" (1984): Rob Reiner's mock-doc about a band of pretentious rockers whose rise to stardom is traced with merciless thoroughness. It's difficult to choose one favorite scene: Harry Shearer in the airport? Stonehenge? "Smell the Glove"? Still the best satire ever about rock and roll at its most pompous and posing.

* "Message to Love: The Isle of Wight" (1996): Murray Ler-ner's film about the 1970 rock festival on Britain's Isle of Wight wasn't released for 25 years while Lerner searched for completion funds. It was well worth the wait. Some people say that "Gimme Shelter" sounded the death knell of 1960s idealism, but this is the real burial: No sooner have you grooved to Hendrix, Miles Davis and the Doors than Emerson, Lake and Palmer come out with synthesizers and candelabras and you're watching a bunch of jerks argue over money. Best moment: Joni Mitchell bringing the querulous crowd to heel by quiet force of will.

* "Stop Making Sense" (1984): Jonathan Demme's film of a Talking Heads concert is considered by many critics the best concert movie ever made. And why not? Every element of Talking Heads' artfully minimalist staging and prodigious jamming is caught by Demme with terrific alertness to detail. "Stop Making Sense" may be the closest film to an actual concert experience in its pulsing momentum, which ends in sheer ecstasy. Best moment: "Burning Down the House." Just try to sit still.

* "Hype!" (1995): Doug Pray's smart, funny and often moving documentary about the birth and death-by-marketing of the Seattle music scene may not be a classic concert film, but it has what might be the most electrifying concert sequence on film: the first performance of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by an unknown band named Nirvana in a tiny Seattle bar. "Hype!" has more treats, by way of Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and other more obscure Seattle bands.

* "Jesus Christ Superstar: A Resurrection" (1995): This film documents the performance of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical by a group of musicians from Athens, Ga., and Atlanta at the 1995 South by Southwest music festival. Indigo Girls Amy Ray and Emily Saliers play the title character and Mary Magdalene, respectively. The brainchild of Atlanta musician Michael Lorant (who plays Judas), this production of "J.C." bursts with commitment, exuberance and, unlikely as it sounds, sincerity.

Most of these films are availble for rental on video. To purchase a copy of "Jesus Christ Superstar," visit the Daemon Records Web site at www.daemonrecords.com, or send a check for $18 to Daemon Records, P.O. Box 1207, Decatur, Ga. 30331.

Pub Date: 07/25/99

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