Having seen the recent re-release of the concert film Stop Making Sense, the one thing that didn’t was its famous director attached. Concert films have become famous not only for the on-screen talent, but those behind the scenes as well. This movie was directed in 1984 by Jonathan Demme, for those who lived through the 80’s, Demme was known as the director of Silence of The Lambs. These directors help bolster the film and legitimize a reason for critics to see it. These directors love these bands, and that love comes through on screen and off.
Below is a list of famous directors and the bands they love and how they became attached to their respective concert films.
Jonathan Demme- Stop Making Sense
For Demme, he had been a lifelong fan of the band. In 1979, having discovered The Talking Heads at a performance in Central Park, Demme would have to wait a while for the “Once in a Lifetime” opportunity. When Demme first saw them, they appeared on stage as statues, barely moving and interacting with their audience. Though by 1983, the “statues” came alive, bringing in elaborate set pieces, dancers, and other musicians to collaborate with. Demme, having just released his first feature around that time, contacted the band through a mutual friend. The band were fans of his debut film as well, and allowed Demme to provide thoughts about how the band should present themselves onstage. Demme wanted to have the concert solely be about the performance, whereas prior, concert films had behind the scenes interviews. The film and performance received critical acclaim, currently boasting 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Martin Scorsese- The Last Waltz
As far back as I can remember Martin Scorsese had always been a gangster. The gangster movie auteur behind such films as The Departed, Goodfellas, and many other classics came to direct an all-time great concert movie. Though it was almost never meant to be. After the completion of Mean Streets, Scorsese’s third feature, a movie which featured a soundtrack featuring rock music including The Rolling Stones” Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, The Band frontman Robbie Robertson contacted the director. Robertson really enjoyed the feature, and as it happened, The Band were looking for a director for a film based around their final performances. Jonathan Taplin was a producer on Mean Streets and a former manager of The Band. Scorsese at the time was hesitant to do it, as he was working on his new movie New York, New York and was under contract. He ended up making both films simultaneously, while working behind the backs of his producers, further solidifying his gangster reputation. The result, an all-time great concert film.
Steven Soderbergh- Yes 9012 Live
Prior to the actual start of Steven Soderbergh’s career, he directed a great concert film featuring the band Yes at the peak of their powers. This was 4 years before Soderbergh’s career began in 1989, one in which includes The Oceans 11 series, the underrated Out of Sight and many more amazing movies. The opportunity for the up-and-coming director arrived after he directed a documentary on the group called All Access Areas. The concert film provides an early look at the directors’ signature style prior to the release of his debut feature.
David Fincher- The Beat of The Live Drum
What’s in the box? Most likely Rick Springfields guitar amp. Many would not suspect David Fincher, the man behind Se7en, and Alien 3, would be the one to direct a Rick Springfield concert. Fincher’s early career saw him working at Industrial Light & Magic, LucasFilm’s effects company, behind the scenes. His work there led him to direct commercials, specifically an American Cancer Society spot featuring a fetus smoking a cigarette. The commercial caught the attention of the entertainment world, and Fincher was hired to direct Rick Springfield’s The Beat of The Live Drum on his 1985 tour.
Todd Phillips- Bittersweet Motel
Whoever paired these two artists together did not eff this up. The guy who showed us that Vegas was always cool, directs a documentary about the even cooler Phish. This pairing for once actually makes sense. Prior to The Hangover movies, Todd Phillips was hired to direct the documentary based on his work directing a documentary on infamous musician GG Allen. Phillips cut between the band’s backstage antics and extended jam sessions. There’s even footage of the fans doing things such as shot gunning beers amongst others acts of debauchery that fall right in line with Phillips Hangover films.
Hal Ashby- Let’s Spend the Night Together
Best known for movies such as Harold and Maude and Coming Home, the concert film provides a rare look at a low point in a bands career. Shot during the 1981-1982 tour, the film follows the band as they are unraveling at the seams. His work in making films that touched on the counterculture movements of the sixties and seventies made him an apt director to capture the band falling apart in the eighties.
If there are any directors I have missed or you want to hear more about, let me know in the comments below.