There’s no doubt about the staggering influence of cinema on contemporary culture, whether in terms of fashion, politics, awareness of scientific and sociological issues, or simply highlighting the perils of time-travel using a converted DeLorean sports car…
But just consider what else has been inspired by movies over the years; new hobbies, interests, or even major decisions about what you want to do with your life - such as maybe becoming an actor! Sadly, nobody in the GuitarHead office has made any significant steps towards Hollywood fame due to the power of motion pictures, but just about ALL of us can cite at least three films which remain lodged in our memories as a huge inspiration for our guitar-playing habits.
So, having discussed/argued this subject at length - along with some serious Netflix activity - and discounting biopics of individual artists (i.e. Walk The Line, which we’d still highly recommend), me and my colleagues eventually agreed on this list of 6 essential movies that influence guitarists…
The uninitiated could be forgiven for instantly labelling this film as merely The Karate Kid with guitars - just the thought of Ralph Macchio playing a talented student with a wise old mentor immediately summons up images of “Wax on - wax off…” But we’d urge you to dispel this myth immediately. Crossroads is a 99 minute blues epiphany, literally charting a journey through the land, history, and - in all honestly - the soul of this most important of genres. Culminating in a guitar battle with Steve Vai, acting as the devil’s representative, which in itself should be reason enough for you to give it a try!
Above all, it’s about the music. We can thank guitarist, movie score composer, producer, and all-round roots genius Ry Cooder for the end results, who said of the final soundtrack that “I had songs in my head that dealt with every scene in Crossroads. To mold them into shape for that film was like Blues 101.”
The School of Rock (2003)
Jack Black is famed for his magnificent work as part of rock duo Tenacious D, which released their eponymous In The Pick Of Destiny movie in 2006. However, The School Of Rock is the film we’d recommend for inspirational purposes, and particularly for younger readers who would most probably give anything to have a school music teacher THIS awesome! Black stars as aspiring rock guitarist Dewey Finn, who ends up moonlighting as substitute prep school music teacher ‘Mr S’, and subsequently ends up coaching his young students into forming a rock band (complete with backing vocalists, roadies, groupies and even management!) to compete in a local Battle of the Bands. Along with some hilarious yet thoughtful instruction in guitar, bass, drum and keyboard skills, the students also receive what is basically a rock music 101 when it comes to material; AC/CD, Metallica, The Clash, Cream. Black Sabbath, Bowie, the list of epic and inspirational music featured throughout this story is simply perfect! An absolute must for guitarists of any age.
Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
Woody Allen both wrote and directed this superb jazz mockumentary, which earned Oscar nominations for both Sean Penn and Samantha Morton. Set in the 1930s, and telling the fictional story of talented yet troubled jazz guitarist Emmet Ray, the movie is essentially a homage to everything that was magnificent about wartime swing guitar music. Django Reinhardt is obviously the main inspiration behind practically every note heard throughout, acting as Ray’s idol, and referenced directly both in the dialogue and through the tunes performed (‘Sweet Georgia Brown’, ‘Limehouse Blues’, and a host of other hot-club classics that every gypsy jazz fan will immediately recognise). And, as you’d expect from any tribute to one of the greatest 6-string virtuosos of all time see our recent article, the guitar playing is just sensational…
There are many who believe that this film was the main inspiration for the television series Friends, suggesting we ought to take its popular cultural impact very seriously indeed. But as a perfect snapshot of the grunge era, and set in the very city where this pivotal rock movement emerged, Singles managed to strike a chord with generation X guitarists - both at the time, and ever since - about what the alternative music culture was really all about. The light-hearted romantic comedy tone is perfect, the soundtrack representing perhaps the greatest grunge mix tape of all time, the styling is authentically ‘thrift-shop’, and there’s WAAAAY too much coffee involved (this IS Seattle after-all). Centrally-featured fictional band ’Citizen Dick’ contains half of Pearl Jam, Chris Cornell takes a central acting role, and Alice In Chains appear as themselves - just to answer any doubts you might have about this movie’s grunge credibility!
The Blues Brothers (1980)
It’s much easier to explain the inspirational qualities of this essential movie as a simple list, rather than in unnecessary prose. So, during it’s 133 minutes of comedic genius, you will witness performances by…
- James Brown
- Cab Calloway
- Ray Charles
- Aretha Franklin
- John Lee Hooker
- Chaka Khan
That alone should be enough to legitimize the musical importance of this film. And not withstanding other appearances by music legends who DON’T actually perform (Joe Walsh for one), there’s also the sonic brilliance of the Blues Brothers band themselves, featuring Steve “the Colonel” Cropper on lead guitar. Have a read of our article to see why it’s definitely worth watching this man in action.
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
Frequently cited as #1 favourite film of many guitarists, and essentially an unambiguous cinematic lesson on why we shouldn’t take the rock-star life too seriously. Rob Reiner’s directorial debut brought the fictional British band Spinal Tap to the big screen, charting their adventures on a tour across America, and brilliantly satirizing just about every rock band cliché along the way.
The music itself is simultaneously fantastic and ridiculous, but it’s just about every other aspect of the movie that lodges in your mind - exploding drummers, dancing dwarves, guitars being played with violins (yes, really), and above all, the loveably ridiculous soundbites from the band themselves. You’d be hard-pressed to find any guitarist that can’t quote at least one line from This Is Spinal Tap. And major rock groups who have cheerfully acknowledged the films accuracy in many areas include Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, Aerosmith and Black Sabbath, which should act as the best recommendation of all.
Wrapping it up
And that’s it for this week. We’d summarise this blog very simply; It’s always important to keep your intellect open and try to learn and get inspired from different types of art forms, including movies. Even when (as in Spinal Tap) the intellect of the main characters seems questionable.
Until next time…
… peace out!