Tag Archive: Bob Dylan

Favorite Music-Centric Movies

Today, I offer a run-down of some of my favorite music-centered movies. My humble list doesn’t include popular films and documentaries like the Beatles’ “Hard Day’s Night” or the Martin Scorsese flick about Bob Dylan, “No Direction Home.” However, I think these movies show the interesting blend of music in films, whether through fictional bands or semi-biographical retellings.

“Almost Famous” (2000)

Cameron Crowe’s flick about a teenage journalist who follows a rock band called Stillwater on the road during the ‘70s has resonated in the hearts and minds of many. With the unforgettable scene in which the bus full of musicians, managers and friends burst into Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” the movie has cemented itself into pop culture history (did anyone catch that Super Bowl ad?). Apparently based on Crowe’s own adventures hanging with the Allman Brothers Band, the film has the perfect mix of an amazing soundtrack, lovable characters and skilled acting. Patrick Fugit’s portrayal of William, the teen who is eager to become pals with his rocker friends, and Kate Hudson’s role as Penny Lane, who leads a group of self-professed “band-aids” (not groupies, she claims), are both memorable.

“That Thing You Do” (1996)

I remember at a young age seeing the film that tells the story of the quick rise and fall of a rock band in the ‘60s. The poppy tracks that the fictional group – “The Wonders” – played caught my ear, and I remember loving the vintage nostalgia of the costumes and sets. As the small-town musicians rocket from obscurity to billboard-hit fame, tensions among members inevitably rise and success is short lived. Catch winning performances from Tom Hanks as the savvy manager, Tom Everett Scott as the sunglasses-sporting drummer and Liv Tyler as the spurned girlfriend of the egocentric lead singer.

“Blues Brothers” (1980)

Building on the success of a SNL skit by cast members Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, the comedians took their act to the big screen to make the hilarious “Blues Brothers” film. After Jake (Belushi) springs from a stint in jail, the brothers go on a mission to reassemble their old band, win a competition and save the Catholic home where the siblings were raised. My favorite scene has to be when the band, which dabbles in – you guessed it – blues and rock ‘n’ roll, book a gig at a country-western bar. After initially playing their usual material and being booed, the band switches to a rendition of the “Rawhide” theme and a Tammy Wynette hit called “Stand by Your Man”.

“I’m Not There” (2007)

Surprisingly, this is the only film on my list that profiles a real-life musician. This ambitious semi-biographical film takes a look at various stages of Bob Dylan’s life, along with different facets of his personality and music. A share of actors portrays Dylan during various scenes, settings and interpretations; the list includes Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, and Cate Blanchett among others. The soundtrack is almost a character of its own, with a range of musicians covering some of Dylan’s best tracks. Some of my favorites are Roger McGuinn (of The Byrds) and Calexico’s “One More Cup of Coffee,” Cat Power’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” and Stephen Malkmus (of Pavement) and The Million Dollar Bashers’ “Ballad of a Thin Man.”

“Flight of the Conchords” (2007-2009)

Ok, so I know this isn’t a movie, but I can’t leave out the unforgettable HBO show about a duo hailing from New Zealand. The show follows Bret and Jemaine as they go about their daily lives, trying to book gigs and penning hilarious songs along the way. The comedians/band members blurred the lines between fiction and reality, releasing two albums and going on tour. It’s often hard to listen to their songs with a straight face, and they often parody different musical styles. Some of the best include the rap battle of “Hiphopopatamus vs. Rhymenoceros,” the song praising a girl for her mediocre looks in “Most Beautiful Girl in the Room,” and the tribute to fashion and hipsters, “Fashion is Danger.”

-Margot Pien

Movie review: A Serious Man

To the great rabbi in the sky: why?

I’ve never noticed the sublime beauty in a person simply getting up in the morning, until I finished watching Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest endeavor, “A Serious Man.”

The film opens on a quaint enough scene: a man returns home to his wife, escaping from a deadly blizzard.  The couple, possibly Yiddish, banters back and forth about their day, when the husband informs his wife that he’s invited an old friend of hers for dinner.  That can’t be, she tells him.  The old man’s been dead for years.  The husband must have met a dybbuk, Hebrew for evil spirit, the wife decides, but to no avail.  The husband invites the dybbuk into the home, cursing the household.

Whether the two are ancestors of Larry Gopnik, the film’s protagonist, is unknown, but it would certainly make sense.  It seems Larry, a mild-mannered Jewish-American living in 1960s suburbia, is a cursed man.

Larry is a physics professor on the tenure track and can fill an entire chalkboard with complicated theories without ever knowing why they’re relevant. Along his quest to be a serious, or, respected man, Larry has found plenty of questions in his life but no answers.

His son is a pothead, but hey, give him credit; he’s very studious about learning the Torah for his upcoming bar mitzvah. His daughter is counting her pennies for a nose job. His brother is a gambler who may or may not have committed sodomy in North Dakota. Oh, and his wife is in love with another man. But not just any man. Sy Ableman. Oy veh.

After Larry’s wife tells him about their impending divorce and get (a traditional Jewish divorce), Sy invites himself over to comfort Larry with a bottle of wine. Sy approaches this sticky situation as if he were selling funerals services at a mortuary. He embraces Larry as a brother and tells him not to worry.  Everything will be okay.

Sy, played by Fred Melamed, comes to Larry’s house specifically to see Larry. Melamed is a joy to watch, and he’s in so few scenes that he leaves you eager for his next appearance.

The fact that Larry doesn’t throttle Sy for his misplaced sympathy tells us something about Larry. A lyric from Bob Dylan comes to mind:

“In you, my friend, I find no blame

Wanna look in my eyes, please do

No one can ever claim

That I took up arms against you.”

Larry is played with naked honesty by Michael Stuhlbarg.  Largely unknown to mass audiences, Stuhlbarg makes use of the Coens’ material as if it were gold.

Throughout the film, Larry receives two pieces of advice for his troubles: One, speak to Marshak, the wise old rabbi, and two, accept his troubles as life.  Both stick in Larry’s throat like a dried matzah ball, and for reasons of his own, he can’t seem to do either.  At a picnic he is told by a relative that he is blessed to be a Jew.

“We’ve got the well of tradition to draw on,” she says.

She tells Larry that, at the end of the day, these troubles will always be with us.

“This is life,” she says.

Life for Larry is one horrible event after another ripping through the landscape like a Kansas tornado.  But he is allowed a brief moment of clarity when he climbs the roof to adjust the antenna so his son can watch “F-Troop”.  The sky is cloudless, and he looks down on the world around him as if he weren’t a part of it.  He’s deserving of this peace.  While he finds no answers on the roof, maybe it’s enough for him to realize that perhaps order exists in the world.

It’s not enough to call “A Serious Man” the most personal movie the Coen brothers have made to date. True, it is probably the closest thing to a purely autobiographical account of their childhood, growing up as a Jewish-American in the mid-West.  But this is too simple a statement and doesn’t say anything about what the purpose of creating such an account could be.  No, “A Serious Man” is much more than that.  It’s life.

-Jonathan Michels

Guest blogger