On Friday, you’ll finally be able to see
John C. Reilly
take center stage. He’ll be playing Dewey Cox in
Walk Hard (94
percent on the Tomatometer), an absurdist spoof
on troubled musicians and the Hollywood biopics that their life stories spawn,
and for this week’s Total Recall, RT takes a look at some of the memorable
fictional troubadours that have crooned the silver screen.
It doesn’t take a Grammy winner to see why actors are drawn
to biopics. Good actors make a living playing made-up characters, but it
takes a great one to convince a crowd of millions that they can emulate the
mannerisms, speech patterns, and attitude of a musical legend. Plus, said great
actor gets to sing, play an instrument, go through a "dark period,"
get saved or die a gnarly death. Pull all of this off and critics will dish out the
praise. There might even be a gold statuette waiting in the wings come February. Gee,
all that attention wouldn’t go to an actor’s head, would it?
While acting calisthenics and musical artist movies go hand
in hand, spoof humor enters the equation just as easily. We can mention films
and groups like
A Hard Day’s
Night (100 percent),
(88 percent), and The Monkees,
but let’s jump forward to 1984. The year’s headliner: the loudest (and funniest)
band in the world, Spinal Tap!
Spinal Tap is the story of a witless, second-string
British hard rock band (played by
Christopher Guest, and
Shearer) in the midst of a sharp decline. A tour to promote their latest album,
Smell the Glove, has hit a number of snags, including low ticket sales,
concerns that their new album cover is sexist (not sexy!), internal tensions,
malfunctioning and/or poorly designed stage props, and the fact the band’s
drummers consistently die under bizarre circumstances. Director
Rob Reiner also
stars as a filmmaker shooting a documentary about the band; in interviews, he
gleans profound insight into why the band’s amps go up to 11, and how much more
black one of their album covers can be. (The answer is none. None more black.)
Perhaps the most undervalued aspect of the film is that
Spinal Tap’s songs are good. Gleefully stupid, filled with profane double
entendres, such cuts as "Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight," "Big Bottom," and
"Heavy Duty" may not be in the same league as AC/DC, but they’re far more
entertaining — and tuneful — than your average Whitesnake record. "It stays so
wickedly close to the subject that it is very nearly indistinguishable from the
real thing," wrote Janet Maslin in the New York Times.
In addition, the film features hilarious parodies of
classic rap videos (send-ups of C&C Music Factory-style hip-house and PM Dawn’s
hippie-rap are especially devastating) and some sublimely silly moments
(especially a scene in which a "Rap Against Violence" presentation to an
elementary school class quickly devolves into a brawl between N.W.H. and a rival
crew). Some of the jokes are a bit dated, while others (as when the group gets
lost backstage, or the fact that the group’s managers are constantly being
killed) are almost direct rips from Spinal Tap. But anyone who loves
rap’s golden age will find a lot of big laughs here. And even some of the
throwaway gags — Tasty Taste has a necklace with a bowling trophy on the end;
one of the groups on tour with N.W.H. is an all-female ensemble called Parsley,
Sage, Rosemary ‘n’ Thyme — are at least good for a chuckle. "It’s sad that this
film has been relegated to cult oddity status," wrote Mike Bracken of Mike
Bracken’s Horror Films. "If you like rap music, biting satire, or are just
looking for something different, check this out."
Most artists pay respects to the masters in subtle homages.
Woody Allen, on the other hand, wears his inspirations on his sleeve. One
doesn’t have to look further than Isaac Davis rattling off his favorite things
in the world into a tape recorder in
percent), or the color recreations of
Brothers skits in
Everyone Says I Love You
(82 percent) for evidence. Sweet and Lowdown is
quick to call Emmett Ray "the second greatest guitar player in the world" — a
droll joke and direct reference to guitar maestro Django Reinhardt. Ray passes
out during a chance encounter with Reinhardt and several facets of Ray’s
behavior — he’s reckless, a gambler, and has just as much luck as he does
talent — mimics Reinhardt’s. But it could be said those are common strains in
any musician’s life. After all, moral disintegration makes for great idols.
If you can’t get your fix from these fictional musical biopics, there are a number of other notables sure to tickle your funnybone and
tap your feet. There’s the Beatles-skewering mockumentary The Rutles: All You
Need is Cash (88 percent), featuring cameos from
Paul Simon, and
Tom Hanks‘ sweet, energetic
You Do! (91 percent) tells the
story of a fictional Beatle-esque band’s brief moment in the sun.
lampoons gangsta rap in CB4 (63 percent), and the
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (62 percent) is the
X-rated tale of the trials and tribulations of an all female rock band. Rock on!