Rock n’ Roll as a medium has always come alive in film, owing to the “musical” power it derives from image-presentation, a trait common to these two 20th Century forms. The mythos of Rock n’ Roll creates its own cinema, but rarer are the occasions where filmmakers create their own rock and roll. That is, incorporating a fictional rock entity with their own style and persona as an integral part of a film. Every rock personality dreams up a fantasy of their onstage id before realizing it. But in a film, this rock and roll fantasy remains unreal, and for that quality, becomes more telling.
We’ll speak with Jamie Frey of NO ICE and Filmmaker/Toyzanne member Joe Wakeman, who have just collaborated on a film project for the NO ICE single “We Get High Together”, a music video where the members of NO ICE star in three separate silent films. In the end, Wakeman created three short films with original scores by the NO ICE’s keyboardist Sean Spada and the slide guitarist Jon “Catfish” DeLorme of ZZZWalk: “A Vernal Circumstance”, “The Sins of The Mad Lietuenant” and “Bindle Stiff.”
Frey and Wakeman will now share some of their favorite moments in “rock n’ roll” and “film.”
Midnight In Memphis
JF: Bette Midler’s “The Rose” character, while essentially a fictionalized Janis Joplin, is one of the most realistic depictions of the performer I’ve ever seen in any film. The Rose, onstage, is a master of arena rock. Everything she says and does is a moment of rock n’ roll bliss. Offstage, she has no control or confidence. She can’t function in regular life. In the entrance to this song, we feel the insane anticipation of the rock n’ roll arena concert, the hype of the band, the entrance of the singer: “hello, motherfuckers!!” In this introduction. Bette Midler captures the experience of the rock n’ roll performer, the power and the vulnerability playing out at once. For each moment in the song, she contorts manically, not resting for more than a beat. The insanity and pressure of having that many people in the palm of her band.
JW:Bette Midler though, would probably know that power and vulnerability, the “moves” pretty well, being as much if not more a touring live performer as an actress, no?
JF: Well, this is acting. Rock n’ Roll is more casual than theatre, this particular performance is fixed. The crowd are actors. She’s not playing rock n’ roll, she’s acting out a story about it. The performance is so legitimate and excellent, it doesn’t seem artificial, though it totally is.
JW: “The Rose” also kinda deals with her falling-apart offstage life (booze, exhaustion, etc.) and the way she just switches it off when stepping on stage, very much dividing the real/artificial self.
JW: Worth mentioning on that note is the fake concert performance David Bowie gives in “Christiane F.” on the night the titular character begins her descent into heroin-hell. It treads the line between real and fictional, and the context within the film imbues it with a kind of evil spirit power that could only be faked. (or real or whatever?)
JF: Glam is the most, in the best way, contrived iteration of rock n’ roll. What could be a better basis for the rock film? Rocky Horror Picture Show is as essential to glam rock as most of its non-fictional artists, many of whom create a complete theatrical character like Jobriath or Alice Cooper or Ziggy Stardust. The character Kurt Wylde combines Iggy Pop and Lou Reed loosely to create a compelling “fake” composite of the rock personalities, elements of which may themselves be more lore than truth.
JW: More Lore is always preferred when talking rock mythos. The movie expresses the kind of fantasies that a young fan with stars in their eyes might conceive based on tantalizing rock rumors akin to Bowie & Mick fucking etc. It’s really true to the rock experience in that way.
JF: In a way this is a piece more about being a fan than the actual artists. Some of the elements of “fan fiction” come into play here. A lot of the mystique of rock n’ roll comes from imagined stories of the rock n’ roll fan, like Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil. This film depicts this love affair where, if it occurred, no one remembers what actually happened. They were on Quaaludes etc. But it’s a profound part of the rock mythos regardless.
JW: I’ve never actually seen this movie, I’m intrigued though. Why is nobody wearing pants?
JF: The Stains had their original look and then overnight they had a cult of fans copying their style and also not wearing pants. It’s a commentary on the commodification of the original punk style and how as soon as it reached the masses it became obsolete. Poor Johnny Rotten.
JF: This film plays out the quick rise and fall of the “rock group” in totally ridiculous melodrama, with “Z-Man”, a Phil Spector-type, a campy villain not anywhere near as terrifying as the actual Phil Spector. The Svengali character is the perfect villain for any rock n’ roll story.
JW: I can see Phil Spector doing the kind of stuff he does. (I don’t want to give it away..but oh my god its so nuts hahaha) I like this scene of the movie because it uses this awesomely brazen triple exposure (made possible by the time-honored wonders of Cinemascope) to juxtapose the “Carrie Nations’ performance (that is, played by The Sandpipers and mimed wonderfully unconvincingly by the “Carrie Nations”) with the expressions of hapless boyfriend Harris and scheming impresario Z-Man. You read a range of information in the shot, clearly and beautifully: reactions to the performance and the success of the band, the dark humor in what’s to come. The corny lyrics “In the long run, you’ll need someone, to trust and count on, somewhere along the way” describe the machinations at play in the shot as much as they communicate the pop appeal and believable success of the group.