The Best Fictional Bands in Films?

A major hit of nostalgia was shot into my brain recently when I read that Breaking Glass (Brian Gibson, 1980) is to get a DVD release this month, 31 years after it was first released in September 1980.  31 years? Crikey, I saw this in the cinema when it first came out!! Yikes. All the songs played in the film by the fictional rock star, Kate and her band Breaking Glass, were mainly written by the film’s star, Hazel O’ Connor. I was getting seriously interested in music at this point (well, mostly Bowie and The Police) so I lapped up anything and everything going. I even bought a few Hazel O’ Connor singles on the back of the film’s release! Oh well, I was young and easily impressed. It would be fun to see the film again now though.

Anyway, it got me thinking – and this is the perfect idea for a Friday post –

Who are the best fictional bands/artists you’ve seen in films?

I have listed the my choice of films below, with links, in no particular order. I’ll kick off with Hazel, for old time’s sake.

Who have I missed and who would you include?

1. Breaking Glass – Hazel O’ Connor plays Kate, who with her band, Breaking Glass, achieves the fame she’s always craved, but at what cost? Was Lady GaGa even born when this came out? Here’s Eighth Day –  

2. Grace Of My Heart – Alison Anders’ wonderful film from 1996, loosely based on the life and work of Carole King. The soundtrack features some heavy-hitting songwriters, such as Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach, who provided this superbly crafted period song for Denise Waverly (Illeana Douglas) to perform –

3. That Thing You Do! – Also from 1996, Tom Hanks’ directorial debut charting the rise and fall of Beatles-style Beat Combo, The Wonders. This is their big hit! Great film too.

4.  That’ll Be The Day / Stardust – Well ok, I’ve snuck in two films here; but they go hand in hand, as they chronicle the life and times of fictional superstar Jim McClaine (David Essex) and his band, The Stray Cats. With great star turns from Ringo Starr (That’ll Be The Day) and Adam Faith (Stardust). Allied to Essex’s own real Star charisma, these are two of the best films there are about the Business of the thing we call Show. Watch out for turns from Keith Moon and Dave Edmunds as band members –

5. The School of Rock – Ok dudes, I’m going to finish on a real face melter. I absolutely love The School of Rock (2003). Directed by Richard Linklater, it stars Jack Black as failed musician Dewey Finn, who seizes one last chance at the big time by impersonating his teacher friend Ned Schneebly, and turning his class into a kick-ass, hard rockin outfit so that he can take part in a school’s Battle of the Bands competition, to get revenge on the band who dumped him. It’s top class from start to finish. Here’s the band in action, and remember, you’re not hardcore until you live hardcore! – Happy Weekend! 

Thanks to suggestions from commenters, I’m adding a few more bands to the list.

7. The Committments – Alan Parker’s film of Roddy Doyle’s hilarious novel about the titular Dublin Soul band was a huge success. Here’s a tune from it –

8. This is Spinal Tap – A classic –

9. O Brother, Where Art Thou? – How I could have forgotten The Soggy Bottom Boys from The Coen Brothers’ wonderful movie, I’ll never know.

10. Star Wars – The Cantina Band from George Lucas’ Star Wars seem to have a huge online following! Thanks to Ronan for pointing this one out to me – I can’t find a clip from the movie, but this is the tune they play in the Cantina scene.  

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The Skin I live In (La piel que habito) Pedro Almodovar, 2011

For his 18th feature film, Pedro Almodovar moves away from the female-centric stories of his previous films, into a more ramped-up, melodramatic tale comprising elements of Science-Fiction and Grand Guignol horror.

The Skin I Live In features one-time Almodovar stalwart, Antonio Banderas as Dr Robert Ledgard, a brilliant but unhinged plastic surgeon who is developing a new type of skin; made through a process of cloning and combining animal (in this case pig hide) and human skin to form a new hybrid. Ledgard is operating on a beautiful female captive, Vera (Elena Anaya) who may or may not be his wife, badly burned years earlier in a horrific car crash.

It’s difficult to discuss the film’s storyline without giving away major plot spoilers; suffice it to say that the far-fetched fantastical story, luckily, takes 2nd place to the film’s ravishing mise-en-scene. Other reviewers have criticised the film’s lack of emotional depth, but to me this is a (almost literally) clinical film all about surface sheen and superficiality. Almodovar attempts some psychological depth by showing Vera passing the time reading some very tasteful literature (Alice Munroe for one), and recreating works by Louise Bourgeois on the walls of her room; but, apart from being utilised to state the obvious (the Bourgeois work referenced is Femmes Maison– concerning a woman trapped in/by a house) there isn’t much room to delve deeper into these additions.

The rather cluttered storyline doesn’t detract, however, from Almodovar’s images, which are the best things about the film. Shots are beautifully composed;cool and elegant, with a gorgeous colour palette washing over the high contrast images. The score too, by Almodovar regular Alberto Iglesias, serves to add to the sense of heightened glamour.  In storyline and look, the film strongly references Hitchcock’s Vertigo, while the “mad doctor” scenario calls to mind Georges Franju’s classic Eyes Without A Face, which I’ve written about before. In Banderas too, Almodovar has a charismatic leading man; turning in a strong, assured performance while perfectly fitting the bill as the handsome, suave, yet creepy Dr Ledgard.

There is also a fitting contrast between Banderas’ middle-aged, lined features; those of Marilia (Marisa Paredes), his older, aged housekeeper and Vera’s smooth, blemish-free skin. In her we see no sign of the mortality which afflicts the other two, as her super-skin is resistant to ageing, heat, and even mosquito bites. This is still an Almodovar film though and he manages to imbue the film with his familiar themes – sexuality, voyeurism, transsexualism and transgender issues all play a part.

Like Doctor Frankenstein’s man-made Creature, this particular monster may be lacking a heart, but it is only ever concerned with surface appearance anyway.  While it may mark something of a departure for Almodovar, he reminds us of his own earlier films too; as elements of both Bad Education and Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down! are reflected in the super-shiny new skin of this one.

The Skin I Live In is on general release.

You can watch the trailer here