Music and movies are two of the most popular art forms in contemporary culture, and this has been the case for the past century that movies have been dominant in pop culture. You don’t have to worry about sold out concert tickets when watching movies about music. And over the past century of movies, many of them have utilized music quite effectively, whether through original scores or artful use of preexisting songs for a soundtrack. However, there are a few movies that not only use music as part of their overall creative tapestry, but actually focus on music for their story as well. Out of all the movies that have been made about music throughout cinema history, these are some of the best.
While classical music history is generally regarded as dry, stuffy, and academic, director Milos Forman breathed buoyant and playful life into the story of one of music history’s most iconic figures: Amadeus Mozart. This 1984 effort tells a stylized story of the composer through the point of view of jealous creative rival Antonio Salieri, and effectively makes use of operatic storytelling combined with modern cinematic techniques to create a movie that is compelling even for those with little to no interest in classical music. “Amadeus” managed to win 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
24 Hour Party People
The story of Tony Wilson and Factory Records does not seem like it would be of much interest to anybody not fascinated with the Manchester, England music scene of the late 1970s through the early 1990s. However, just like Milos Forman did with “Amadeus, Michael Winterbottom was able to create a supremely engrossing and entertaining tale using his own skillful and innovative filmmaking techniques, in this case postmodern, reflexive breaking of the fourth wall and fast-paced storytelling and editing mixed with liberal doses of wry humor. The result is a film worth watching for anybody with even a marginal interest in rock history.
I’m Not There
“I’m Not There” was not director Todd Hayne’s first foray into the world of music-focused filmmaking. However, it is arguably his most realized and focused movie about music to date. Bob Dylan, the focus of “I’m Not There”, is a figure that has been analyzed, examined, and deconstructed more than just about anybody in popular music. However, Haynes is still able to create a wholly original and fascinating story by using different actors to portray different, fictionalized elements of the Dylan legend. Like “Amadeus” and “24 Hour Party People”, the resulting film is a good watch even for those with little interest in the subject matter.
For anybody with an interest in music history or music in general, these movies provide original and entertaining perspectives on well-trodden musical subjects. They may also motivate you to learn to play the piano.