Festival season is approaching, but for music fans looking to experience the best performers, without worrying about the drizzly inconsistencies of the British summer, Picturehouse at Fact present Headline Acts: Summer of Music. A film season built around music films of all stripes, cinemagoers can look forward to new and classic documentaries, concert films and culture-defining works of fiction. Running from May to mid-July, programmers have chosen a toe-tapping, head-banging selection of movies that capture the rush of live performance, and the thrill of being part of a crowd.
Social and political history can be tracked in part through musical movements, performers and even certain gigs. Through careful curation, FACT’s summer of music films captures the ecstasy and raw power of live music, and the ways that it has been both a culmination of and catalyst for some of the most significant cultural moments of the last century. In Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock & Roll, for instance, Steven Van Zandt, Southside Johnny Lyon and Bruce Springsteen revisit the New Jersey site where they cut their teeth, and examine the legacy of the 1970 race riots that destroyed the Westside jazz and blues scene.
Through careful curation, FACT’s summer of music films captures the ecstasy and raw power of live music
The same year, Jimi Hendrix performed at the Second Atlanta International Pop Festival to an audience of 300,000. Against a background of civil rights unrest and the Vietnam War, Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church blends 16mm footage of the musician’s blistering performance with contextualising documentary elements. Also screening as part of the season, Jazz on a Summer’s Day takes a similar approach to the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and its roll call of legendary jazz and rock ’n’ roll performers, including Chuck Berry and Mahalia Jackson.
As far a concert documentaries go, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz is amongst the most acclaimed. Capturing what was billed as The Band’s last ever live performance in San Francisco on 25 November 1976, the end-of-an-era film features the likes of Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond and Ringo Starr. Ella Fitzgerald, meanwhile, gets a film of her own with Leslie Woodhead’s Ella Fitzgerald: Just One Of Those Things, which tells the story of the dazzling musical innovator and committed civil rights activist who got her start as a 15-year-old street kid who won a talent contest in 1934 at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem.
These documentary accounts of lightning-rod gigs and performers are complimented by two fiction works that nevertheless capture the truth and soul of their setting. Bob Fosse’s Cabaret features Liza Minnelli as an electric singer in Weimar Germany. It’s a film that depicts, with sadness and horror, a vibrant, transgressive world under threat from encroaching Nazism. Released in 1979, Franc Roddam’s Quadrophenia also looks backwards. Set in the mid-60s world of Mods and Rockers, Roddam’s film takes a concept album by The Who, and reworks it into one of the definitive portraits of an era just passed.