Afew hundred readers felt strongly enough about last week's column -- on the changing role of the long-form rock film in the age of DVD content and surround-sound, with a glance back at the best the genre had produced to date -- to write in with their own Top 10 lists.
As always, hearing from you is fascinating. There are many films praised in these letters that seem like inspired, if a bit obvious, choices, and they concur with my own thoughts on the subject. But just as often, I found myself mumbling, "Oh yeah, forgot about that one," and in one instance, "Geez, I better check that out." Tallying up readers' thoughts, I came up with an interesting and varied list.
Readers also praised recent developments whereby many major artists are releasing film content in conjunction with their album releases, via the new dual disc format, or through packaging a DVD along with their CD. Recently, artists such as Green Day, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young have released albums with mini-movies packaged alongside them, and many readers found this to be a positive development.
Considering this, it might seem strange that there is only one film on the compiled readers' list that is less than 20 years old. This may be due to the fact that our earliest experiences are the ones that stand out in our memories. Or maybe they just don't make 'em like they used to.
Here's what the readers came up with.
1. "The Last Waltz" (The Band)
Martin Scorcese's documentary on the final concert by one of this country's most enduring, eclectic, resonant ensembles somehow managed to tell a much broader story -- about, in a sense, the end of the '60s and the start of rock music's "wandering in the desert" phase.
2. "Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense"
Jonathan Demme and cinematographer Jordan Croneworth collaborated to capture Talking Heads in concert at the peak of their polyrhythmic prowess. Stark, reserved and unobtrusive, Demme's lens allows David Byrne and the Heads to create their own magic; a good part of this film's genius can be traced to Demme's unerring ability to know when to stand back and let it all be.
3. "Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii"
Director Adrian Maben captured Pink Floyd at an early peak, performing much of the material that comprises the "Meddle" and "Ummagumma" albums in an abandoned, 2,000-year-old amphitheater in Pompeii. At the time, Maben claimed to be making a sort of "anti-Woodstock," and it's true that this film is dark, hypnagogic, expansive and often frankly creepy. The version of "Echoes" that serves as the film's heart is some of the most transcendent rock music ever to be caught on film. And if "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" doesn't freak you out, you might want to check your pulse.
4. "The Who: The Kids Are Alright"
A fan's-eye view of this mighty mess of a band, "Kids" is half film-school project, half historical document. The brilliance is in the editing together of clips from throughout the Who's career, the new footage shot specifically for the movie -- Moon the loon cavorting with Ringo and dressed in bondage gear, John Entwistle blasting Roger Daltrey's gold records with a machine gun, the band playing a private concert for a few hundred people inside their Shepperton studios -- and the fact that the Who is clearly the most interesting rock band this side of the Beatles.
5. "Yes: Yessongs"
Bravo! Readers don't seem to have any trepidation about praising Yes, the best of the progressive rock bands of the '70s, captured in this still-startling concert documentary. "Heart Of the Sunrise," anyone? Yes, please!
6. "The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit"
The Maysles brothers were granted easy access to the Beatles' 1964 maiden voyage to the States, and they made the most of it. This is the cinema verite corollary to "A Hard Day's Night."
7. "Urgh! A Music War"
I'd never seen this film when it started showing up last week in reader e-mails, but I have since tracked it down. If there is a better documentation of the punk/new wave/reggae explosion of the late '70s and early '80s, I've never seen it. Wall of Voodoo, the Police, XTC and others captured live in concert and in conversation at various venues throughout the United States, by director Derek Burbidge. Sadly, it's out of print, but used copies are available on Amazon.com and eBay.
8. "Bob Dylan: Eat the Document"
Touche! This film has never seen commercial release, but it still remains a favorite of readers who wrote in, all of whom praised it for its unflinching view of Dylan's transformative period. Originally planned for a television release, the network was unprepared for the bizarrely beautiful stream of consciousness and druggy flow of the film -- which, of course, is exactly what makes it so compelling, even still.
9. "Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same"
Completely self-indulgent, overtly bombastic and clearly full of itself, Led Zeppelin's "Song Remains the Same" is a wonder to behold. This is '70s rock as it was, and as it should have been: grandiose and near-mythical. Whatever happened to my rock 'n' roll?
10. "Wilco: I Am Trying to Break Your Heart"
This is the only post-'80s film readers deemed worthy of inclusion on their list. The film's subject is one of the few bands worthy of sharing the company of the above.