Compiled by David Henderson (St. Lawrence University)
This special issue is the second of two focusing on feature films
and feature-length documentaries that revolve around musical
subjects or raise ethnomusicological questions. This issue focuses
on the Americas; the previous issue was devoted to all other
regions of the world.
Individuals who contributed to this list are acknowledged below and
cited in parentheses following each entry. Quotations included in
entries are from these individuals unless otherwise noted; my
descriptions are culled from publicity statements, film catalogs,
film encyclopedia entries, and web resources. Issue numbers for
entries previously included in this film- and videography are noted
in brackets. "NLA" stands for "No Longer
Acknowledgements: Jorge Arévalo, Tildy Bayar, Chris Becom,
Michael Birenbaum Quintero, Walter Clark, Jennifer Cutting, Mark
DeWitt, Rolf Groesbeck, David Harnish, Juniper Hill, David Hughes,
Jay Keister, Pete Kvetko, Javier León, Fred Lieberman, Lucy
Long, Marie MacDonald, Amelia Maciszewski, Richard Miller, Michael
Morse, Gee Rabe, Anne Rasmussen, Jonathan Ritter, David Samuels, T.
M. Scruggs, Karl Signell, Norman Stanfield, and Liz Wollman. [ Arevalo Leon ]
Editor's note: in order to aid searching, names and terms that
have been coded to display diacriticals have been appended to the
entry in brackets without diacriticals.
Americas | Distributor Information
The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack. 2000. Directed by Aiyana
Elliott (USA). Distributed by Lot 47 Films. VHS and DVD, 112 mins.
Feature-length documentary directed by the daughter of Ramblin'
Jack Elliott. "In telling my dad's story," Elliott
says, "a hundred other stories began to unfold, about Woody
Guthrie and Bob Dylan and the whole evolution of folk music in
America...." With appearances by Arlo Guthrie, Kris
Kristofferson, Alan Lomax, Pete Seeger, and others (Rasmussen)
Bamboozled. 2000. Directed by Spike Lee (USA). Distributed
by New Line Cinema. DVD, 135 mins. Frustrated television executive
Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans) attempts to sabotage his own career
by proposing to revive the minstrel show, with black actors in
Belizaire The Cajun. 1986. Directed by Glen Pitre (USA).
Distributed by Madacy Entertainment. DVD, 103 mins. One of the
first feature films focusing on Cajun culture, with Armand Assante
starring as a Cajun healer in pre-Civil War Louisiana (DeWitt).
Berkeley in the Sixties. 1990. Directed by Mark Kitchell
(USA). Distributed by First Run Features. VHS and DVD, 117 mins.
Documentary about student activism which also "brings in a lot
of music (as well as a lot of interviews with Country Joe
McDonald)." The soundtrack also includes, as might be
expected, music by Joan Baez, the Band, Jimi Hendrix, and the
Grateful Dead (Wollman).
The Big Easy. 1987. Directed by Jim McBride (USA).
Distributed by Trimark Home Video. Available from Facets
Multi-Media. DVD, 108 mins. Dennis Quaid stars as Detective Remy
McSwain in this New Orleans crime flick. With Solomon Burke as
Daddy Mention and music by both the Neville Brothers and Dennis
Bird. 1988. Directed by Clint Eastwood (USA). Distributed by
Warner Home Video. VHS and DVD, 161 mins. Biography of Charlie
Parker, starring Forest Whitaker. Roger Ebert in the Chicago
Sun-Times notes that it "wisely does not attempt to
"explain' Parker's music by connecting experiences
with musical discoveries. This is a film of music, not about
Bound for Glory. 1976. Directed by Hal Ashby (USA).
Distributed by MGM Home Entertainment. DVD, 147 mins. Biography of
Woody Guthrie, nominated for five Academy Awards. Stars David
Carradine as Guthrie, with music by Leonard Rosenman
(Arévalo). [ Arevalo ]
Buena Vista Social Club. 1999. Directed by Wim Wenders
(Germany/USA/UK/France/Cuba). Distributed by Artisan Pictures, Inc.
Available from Facets Multi-Media. DVD, 101 mins. Documentary of
1996 recording sessions and concerts of Cuban musicians organized
by Ry Cooder. Shows songs being recorded in the studio, concert
footage from Amsterdam and New York City, and some of the musicians
talking about their lives in Cuba and how they got started in
music. In Spanish and English with English subtitles (Bayar)
Calle 54. 2000. Directed by Fernando Trueba
(Spain/France/Italy). Distributed by Miramax Home Entertainment.
VHS and DVD, 105 mins. Depicts Latin jazz musicians in rehearsal
and performance. Includes footage of Bebo Valdés, Israel
"Cachao" Lopez, and Tito Puente's last filmed
performance (Birenbaum Quintero) [45/1]. [
CB4. 1993. Directed by Tamra Davis (USA). Distributed by
Universal Studios. VHS and DVD, 89 mins. Described by Hal Hinson of
the Washington Post as "part rap 'Spinal Tap,'
part 'Loaded Weapon I,' part Mad magazine." Written
by Nelson George and Chris Rock, with Isaac Hayes and LaWanda Page
playing small roles and Ice-T, Ice Cube, Flavor Flav, and others
making appearances (Samuels).
The Chosen. 1981. Directed by Jeremy Paul Kagan (USA).
Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. DVD, 108
mins. A story of two Jewish teenagers struggling with cultural
differences in 1940s New York, based on the 1967 novel by Chaim
Potok (who also appears as the "Talmud Teacher" in the
film). With "some great klezmer music," including
"klezmer accompaniment to a Hasidic wedding scene in which Rod
Steiger's character [Reb Saunders] gets to his feet and dances
Class Act. 1992. Directed by Randall Miller (USA).
Distributed by Warner Home Video. VHS, 98 mins. Stars Kid
'n' Play, rappers who first appeared in House Party
(1990), as two high school students whose academic records are
switched. "First-time director Randall Miller guides them over
every predictable comic misstep with a timeout for a hip-hop
number," writes Peter Travers of Rolling Stone.
"Kid 'n' Play have charm, but it's disturbing to
see them settle for the slick. Their rap used to stand for
something; now it's just easy listening" (Samuels).
Close Encounters of the Third Kind. 1977. Directed by Steven
Spielberg (USA). Distributed by Columbia/Tristar Studios. DVD, 137
mins. Classic '70s science fiction film starring Richard
Dreyfuss. "The aliens communicate with music. The five-note
theme is first heard sung by a mass of worshippers in Dharamsala.
The humans and aliens play that strange duet at the end. I
don't know what it says about ethnomusicology (except maybe
that India part), but it definitely has a thing about music as a
universal language..." (Samuels).
Coal Miner's Daughter. 1980. Directed by Michael Apted
(USA). Distributed by Universal Studios. VHS and DVD, 125 mins.
Biography of Loretta Lynn, based on her written autobiography
(1976). Starring Sissy Spacek, with Tommy Lee Jones as Mooney Lynn
and Beverly d'Angelo as Patsy Cline (Lieberman).
Crooklyn. 1994. Directed by Spike Lee (USA). Distributed by
Universal Studios. DVD, 115 mins. Partly autobiographic film with a
screenplay written by Spike, Joie, and Cinqué Lee "in
which music plays a central role in the story." The soundtrack
includes songs by Berry Gordy, Curtis Mayfield, and Sly and the
Family Stone (Keister). [ Cinque ]
Crossover Dreams. 1985. Directed by Leon Ichaso (USA).
Distributed by Congress Entertainment. Available from Facets
Multi-Media. VHS, 86 mins. A film about the rise and fall of a
salsa singer that explores "salsa and Latino
identity." Set in Spanish Harlem and starring Rubén
Blades, this is Cuban-American director Ichaso's first feature
film after El Súper (1979) (Scruggs). [ Ruben Super ]
Danzón. 1991. Directed by María Novaro
(Mexico/Spain). Distributed by Columbia/Tristar Studios. Available
from Amazon.com. VHS, 120 mins. Stars María Rojo as Julia
Solórzano, a phone operator in Mexico City, and Daniel
Rergis as Carmelo, strangers who dance together at the Salón
Colonia every Wednesday. When Carmelo disappears, Julia travels to
Veracruz to try to find him. With music by Felipe Pérez
(Birenbaum Quintero). [ Danzon Maria
Solorzano Salon Perez ]
Dead Man Walking. 1995. Directed by Tim Robbins (USA/UK).
Distributed by MGM Home Entertainment. DVD, 122 mins. Susan
Sarandon stars as a nun ministering to an unrepentant murderer
(Sean Penn) on death row in Angola State Prison in this film based
on the book by Sister Helen Prejean (1993). With music—most
bafflingly, qawwali juxtaposed with murder scenes—by
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Eddie Vedder, Ry Cooder, Lyle Lovett, Tom
Waits, and Viswa Mohan Bhatt (Henderson).
Deep Blues. 1991. Directed by Robert Mugge (UK). Distributed
by Sony Music. VHS and DVD, 91 mins. Film by acclaimed music
documentary filmmaker, Robert Mugge (Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise
, Black Wax , The Return of Rubén
Blades , The Kingdom of Zydeco ). Robert
Palmer and Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics narrate "a musical
trip through the Mississippi Delta, from Memphis to South
Mississippi, featuring performances by blues and
other—including fife and drum band—musicians"
(Groesbeck). [ Ruben ]
Do the Right Thing. 1989. Directed by Spike Lee (USA).
Distributed by Universal Studios. VHS and DVD, 120 mins.
Exploration of race relations on the streets of Brooklyn. "Lee
makes excellent use of music (Public Enemy's 'Fight The
Power' reverberates throughout the film) to create tension and
to comment on the action," writes Stephen Cox of the Edinburgh
University Film Society, "and cinematographer Dickerson uses
bright colours to give the sense of unbearable heat" (DeWitt).
Dolemite. 1975. Directed by D'Urville Martin (USA).
Distributed by Xenon Pictures. DVD, 90 mins. Clunky cult classic
starring the "godfather of rap," Rudy Ray Moore. Features
one of the comic's most famous pieces, "The Signifying
Drumline. 2002. Directed by Charles Stone III (USA).
Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. VHS and
DVD, 118 mins. Feature film about a mostly black college marching
band at the fictional Atlanta A&T University, starring Nick
Cannon as a Harlem street drummer recruited to lead the drumline to
victory. There's an interesting connection "to Star
Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace, where the Jar Jar
Binks-type alien marching band at the end is basically a parody of
southern black college bands, with cuicas and
didjeridus added for exotic effect. There are also subtexts
of musical innovation vs. 'the tradition' and the
'natural' musician (a cocky virtuoso who is not much of a
team player) vs, the well-trained musician (a team leader whose
sucess is partly measured by his ability to read music and
understand 'the system')" (León). [ Leon ]
Fear of a Black Hat. 1994. Directed by Rusty Cundieff
(USA/UK). Distributed by Columbia/Tristar Studios. DVD, 88 mins.
First feature film by Cundieff, whose first film credit was as an
infant on Days of Our Lives. A pseudo-documentary of the
fictitious rap group, N.W.H. "As it recounts the history of
N.W.H.," writes Michael Snyder of the San Francisco
Chronicle, "the film also manages to lampoon rap music and
its archetypes, as well as poking fun at the venal, self-serving
music-business types looking to grab easy money from the
Five Easy Pieces. 1970. Directed by Bob Rafelson (USA).
Distributed by Columbia/Tristar Studios. DVD, 96 mins. Jack
Nicholson stars as Robert Eroica Dupea, who drops his diligent
study toward a career as a concert pianist, moves in with a
waitress, and takes a job as an oil-field rigger. When he goes to
visit his dying father, he must confront his pasts and presents.
"Nicholson says everything there is to say about personal
authenticity and intentionality in music performance"
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. 1999. Directed by Jim
Jarmusch (France/Germany/USA/Japan). Distributed by Kinowelt GmbH.
DVD, 116 mins. "Ghost Dog," writes Xan Brooks of
Sight and Sound, "comes across as an eccentric salad of
styles (a hip-hop Mafia samurai thriller, no less), its core pure
Jarmusch." With a soundtrack by Wu Tang Clan frontman RZA,
this film offers plenty of material for talking "about
appropriation: the black guy who's a samurai, the mobster who
loves hip hop..." (Samuels).
Gimme Shelter. 1970. Directed by Albert Maysles, David
Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin (USA). Distributed by The Criterion
Collection. VHS and DVD, 91 mins. Classic documentary of the
Rolling Stones' 1969 concert tour, mostly focusing on the
Altamont Speedway performance and the killing of Meredith Hunter
during it. With appearances by Jefferson Airplane, the Flying
Burrito Brothers, and Ike and Tina Turner. (Morse).
Grateful Dawg. 2000. Directed by Gillian Grisman (USA). Distributed
by Sony Pictures. VHS and DVD, 81 mins. Documentary of the friendship and
musical collaboration between David Grisman and Jerry Garcia, which began
when they met at the Sunset Park, Pennsylvania, bluegrass festival in 1964.
Directed by Grisman's daughter, this film is "like an 80-minute flip
through the Grisman family photo album—" writes Geoffrey Gray of
the Village Voice, "complete with live, unreleased soundtrack"
The Harder They Come. 1973. Directed by Perry Henzell
(Jamaica). Distributed by The Criterion Collection. VHS and DVD,
120 mins. Classic film featuring Jimmy Cliff as Ivan Martin, a
rural Jamaican musician whose success in the Kingston music
industry transforms him into the gun-toting hero of the underdog.
With music by Toots & the Maytals, Desmond Decker, and, of
course, Jimmy Cliff. In English with occasional English subtitles
High Fidelity. 2000. Directed by Stephen Frears (USA/UK).
Distributed by Touchstone Pictures. VHS and DVD, 113 mins. John
Cusack starts as Rob Gordon, the owner of a floundering record
store in Chicago. Director Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette
, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid , The Grifters
) uses music to great effect in this film. "It has 57
songs credited," notes Andrew Urban in Urban Cinefile,
"which should give you some idea of the importance of the
soundtrack. As the title implies, High Fidelity is
thematically driven by music; in other words, music matters to the
characters, and music defines them in some way" (Lieberman).
House Party. 1990. Directed by Reginald Hudlin (USA).
Distributed by New Line Cinema. VHS and DVD, 100 mins. The first
film starring rap duo Kid 'n' Play (Christopher Reid and
Christopher Martin), this is a remake of Hudlin's 1983 short
film of the same name (a student work from his days at Harvard).
George Clinton makes an appearance, and Ozus Munny is credited as
the production manager (Samuels).
House Party 2. 1991. Directed by George Jackson and Doug
McHenry (USA). Distributed by New Line Cinema. VHS and DVD, 94
mins. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times describes this as
"a genial and good-humored sequel to the surprise 1990 hit,
but not much more." While praising the directors for their
work as producers on New Jack City (1991), he claims that
they "have not really made anything here other than a 1950s
Pat Boone movie with blacks instead of whites" (Samuels).
A Jumpin' Night in the Garden of Eden. 1988. Directed by
Michal Goldman (USA). Distributed by First Run Features. VHS, 80
mins. Feature-length documentary on the New York klezmer scene,
focusing primarily on Kapelye and the Klezmer Conservatory Band
The Last Waltz. 1978. Directed by Martin Scorsese (USA).
Distributed by MGM Home Entertainment. DVD, 117 mins. Footage of
The Band's last concert, at San Francisco's Winterland in
1976, interspersed with studio clips and staged interviews. The
film "includes some awesome footage of classic
musicians," such as Dr. John, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Van
Morrison, Muddy Waters, Pinetop Perkins, and Neil Young, along with
appearances by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Martin Scorsese
Madonna: Truth or Dare. 1991. Directed by Alek Keshishian
(USA). Distributed by Artisan Pictures, Inc. Available from Facets
Mult-Media. VHS and DVD, 114 mins. Documentary following
Madonna's 1990 Blond Ambition world tour, with small but
memorable parts for Warren Beatty and Kevin Costner in particular.
Also known as In Bed with Madonna (Morse).
The Mambo Kings. 1992. Directed by Arne Glimcher
(USA/France). Distributed by Warner Home Video. VHS, 104 mins.
"Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas play Cesar and Nestor
Castillo, two talented Cuban musicians and brothers who leave their
homeland in 1952 for a better life in America. There are scenes
from the television show I Love Lucy with Desi Arnaz [played
by Desi Arnaz, Jr.] and a cameo appearance by Tito Puente."
With music by Arturo Sandoval, Celia Cruz, Beny More, and the Mambo
El Mariachi. 1992. Directed by Robert Rodriguez
(USA/Mexico). Distributed by Columbia/Tristar Studios. DVD, 81
mins. A nameless guitar-playing drifter dressed in black wanders
into a Mexican border town; the same day, a killer dressed
identically arrives, and the guitarist finds himself pulled into
local crime wars. Shot on a total budget of $7,000, this film made
Rodriguez, then 23, a legend in independent low-budget filmmaking.
The DVD includes Desperado, the 1995 remake/sequel to El
Mariachi. In Spanish with English subtitles (Clark).
Masala. 1991. Directed by Srinivas Krishna (Canada).
Distributed by Wellspring Media. VHS and DVD, 106 mins. Krishna
(played by director Srinivas Krishna) is plagued by the memory of
his parents' deaths as he struggles to negotiate his way around
a pampering Indian extended family and a surly Canadian girlfriend
in Toronto. With musical sequences parodying Bollywood films, a
plot revolving around a rare Canadian stamp, and the god Krishna
appearing at one point in a Maple Leafs uniform, this film is
overripe with alternately complex and simplistic takes on diasporic
Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival. 1997. Directed
by Murray Lerner (USA). Distributed by Sony Music. VHS and DVD, 127
mins. Documentary of the third and last Isle of Wight festival in
1970, directed by the executive producer of such classics as
Rocketship X-M (1950), Train to Tombstone (1950), and
Savage Drums (1951). With performances by Emerson, Lake, and
Palmer, Jethro Tull, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, and the Doors, among
A Mighty Wind. 2003. Directed by Christopher Guest (USA).
Distributed by Warner Home Video. VHS and DVD, 91 mins. "[A]
spoof on a reunion concert of late '50s/early '60s folk
singers. It includes characters that are sort of summaries of
various genres of folkies and includes the aesthetic, political,
and personal issues that were central to the folk song revival of
that time. It's also great fun to watch, and the new 'folk
songs' that were written for it are actually quite
Mo' Better Blues. 1990. Directed by Spike Lee (USA).
Distributed by Universal Studios. DVD, 129 mins. "Doesn't
music play a central role in the story in almost all of Spike
Lee's films? [This film] about jazz musicians and sexual
power...stars Denzel Washington as a trumpet player who sees his
musical chops and sexual prowess as the same thing until he loses
the former in a fight about the latter" (Groesbeck,
Nashville. 1975. Directed by Robert Altman (USA).
Distributed by Paramount Home Video. VHS and DVD, 159 mins. As in
his other films, in Nashville Altman pulls together the
individual stories of a range of ordinary figures and makes them
fit both chaotically and seamlessly. Much of the dialogue is
improvised; Henry Gibson, Ronee Blakely, and Karen Black, who play
country & western stars, also sing their own songs (Lieberman).
Orfeu Negro/Black Orpheus. Directed by Marcel Camus
(Brazil/France/Italy). Distributed by The Criterion Collection. VHS
and DVD, 100 mins. A Brazilian interpretation of the Orpheus and
Eurydice myth, set during Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Starring
Breno Mello as Orfeo and Marpessa Dawn as Eurydice, with music by
Luiz Bonfá and Antonio Carlos Jobim, "the whole movie
is full of fabulous Brazilian samba." In Portuguese with
English subtitles (Hill). [ Bonfa ]
O Brother, Where Art Thou? 2000. Directed by Joel Cohen
(UK/France/USA). Distributed by Touchstone Pictures. VHS and DVD,
106 mins. Three bumbling convicts escape from jail and journey
through Depression-era Mississippi in search of hidden loot in this
feature film loosely based on Homer's Odyssey. As in the
Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski (1998), music archivist
T-Bone Burnett works hard to get a precise fit between sound and
sight, here mixing together vintage tracks like Harry
McClintock's "Big Rock Candy Mountain" with recent
recordings by Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, and
Pocahontas. 1995. Directed by Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg
(USA). Distributed by Walt Disney Home Video. VHS and DVD, 81 mins.
"Disney's 33rd animated feature, and its first with
characters based on real people," notes Peter Stack of the
San Francisco Chronicle. Inupiat Eskimo/French Canadian/Cree
Irene Bedard, the voice of Pocahontas, was also the physical model
for the cartoon figure. Rich fodder for discussing the politics of
representation, although this film is a far cry from earlier Disney
fare. With music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Powwow Highway. 1989. Directed by Jonathan Wacks (UK).
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment. DVD, 88 mins. A Native
American road movie starring A Martinez, Gary Farmer, and
"Protector" (a '64 Buick) in a journey from Lame
Deer, Montana, to Santa Fe, New Mexico. "[C]ontains a powerful
segment that takes place at a reservation powwow, a conversation
between the film's protagonist and Graham Greene's
character [a Vietnam veteran] about what value the event has in
contemporary Indian lives" (Ritter).
Pure Country. 1992. Directed by Christopher Cain (USA).
Distributed by Warner Home Video. VHS and DVD, 112 mins. Dusty
Chandler, a superstar in the country music world, tires of his
overblown performative style and decides to seek out his true
country roots. "[S]tarring and with a soundtrack by George
Purple Rain. 1984. Directed by Albert Magnoli (USA).
Distributed by Warner Home Video. VHS and DVD, 111 mins. Classic
'80s musical drama featuring Prince as The Kid. "As a
showcase for his songwriting and showmanship," writes Nathan
Rabin of The Onion, "the film fully justifies its place
in the pop-culture pantheon, but as a movie, it's a muddle of
bad acting, hackneyed melodrama, clumsy exposition, arbitrary
conflicts, and dime-store Freudianism." (Kvetko).
Rainbow Bridge. 1972. Directed by Chuck Wein (USA).
Distributed by Rhino Home Video. DVD and VHS, 125 mins. Features
highlights from Jimi Hendrix's last U.S. performance, a1970
concert on top of Haleakala Volcano in Hawai'i. The only other
film directed by Wein was a 1965 film, My Hustler, done with
Andy Warhol (Harnish).
The Right Stuff. 1983. Directed by Philip Kaufman (USA).
Distributed by Warner Home Video. DVD, 193 mins. Epic about the
Mercury astronauts; of no great musical interest except in
its use of the didjeridu to index some kind of spirituality.
Along with the usual musical fare for Hollywood space odysseys, the
soundtrack also includes taiko drumming by Seiichi Tanaka;
"Yablochka," by the Andreyev Balalaika Ensemble; and
"La Bamba," by Chubby Checker (Samuels).
Rock 'n' Roll High School. 1979. Directed by Allan
Arkush (USA). Distributed by New Concorde Home Video. VHS and DVD,
93 mins. A group of students take over their school with the help
of the Ramones (Cheap Trick declined to participate in the film)
The Rose. 1979. Directed by Mark Rydell (USA). Distributed
by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. DVD, 125 mins. Bette
Midler stars as Mary Rose Foster, a self-destructive rock star
based loosely on Janis Joplin, and Alan Bates delivers a strong
performance as Rudge Campbell, her manager (Lieberman).
The Saddest Music in the World. 2004. Directed by Guy Maddin
(Canada). Distributed by MGM Home Entertainment. DVD, 99 mins.
Transformation of Kazuo Ishiguro's decade-old screenplay into a
Depression-era musical shot in Winnipeg. Stars Isabella Rossellini
as the legless Lady Port-Huntly, the "Beer Queen of the
Prairie." When she announces a contest to find the saddest
music in the world, musicians from Scotland, Siam, Mexico, West
Africa, and elsewhere descend on Winnipeg. With additional musical
material by Jerome Kern (León). [ Leon
The Searchers. 1956. Directed by John Ford (USA).
Distributed by Warner Home Video. VHS and DVD, 119 mins. John Wayne
film that, like many other westerns (particularly those of Ford),
is useful both for "depictions of Native Americans" and
for its "use of film score to evoke Americana." Music by
Max Steiner (DeWitt).
The Secret of the Incas. 1954. Directed by Jerry Hopper
(USA). 100 mins. NLA. Starring Charlton Heston and Robert Young,
with music by the prolific David Buttolph, the composer of music
for such films as The Three Musketeers (1939), This Gun
for Hire (1942), South Sea Woman (1953), Long John
Silver (1954), and The Lone Ranger (1956).
"Archaeologists, Inca sacred object hidden in cave, etc.
etc....Indians carrying or playing harps, quenas, drums, and
dancing...but the music [is] orchestral, heavy on the expected
pseudo-Indian stuff. The singing is by the incredible Yma
Sumac" in the role of Kori-Tica. Certainly this film, like
King Kong (1933) and many others, is useful in exploring the
history of Hollywood representations of "native" music
Selena. 1997. Directed by Gregory Nava (USA). Distributed by
Warner Home Video. VHS and DVD, 127 mins. Biography of Selena
Quintanilla-Pérez, released shortly after she was killed by
the president of her fan club in 1995. Starring Jennifer Lopez
(Lieberman). [ Quintanilla-Perez ]
Shaft. 1971. Directed by Gordon Parks (USA). Distributed by
Warner Home Video. VHS and DVD, 100 mins. One of the early films of
the blaxploitation era in Hollywood cinema, starring Richard
Roundtree as suave detective John Shaft. Isaac Hayes' score was
nominated for an Academy Award; his theme song won the Oscar for
best original song (Kvetko).
Smoke Signals. 1998. Directed by Chris Eyre (USA/Canada).
Distributed by Miramax Home Entertainment. DVD, 88 mins. With the
tagline, "a new film from the heart of Native America,"
this film was directed by Cheyenne-Arapaho Chris Eyre and written
by Spokane-Coeur d'Alene Sherman Alexie (based on his 1993
collection of short stories, Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in
Heaven); it also stars two figures familiar to Native American
roles, Gary Farmer (who appeared in Powwow Highway )
and Irene Bedard (the voice of Pocahontas ). The film
"has a couple of good scenes of the main characters singing
round dance/49 songs, including the classic 'John Wayne's
A Soldier's Story. 1984. Directed by Norman Jewison
(USA). Distributed by Columbia/Tristar Studios. DVD, 98 mins.
Howard E. Rollins stars as an Army lawyer sent to Louisiana to
investigate the murder of a black sergeant in this World War II-era
film. With a score by Herbie Hancock and a notable gospel music
Songcatcher. 2000. Directed by Maggie Greenwald (USA).
Distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment. VHS and DVD, 109 mins.
Melodramatic film set in 1907 and starring Janet McTeer as Dr. Lily
Penleric, a musicologist who, after being denied an academic
promotion, visits her sister in the Appalachian Mountains, where
she discovers a new world of music-making. The character is based
on Olive Dame Campbell. In the production notes, Greenwald remarks,
"I was intrigued by these wonderful ballads that were being
sung in the mountains for a century before the the world ever knew
about them. I was further intrigued to find that the people who
brought this music to the mainstream were women—the teachers
and missionaries who were up in the mountains at that time, and who
realized for the first time the power of this music and
Still Crazy. Directed by Brian Gibson (UK). Distribued by
Columbia/Tristar Studios. DVD, 95 mins. A "slightly darker
(but still hilarious) version of the 'aging rockers attempt a
reunion tour' theme....[Still Crazy] chronicles the
reunion of fictional '70s rock band Strange Fruit, which had
disbanded after the tragic death of one member and the unexplained
disappearance of another. Twenty years later, they reunite for a
Dutch club tour, which is their warm-up for a major festival
appearance. Billy Connolly plays the wise-cracking roadie, and Bill
Nighy plays the preening but insecure lead singer. Like Spinal
Tap, this films portrays the vicissitudes of the music industry
so accurately that for those of us who are insiders, it is both
painfully close to the bone and at the same time very affirming.
And it's wickedly funny to boot!" (Cutting).
Stop Making Sense. 1984. Directed by Jonathan Demme (USA).
Distributed by Palm Pictures. VHS and DVD, 88 mins. Demme worked
with cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth (Blade Runner
), using a staging concept developed by David Byrne, to make
this concert film of the Talking Heads. Shot at Hollywood's
Pantages Theater in December, 1983, this is "probably the best
rock concert film since Martin Scorsese's The Last
Waltz," writes Alan Karp in Box Office Magazine
Superfly. 1972. Directed by Gordon Parks Jr. (USA).
Distributed by Warner Home Video. DVD, 93 mins. Stars Ron
O'Neal as Youngblood Priest, a cocaine dealer who wants to
quit, but only after making one last big deal. The score is by
Curtis Mayfield, who also makes an onstage appearance in the film
Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. 1971. Directed by
Melvin Van Peebles (USA). Distributed by Xenon Pictures. VHS and
DVD, 97 mins. Described by Xenon Pictures as "a hurricane of a
movie that redefined the art and economics of
filmmaking...passionately honest, brutal in violence and sexuality,
and aggressively revolutionary in its politics." Starring
Melvin Van Peebles, edited by Melvin Van Peebles, with music by
Melvin Van Peebles (Kvetko).
Sympathy for the Devil. 1968. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
(UK). Distributed by ABKCO Video. VHS and DVD, 99 mins. An
"excellent example of the Maoist period of the French New
Wave, intercutting studio footage of the Stones failing to record a
coherent version of 'Sympathy for the Devil' with street
shots of guerilla art actions and staged sequences of Black
Revolution to provide a critique of cultural appropriation and the
impotence of commercial art in an age that demands revolutionary
Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser. 1989. Directed by
Charlotte Zwerin (USA). Distributed by Warner Home Video. VHS and
DVD, 90 mins. Biographical film by the late Zwerin (1931-2004), who
also did documentaries on Willem de Kooning (1981), Toru Takemitsu
(1994), and Ella Fitzgerald (1999), and was one of the co-directors
of Gimme Shelter (1970) (Morse).
Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey. 1994. Directed by Steven M.
Martin (USA/UK). Distributed by MGM Home Entertainment. DVD, 83
mins. "[A] documentary, and a great one," about the
instrument and the man. The film "also includes clips from
loads of films that use [the theremin]," along with extensive
interviews with Leon Theremin, Clara Rockmore, Robert Moog, Nicolas
Slonimsky, Todd Rundgren, and Brian Wilson (Samuels) [42/1].
This Is Spinal Tap. 1984. Directed by Rob Reiner (USA).
Distributed by MGM Home Entertainment. DVD, 82 mins. Classic
mockumentary of a previously fictional heavy metal band. The volume
on this one goes up to eleven (Lieberman).
Wattstax. 1973. Directed by Mel Stuart (USA). Distributed by
Warner Home Video. DVD, 98 mins. Feature-length documentary of
"the black Woodstock" held in 1972 in Los Angeles, with
performances by Rufus and Carla Thomas, the Bar-Kays, the Staple
Singers, Albert King, and Isaac Hayes, and appearances by Jesse
Jackson and Richard Pryor (Kvetko).
Woodstock. 1970. Directed by Michael Wadleigh (USA).
Distributed by Warner Home Video. VHS and DVD, 184 mins.
Documentary of the 1969 music festival (and one of the few films
for which Martin Scorsese served as assistant director).
"[T]he way it's shot, Woodstock represents the
counterculture at its most rosy and idealized" (Harnish,
New York, NY 10019
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