9 films for 9 music genres
Updated: Mar 3
“A day without music is a lost day” Charlie Chaplin used to say. But we could also add that a life without movies is a life alone, already because movies open a portal to us to infinite realities other than our own.
So why not combine these two wonderful human creations?
Today we propose a journey into music genres as told by the world of cinema.
If you are looking for a film about opera or, even more precisely, a film about Mozart, the title to consider is Amadeus. Directed by Milos Forman and based on the play of the same name by Peter Shaffer, Amadeus begins with the failed suicide attempt by Antonio Salieri who, after being rescued, is helped by a priest to free himself from what oppresses him. Salieri is obsessed with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for whom he feels envy. He had made a pact with God whereby he would trade his chastity and humility to become a great composer in return, but will always come to terms with Mozart. In him he recognises the talent, but at the same time it is unclear to Salieri how God could have chosen Amadeus as his instrument. The film is a baroque jubilation of music, colours, emotions.
Clint Eastwood recounts his passion for jazz through the troubled story of Charlie (Bird) Parker, saxophonist, jazz innovator genius and, with Dizzy Gillespie, initiator of be-bop: amid unhappy loves, alcohol, drugs, he died at the age of 35 almost destitute. Written by Joel Oliansky, more than a biography, it is a dramatic synthesis of the mystery of his art, of the struggle with his demons, of a life of squandering. A nocturnal, rainy, gloomy film, built on backwards and forwards temporal disconnections. "This film is dedicated to all musicians," reads the sentence at the end. And only those who play around clubs can truly understand the spirit of this film. The cinematography is in full compliance with US suburban iconography, the ubiquitous jazz music is torturous, the hi-hat punctuates the tribulation of a misunderstood man who did not want to be understood at all, nor did he want to compromise.
The Blues Brothers (1980)
To the question 'What movie about the blues should I watch', there is only one answer: The Blues Brothers! John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd created the characters on Saturday Night Live. The film has one of the most beautiful soundtracks in the history of cinema, is set in 1980s Chicago and tells the story of two brothers: Jake, who has just been released from prison, and Elwood, who is waiting for his brother on his way out. The two, after meeting again, head to Sister Mary 'Penguin' Stigmata, the mother superior of the Catholic orphanage where the two grew up, where they discover that the place is in jeopardy for $5,000 in debts to the Tax Office. The two brothers go to the church of the hoping that a divine revelation will tell them how to raise enough money to save the orphanage. The solution is to reunite all the old members of what used to be their music band, and the group begins to play clubs and carry out a series of robberies. Thus begin the adventures of the Blues Brothers, on a mission from God.
The legendary Liza Minnelli plays dancer-cabaret artist Sally Bowles in the Weimar Republic of the 1920s. The film was a major influence on the aesthetics of the likes of Lou Reed, Roxy Music, Souxsie and the Banshees and Robert Smith, and made the Kit Kat, Berlin's iconic club. Here, apart from the volcanic Sally, artists, intellectuals and subversives from all over Europe gathered and every night was a potential fuse ready to be lit.
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Saturday Night Fever is the ultimate disco movie. Who has never danced or hummed one of the Bee Gees songs featured on the film's soundtrack? Directed by John Badham and starring John Travolta, the film tells the story of Tony Manero, a nineteen-year-old boy who works in a paint shop and looks forward to Saturday night, when he can break away from a heavy family situation and go with his friends to the 2001 Odyssey. Tony knows perfectly well that he is an excellent dancer and that he is quite good-looking, so much so that the Saturday night hangout also becomes a way to set his sights on the girls in the club, as Tony will do with Stephanie. However, the boy will prove to be more mature than he looks...
Sister Act (1992)
This film has become an absolute cult for lovers of cinema and musical films, directed by Emile Ardolino, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Maggie Smith. The story concerns the adventures of a singer, Deloris Van Cartier, who performs with a trio at Vince LaRocca's club. Once she discovers that the latter is nothing more than a gangster, she realises she can be considered an inconvenient witness and, thanks to police intervention, chooses to live under a new identity, that of Sister Maria Claretta. In doing so, Deloris becomes the new nun at the convent of St Catherine of San Francisco. But while the Mother Superior, who is strict and severe, is the only one who knows the new nun's true identity, the other nuns accept Sister Maria Claretta for who she is, allowing themselves to be drawn in by her energy and learning to express themselves by singing.
West Side Story (1961)
Film version of the Broadway musical: the story is a reinterpretation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but transferred to the working-class neighbourhoods of New York's West Side. Here, youth gangs clash in the name of racial hatred and land ownership (a concrete courtyard, a basketball court, two pavements). The Jets and the Sharks, natives and Puerto Ricans respectively, far from feeling passionately American, provoke each other and, blinded by pride, push each other over the edge. The two winning aces are the music and choreography, often filmed from life in the historic 68th and 118th Streets before their demolition. West Side Story is still considered one of the greatest masterpieces of the musical genre. It has deservedly won ten Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Set Design, Choreography, Costumes, Editing and Soundtrack. The notes of "Tonight", "Maria", "America" remain in the ears for a long time, in the eyes the look of the heroine, Natalie Wood.
School of Rock (2003)
Jack Black plays Dewey Finn, a musician who dreams of becoming a rock star and sees his dream fade when he is jilted by his band, No Vacancy. However, an unexpected event is about to change his life: he is mistaken for his roommate Ned and is therefore hired as a substitute teacher by one of the city's most prominent schools. Dewey becomes a wild and unconventional teacher. Instead of teaching maths - as he should - he decides to teach rock history and convinces his pupils to form a band so that they can also participate in a rock contest. School of Rock is a hugely successful, awkward, energetic and funny musical comedy, with the highest grossing film of its kind ever.
8 Mile (2002)
If you are looking for films about rap, 8 Mile really cannot be overlooked. Directed by Curtis Hanson and starring Eminem, the film - which recounts some events that were really part of Eminem's own life - follows the story of Jimmy Smith, a boy nicknamed B-Rabbit and who lives in a shack on one of the most dangerous streets in Detroit, the 8 Mile. Serious and introverted, the boy lives in a difficult family situation and tries to support himself as best he can by working menial jobs. However, his dream is to become a famous rapper and he will have to work hard to fight his shyness and face many obstacles.