Whether they are directly about musicians or not, there are plenty of films known as much for their music as anything else. Tarantino, for example, has had as much success with his soundtracks as with his films. No wonder, then, that MIFF has always acknowledged both Melbourne’s love of music and its integral role in cinema with its music program, Backbeat, which pays homage to music in (and on) film. The program usually has a number of documentaries on musicians, but also often features films about music and music culture, and sometimes, just films that are thematically influenced by music.
Hear are our top five ear-pleasers.
20,000 Days on Earth
A fictional, non-fictional mash-up of a day in the life of Melbourne’s favourite, dark and charismatic musician, author, screenwriter, actor and anti-celebrity, Nick Cave. The film, a debut from directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, merges documentary and drama into a kind of staged day-in-the-life-of observation. It shows Cave’s creative process and his general views on life and art. With appearances from Susie Cave, Warren Ellis, Ray Winstone and Kylie Minogue, 20,000 Days on Earth is entertaining, engrossing and very Nick Cave.
Don’t Throw Stones
Stephen Cummings was the lead singer of the Melbourne band The Sports from 1976 to 1981. After that he had a solo career that was met with equal measures of critical acclaim and public disinterest. In 1996 he wrote a novel. In 1999 he wrote another one. In 2009 he wrote a memoir about his time as a rock star on the fringes of mega-stardom. In it he tells stories about wild times in the industry in the late ’70s and ’80s, names names and doesn’t shy away from detail. Don’t Throw Stones is the documentary based on this memoir, and it shows his friends’ and his acquaintances’ reactions to the stories he made public. It’s a window into a world that is at once familiar and just beyond reach, tinged with fond memories of the past and just a little bittersweet nostalgia for a previous era.
Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon
Super-manager to the stars, Shep Gordon got his start in the industry after he was inadvertently punched in the face by Janis Joplin. The next day, when she apologised and introduced him to Jimi Hendrix, Jimi told him that he should manage Alice Cooper as a front for his marijuana-selling business. One thing led to another and he ended up being one of the most influential people in both the music and film industries. This is Mike Meyer’s directorial debut and is full of outrageous stories about more music and film superstars than we have space to mention.
Jimi: All is By My Side
Written and directed by John Ridley, and starring OutKast's Andre 3000, Jimi: All is By My Side retells Jimi Hendrix’s life from 1966 to ’67. He travelled from New York to London and eventually became famous as a result of his Monterey Pop Festival performance – where he played Wild Thing and set his guitar on fire with lighter fluid.
Heaven Adores You
Elliot Smith was a relatively unknown indie-folk singer-songwriter when he became famous overnight for his song, Miss Misery, which was featured in Good Will Hunting. It was then nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Tragically, he committed suicide (although speculation about his death still abounds) in 2003 at the age of 34. In order to secure funding to complete the film in time for the 10-year anniversary of Smith’s death, filmmaker and fan Nickolas Rossi launched the project on Kickstarter. Reaching his goal easily, Heaven Adores You is the result. The documentary focuses on Smith’s life in the three cities he lived in during his music career; Portland, New York and Los Angeles, and weaves his music and the cities that influenced it through the narrative.
God Help the Girl
Keep On Keepin’ On
Time is Illmatic
Come Worry With Us!
Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets
The Possibilities Are Endless
Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll
The Melbourne International Film Festival runs from July 31 to August 17 at various locations across Melbourne. For the full program, visit miff.com.au.