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Rock'n'Roll and Cinema

 
Since the mid '50s, when rock'n'roll was born, its history has been closely connected with Hollywood films. The year 1955 was important for both genres. Blackboard Jungle, the first film ever to include rock'n'roll songs, saw the light of day. For most' American teenagers this movie was their first contact with this new and wild style of music. The ripping performance from Bill Haley and The Comets may well have been the highlight of this otherwise mediocre Hollywood production.

One year later, another newly established rock'n'roll star, Elvis Presley, made his first film, titled, "Love Me Tender". The success of this film urged Elvis to make many more. Most of these films had a simple plot-line and were mainly an excuse to show Presley performing his songs in various exotic settings.

At the time rock'n'roll was already a big business and it wasn't long before other performers jumped on the bandwagon. "Go, Johnny, Go", featuring Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran and Richie Valens, was another example of a film targeted mainly at the teenage market. Rock'n'roll seemed to be the perfect soundtrack for teenage love affairs on the screen. It was also becoming a soundtrack in many people's lives.

In the early '60s, rock'n'roll was no longer a novelty. However, a new style of music was popular with American teenagers at the time. Surf music, as it was called, was a milder and more melodic version of '50s rock'n'roll. It was a big part of the beach and surf culture which emerged. Obviously there was a demand for films which would attract teenagers. Movies such as "Beach Blanket", "Beach Blanket Bingo" and "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini" capture the spirit of those times perfectly.

One of the most memorable rock tunes appeared in "Dr. No", made in 1962, the first of the immensely popular James Bond series. To this day the theme song is instantly recognisable the world over.

In 1964, The Beatles invaded America, having previously conquered England. American fans of the British four-piece had a chance to hear as well as see their idols in "A Hard Day's Night", the first film ever to star The Beatles. The Fab Four also starred in a few other films, which documented the group's evolution and demise.

In the late '60s, it was The Beatles, along with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, who pioneered the so-called psychedelic culture. After the release of The Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper" album and the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, psychedelic music entered its prime. Many Hollywood directors of that time attempted to translate the language of music into the language of film. "The Trip", directed by Jack Nicholson, was one of the first films of this type.

In Europe, Michelangelo Antonioni's film, "Blow Up", made in 1967 features footage of a concert of the British band, The Yardbirds. "Stroll On", the song the group performed, reached a frenzied finale when guitarist Jeff Beck smashed his guitar to pieces.

In the 1980s the use of rock music in soundtracks became an almost essential part of movie-making. Most teen films of the day had entirely rock soundtracks. One of the reasons for this was the fact that when a film became popular the soundtrack album sold very well too. Soon, whenever a teen movie was released there was a rock soundtrack to follow.

Film played an important part in promoting rock performers who otherwise would not be able to reach a wide audience. The 1984 film "Purple Rain" transformed Prince into superstar. A similar scenario occurred after the release of David Lynch's "Wild At Heart". Chris Isaak, a virtually unknown American singer whose .song "Wicked Game" was used in the film, became a household name.

In the '90s, rock soundtracks have been a staple in the majority of Hollywood productions. "Beverly Hills Cop", "Pump Up the Volume" and "Terminator 2" are just some of the recent blockbusters that demonstrate the ties between rock'n'roll and Hollywood.

Soul music, the music of Afro-Americans, appeared on the silver screen frequently during the early seventies. The soundtracks to movies like "Shaft" and "Superfly" featured many black artists, who were otherwise unknown to the white audience. The films obviously popularised their work.

1973 saw the release of two rock operas, "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Godspell". Both feature religious themes and some loud guitars, a combination which up to that point seemed unlikely. The Who released three memorable films which contained their music, the famous rock-opera "Tommy", the semi-autobiographical "Quadrophenia", and the documentary "The Kids Are Alright."

In Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now, pop from the '60s plays an important part. The film features tunes from the likes of Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Doors and The Rolling Stones.

 

by Peter Clark
 

GLOSSARY:

genre - type of art; ripping - here: energetic; highlight - most important; mediocre - average; to jump on the bandwagon - to take part in a profitable activity; targeted - aimed; soundtrack - the musical score of a film; to emerge - to appear; demand - need; immensely - very; previously - earlier; The Fab Four - The Beatles; prime - the best; to attempt - to try; frenzied - full of energy; finale - end; essential - very important; to become a household name - to become famous; staple - something very typical; memorable - worth remembering; the likes of - here: such as
 

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