I understand that not a lot of FSR readers are even marginal One Direction fans, let alone “directioners,” so bear with me this week as I offer this list to any who find their way here. Also, if you’re not into 1D and don’t plan to see their new documentary One Direction: This Is Us — even if you normally like Morgan Spurlock‘s films or are a Martin Scorsese completist (he has a cameo) or think it could be a good place to pick up chicks (and not just tweens, as my screening had a number of adult women fans in attendance) — you may discover something of actual value among the selection of films below.
The easiest and even most logical way to go with this week’s hottest new movie is to just offer a basic list of the best concert films and tour docs of the past. But really there’s not much there to connect Gimme Shelter (nobody dies at any of the 1D shows) or Woodstock, even though the latter involved Scorsese. There are mostly music movies picked for this list, but they’re specifically relevant and they’re joined by other kinds of films.
The Last Waltz
Let’s actually begin with a concert film directed by Scorsese, who also appears on screen here as well. The Last Waltz is a good film to contrast with This Is Us, because it’s a look at a band on their way out. It’s the farewell concert for The Band, whereas the new movie focuses on the newness of One Direction and features a lot of their first shows in some countries. The Last Waltz is also, I find, representational of a level of production we hadn’t really seen in concert films before, making it a sort of ancestor to the big 3D concert films on pop stars we’ve been seeing over the past decade. The Band wasn’t exactly the hot boy band of their time, and they are actually talented songwriters and musicians as opposed to just poppy singers, but this film did have its share of family friendly image protection. Maybe in years to come we’ll also hear about cocaine being digitally removed from one of the 1D guys’ nostrils, as we did with Neil Young here.
Available on Vudu
Jackass: The Movie
In This Is Us, the five boy band boys enjoy dressing up in prosthetics and costumes to fool fans and regular folk on the street. One of the best is a roadie who goes around chatting with concertgoers about why One Direction sucks. Others are primarily elderly characters where the joke is that they can run really fast and dance after pretending to need help. It’s very reminiscent of stuff from the Jackass show and movies, mainly Johnny Knoxville’s grandpa character, who is now actually getting his own full feature. I prefer Jackass Number Two, but below is a clip of Knoxville as Irvin Zissman from the first movie.
Available on Amazon Instant
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
Of all the recent 3D concert films on pop stars we’ve been subjected to, Never Say Never is the one that is worth seeing even if you hate the subject’s music (just as I need to see The Last Waltz even though I don’t like The Band much). Like One Direction, Justin Bieber has an interesting origin that’s of our time. They’re the product of a singing competition show, comprised of thrown together individual contestants of the UK’s X Factor, while he was a discovery via YouTube. The super fans for each act are also a noteworthy aspect of these two films due to how they’ve helped to mold the boys into stars even more than the industry has. But This Is Us doesn’t focus enough on the cultural significance of One Direction and their story while Never Say Never is a fascinating look at the modern music business and what Bieber has meant to it.
Available on Amazon Instant
I often jokingly call Never Say Never a remake of this 1962 documentary on Paul Anka. Made by Canadian direct cinema pioneers Wolf Koenig and Roman Kroitor (who later went on to co-found IMAX and provide George Lucas with the inspiration for “the Force”), Lonely Boy has been a huge influence on music docs of the past 50 years, especially early classics like Don’t Look Back. It was probably if not the first than perhaps the most successful to combine live performance and backstage material and fan on the street interviews the way we see it in films like This Is Us. Also, way before the One Direction boys were candidly talking to the camera in only their underwear, Anka could be seen in his whitey tighties in Lonely Boy. I assume the scene was met with screams from fans in the theaters then just as the newer similar scenes are today.
Watch the full film, one of my all time favorites, below via the National Film Board.
What’s Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A.
Two years after Lonely Boy came this early look at the Fab Four via direct cinema legends Albert and David Maysles. One Direction has too often been compared to The Beatles, but there is the jokester quality shared by the two groups, a parallel that you’ll notice by watching their films. Actually, Liam, Harry, Niall, Louis and Zayne have nothing on the shenanigans of John, Paul, George and Ringo. However, I do think the One Direction boys are charming and funny and could do well with some goofy non-documentary films, a la Help!, especially if they take on multiple characters. While it is possible to see the original 1964 cut of What’s Happening! here or there, your easiest bet is to check out the 1991 re-edit the Maysles brothers did with Susan Fromke and Kathy Dougherty, re-titled The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit.
Comedy’s Dirtiest Dozen
Maybe, just maybe one or more of the guys in One Direction will have a lasting career in music. And we will all look back on This Is Us for the very beginning. That’s one of the things that’s nice and necessary about What’s Happening!, and it’s the main reason anyone should still be interested in this comedy concert film that features early stand-up performances by Tim Allen, Jackie Martling, Bill Hicks and Chris Rock, along with some who didn’t become famous. I’m highlighting it on this list because of Rock, who cameos in This Is Us backstage around the same time as Scorsese. This is from 1988, a few years into his comedy career and a few away from his breakout on Saturday Night Live. Maybe you don’t need to watch the whole thing, actually, but here’s Rock’s bit:
Josie and the Pussycats
Probably the most overrated underrated movie (or underrated overrated?) of all time, this comic book/cartoon adaptation is nevertheless a softball yet enjoyable parody of the recording industry around the turn of the century. Not too much has changed, and that includes the continued introductions of du jour boy bands that come and go more quickly with each act. The funniest stuff in Josie and the Pussycats is probably the boy band parody, aptly named Du Jour, featuring Seth Green, Breckin Meyer, Alex Martin and Donald Faison. Almost as funny was the assumed One Direction parody in Kick-Ass 2, which turned out to be a real boy band.
Available on Amazon Instant
The Great Hip Hop Hoax
Another terrific look at the modern music biz — or at least nearly modern since it’s really a story that could have only happened about a decade ago, before social media blew up. Jeanie Finlay’s new documentary, which screened at SXSW earlier this year, chronicles the adventures of a hip hop duo from Scotland called Silibil n’ Brains, who couldn’t get a deal so they pretended to be American and quickly got signed by Sony. It’s kinda funny given how many great acts do come from the UK, including tons who are hot over there but can’t break out here in the States (One Direction being a rarity). As with This Is Us and other pop music docs of that ilk, there is a lot to consider here regarding the importance of image and credibility. It basically does for the record industry what Exit Through the Gift Shop does for the art world. So far the film has no U.S. distributor, but maybe you can import a DVD when it’s released across the pond?
Teenage Kicks: The Undertones
While not the highest quality of documentaries, this is a fair introduction to The Undertones, who any fan of One Direction or anyone else ought to know. Especially the former, though, because the boy band covers the ’70s Brit-punk group’s song “Teenage Kicks” as a medley with Blondie’s “One Way Or Another.” One hopeful thing about One Direction is that they could be a gateway to better music for their fans, just as the documentary could be a gateway to better music films (i.e. those on this list). I remember first hearing the Spice Girls cover “I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am)” in Spice World and that led to my becoming a Gary Glitter fan. Maybe through this movie, kids will get into Wheatus and even the movie Loser, which first featured their song “Teenage Dirtbag.” Better, though, will be their getting into Blondie and The Undertones.
Watch the whole movie below via YouTube.
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope
Spurlock shows us a lot of fans in This Is Us, but he shows a greater understanding of fandom in his 2011 documentary on the San Diego Comic-Con International, which has a lot more to do with the attendees than the event itself. I wanted more of that in This Is Us, especially because of what we’re told about the super fans’ significance in One Direction’s rapid success and popularity. There’s not a whole lot different between the obsessed devotees to Comic-Con and the obsessed devotees to a boy band, and not just because the former has been filled with Twi-hards and other YA lovers in recent years. And both things are really just marketing expos to get fans to buy merch and be pumped with fuel for further fan loyalty.
Available on Amazon Streaming