Concert films transport audiences to the front row of concerts by their favorite artists. They give the public access to a concert that they could not otherwise see because it took place on the other side of the world or a lifetime ago, and they allow viewers to discover the music in such a intimate as possible. The very first concert film to go mainstream was in 1948 concert magic featuring violinist Yehudi Menuhin, and since then has become a staple for popular musicians.
Concert films, like any other film genre, need both the performer and the director to deliver compelling content. In fact, some of the biggest names in cinema have made concert films, including Oscar winners Martin Scorsese (The last Waltz) and Jonathan Demme (Stop making sense). After all, film optics and the experience of watching a movie – whether it happens in a movie theater or in your living room – are very different from a live viewing experience.
The eight concert films below manage to strike the delicate balance between live event and cinematic experience while showcasing the talents of some of the hottest artists of the past 40 years.
8 Talking Heads: Stop making sense
The 1984 Talking Heads tour in support of their album speaking in tongues is the subject of this film-concert directed by Jonathan Demme. The film begins with lead singer David Byrne taking the stage in his trademark suit and the boombox he used on the psycho killer video; gradually the band members join the stage one by one per song until it is a full and happy good time. Stop making sense definitely transports the viewer back in time to the mid-1980s and all the glorious kitsch of that era.
seven Beyoncé: Homecoming
Beyonce was pure Black Girl Magic in this 2019 film of her performance at the 2018 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which Beyonce produced and directed herself. In Back home, it shines a light on the history and music of HBCUs while delivering a catchy and epic presentation itself. The film was a critical and commercial success which reinforced the feeling of “Beychella forever”. Certainly, the Coachella stage was the perfect place for Queen Bey to stage her magnificent production. Every moment of this film-concert will have you tapping your feet.
6 Rolling Stones: Give Me Shelter
give me shelter follows the legendary Rolling Stones on their epic 1969 tour. When the directors, the famous Maysles Brothers documentarians, set out to film this tour, little did they know it would lead to the disaster of the Altamont Free Concert where a riot, violence and a murder overshadowed the countercultural intent of the event. give me shelter combines stunning live performances from the tour with documentary footage that takes us back in time to the late 1960s. Many people consider this film to document the death of the 60s and the free love movement, in full bloody fight between the Hell’s Angels and the hippies.
5 Bruce Springsteen: Springsteen on Broadway
Bruce Springsteen is a legend, and you almost don’t have to know or particularly love his music to enjoy this concert film of his popular Broadway show. The Boss shows why he is, well, The Boss, as he takes audiences through his life and career, telling the stories that inspired his music in a very intimate look at what drives him. It shows in Springsteen on Broadway why he has remained one of the most energetic live performers over the past four decades.
4 Madonna: truth or dare
Young audiences might be shocked to learn that Madonna has always pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable to society at large, and the 1991 film Truth or Dare follows her controversial 1990 “Blonde Ambition” tour. It’s a real time capsule that goes back to 1990 and the social issues of the time, guided by Madonna’s tour, which started in Japan. The film gives audiences insight into Madonna’s tour production and her relationship with her dancers and other crew members.
Lady Gaga’s Gaga: five foot two follows Lady Gaga through the release of her Joan album and as she prepares for her Super Bowl halftime appearance. The film shows Gaga’s relationship with her family and how she deals with the chronic pain she feels after years of punishing dance moves and near-nonstop touring. Gaga fans will fall more in love with her and even those who were lukewarm about her will fall in love with Gaga and the compassion and grace with which she showers people in her orbit.
2 U2: Rattle & Hum
Rattle and buzz is interesting because it captures U2 when they were well known but were just becoming the global superstars they are today. It was shot a year after the release and world tour of Joshua tree. The film is set in the breathtaking Red Rocks Amphitheater outside of Denver, Colorado. Bono, Adam, Larry and The Edge are all so young and full of raw, heart-pounding energy. With artistic images and beautiful performances, it’s as perfect a concert film as ever.
1 Prince: Sign the time
of the prince sign the time is from the same period as Rattle and buzz, and while it’s radically different from that movie, it’s no less impactful. Filmed in 1987, it shows Prince at the peak of his career and is based on his 1987 double album of the same name. As an added bonus, the film also features the incomparable Sheila E on drums. Most of the film’s footage comes from two shows in Europe, but the music was re-recorded once he returned to his home in Paisley Park, Minnesota. Prince directs and controls the action here and, as he showed in purple rain, was one of the greatest performers to ever take the stage. The film truly captures the kinetic energy of a concert by one of the best.
Beyonce was rumored to be working on the Black Panther 2 soundtrack album for Marvel and Disney.
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