Occasionally, we get into conversations here at Flavorpill central about truly pop-culture geeky things — like, for instance, the best obscure films featuring performances from well-known musicians. The catalyst for this particular discussion was our own Judy Berman’s recent viewing of Copkiller, a straight-to-video Italian B-movie starring none other than Johnny Rotten (and Harvey Keitel, bless him). The sorry spectacle got us thinking about similar performances — either films you’ve never heard of featuring musicians you have, or films you’ve heard of that you never knew your favorite musician was in! We’ve rounded up our favorites, and welcome your suggestions in the comments.
Straight to Hell
Star turn: Joe Strummer
By Strummer’s own admission, the decade or so that followed the implosion of the Clash were wilderness years — he deputized for Shane MacGowan in the Pogues and also tried his hand at acting. He did a decent job of it, too — he was perfectly competent in Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, but we’ve always particularly enjoyed his performance as a hitman in this enjoyably surreal Western from UK director Alex Cox (which also features, amongst others, a young Courtney Love). The film’s shambolic appeal is perhaps explained by the fact that it was made to give a bunch of musicians — Strummer included — something to keep them busy after their tour of Nicaragua was cancelled, stranding them in Spain with nothing to do.
Star turn: Iggy Pop
John Waters + Iggy Pop (and Johnny Depp, Traci Lords, and Ricki Lake) = all kinds of genius. Iggy hams it up for all he’s worth as the endearingly deranged Belvedere Ricketts, and looks like he’s having an absolute hoot while doing so. Excellent all ’round.
Star turn: Will Oldham
It’s a little-known fact that Will Oldham was a rather fine if slightly strange actor before he became a rather fine if slightly strange musician, and he’s excellent in this film about coal mining union politics (it’s better than it sounds) in 1920s West Virginia. Oldham has returned to acting sporadically over the years — his last role, according to IMDB, came in… um, Jackass 3D.
Star turn: Nick Cave
Apparently the original conception of this rockabilly romp was rather different to the finished product — but then Thelma & Louise, featuring little-known leading man Brad Pitt, went gangbusters, and the studio hastily recut Johnny Suede to make it a Pitt star vehicle. The result apparently was that many of Cave’s scenes ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor. He does look fetching with blond hair, though.
Star turn: Mick Jagger
And while we’re down under, what about Jagger’s endearingly absurd appearance in this biopic about armor-wearin’, policeman-shootin’ Australian folk hero Ned Kelly? About all that can be said about this is that it wasn’t quite as disastrous as Dennis Hopper’s notorious attempt at playing a bushranger, when he probably did more drugs than the entire Australian continent consumed in a year. Ah, the ’70s.
Star turn: Toni Basil
Sure, you’ve heard of the film, but did you know it featured Toni Basil (of “Mickey” fame)?! Neither did we!
Star turn: David Bowie
Equally, this isn’t particularly obscure, in fairness, but worth mentioning for David Bowie playing Andy Warhol, providing the faintly ridiculous counterpoint to Jeffrey Wright’s sublime performance in the title role — it’s surely the strangest role of Bowie’s rather strange film career, which has also involved playing, inter alia, an alien, Pontius Pilate, and an alarmingly hung goblin king.
Star turn: Tom Waits
Waits has also had a rather varied and fascinating film career, and has also often been mistaken for Ron Perlman, particularly during the ’80s, when the two looked eerily alike — we swore for years that it was Waits playing the weird gurning polyglot in The Name of the Rose. But cases of mistaken identity aside, Waits has been in some great films — we particularly like him playing Dracula’s creepy offside in Francis Ford Coppola’s interpretation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel.
Star turn: Johnny Rotten
Strummer wasn’t the only punk who dabbled in film, though — sadly, John Lydon’s attempts weren’t quite as successful as those of his rival, unless you consider playing opposite Harvey Keitel in a straight-to-video Italian crime “thriller” to be a mark of pride. This is weirdly compelling in its own terrible way, mind.
Star turn: Sting
And finally, proof that even David Lynch — sorry, Alan Smithee — is human and makes mistakes.