This Is It: Our Top 5 Concert Films Sans Moonwalk

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According to the LA Times, Michael Jackson’s This Is It isn’t performing like a concert film. In the six days it has been in theaters, the doc has already grossed over $100 million worldwide, with its biggest numbers happening overseas. While concert movies’ ticket sales usually drop off after fans hit up the opening night, This Is It grossed more on Sunday than it did on any day since it debuted.

Perhaps this will lead more acts — other than Miley Cyrus and the JoBros — to reinvigorate the genre with theatrical releases. Animal Collective? The Dirty Projectors? Imagine if the Flaming Lips UFOs At The Zoo had gotten a run at the local cineplex. After the jump, five classics we think all concert films should take their cues from.

1. Stop Making Sense: The Talking Heads

Directed by Jonathan Demme, Stop Making Sense takes its name from a lyric from the Heads tune “Girlfriend Is Better.” The first line of the song purports that “it’s always showtime here at the edge of the stage.” The show proves these words again and again, introducing the cartoonish world-beat funk that the Heads became known for. Bits like Byrne’s “big suit” — an oversized business suit he dons for much of the concert — and the use of tape loop sound effects became part of the band’s legacy. And with the original lineup being supported by celebrated musicians from George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic, Stop Making Sense is widely considered as one of the greatest rock films of all time.

2. The Last Waltz: The Band

Steeped in film industry cred for the critical successes of features Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, Martin Scorsese managed to pull the coke straw out of his nose long enough to make his first concert film, the legendary Last Waltz. Held on Thanksgiving day 1976, the show was meant to celebrate an end to the touring career of Canadian rock act The Band, and featured appearances from Neil Diamond, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Muddy Waters and Neil Young. By filming entirely on 35mm, Scorsese created a truly unique look, a director’s concert film.

3. Woodstock: Various Artists

Everyone thinks of Woodstock when they think of great concert films for a good reason: This film has everything. Sex, drugs, mayhem, mud, and music. Clocking in at over 3 hours, Woodstock is exhaustive but plays at times like a newsreel, a camera left on by accident or a security camera. This unflinching look at this massive event lets you know Woodstock was less about the music and more about the happening. It set the stage for bands like the Grateful Dead to travel across the country hosting festivals and creating communities across the world. This is why it has to be on the list. After all, what would the concert world be without big, dirty hippie music festivals?

4. Festival Express: Various Artists

One wonders why the creators of Festival Express waited so long to compile the archival footage of the 1970 rock festival tour via Canadian National Railways train. After all, the 2003 film combines all the great tenets of a great rock story: the road, rampant substance abuse, anti-establishment sentiment, anti-hippie boycotts by the Canadian government and jam sessions galore. Festival Express follows a concert tour of three Canadian cities — Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary — and the decidedly unique way of traveling to each show (which was intended to inspire creativity between artists). What it inspired was many crazy parties and jam sessions between concert appearances. The son of the original cameraman produced this one-of-a-kind rock story, and we are so glad he did.

5. This Is Spinal Tap: Spinal Tap

To be one of the greatest concert films of all time, you don’t even need to feature a real band. The comic geniuses behind This Is Spinal Tap proved this with their mockumentary, which is easily the greatest musical satire of all time. By turning the amps to 11, director Rob Reiner lampooned the grandeur and pageantry that makes every great concert film worth watching. Spinal Tap almost seems to exist above the rest because, while this is a total drubbing of concert films, the performances of original songs actually make for a great show. And that’s no joke.