It's a rite of passage in the rock world.
You haven't really made it until you've released a concert film.
Pretty much everybody who's anybody has put out a concert/tour documentary. And then there's Neil Young, who seems to appear in a new film roughly once a week.
Trouble is, most concert films are mediocre. Many are downright forgettable. And all too few end up being real keepers -- but the ones that do can be enjoyed over and over the way few other types of movies can.
In honor of two new music documentaries hitting theaters this week -- "Katy Perry: Part of Me" and, yes, yet another Neil Young movie (the Jonathan Demme-directed "Neil Young Journeys") -- here's a look at some of the notable concert films from over the years, from all-time greats to new classics (released within the past 20 years) and Neil Young's best.
1 "Stop Making Sense" (1984): This isn't just a great concert film -- it's arguably the defining moment of one the most creative and exciting rock bands in history. That's really saying something, given that the Talking Heads put out so many fantastic singles and albums over the years. Yet director Jonathan Demme's film provides the best explanation for why this band was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
2"The Last Waltz" (1978): This richly romantic film documents one of the most famous concerts in Bay Area history -- The Band's farewell performance on Thanksgiving Day 1976 at the legendary Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. It was directed by none other than Martin Scorsese, a former roommate of The Band's Robbie Robertson.
3 "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars: The Motion Picture" (1973): D.A. Pennebaker has delivered so many fantastic rock docs -- including Bob Dylan's "Don't Look Back," John Lennon's "Sweet Toronto" and "Monterey Pop." His crowning achievement, however, is this fascinating look at popchameleon David Bowie's most famous creation -- the sci-fi-inspired rocker Ziggy Stardust. Simply put, Bowie was the most intriguing star in the rock universe in 1973 and Pennebaker's concert film, capturing a famed 1973 London concert in which Bowie officially retired the Ziggy persona, explains exactly why.
4"The Grateful Dead Movie" (1977): There's certainly no shortage of Dead flicks out there. Yet this is the one that most fully conveys the colorful, chaotic and truly complex Grateful Dead concert experience -- spanning from the scene on the sidewalk outside the venue to the improvisational magic happening onstage. The film, which was co-directed by Jerry Garcia during a five-night stand at Winterland in 1974, was rereleased earlier this week as a deluxe two-DVD set, complete with plenty of cool extras and bonus songs (www.shoutfactory.com).
5 "Monterey Pop" (1968): In a close race between the two most widely celebrated rock festival documentaries of all time, we'll take "Monterey" over "Woodstock." There's a bit of NorCal bias to that, but the reasoning has far more to do with the actual performances. In "Monterey," you'll find the Who demolishing their instruments onstage, Jimi Hendrix lighting up his guitar (both literally and figuratively) and, greatest of all, Otis Redding stealing the show with "I've Been Loving You Too Long."
The New Classics
1"Awesome, I ... ShotThat!" (2006): The Beastie Boys gave camcorders to dozens of fans and then turned them loose during a 2004 concert at Madison Square Garden. Director Nathaniel Hornblower (aka, the Beasties' late Adam "MCA" Yauch) then faced the daunting task of trying to assemble a coherent narrative from all that raw footage, shot from some 50 different perspectives. The result was one of the most strikingly innovative and original concert films of all time.
2"Bittersweet Motel" (2000): The Phish phenomenon was in full swing by 1997, and director Todd Phillips -- who later helmed the blockbuster comedies "Old School" and "The Hangover" -- captured the craze in thrilling fashion in this tour documentary. Watch the concert footage, especially the sceneswhere Trey Anastasio is burning up the frets, and you might understand why "Phans" chase this jam band around the country.
3"Rock the Bells" (2007): The initial draw is Wu-Tang Clan, one of the greatest groups in hip-hop history, yet the true stars of the film are the concert promoters. That might sound dull, but it's not. Directors Denis Henry Hennelly and Casey Suchan look at the many things that go into hosting a major music festival -- in this case, 2004's inaugural "Rock the Bells" in San Bernardino -- and fashion a thoroughly gripping race-against-the-clock tale.
4"Michael Jackson's This Is It" (2009): Michael mania was so gigantic during this period that any Jackson documentary would have probably been a hit. This movie, however, turned out to be utterly fascinating and quickly became the top-grossing concert film in history. It documents the rehearsals for Jackson's comeback shows in London, which, tragically, never came to pass (Jackson died June 25, 2009).
5"Fade to Black" (2004): This film was intended to be Jay-Z's "Last Waltz" -- a document of the hip-hop hero's final gig before embarking on an early retirement. We all know how that turned out; Jay-Z quickly returned to the rap game. No matter. Watch the concert footage in "Fade to Black," and you'll understand why hip-hop heads welcomed Jay back with open arms.
Neil Young's Best
The Bay Area rock star has been the subject of an amazing number of films. Leaving the latest one ("Neil Young Journeys") out of the equation for the time being, here are our five favorite Neil concert flicks:
1"Year of the Horse" (1997): Young finally met his match in director Jim Jarmusch ("Stranger Than Paradise"), who helmed a documentary that was every bit as electric and eccentric as the star himself. Jarmusch's footage, shot during Young's 1996 tour with his band Crazy Horse, absolutely jumps off the screen -- without 3-D. Archival footage and interviews add twists and turns to this thrill ride.
2"Rust Never Sleeps" (1979): If you dig the album "Rust Never Sleeps" -- a half-acoustic, half-electric outing that ranks among the finest of Young's career -- then check out this film, which documents a terrific Crazy Horse show on Oct. 22, 1978, at the Bay Area's own Cow Palace.
3"Neil Young: Heart of Gold" (2006): The first installment of director Jonathan Demme's Neil Young trilogy is a definite keeper. This tender musical portrait was recorded Aug. 18-19, 2005, when Young premiered his "Prairie Wind" material at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium.
4"CSNY/Déjà Vu" (2008): Directed by Bernard Shakey (Young's filmmaking alter-ego), the politically charged documentary follows Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on their 2006 Freedom of Speech tour.
5"Neil Young Trunk Show" (2009): Having focused on Young's softer side with "Heart of Gold," Demme switches tracks on Part 2 of the trilogy and lets the star rock.
Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.
Online: To see a slideshow and videos and take a poll on concert movies, go to www.mercurynews.com/entertrainment.
Inside: Jim Harrington reviews "Katy Perry: Part of Me" on Page 4.