In honor of Aretha Franklin’s “Amazing Grace,” we are taking a look at concert films. The under-discussed sub-genre falls somewhere between musical biopic and documentary. But these films have a language all their own when it comes to cinematography, editing and everything else that makes a film feel whole.
For many, concert films are the only way they will ever experience certain artists. Nothing can replace the feeling of being there, but the best concert film really try.
These films can become notable for the actual show, like “Woodstock” by Michael Wadleigh. Or for what happened after the cameras stopped rolling, like Kenny Ortega’s effort to capture ill-fated preparations for a final tour in “Michael Jackson’s This Is It.”
We have even seen legendary filmmakers try their hand at capturing concerts. “The Last Waltz” is Martin Scorcese’s take on the final concert by The Band. The film opens with a warning that “THIS FILM SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD!” before cascading through performances that included Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton and more.
Jonathan Demme also tried his hand at making a concert film with “Stop Making Sense.” The 1984 film captures Talking Heads at the peak of their fame.
Three years later, Prince directed “Prince: Sign O’ the Times” and it stands today as one of the best ways to experience Prince’s legendary on stage persona.
“Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii,” “Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones,” and “Neil Young: Heart of Gold” are just a few examples of legendary acts caught on film.
More recently, Netflix has taken an interest in the sub-genre with “Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids.” There are also rumors that Beyoncé’s already legendary Coachella performance from 2018 might be coming to the streaming service in the near future. With high profile entries like that, this sub-genre seems alive and well.