Entertainment

The Guide to Films About Music, by Musicians

Ahead of their new album, Will Oldham and Matt Sweeney take us on a cinematic journey from Mississippi blues to LA hardcore to 'Dirty Dancing 2'.
April 29, 2021, 8:15am
SUPERWOLVES
Photo: Pete Townsend
All the good shit you should be watching, as curated by the East London film club Deeper Into Movies.

Will Oldham (aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy) has been making beautiful music for nearly thirty years. His 2005 collaborative record with Matt Sweeney, Superwolf, stands as a cult classic and one of the true gems in a career full of special records. 

There’s something distinct in their songwriting dynamic; Will writes the lyrics, Matt writes the music. Together, their connection and chemistry is akin to that mythic power that only family members have when they make music together (see also the Asheton or Gibbs brothers). Sixteen years later and their follow-up Superwolves, out on the 30th of April, feels bright and hopeful, maintaining all the melancholy and vulnerability of its predecessor but also feeling fresh.

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It features guest contributions from members of Mdou Moctar and Nashville legend David Ferguson, cover artwork by Harmony Korine, and while saying “damn that Billy sure can sing” is like saying “that Stanley Kubrick sure can make a film”, he does somehow take it to another level here.

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Oldham and Sweeney are also real cinephiles, with a deep knowledge of film. Oldham has even stepped in front of the camera on more than one occasion, working with the likes of Kelly Reichard, Rick Alverson and David Lowery (not to mention cameoing in Jackass 3D). They sent over a perfect programme of sonic cinema running the gamut from vintage BBC portraits, the L.A. Hardcore scene, sloppy ‘70s Hollywood gems, corrupt cops, Moroccan rock stars, the god Rip Torn and the unrecognised classic Dirty Dancing 2

Gene Vincent: The Rock And Roll Singer (1970), Dir. Tony Wheeler 

Matt Sweeney: Equally inspiring and heart crushing. The way he smiles when he sings. The hardness of the Teds.

Deeper Into Movies: This 1970 BBC documentary follows Vincent as he endures a demoralising four day tour of the UK. Greeted at the airport by the Teds, then beset by dishonest promoters and managers, Vincent was also dealing with the physical and emotional trauma of a 1955 motorcycle accident and a 1960 car crash which took the life of his friend Eddie Cochran. A tough watch, but a revealing study of a rare talent. 

Stony Island (1978), Dir. Andrew Davis

MS: My favourite movie about music, if I had to name one.

DiM: Under the tutelage of a ageing pianist, a multi-racial R&B group vie for success on the streets of Chicago in Davis’ lyrical city story.

Cisco Pike (1972), Dir. Bill Norton

MS: Doug Sahm acting, Gene Hackman sweating. I couldn’t believe no one had told me about this movie.

DiM: Though largely dismissed at the time of its release, Norton’s music-infused crime film has earned a sizeable cult following in the ensuing decades. Kris Kristofferson’s debut as a leading man is supported by memorable turns from Harry Dean Stanton and Warhol stars Viva and Joy Bang.

Oulaya’s Wedding (2017) Dir. Hisham Mayet, Cyrus Moussavi and Brittany Nugent

MS: Astonishingly familiar feelings and ripping tunes. God is cool. 

MiD: The most famous wedding band in Dakhla celebrate the marriage of their eldest daughter Oulaya with an intensely colourful combination of musical performances, dance and pageantry. 

Honky Tonk (1974) and King Riders (1986), Dir. Tav Falco 

MS: All of The Answers are here. God is very cool. 

DiM: The insanely talented multi hyphenate Tav Falco captures Saturday night at a Mississippi country-blues club called “The Sportsmen’s Brotherhood Lodge” in Honky Tonk and turns his attention to the annual convention of the black biker gang “The King Riders Motorcycle Club” in King Riders.

Payday (1973), Dir. Daryl Duke

MS: At our gnarliest we’ve never been close to what Rip Torn embodies in this movie.

DiM: Torn gives the performance of his career in this down and dirty character study of a country star indulging every vice under the sun as he hurtles towards annihilation.

Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights (2004), Dir. Guy Ferland

Will Oldham: Diego Luna is the cooler half of the Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN team.

DiM: Although a latter-day sequel to an eighties nostalgia object has rarely heralded success, Havana Nights takes things in a bold new direction - situating the action in Cuba circa 1958. Combining ecstatic dance sequences with seismic historical stakes, Ferland’s film is a genuine pleasure. 

Djam (2017) Dir. Tony Gatlif

WO: Tony Gatlif always gets his music right, as far as I can tell.

DiM: A woman journeys to Istanbul in search of a boat part for her uncle, there she encounters a kindred spirit and the two set off on a journey of their own. The film’s soundtrack makes fantastic use of a Greek folk music style called “rebetiko”.

Trances (1981), Dir. Ahmed El Maanouni

WO: Twenty years ago, when I finally purchased a guitar by a certain company, I covered up its logo on the headstock with a cutout from the j-card of a Nass El Ghiwane cassette.

DiM: Restored in 2007 by Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project, Trances follows influential Moroccan band Nass El Ghiwaine, incorporating live performances, interviews and archival footage of the country’s colonial era.

The Decline Of Western Civilization (1981), Dir. Penelope Spheeris

WO: A documentary about energy that's so loaded with power that it will never die.

DiM: Spheeris’ legendary documentary shone a light on the late 70s/early 80s LA punk scene in all its chaotic glory. The film features appearances from Black Flag, Catholic Discipline, Circle Jerks, Fear, Germs, and X.

Round Midnight (1986), Dir. Bertrand Tavernier

WO: My father brought me with him to see this when it came out. We listened to the soundtrack quite a lot. I got very much into Tavernier years later. Dexter Gordon is on the turntable right now.

DiM: Inspired by the tragic lives of Lester Young and Bud Powell, Round Midnight follows the fictional musician Dale Turner (Dexter Gordon) through the fifties Paris jazz scene. RIP Bertrand Tavernier. 

Until the End of the World (1991), Dir. Wim Wenders

WO: If I remember right, the instructions to the commissioned musicians (that musicians were commissioned to make new music for a film is great in and of itself) was to try to record a song as it would sound in the future (any instruction along any lines is great, too).

DiM: Wenders’ ambitious sci-fi project is a work of enormous scope, told in two acts, following a pair of outlaws in an off-kilter vision of the then future (1999). No disrespect to stars Solveig Dommartin and William Hurt, but the film’s soundtrack is the real standout, with contributions from The Talking Heads, Julee Cruise and Lou Reed – plus many, many more.

Superwolves is out on the 30th of April via Domino in the UK and Drag City in the US.

@deeperintomovies