Songs On-Screen: A Brief Gift List of Some of 2015’s Best Musical Movies

Although I’m well aware that long-form musical releases are a bit out of vogue at the moment, in lieu of digital-only Eps and singles, and feature-length cinema is far...

Although I’m well aware that long-form musical releases are a bit out of vogue at the moment, in lieu of digital-only Eps and singles, and feature-length cinema is far less appealing to this generation than webisodes and YouTube clips, I maintain that both remain far superior to their contemporary replacements.  And more than that, that musical entities can often be most satisfying and best understood in the context of an audio/visual feature.  So below is a list of recently released Blu-rays/DVDs that present a few very noteworthy, yet diverse, musicians in their most glorious form, which I think could make ideal holiday gifts for various types of friends, family, and loved ones.

Dont Look Back (Bob Dylan)

Arguably the greatest documentary of all-time and inarguably the greatest music documentary of all-time, D.A. Pennebaker’s Dont Look Back, originally released in 1967, documenting Bob Dylan’s final acoustic tour of England, in 1965, finds the young leftist revolutionary looking just as intellectually badass as punks-to-come like Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and John Lydon.  He parties in up (beatnik-style) with fellow artists of the communal persuasion; snarks it up with ignorant, bloated figures of the music and media industries; and, most significantly, quietly kicks out the most politically potent jams of his career; all while attempting to survive a bizarre Beatle-mania of sorts that somehow found its throbbing teen hearts clinging to a postmodern poet laureate.  Last month the Criterion Collection, the Philosopher King’s Court of “Movies That Actually Matter,” released a newly restored transfer of the classic, which includes a bevy of extras (including several Pennebaker short films, outtakes, and an interview with Patti Smith), which would make the perfect gift for both old school music snobs and cinephiles, or angsty youth that desperately need to realize that the soundtrack to potent radical rebellion came long before mowhawks and safety pins came into subcultural fashion.

God Help the Girl (Belle & Sebastian)

This spring my self-proclaimed, “best film since Tiny Furniture,” hit retail shelves (in theaters last year)… God Help the Girl is the directorial debut of Belle & Sebastian mainman Stuart Murdoch.  Its narrative analogously tells the tale of Stuart’s relationship with B&S co-founder and one-time musical life partner Isobel Campbell, someone with whom he once imagined taking over the music world hand-in-hand, a relationship which eventually crashed and burned in an existential break of the heart that nearly matches those documented by Sartre. The film is a musical, soundtracked and told through the band’s own songs – both new and old – which embraces a frantically fast-paced and sexy structure indebted to Murdoch’s deep love of the French New Wave (Imagine a Godard love triangle played out by Pitchfork-praised contemporary ambassadors of indie pop.)  If you know anyone with degrees from the Zooey Deschanel Graduate School of Heartfelt Quirk, this would surely tell them that you both love and “get” them.

The Prismatic Tour Live (Katy Perry)

While this document of Katy Perry’s latest tour projects the songstress as as-profound-an-embodiment of the spectacle as currently exists in pop culture, it also proves that a musical performance that fully embraces the influence of Cirque du Soleil and Super Bowlisms can also successfully project Vaudeville and the intimate sincerity of a great singer/songwriter to a degree worth taking note.  And while the ridiculousness of its reach can be laughable at times, the majority of the songs are actually quite good; from “I Kissed a Girl” and “Thinking of You,” off of her official debut, One of the Boys, which might just be the best mainstream pop album to come out since I’ve been of legal drinking age; to “California Gurls” and “Firework,” which may not be exactly brilliant in any way, but are perfect examples of a cheesy formula ass kicking to all its potential (Come on, they kinda rule in a way you might not be quick to admit…) And I fully endorse Katy Perry as a beautifully charismatic songstress who neither relies on pseudo-girl-next-door, down-played sluttiness (see: Tyler Swift) nor pseudo-intellectual shockery (see: Lady Lala).  While this release may not be the best choice for music aficionados, it may be the perfect inspiration for young females looking for a heroine a little less generically popular than Beyonce and a little less potentially arrestable than Courtney Love.

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.