Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Muir Book Wednesday: The Rock and Roll Film Encyclopedia (2007)

Well, I haven't done one of these shameless self-promotion posts in quite a while, so today I thought I might casually (*ahem*) draw your attention to another one of my written works. In particular, I'm highlighting 2007's Rock and Roll Film Encyclopedia (Applause Theatre and Cinema Books).

I loved writing this book because I wrote it in the spirit of the genre: no f-ing rules! Anyway, here's a sampling of the critical reception the book received on release back in 2007:

"This is one totally rockin’ A-to-Z reference book way too groovy to gather dust on a bookshelf."
—Neil Pond, American Profile.

"...a witty, riff-filled romp through rock-and-popular-music related films, people and genre conventions in post-1956 American and British cinema. The entire book is unabashedly (and quite refreshingly) subjective and unstructured, allowing the author to display his deep knowledge and affection for the subject." - Library Journal, May 15, 2007.

"The Rock & Roll Film Encyclopedia is a perfect book, jam-packed full of pictures, reviews and descriptions of every rock'n'roll film ever made, and is a guaranteed parent's Netflix queue filler for up to a year." -azTeenMagazine.

"..It covers a lot of ground, from ’56 to 2005, ranging from blockbusters such as Grease to documentaries like The Kids Are Alright, with biographies, interviews, notes on casts and crews and DVD availability. The author knows his stuff and isn’t afraid to express his opinions..." Alan Lewis, Record Collector, Issue # 340.

"Popular film critic Muir's latest volume is a comprehensive encyclopedia (231 entries) devoted to the pairing of rock music and film from 1956 to 2005...a good choice for popular film collections...Recommended." - Choice.

"All told, The Rock & Roll Film Encyclopedia is both a unique reference point for film and music aficionados offering some interesting takes on the genre, as well as a fun collection of trivia on some of the best and least well known films of the past 50 years." - Jason Neubauer, Playback:stl, June 24, 2007.

"...infinitely suitable thumb-through reference for teenagers, casual moviegoers, and regular film fans." - Sir Read-a-Lot, June 2007, issue 99.

"The list of rock'n'roll movies includes landmarks such as "A Hard Day's Night" and "Woodstock," as well as a shelf of Elvis Presley flicks too forgettable to mention (OK, just one: "Clambake"). John Kenneth Muir's The Rock & Roll Film Encyclopedia (358 pages, Applause, $19.95) seems to cover them all, along with a number of feature films in which the music simply sounds really good. While Muir clearly loves his subject, he's not blind to its excesses. Witness his refreshingly arch entry for "circular logic" -- "Wherein a rocker / musician attempts to say something meaningful and deep, but only succeeds in confusing the audience, and usually himself." - The Richmond-Times Dispatch.

"An excellent reference." - MBR Bookwatch

"Trust me, "The Rock & Roll Film Encyclopedia" is no ordinary compendium of cheesy movies with really loud soundtracks...More than 200 films are catalogued and there is a handy index in the back. Garage bands everywhere will want to get a copy of this encyclopedia, to stack right alongside the fake books, guitar chord charts and restaurants delivering take-out." - Chuck Graham, The Tucson Citizen, May 2007.

The book features entries on rock films of all varieties, from animated films (Yellow Submarine [1968]) to bio-pics (What's Love Got to Do With It [1993]), to documentaries (The Last Waltz [1978]) to the canon of "The King," Elvis Presley (Kid Galahad [1962], etc). I also look at fictional band movies (This is Spinal Tap [1984]) horror rock like Trick or Treat (1986) and movies with rock soundtracks (American Graffiti [1973]). I'm also happy that I was able to include entries on genre conventions and actors who made my personal rock movie hall of fame. The book also features new interviews with directors Allan Arkush (Rock and Roll High School), Martin Davidson (Eddie and the Cruisers), Albert Magnoli (Purple Rain) and more.

Here's a representative "genre conventions" entry from the book, an excerpt remembering the all-important rock movie cliche, "destruction of property:"

You can't really make a good rock movie unless your stars destroy personal property. It's a rule. And it clearly establishes the anti-authority credentials of the damager.

"In The Who: The Kids Are Alright, a montage is featured during which drummer Keith Moon ransacks a hotel room. The same film also reveals the band's propensity to smash guitars (and even totals up the cost to The Who for this destructive tic.)

In D.A. Pennebaker's Monterey Pop (1968), Peter Townshend is back to his guitar-destroying tricks but is one-upped by Jimi Hendrix who, following a performance of "Wild Thing," sprays fuel on his guitar and then sets it aflame.

In Walk The Line (2005), an angry Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) rips apart a bathroom, tugging a sink basin right out of the wall.

In Don't Look Back (1967), somebody who doesn't want to fess up (allegedly Joan Baez) is responsible for throwing a drinking glass out a window and angering Bob Dylan.

In both Pink Floyd: The Wall (1983) and The Doors (1991), rock stars (fictional character Pink and Jim Morrison, respectively) make wreckages of their hotel rooms, a seeming rite of passage for this demographic..."


  1. I really enjoyed your interview with Martin Davidson. Being a considerable fan of EDDIE & THE CRUISERS it is impossible to find substantial background info on the production of this film so your book was invaluable for that.

    So, what are your top 5 fave musical biopics (not documentaries)?

  2. Hey J.D:

    Thanks for the comment (and the appreciation for the book and the Davidson interview in particular)!

    My top five musical biopics? Let's see, I've got:

    1. The Doors (1991)
    2. Sid and Nancy (1986)
    3. Walk the Line (2005)
    4. What's Love Got to Do With It (1993)
    5.Great Balls of Fire (1989)


  3. Wow, I'm impressed that you rank THE DOORS at #1 seeing as how it is such a reviled film. I have a fascination with this film being the big Oliver Stone fan that I am. It is a big ol' mess of a film but a riveting one nonetheless. I dunno if I would rank it as highly but it certainly. I'm curious, why do you rate it so highly?

  4. J.D.:

    I admire The Doors (also a Stone fan, here...). And I feel that even though it is indeed a big mess of a film...Morrison was a big mess of an artist.

    Thus the form of the Stone film represents the content, right down to occasions of mock-profundity, right down to the overt mythmaking, right down the attempts to "swing open the doors of perception." That's what Morrison did in life -- "everything art stands for" (good AND bad) -- and that's what Stone's The Doors gets at in a sprawling, non-linear, sometimes unfocused and undisciplined way.

    Plus, Val Kilmer's performance is mesmerizing...

    Maybe I should watch it again and review it on the blog in detail...

    ...but I definitely admire the train-wreck aspect of the's an operatic, self-destructive spiral and the movie leaves us asking questions about Morrison: pretentious put-on or misunderstood genius? (Or a bit of both...)


  5. That looks like an excellent piece of work, JKM. I'll have to take look at it. Thanks.

  6. John Kenneth Muir:

    You should totally do an in-depth review. I for one would love to read it.

    I would certainly agree with the points you make about the film and add that what I also love about the film is Robert Richardson's amazing camerawork... every time I see the camera swooping over the desert and the film's title comes up I get goosebumps. As far as I'm concerned, Stone's films have suffered since Richardson stopped working with him.

    For me, the weakest part of the film is Meg Ryan who is horribly miscast. I grit my teeth every time she speaks.

    But you're right about the train-wreck aspect... which is part of my fascination with the film.