With Shine a Light opening today, I thought about doing one of those articles that listed the top five or 10 concert films ever made. Then I realized, however, that there aren't that many examples of the genre that deserve inclusion. The best concert films ever made comprise a "Top Two" list, which seems to barely meet the definition of the word "list." I'm open to suggestions, but as far as I'm concerned, the only great concert films are:
The Last Waltz (1975)
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Martin Scorsese's Shine a Light, however well-crafted, doesn't live up to the superlative standard he set with this chronicle of The Band's farewell performance. The Last Waltz presents everything you'd want in a rock film: revealing, candid interview segments, exuberant musicianship before an audience and a line-up of rock royalty as special guests, including Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Emmylou Harris. Scorsese shrewdly opens the film with the final encore, The Band's "Don't Do It," which conveys the emotional release at the end of the show, and piques our curiosity for the rest of it.
Stop Making Sense (1984)
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The paradox of Jonathan Demme's concert film is the way Talking Heads, especially frontman David Byrne, combine an intellectual, art-school approach to lyrics and stagecraft (the big suits and living room props) with a glorious, infectious feeling of abandon: the songs might come from the head, but they're played from the gut. No other concert film has ever offered such an ingenious introduction to the band members and their contributions as Stop Making Sense, which brings everyone out one at a time (starting with Byrne along with a guitar and beat-box for "Psycho Killer"), making the music richer and more complex. Demme doesn't fool with interviews, so the songs really speak for themselves. "Burning Down the House," above, is such a roof-raising number that the clip actually preceded other films before Stop Making Sense's theatrical release â I distinctly remember seeing it at Tower Place 6 (now the Buckhead Backlot).