Now, it's not like I have so much cred here. I never went to even the sad early-2000s days of CBGB, or, for that matter, set foot in the Lower East Side before it had already turned into a place where I feel totally safe walking alone at night and can acquire an $8 cone of fries with wild mushroom mayo, if I choose to do so. Still, I know a painful, lame, inaccurate mistake of a movie when I see (the trailer for) one, and CBGB is it.
Reviews (including our own) confirm, this movie probably didn't need to get made, and you probably don't need to pay $13.50 to Malin Ackerman lip synch along to recordings of songs you already know by heart. And hey, biopics are hard to pull off. Retroactively looking back on any kind of scene or cultural moment or entire human life is hard enough to do with any measure of authenticity, and gets doubly so when the whole process gets churned through a studio system. And yet, some truly good movies about rock ("rockumentaries"? aaaugh) have gotten made, some of them blatantly fictional, some of them more traditionally biographical. So in lieu of squirming through a listless recreation of a dingy bar that's best left as it was, here are a few worth watching (or re-watching) this weekend instead.
24 Hour Party People
As a rule, it's pretty well worth watching Steve Coogan in just about any project he decides to do, and this 2002 movie, loosely based on the rise and fall of Manchester's Factory Records, is among his best. The plot keeps itself moving at a rapid clip, seminal bands like Joy Division, New Order, and the Happy Mondays are given their due without too much self-seriousness, and for the first time in a very long time, raves actually start to look pretty good.
A Hard Day's Night
The prototypical "wacky band antics" movie, in the days when those kinds of things just blatantly marked themselves as fictional, instead of as earnest documentaries. But it's really pretty good (and much better than any of the band's later forays into film). The writing's sharp, the Beatles are all at their most charming, Wilfred Brambell provides a surprising amount of comic relief as Paul's grandfather, and the whole thing clocks in under 90 minutes. Plus, someone put the entire thing up on YouTube, so this is a low-risk, high-reward proposition.
Sid and Nancy
If there's one actor out there who could have managed not to turn a role as Sid Vicious into a silly caricature, it's Gary Oldman, and he's a big reason this movie works. It doesn't end well, of course, and the movie's not without its problems (Johnny Rotten later denounced the whole project and the ending, in which Sid and Nancy drive off in some kind of mystical taxi, has been widely criticized), but anyone who thinks CBGB's version of Iggy Pop or even the Met's version of the CBGB bathroom is just so hardcore should probably spend some time with this movie instead.
Based on the Who's rock opera from a few years prior, Quadrophenia works as more of a mood piece than a legitimate historical document (though it does take some of its plot from real life mods versus rockers riots that happened in 1960s Brighton Beach). But if you like the Who, mods, rockers, motorcycles, England, all of the above, or even just one of those things, it's pretty easy to find yourself oddly entranced by this one. Also, a surprisingly accurate look into the minds of most first world citizens between the ages of 13 and 19.
The Buddy Holly Story
Years before Ray, Walk the Line, Dreamgirls, and even that terrible Frankie Lymon movie, 1978's The Buddy Holly Story sort of set the standard for an entire genre of musical biopics yet to come. As such, it's got some of the genre's clunkier conventions (wait, black people like this white guy's music?!!), but it generally holds up, Buddy Holly songs are never not nice to listen to, and for anyone who only grew up knowing wacked-out, earnestly frightening "I'm With Busey" Gary Busey, it's pretty interesting to watch him in his professional prime. Also a lesson in all the good things that happen when you let an actor actually sing the songs on which the entire movie is based.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.