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Vanity Projects: The Musical Edition

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As Ice Cube and Dr. Dre's self-produced NWA biopic arrives in UK cinemas, here's the music-based sequel to our previous Vanity Projects feature that we promised. Straight Outta Compton is terrific. Some of these... not so much.

A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

Musical talent: The Beatles

What’s the story? We’ll start with the obvious. Branching out into movies at the height of Beatlemania, A Hard Day’s Night covers seven anarchic days in the life of John, Paul, George and Ringo. With songs, obviously. There’s also Paul’s grandfather, Wilfred Bramble, who persuades Ringo to go missing, prompting some antics.

Was it a success? Of course it was! Beatles fans went crazy for it, critics were generally won over, and it was hugely influential: The Monkees, in particular, wouldn’t have existed without it. The Beatles worked with director Richard Lester again a year later on Help!. That one didn’t do so well.

Sympathy For The Devil (1968)

Musical talent: The Rolling Stones

What’s the story?* *Always a bit less kid-friendly than The Beatles, The Stones’ filmed output is mostly concerts and documentaries. But then there’s this curio, directed by none other than nouvelle-vague hero Jean-Luc Godard. Footage of the band wrestling the title track into shape is mixed with situationist oddness like Black Panthers killing white virgins in a car park; voiceovers espousing Marxism; hippies listening to a bookshop reading of Mein Kampf; and Godard himself jumping around waving flags. What were they on? Oh yes, practically everything. Especially Brian Jones.

Was it a success? No. Critics panned it – especially in France, damagingly for Godard – and practically nobody turned out to see it. It’s undergone a bit of a reassessment during its lifetime, however, and it’s been available on Blu-ray since 2011.

Moonwalker (1988)

Musical talent: Michael Jackson

What’s the story? At least three directors contributed to this peculiar anthology / wannabe spectacular designed to tie in with Jackson’s album Bad. Live performance footage, career retrospective, animation and gangster adventure jostle for position in the melee, with Brandon Quintin Adams from The People Under The Stairs playing the young Jackson and Joe Pesci playing mob boss Mr Big. It ends – more or less - with the real Jackson returning a lost dog and performing The Beatles’ Come Together at a nightclub that somehow turns into a stadium gig. Bizarre.

Was it a success? It more than made its money back, but it didn’t quite perform in the way that was intended. Conceived as part of a multimedia blitz alongside the Bad album and tour, it finally limped out just as the tour was finishing, and actually went straight-to-video in the States. But the video sold a million copies in four months, so y’know, pluses and minuses.

It Couldn’t Happen Here (1987)

Musical talent: The Pet Shop Boys

What’s the story? Strange to remember now, but at this early point in The Pet Shop Boys’ career they didn’t envisage ever playing live. The idea behind It Couldn’t Happen Here was that if fans did want to leave the house to see them, they could go to the cinema. This weird piece of very English kitsch was the result, with Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe drifting blankly through a series of vignettes – at the seaside; in a greasy-spoon café; buying a classic car; flying a biplane with wing-dancers; watching a man burn at King's Cross station - cut to the songs from their Please and Actually albums. If Harold Pinter had made a camp musical version of The Birthday Party, it might have been something like this. Barbara Windsor, Gareth Hunt and Joss Ackland co-starred. If you’d ever wondered what Ackland was doing in the video for 'Always On My Mind', it’s from here. Arlene Phillips from Strictly was the choreographer.

Was it a success? It’s doubtful that it cost much – it was originally only intended to be a long-form video release, but it grew from there. But it was hardly a hit in cinemas and quickly slunk back to its natural home on VHS. While the band went on greater heights of success and national treasure status (and eventually did start performing lavish concerts), It Couldn’t happen Here remains a pretty obscure footnote to their career. It’s still never even been released on DVD, let alone Blu-ray.

Slade In Flame (1975)

Musical talent: Slade

What’s the story? Toying with the idea of a movie, Slade dismissed the idea of a Hard Day’s Night-style runaround or a comedy Quatermass spoof (the never-made Quite A Mess) and opted for this peculiarly bleak music industry parable instead. They play members of two separate bands who come together to form the titular Flame, but after some Spinal Tap-ish moments and publicity-stunt shenanigans, fall foul of a violent agent and end up splitting in disillusionment.

Was it a success? Some fans and critics were wrongfooted, but Slade were so huge at the time it couldn’t help but do well. Even the novelisation was a bestseller. It made Record Mirror’s list of top ten films for the year, and maintains a healthy reputation with rock fans and critics to this day.

Metallica Through the Never (2013)

Musical talent: Metallica

What’s the story? Essentially a concert film with a bizarre post-apocalyptic wraparound plot. As Metallica play a gig, their roadie Trip (Dane DeHaan) goes on a quest to bring fuel to a stranded van containing a mysterious doll and a bag, the contents of which are never revealed. He encounters riots, earthquakes and supernatural masked horsemen. Nimród Antal (Predators) directed.

Was it a success? Financially not especially, but it was reviewed well and nominated for a Grammy.

Bula Quo! (2013)

Musical talent: Status Quo

What’s the story? After 50 years and 100 singles, the ‘Quo finally make a film. Few people notice. Weirdly, it isn’t a concert movie or a career retrospective of any sort. Instead, it’s an action-comedy about the band witnessing a murder in Fiji and going on the run with some evidence after stumbling upon a black-market human organ trafficking operation run by Jon Lovitz.

Was it a success? Well, it was terrible obviously, but it was only ever intended as a laugh, so most critics were disinclined to treat it too unkindly. Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt were repeatedly sort-of praised for being “game” – if not very good.

Cool As Ice (1991)

Musical talent: Vanilla Ice

What’s the story? Short-lived ‘90s commercial rap phenomenon Robert Matthew Van Winkle (AKA Vanilla Ice) plays motorbike-riding rapper Johnny. He starts a relationship with student Kathy (Kristin Minter) just as her father’s life in witness protection is discovered by the crooked cops he testified against. Kathy’s younger brother is kidnapped. Ice has a beef with Kathy’s boyfriend Nick. Yada yada.

Was it a success? No – it arrived too late to capitalise on Ice’s brief time in the sun. It cost $6m to make and barely brought in $1m at the box office, opening in 14th place in its first week. That was nine places below Ernest Scared Stupid, if you want some context. The album that went with it only got to number 89 on the billboard chart.

Give My Regards To Broad Street (1984)

Musical talent: Paul McCartney

What’s the story? Apparently keen to re-stretch his acting muscles 20 years on from The Beatles films, McCartney came up with this meandering misfire. Scenes of him and Linda going about their daily musical business are framed by a very slight narrative about the theft of some master tapes by a supposedly reformed criminal pal. Macca sits in a car and wonders where they are. Then he goes to Broad Street Station because he remembers something. And finds them. The end.

Was it a success? Not particularly, but the album that went with it did respectably well. The supporting short in theatres was the animated Rupert And The Frog Song, featuring McCartney’s unlikely hit We All Stand Together. That won a BAFTA.

Under the Cherry Moon (1986)

Musical talent: Prince

What’s the story? Purple Rain had been a massive hit, so Prince got to both direct and star in this misguided $12m prestige project for Warner Bros. He plays a gigolo with a lucrative scam swindling French women. One such mark is Kristin Scott Thomas, who has a $50m trust fund, but he falls in love with her and has to face the disapproval of her father, Steven Berkoff.

Was it a success? No. It was beset by production problems like the firing of original female lead Susannah Melvoin, and it didn’t make its budget back on release, despite MTV plugging it to death. Its soundtrack Parade, however, was a barnstormer and sold in the millions.

Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978)

Musical talent: Kiss

What’s the story? Ahem. Mad engineer Anthony Zerbe is turning people into cyborgs for his Magic Mountain amusement park. His boss siphons away some of his funding to pay for a Kiss concert. Zerbe is displeased. He makes a destructive robot Gene Simmons to frame the real version for vandalism, and then recreates the rest of the band to incite a riot from the stage. The real Kiss fight their doppelgangers, save the day and play 'God Of Thunder'.

Was it a success? It was a TV movie for NBC, so box office wasn’t a concern, and it aired at the height of Kiss’ fame so would have pulled in some lucrative advertising. But it was basically ridiculed from far and wide; laughed off-screen even by the band’s fans. Embarrassed, the band disowned it and forbade their staff from ever mentioning it again. It’s basically the Star Wars Holiday Special of the Kiss back catalogue.

Cradle of Fear (2001)

Musical talent: Cradle of Filth

What’s the story? A no-budget horror anthology directed by gorehound Alex Chandon, capitalising on his relationship with the black metal loons (he’d previously shot their twisted video for 'From The Cradle To Enslave'). Singer Dani Filth stars in the wraparound segments as a serial killer working for his mad father. The rest of the band pop up here and there in other roles. Story segments involve a monster exploding out of Emily Booth; a botched robbery of an old man who won’t die; and an amputee who murders someone to steal his leg.

Was it a success? It’s pretty ropey – Filth can scream but he can’t act – but it can’t have cost much, so it probably did relatively well eventually. The release was a farce and a half though. Confident that they’d be too extreme to get an 18 certificate, Chandon’s minions offered the film as a mail order VHS shipping from outside the UK to circumvent the BBFC – charging well north of £20 per tape. And then the BBFC passed it uncut, with a chippy message to “try harder next time”. Within weeks you could get it for a fiver on DVD in the Blockbuster bargain bin. Red faces all round.