A recent trip to see the stage version of “School of Rock” in D.C. got me thinking about the best way to educate youngsters in the way of rock. It’s the lucky child who gets tutored by Jack Black, so most of us have to look elsewhere if we want to raise our children right. Music lessons are one thing, but how to instill the rock attitude in a kid? Maybe you can start with movies.
These movies are required viewing if we want to create an inspired generation of anti-establishment guitar shredders and drum bangers. Be sensible and use discretion. Not all of these films are suitable for an 8-year-old, and bad language comes with the rock scene, so you may need to wait. You know your children best, so check the ratings, do some research and ring the bell—school’s in, sucka!
‘A Hard Day’s Night’
Why not start with the best rock movie with the best rock soundtrack about the best rock band of all time? This is an easy way for kids to get into The Beatles, and rock music generally. It’s fast, upbeat, silly and The Beatles show off some incredible comic timing. It’s also subtly subversive, and more mature than its teenybopper trappings would suggest.
‘Rock ‘N’ Roll High School’
Look, this movie is terrible. I know what you’re thinking: If it stars Clint Howard, how can it be bad? Well, it’s a cheap-o Roger Corman movie about a high school full of kids who just wanna rock and a principal from Third Reich casting. But it has The Ramones, and that makes up for a lot of garbage dialogue. Put those things together and it captures the punk ethos in a charmingly corny way. It’s also an appetizer for the cheesy Alan Freed films of the ’50s and amazing low-budget punk showcases like “Repo Man.”
Until you feel comfortable showing your kids “8 Mile” or “Hustle & Flow” or even “House Party,” this will have to serve as an introduction to hip-hop. At the very least, it’s an important historical document, capturing Run–D.M.C. and The Fat Boys as rap music started taking over the world. This thing is packed with rap royalty—The Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Kurtis Blow, Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin make appearances. Throw in Shelia E. and New Edition and you’ve got a must-see movie, even if it is a goofy, amateur effort.
Here’s the obligatory Elvis movie, and while most Elvis movies are middling at best, this was his third big-screen role, and came at a time when he was still trying to be a good actor. It’s a fun movie, the music is great, and it deals with what has become the most common music-movie trope: staying true to yourself in the face of record-industry interference and greed.
Since I mentioned it up top, I decided to leave “School of Rock” off this list, although it may be the place to start for most kids. This movie is the next step, as it follows a put-upon Irish teen in the ’80s who copes with heartbreak and family trouble by starting a band. Like all the best rock movies, it’s about friendship and self-discovery. It also has a killer soundtrack and might make you rethink the importance of ’80s music.
Let’s get weird. When David Byrne is involved, it’s hard not to. This movie could be unsettling in its surrealism and unusual pacing, but if you don’t dig too deep into the anti-establishment undertones, it’s surprisingly cute on the surface. The soundtrack is great and features, naturally, the Talking Heads. It’s a good primer for far-out, psychedelic rock movies like “The Wall,” “200 Motels,” “Head” and even “Magical Mystery Tour.”