Thursday, April 17, 2014

10 Movies Directed by Musicians

What they really want to do is act direct.

A lot of musicians try acting. Only a few step behind the camera.

1. The Prince of Tides, dir. Barbara Streisand (1991) The Prince of Tides is actually the second film directed by music icon Barbara Streisand; she had already directed Yentl in 1983, but I've never seen Yentl. She won some Golden Globes for that one, including the first Best Director award ever given to a female. Since I've seen The Prince of Tides, let's talk about that one. Streisand won her second Golden Globe for Best Director but wasn't even nominated for an Oscar despite the movie being nominated for a bunch of them including Best Picture (that directed itself). How this movie racked up awards nominations and made over $100 million at the box office is a true mystery, because it begins as overwrought and then becomes ludicrous.

2. House of 1,000 Corpses, dir. Rob Zombie (2003) Much to the chagrin of many critics, Rob Zombie has gone on to become one of the most successful musician-turned-directors ever; if he never released another album, he could still have a career as a filmmaker. This was the movie that started it all, and though it remains his most garish and least-respected, it proved that he had a voice as a filmmaker and paid tribute to the insane, dangerous horror films of the '70s before Hollywood followed suit and spent the first decade of the 2000s remaking and copying '70s horror. There's not much of a story here -- Zombie just vomited up a bunch of his influences and stuff he likes onto the screen, creating a visceral, nutty experience more than a satisfying narrative. He would continue to improve as a filmmaker, but I still really like this one.

3. Falling from Grace, dir. John Mellencamp (1992) This one is fascinating. John Mellencamp (formerly Cougar) had never done any acting prior to Falling from Grace. I'm not sure anyone even knew he had any interest in movies (if you ever saw him co-host Ebert & Roeper, you might still think that; one of the most uncomfortable half hours of television I've ever watched). Suddenly, he's moving from pink houses to directing and starring in a film based largely on his life and written by Larry McMurtry. Though the movie completely shit the bed at the box office (making just over $200,000 on an already low budget of $3 million), it received its share of positive reviews. The great Roger Ebert gave it a four-star rave.

4. A Letter from Death Row, dir. Bret Michaels (1998) You guys, Poison frontman/wigged virus carrier Bret Michaels once wrote, directed and starred in a movie that co-stars Martin Sheen and Charlie Sheen (who co-produced the movie under the Sheen Michaels entertainment banner). It's billed as a "Bret Michaels Creation." Other Bret Michaels creations: "Unskinny Bop," burning pee.

5. True Stories, dir. David Byrne (1986) JB already wrote eloquently about this movie here. You should read it. This is an offbeat, pleasant movie. If David Byrne was going to direct a movie, this is what a David Byrne movie would look like.

6. The Players Club, dir. Ice Cube (1998) After first appearing on screen in 1991's Boyz n the Hood, NWA rapper Ice Cube gradually began working in more and more movies. By the late '90s, he had become a movie star thanks to the breakout success of Friday. New Line, happy with that film's success, gave Cube the keys to the castle and let him direct a $5 million movie about the goings-on at a strip club as seen through the eyes of a dancer (LisaRaye McCoy). This is the kind of niche movie that New Line was once great at making; no other studio at the time was serving black audiences, sci-fi geeks and horror fans like they did. They kept budgets low, took chances on filmmakers and put out a ton of interesting stuff. This one has an impressive cast that includes Jamie Foxx, Charlie Murphy, Tiny Lister, Terrence Howard, Michael Clarke Duncan, Luther Campbell and Faizon Love. It's not a great movie, but it does fondly recall the blaxploitation films of the '70s in the way that it combines so many genres, from broad comedy to melodrama to crime thriller.

7. The Longshots, dir. Fred Durst (2008) Remember when Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst directed a family movie about a teenage girl who becomes quarterback of her local football team? Did you know this was his second feature? And in neither of them does anyone wear a backwards cap and rap-whine about date rape. Durst should stick to making movies. They're inoffensive. The same cannot be said of his music.
8. Under the Cherry Moon, dir. Prince (1986) After making a hugely successful big screen debut with 1984's Purple Rain -- still one of the best musicals of the '80s -- everyone's favorite tiny Minnesotan said "I can do that!" and directed the follow-up after original director Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary) took a walk. He plays a male prostitute who romances a 21-year old Kristin Scott Thomas. Oh, and the movie is in black and white and was shot by Michael Ballhaus, a regular DP for Martin Scorsese. It was not a box office success and won five of those stupid Razzies. Prince would go on to direct two more films, the concert film Sign o' the Times and the Purple Rain sequel Graffiti Bridge, before 1990 and then walk away from movies for good. He never wanted 2 be your weekend lover. He only wanted 2 be some kind of friend.

9. None But the Brave, dir. Frank Sinatra (1965) The sole directorial effort of Ol' Blue Eyes is an anti-war film about American and Japanese soldiers forced to co-exist and eventually kill each other on an island in the Pacific. I've never seen the movie, so I just like to imagine it being directed by Phil Hartman's impression of Sinatra: "Action! Come on! Swing, baby! Sounds like pops and buzzes from here." "Let's go again, Clint Walker! I've got chunks of guys like you in my stool! Don't think the Big Man ain't keeping score, baby! He put you in the penthouse and he can kick you back down to the gutter!"
10. The Man with the Iron Fists, dir. RZA (2012) I wanted this movie to be great. As part of the Wu-Tang Clan, RZA is largely responsible for bringing kung fu back to the mainstream, specifically with urban audiences. The guy lives and breathes kung fu movies and he knows his shit. The prospect of a kung fu epic directed by him and written by RZA and Eli Roth sounded terrific, but the resulting movie is a mess. In over his head as a director and forced to cut his movie from four hours to 90 minutes, RZA's first (and right now only) feature as director is a missed opportunity. There's still stuff to like, but it's impossible to watch it and not long for what might have been.


  1. I'm with you on "The Man with the Iron Fists". I really wanted to love it, but it was more of a letdown. One of the things that still confuses me is the introduction of David Bautista's character, Brass Body. The introduction, with him allowing several village children to climb on him, made me feel that he was being introduced as a big-hearted giant. Obviously, he is revealed to be quite the opposite, so the introduction is really about his power. I understand it's supposed to be a badass introduction but that scene shouldn't make me go "Awwww" for a character that is revealed to be a rapist and a coldblooded killer.

    1. I really wish we could see the much longer version. I think it would help. The first half of the movie is a disaster, all told as one long montage. So frustrating.

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  3. I need to get onto some of these. I agree with you on Prince of Tides. Yentl is a very different film though and I love it. I did a presentation and an essay on it in my New Hollywood module and have gained a huge appreciation of it. There is a great article in Film Quarterly by Allison Fernley and Paula Maloof about why they love this film. As someone who championed Yentl from a young age, reading this was so great as finally these women were expressing things that I had saw in it and were helping me understand why I love this movie so much.