Today sees the release of "The Sapphires," the modest but entertaining Australian comedy starring Chris O'Dowd, which proved to be a crowd-pleasing hit at Cannes and TIFF last year and was snapped up by The Weinstein Company. The film's very loosely based on a true story, but focuses on a fictional girl-group, The Sapphires, made up of four Australian Aboriginal women who form a singing troupe to entertain the troops in Vietnam.
As such, the four women (played by Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell) are joining a long traditional of fictional bands and musical acts in cinema history, and so to mark the release of the film we've rounded up fifteen of our favorites. You might not be able to see any of them live, but settle down with your DVD player and you can organize your own music festival more star-studded than anything Coachella or Lollapalooza can offer. Read our picks below, and let us know what other fictional movie bands you'd like to see on the bill in the comments section.
Film: "The Big Lebowski" (1998)
Who were they? Nihilists Uli (Peter Stormare), Kieffer (Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame) and Franz (Torsten Voges).
Best Song: "Technopop (Wie Glauben)"
How hard do they rock? Rock is perhaps not the right word. Of all the curious and colorful tangents in the Coen Brothers' "The Big Lebowski," perhaps the strangest is German electropop group Autobahn. An obvious homage to the legendary Kraftwerk (down to being named after one of their most famous songs), the band, fronted by a sometime porn star also known as Karl Hungus, are a group of German nihilists ("nothing to be afraid of," according to John Goodman's Walter) who, their recording career seemingly behind them, have a half-baked plan to get rich by faking a kidnapping, with one of their girlfriends losing a toe to make it more convincing. They come a cropper thanks to Walter (though not without casualties on the other side), and with Uli having his ear bitten off, it's unlikely that they'll be following up their album Nagelbett (translated as 'Nail Bed') any time soon. We don't actually see them perform live at any point, but the moody synth-pop of the song we do hear in the background is certainly enough to get them included on the list.
Extra rock credit: Singer-songwriter Aimee Mann cameos as the girlfriend of the band, who chopped her own toe off.
Film: "Brothers Of The Head" (2005)
Who were they? Conjoined twins and joint-frontmen Tom and Barry Howe (Harry and Luke Treadaway, real-life twins), plus bandmates Paul Day (Bryan Dick), Tubs (Nicholas Millard) and Spitz (Stephen Eagles).
Best Song: "Two-Way Romeo" is probably the most memorable.
How hard do they rock? One of the most detailed fictional bands in cinema, The Bang Bang are the subject of this mockumentary, even convincing some they were a real band. They weren't, but the history of punk in the '70s is so replete with freak shows and bizarre footnotes that it is no great stretch to believe that a pair of conjoined twins could have fronted a band. Part of the film's beauty is the way it’s cleverly embedded in the actual history of the time: Ken Russell makes an entirely believable cameo to discuss a film he supposedly made with the punk rock twins; the documentarian who follows them is a protégé of famous cinema verite pioneer D.A. Pennebaker; and the films strongest suit, the convincing set of punk rock numbers ‘The Bang Bang’ thrash out, is written and arranged by real life '70s musician and producer Clive Langer. The band's manager, who essentially purchases them with the intention of forming the band, feels like a low-rent compound of Malcolm McLaren and every other sleazy rock manager who ever weaseled his way into a music scene. The grimness of the windy and wet south coast, the stale beer and fags of British pubs in the '70s and the scuzzy violence of the punk scene are all perfectly recreated around the electric central performances of the Treadaway twins.
Extra Rock Credit: The Treadaways were in a band together in their teens, called Lizardsun.
Film: "The Devil's Rejects" (2005)
Who were they? Lead singer Roy Sullivan (Geoffrey Lewis) and banjo player Adam "Fingers" Banjo (Lew Temple).
Best Song: "I'm At Home Getting Hammered (While She's Out Gettin' Nailed)" surprisingly lives up to its title as a jokey honky tonk knee-slapper that lends itself easily to singalongs.
How hard do they rock? Banjo & Sullivan's "collection" (a greatest hits record, essentially) dates back to the mid-'70s, before they disappeared in the middle of a horrendous murder spree. Or so "The Devil's Rejects" director Rob Zombie would have you believe. With songwriter Jesse Dayton and star Lew Temple, Zombie actually produced a full-length album for minor characters in his film that we never see performing, only being tortured by Zombie's bloodthirsty protagonists. It's a curious experiment for such a small film, made doubly intriguing by the fact that, despite the fact that the songs rely on Zombie-style double entendres and cheap jokes, they're pretty catchy period-specific country tunes.
Extra Rock Credit: Geoffrey Lewis, who plays Sullivan, is the father of actress Juliette Lewis, who has her own rock career as frontwoman of Juliette and the Licks and as a solo artist.
Film: "The Blues Brothers" (1980)
Who were they? John Belushi as "Joliet" Jake Blues, lead vocals; Dan Aykroyd as Elwood Blues, harmonica and lead vocals; Steve Cropper as Steve "the Colonel" Cropper, lead guitar, rhythm guitar and vocals; Donald Dunn as Donald "Duck" Dunn, bass guitar; Murphy Dunne as Murphy "Murph" Dunne, keyboards; Willie Hall as Willie "Too Big" Hall, drums and percussion; Tom Malone as Tom "Bones" Malone, trombone, tenor saxophone and vocals; Lou Marini as "Blue Lou" Marini, alto saxophone and tenor saxophone and vocals; Matt Murphy as Matt "Guitar" Murphy, lead guitar; and Alan Rubin as Alan "Mr. Fabulous" Rubin, trumpet, percussion and vocals.
Best Song: Probably "Shake A Tailfeather" with Ray Charles, that turns into a street party, though Jake Blues' religious experience at the church of James Brown is kind of amazing (though technically, he doesn't really perform during the song).
How hard do they rock? "Blues Brothers" is a odd one in that the musical duo spend most of the film getting the band back together for a charity gig, which mostly results in a relentless chase movie. It's hard to imagine any studio greenlighting a 2-hour-plus surreal comedy about blues revivalists, especially in today's climate, but Belushi and Aykroyd (who created the characters on “Saturday Night Live”) make it work. Their energy and passion not only for the concept, but more importantly for the music, is infectious. Their use of the guest musicians is carefully thought out, resulting in sequences (like Aretha Franklin's "Think" in a diner) that are sublime, paying respect to both the artists and music, while still being plenty of fun. Of course, a car chase through a mall also helps. However, once they manage to shake off everyone they've pissed off -- including Good Ol' Boys, Illinois Nazis and jilted ex-lovers -- and get to the gig, they make a solid case for why getting everyone back together was worth the effort. Belushi and Aykroyd aren't the greatest singers, but they are great performers and it shows through and through. Like the best rhythm and blues material, they find the neck snapping breaks and grooves that make the best of the genre so infectious, and milk it for all it's worth. And of course it certainly doesn't hurt the Blues Brothers to have some of the most esteemed rhythm and blues players of all time in their band, including members of Booker T & The MGs and The Movement (Isaac Hayes' band). So yes, they definitely rock it.
Extra Rock Credit: David Letterman's bandleader Paul Shaffer was the musical director of the band early on, but Belushi fired him, angered that, in his eyes, Shaffer was spending too much time working on a record for fellow SNLer Gilda Radner. He later cropped up in belated sequel "Blues Brothers 2000."
Film: "Hustle & Flow" (2005)
Who were they? DJay (Terrence Howard) provides the flow while Al Kapone of Three 6 Mafia penned the lyrics.
Best track: "Whoop That Trick" wins out over the Oscar-winning "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp" with dark grooves and an aggressive delivery from Howard.
How hard does he rap? The three songs performed by DJay in the course of Craig Brewer's junkyard-underdog-rising film are hard Southern gangsta rap, heavy on the bass and dispersing misogynistic lyrics with ease. Howard does well to keep up his end while Al Kapone's rhymes are serviceable at worst and include such gems as "I don't think you understand this one right here might get banned/Setting off a riot like we living in Afghanistan." In reality, the tracks, most notably the Oscar-winning "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp" was penned by Memphis hip-hop collective Three 6 Mafia, with their protege Cedric Coleman (aka Frayser Boy). Music-wise, we'd get the three songs and avoid the soundtrack, which is peppered with guest appearances of songs that only get brief airtime in the film.
Extra Rap Credit: Terrence Howard turned down the chance to perform the song at the Oscars, but nearly three years later, released his own jazz/soul record, "Shine Through It." In the long tradition of actors making records, it's not very good.