Friday, 27 March 2015

Film Review | Detroit Rock City (1999)

I'm always on the lookout for films to add to my ever growing 'Music Movies' list. And this film might be a contender for the top spot on that list, since I haven't reacted this excitedly to a film in such a long time. 

The only thing I knew about it was that it was a bunch of kids trying to get to a KISS concert. Which hooked me straight away.

I've been studying film extensively since I was sixteen. Many people think that it's all I do and that I don't really have any other interests outside of it. Which is completely untrue - I obsess over so many trivial things that I'm not going to get into here. But one of those things is music. I've had the music bug since I was a kid, even so far as reaching back to when I was born. Music is certainly my first love, film has been more of an ever-growing thing. Whenever I stumble across films that manage to intertwine these two things perfectly, I'm almost always left star struck. Which is no different with Detroit Rock City, a film that manages to blend these two so seamlessly it's astounding.

Detroit Rock City, directed by Adam Rifkin, tells the story of four teenage guys on a mission. A mission to finally see their favourite band, KISS, in concert in Detroit in 1978. They have mishap after mishap in the form of burnt tickets by an over-conservative Mother, busting out of a strict Catholic boarding school, and not fully understanding how to enter a radio contest. To name a few. Rifkin manages to tell this coming-of-age story through the lens of 1970s America - which is established in one of my favourite film openings of all time - and throughout the film with references to the culture at the time and of course, the soundtrack. 

In all honesty, from what I'd been told of the film, I assumed it was just going to be KISS music. Which I have no problem with at all, seeing as they're one of my favourite bands. But instead, I was met with a host of my personal favourite bands, from the likes of Cheap Trick, The Ramones, Golden Earring, Thin Lizzy, David name a few. This is the only film that I have ever sat through that I managed to have a mini breakdown every single time a song came on. Not only because they were my favourites, but in the way they were used. I haven't seen a film use music in such an innovative way as this before. Each song perfectly describes the situation the boys are in. For instance, Thin Lizzy's 'Jailbreak' being used when they're busting Jam out of the boarding school or when Trip is heading to the store with Bowie's 'Rebel, Rebel' playing in the background. It lends to giving the film a second overlaying narrative structure, which I haven't seen in such a long time. Come to think of it, I can't really think of any films that have done it as successfully as this.

Rifkin's directing is something that stands out above the music, especially in terms of heightening the comedy. Rifkin harnesses a talent similar to that of Edgar Wright - in terms of visual comedy. It's not just the characters on screen and the moments that they put themselves in that exemplifies the humor, but the camera also acts as a character in the scenes. Whether it's from the use of frantic movements, intelligent camera positioning or hilarious zooms to whatever a certain character is doing - it just heightens the comedy on such a broad scale. Not a lot of filmmakers take the camera into consideration when it comes to comedy, but Rifkin certainly does here. This video by Every Frame a Painting explains the use of the camera extremely well, which a lot of filmmakers today could take pointers from:

Like I said with Orange County, from what I've briefly seen, this film didn't really garner massively positive reviews. This time I haven't even bothered reading said reviews, because I think that with these coming-of-age films, they're targeted at a certain audience. A majority of film reviewers and critics are of an older age; hence they don't seem to grasp the concept of these films. Sure, you can comment on the direction or the storyline of a coming-of-age film, but it's how it makes you feel that are the real center points of these. It makes you feel normal, you relate to these characters. However meaningful their actual story is. 

In this case, it's not only the pure excitement of seeing your favourite band in concert (which this captures to a T), but how the ways your parents influence you. Which is seen mostly through Jam's case - with his overly religious Mother trying to force her ideals and religion upon him, and he's taking none of it. Which made me feel relieved that my parents never cared what music I listened to. I could be listening to bands like Slayer or Motorhead and nothing would be said, other than my Dad sometimes questioning my choices and recommending I listen to Neil Young or something instead. But they never once dictated what I listened to, they let me form my own tastes. Which is, I think, one of the main messages in this film. 

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