The music tour documentary is still around after decades of being a usually successful big-screen way to show a snapshot of a major music superstar while on the road. While you could say “A Hard Day’s Night” was the first snapshot into the life of The Beatles (in a meta way), “Woodstock” finally took the concert film and showed us the reality of an event from every angle, literally. The split screen technique used in the documentary gave us a chance to see everything going on at once in an omniscient way. We also learned that a lot of it was far from pretty, at least from the audience perspective.
By the time we reached the 1970s, we were seeing the concert tour film as artistic statement and showing us behind-the-scenes activity to accompany the legendary performances. The concert tour films of Elvis Presley, for instance, are usually much more interesting to watch today than they probably were in the early 1970s. That’s because little footage is available of Elvis behind the scenes when on tour, and those films pretty much tell you everything you need to know about the negatives and positives.
Later, the concert film started sticking more to the music, and Martin Scorsese has to be given credit for turning a straight-ahead concert into a great film experience. “The Last Waltz” in 1976 gave us The Band’s first farewell concert tour (the beginning of multiple farewell tours by artists and bands) while doing more than just using overly typical camera work. It set a high bar that was copied in endless concert tour films throughout the 1970s up through today.
Concert movies even managed to survive all the technological changes in movies and ended up in IMAX format (the Rolling Stones one of the first to do that), plus 3D if you include Justin Bieber. If you think 3D isn’t about to save anything interesting about Bieber on the big screen, he might have helped bring back the “snapshot” concert film where other activity beyond the stage is caught on film for posterity. While we may look at that footage tragically someday as we do Elvis’s concert films, what’s the real future of the concert film? Will it end up moving to cable like everything else?
HBO’s New Beyonce Concert Series and the Larger View of Concert Tours
Now that Beyonce is going to be breaking more barriers and doing a series of “episodes” on HBO showing her 2013-14 concert tour, will she help bring a more expansive view of touring artists? While this new series is reportedly just short episodes showing her best performances from the road, will someone eventually try a limited-run series based on a complete concert tour experience? With many artists much more open and honest today, seeing more details about what happened rather than encapsulations can reveal much more about an artist, plus gives chances to see other performances otherwise bypassed in an edit room.
If Beyonce probably won’t reveal much if any backstage footage on this new HBO series, it’s not hard to picture someone like Miley Cyrus doing a similar series, complete with footage of all her shenanigans beyond the stage. It’s hard to imagine she isn’t being followed around now for either a reality show or a concert tour film or series. As a throwback, to Madonna’s “Truth or Dare”, an extended version of the same for cable would also be one long social experiment to show the realities of a life seemingly out of control, yet calculated.
Places like HBO and cable shouldn’t be afraid to use the concert film as warning tales in addition to being artful films that entertain with music. As all the concert films of the past continue to get older, looking back on them always gives you insights into the dangers of living on the road and the isolated existence of music superstars. Those who crave such a life may be able to calm those dreams with more extensive concert tour footage rounding out reality.