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Lady Gaga joins Elvis, Whitney Houston and Madonna for Hollywood’s timeless search for box office gold

PUBLISHED: 14:30 26 October 2018 | UPDATED: 14:31 26 October 2018

Elvis Presley dancing to that Jailhouse Rock Photo: MGM

Elvis Presley dancing to that Jailhouse Rock Photo: MGM

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The music industry and Hollywood have always enjoyed a very close relationship. The movies have always provided the launch pad for a star’s quest for the big time. Here, Arts editor Andrew Clarke looks at some of the more successful collaborations between the music charts and the movie box office

A Star Is Born. Pictured:  Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine, Lady Gaga as Ally. Photo: PA Photo/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc./Clay Enos.A Star Is Born. Pictured: Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine, Lady Gaga as Ally. Photo: PA Photo/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc./Clay Enos.

With Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper still riding high in the cinematic charts with their glorious remake of A Star Is Born, it seems that people can’t get enough of this tragic tale of life in the rock’n’roll fast lane.

As director-star Bradley Cooper has injected an Almost Famous, stadium rock, feel into the movie, it has triggered in America a fierce debate about rock vs pop and the whole nature of authentic and inauthentic music.

Cooper’s Jackson Maine is all about the live experience, of standing up in front of an audience, night after night, and proving that he can deliver his songs live with no frills. Lady Gaga’s Ally is equally talented, perhaps more so as a songwriter, but her slick pop video performances, with choreographed dance routines populated by dancers for hire, can make her talent seem more manufactured, less real in some people’s eyes.

Elvis with his real-life band in the recording studio in the film Jailhouse Rock Photo: MGMElvis with his real-life band in the recording studio in the film Jailhouse Rock Photo: MGM

But, as Hollywood knows, talent comes in many forms and success in one area can feed into another. Ever since the dawn of rock’n’roll, the pop industry has supplied Tinsel Town with some of its biggest stars. Here’s our guide to some of the music industry’s greatest names in their greatest roles:

Elvis Presley – Jailhouse Rock (1957)

Cliff Richard is going a Summer Holiday Photo: Warner BrosCliff Richard is going a Summer Holiday Photo: Warner Bros

Elvis’ movie-making credentials were somewhat tarnished (to put it mildly) by his never-ending stream of cheesey musical B pictures during the 1960s but look at his 1950s output and here you discover the perfect actor-musician. Love Me Tender (1956) was a tentative first step, Loving You saw him develop his rebellious streak which really then blossomed with Jailhouse Rock. In the film he plays Vince Everett, a construction worker who is sentenced to a year in prison for manslaughter. On his release, his former cell-mate, a country musician, introduces him to a record label and suddenly he becomes a huge star but trouble is never far away. With his regular backing band, essentially playing themselves, and new songs from powerhouse writing duo Leiber and Stoller, this is the closest many of us got to seeing the King of Rock’n’Roll in his prime. The following year they all re-assembled again for King Creole when Elvis got to go full James Dean and co-starred opposite Walter Matthau as a troubled youth who gets involved with the mob but for that mix of acting and fiery rock’n’roll you can’t beat Jailhouse Rock.

Cliff Richard – Summer Holiday (1963)

Mick Jagger as a faded pop star who falls in with a dangerous EastEnd gangster in Performance. Photo: Warner BrosMick Jagger as a faded pop star who falls in with a dangerous EastEnd gangster in Performance. Photo: Warner Bros

Cliff was originally billed as Britain’s Elvis Presley and like his trans-atlantic cousin during the 1960s went down the day-glo travelogue film musical route. While Elvis swayed around Blue Hawaii Cliff struck gold with a trip around Europe on a London bus in the classic Summer Holiday. They pick up all manner of people en route before they end up on a beach in Greece. Light and frothy and for those of a certain age a reminder of telly on a weekend afternoon. Summer Holiday, along with his other movies Expresso Bongo and The Young Ones capture the flavour of more innocent times.

Mick Jagger – Performance (1970)

Diana Ross as Billie Holiday in Lady Sings The Blues Photo: ParamountDiana Ross as Billie Holiday in Lady Sings The Blues Photo: Paramount

You wouldn’t have thought that being the front man for The Rolling Stones, the world’s longest surviving rock band, would leave much time for forrays into the world of acting but in 1970, in between the release and world tours for the albums Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers, Mick Jagger made two movies. One was the straight forward tale of the Australian outlaw Ned Kelly, the other was something much more challenging – a counter-culture movie called Performance written and directed by wayward creatives Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg. It co-starred James Fox as Chas, a violent and psychotic East London gangster needs a place to lie low after a hit and stumbles across Jagger’s mysterious Mr. Turner, a one-time rock superstar, who is looking for a new inspiration to rekindle his faded talent. The film also featured Keith Richards’ actress girlfriend Anita Pallenberg.

Diana Ross – Lady Sings the Blues (1972)

David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve in the vampire film The Hunger, directed by Tony Scott Photo: MGMDavid Bowie and Catherine Deneuve in the vampire film The Hunger, directed by Tony Scott Photo: MGM

Throughout the 1960s Diana Ross made her name as one of The Supremes before striking out, in the early ‘70s, on a solo career. Part of that declaration of independence was an emotional performance as Billie Holiday, one of her heroines, in Lady Sings The Blues. This was a genuinely revealing portrayal celebrating Holiday’s exceptional abilities as a jazz and blues singer while also shining a spotlight on the pressures which led her to rely on drug abuse to keep going.

David Essex and Adam Faith – Stardust (1974)

Prince in Purple Rain, the film that sent his stardom into high orbit. Photo: Warner BrosPrince in Purple Rain, the film that sent his stardom into high orbit. Photo: Warner Bros

Two singing legends from different eras that met up on the big screen in this tale of the rise and fall of the rock singer Jim Maclaine (Essex), in the mid 60s, with his manager, Mike (Faith), and his group, “The Stray Cats.” Packed with supporting performances from a host of 60s stars like Marty Wilde and Keith Moon this was a real wish fulfillment movie but it proved that Essex and Faith could also act. David Essex would go on to star in Evita on stage and Adam Faith would get his own hugely popular TV series Budgie.

David Bowie – The Hunger (1983)

Roseanna Arquette and Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan Photo: Orion PicturesRoseanna Arquette and Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan Photo: Orion Pictures

Polymath David Bowie has, with exception of documentaries, always avoided being a musician on screen, although he has never shied away from highlighting his other worldliness. The epitome of this was his role of the eternal vampire John Blaylock in Tony Scott’s art-horror film The Hunger. Co-starring Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon, it tells the story of how Egyptian vampire Miriam (Deneuve) keeps her victims alive until she tires of them. Blaylock (Bowie) finds himself with less than 24 hours to live and seeks help from Dr. Sarah Roberts (Sarandon) who then finds herself caught in Miriam’s hypnotic web.

Prince – Purple Rain (1984)

Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard, the film that cemented Houston's mega-stardom Photo: Warner BrosWhitney Houston in The Bodyguard, the film that cemented Houston's mega-stardom Photo: Warner Bros

Part movie-part MTV video, Prince plays a young musician, tormented by an abusive situation at home, he meets an aspiring singer, Apollonia, and finds that talent alone isn’t all that he needs. But, as his star begins to rise he finds his band The Revolution aren’t as happy with their burgeoning success as they should be. This is the movie that kick-started Prince’s career as a music phenomenon, he followed this up two years later with Under The Cherry Moon which was a stylish blend of retro-1930s art deco and cutting edge MTV video-age showmanship. It looked more like a moving collage or an art director’s mood board than a movie but it did give the world Kristin Scott Thomas in her very first film role.

Madonna - Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

Following hot on the heels of her break-out hit Like A Virgin, Madonna made straight for the borderline and crossed over into Hollywood with this tale of a bored suburban housewife, played by Rosanna Arquette, seeking an escape from her hum-drum life. She suffers amnesia after an accident, wakes up, and is mistaken for a free-spirited New York City drifter named Susan and the link is an iconic jacket.

Essentially Madonna plays Madonna, something she does in all her films. For someone who is very good at reinventing herself, she is also remarkably good at playing herself and keeping that current brand image in front of the camera.

Whitney Houston – The Bodyguard (1992)

Originally designed as a vehicle for Diana Ross and Steve McQueen, The Bodyguard gave Whitney Houston one of the biggest hits of her career both on screen and in the charts with her stunning cover of Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You. Kevin Costner co-starred as the strong silent presence charged with protecting Houston’s endangered soul singer but after a frosty start their illicit affair could prove a fatal distraction.

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