Top 10 Great Guitar Scenes in Movies
By midlandsmovies, Apr 12 2015 05:59PM
Top 10 Great Guitar Scenes in Movies
Having been in a rock band for much of the ‘noughties’ I’ve always had an affinity with music films and especially those with guitarists or guitar playing in them. With that in mind, it got me thinking of some of my favourite scenes in cinema where we see guitarists in full on action.
Although not completely following the rules I’ve tried to omit any films that overtly showcase the talents of real musicians (that’s Elvis’ films out) or are based on real musicians’ lives. Therefore, honourable mentions must go to Crossroads, Purple Rain, Blues Brothers, Walk the Line and Crazy Heart but significant portions are about or made by actual musicians recreating their already well-known talents and back catalogue.
A few were real close too, including scenes in Only Lovers Left Alive (classic guitars), Mama (goth Jessica Chastain playing bass), Inside Llewyn Davis (Please Mr Kennedy) , Howard the Duck (duck walk), Almost Famous (guitarist with mystique) and Summer of Sam (Adrian Brody’s punk rocking).
So if you are a fan of all things guitar-wise, go ahead and tune up your strings, plug in to a Marshall stack and turn up the volume to...well, you know the rest.
And if you’re a bassist (as I was) then don’t hesitate to start “Slappin Da Bass”...
10 Desperado (1995)
A film with a whole host of guitar nods, this Latin-flavoured action film serves up a menu of string sequences from the outset as we follow El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) as a man with a guitar case full of guns. Along his violent journey he meets a boy who he gives guitar playing tips and a local bookstore owner called Carolina (Salma Hayek) who provides shelter. She also stitches his wounds before we learn that the boy’s guitar is actually being used to hide drugs between gangs. Serenading Carolina with his playing, he then wakes after love-making to the voice of her soulful song. But with her eyes closed, Banderas follows mysterious shadows outside their room which he tracks with two pistols and the beautiful peaceful acoustic song is interrupted by another round of gun violence. Gunslingers and guitar players in equal measure!
9 Airplane! (1980)
A comedy classic that includes a number of musical scenes including the Saturday Night Fever inspired dance flashback but one of my favourite guitar-playing moments occurs before the emergency even starts. With a sick little girl hooked to a saline drip, one of the cabin crew takes it upon herself to cheer her up with an acoustic rendition of River Of Jordan by Peter, Paul and Mary. As the camera cuts to the passengers and crew’s happy faces, the stewardess knocks out the drip resulting in the poor girl struggling to recover. Eventually getting the medical attention she needs, it is knocked out for a second time by the guitar’s neck only for the mother to try and save her daughter a second time. Laughs and lyrics together as one.
8 School of Rock (2003)
Richard Linklater (the indie director of Boyhood and the Before trilogy) took on the musical stylings of Jack Black in this fun family film. Black gurns and poses throughout as his rock-dreamer surreptitiously becomes a substitute teacher to pay his bills. His world is blown away by the young students when he first enters a music lesson and moves them from classical to classic rock. Black’s young-at-heart and hyper personality is infectious as he goes from exploiter to mentor, inspiring his passion amongst the youth of the class as they jam for a battle of the bands to win their parents and colleagues over
7 Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Audrey Hepburn plays an iconic character and delivers an iconic performance of ‘Moon River’ in this 60s classic in which she jolts Paul “Fred” Varjak (George Peppard) from his typewriting in his apartment. The song was written specifically for the film by Henry Mancini, who composed the song for Hepburn’s vocal register. Truman Capote apparently wanted Marilyn Monroe but she was worried the call-girl role would damage her image. Quite.
6 Deliverance (1972)
This John Boorman directed feature is iconic for both its “squeal like a pig” line as well as this scene involving one of the city men and a bizarre country boy. Recorded in the studio in under 2 hours, Warner Records were worried this wouldn’t be a hit. One gold record later (which was subsequently stolen by a Dublin gangster) proved him very wrong indeed. Fun fact: The actor playing the “inbred” boy only did the strumming and a fake sleeve was created for another child to crouch behind him and play but this second child ultimately went uncredited.
5 Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure(1989)/Bogus Journey (1991)
This sci-fi time-travelling buddy comedy mixed a range of genres as two dufus high school surfer-slackers are tasked with passing their history exam in order to save humanity. The utopian society of the future based on their guitar teachings contrasts with their initial stupidity and are given a time travelling phone-booth (Tardis anyone) to grab historical figures from the past. This is so they can bring them to their presentation at San Dimas High School. From Go-Gos rhythm guitarist Jane Wiedlin as Joan of Arc to Rufus playing a guitar solo, the film has endless guitar references. When the boys finally cry “excellent” and do an “air-widdle”, you will have to thank famed session musician Stevie Salas, who composed all the guitar licks. My personal fave is in the sequel when Ted possesses his dad and the lick becomes a cool 1950s infused riff. Gnarly!
4 Scott Pilgrim (2010)
A commercial flop on its release, Scott Pilgrim was a comic-book inspired oddity by Edgar Wright that confounded critics who didn’t know in what genre to pigeon hole it. Which is a shame as it is one of the funniest, most visually inspired and clever films of recent times with nods to musicals, kung-fu films, comics and video games. As Scott battles to defeat his new girlfriend’s seven evil exes, his third battle is with vegan Todd Ingram, who is dating Scott's ex-girlfriend, Envy Adams. Todd is played by once-Superman Brandon Routh parodying superpowers through a battle of duelling basses. From the nods to 90s arcade beat ‘em ups to Scott’s indie roots facing off against Todd’s technical prowess, who said bass players were the butt of band jokes? Half n half.
3 Wayne’s World (1992)
A Saturday Night Live spinoff film, the director Penelope Spheeris channelled the TV show’s anarchic style into a popular hit, forever reinventing Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody along the way. No easy feat and with a film full of guitar playing – Wayne’s girlfriend rocks a bass in her band Crucial Taunt and Wayne strums his guitar on the shows intro/outro each week – my favourite scene is actually the music shop. As he enters, a white Fender Stratocaster is under lock and key in a glass case which he calls “Excalibur” before Wayne plays the “can I help you riff”. As he plays on the iconic axe, he begins the seminal intro to Stairway to Heaven but is stopped in his tracks by the store clerk who points him to a “No Stairway” sign, aping many a real-life situation. Denied!
2 Spinal Tap (1984)
Finding its true calling on home video, the success of Spinal Tap is now unsurpassed in its field, spawning a whole raft of imitation (and real-life) doc/mock-umentaries and being selected for preservation by the US Congress. Of many classic and hilarious scenes of the (now semi-)fictional band, it is the sequence where the band’s guitarist shows off his collection that’s my top choice of guitar guffaws. As Tufnell (Chris Guest) shows filmmaker Marty DiBergi (the film’s “real” director Rob Reiner) around his set of sublime stringed instruments, he demonstrates his usage or lack thereof of each axe. Within this scene is Nigel Tufnell’s iconic “up to eleven” sequence where he claims his Marshall amps are one louder (IMDB let you score Spinal Tap on their site out of 11 stars in fact - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088258/ ). Earlier, he also he holds up one guitar and asks “can you hear the sustain” without even playing it. Typical guitarist!
1 Back to the Future (1985)
One louder than Spinal Tap and grabbing my number 1 spot is Marty McFly (a never better Michael J. Fox) performing Johnny B. Goode at the 1955 Enchantment Under the Sea dance. Back in the present day earlier on in the film, we see Marty’s axe-wielding skills as he auditions for a Battle of the Bands. He fails at that after one judge says his band, The Pinheads, are just “too darn loud”. Funnily, that judge is played by Huey Lewis whose own song on the soundtrack, “Power of Love” was Oscar nominated. After an accident sees Marty head to 50s Hill Valley, his attempts to get his parents to fall in love so he can be born culminate with him stepping in to play a vintage Gibson ES-335 at their high school dance. The over-the-top guitar solo also pays homage to the traits of some of the all-time great guitar heroes such as Pete Townsend’s windmill and Hendrix’s guitar-behind-the-head styles. With a nod to Chuck Berry as well (both with a phonecall and his infamous duck walk) the performance is now part of film history with Fox’s own playing (any guitarist will tell you he sure is playing the chords correct at least) seamlessly matching the film’s soundtrack. And the film’s only Oscar? Sound editing! Exactly.