“Rainbow Bridge” was one of a series of avant-garde/art-house movies with a rock soundtrack during the “Easy Rider” era. Here’s a quick look at some of those films, a mix of the indulgent and exploitive, the innovative and inspired:
“Don’t Look Back” (1967): D.A. Pennebaker’s portrait of Bob Dylan on a 1965 tour of England set a new standard for cinéma vérité storytelling. Dylan embodies the anti-rock-star with cynicism and charisma that is by turns playful and cutting. The soundtrack is stuffed with classic songs, including the opening cue-card-tossing video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”
“The Trip” (1967): Directed by Roger Corman, written by Jack Nicholson and starring Peter Fonda, this acid-trip chronicle was essentially a warm-up for “Easy Rider.” The film opens with a glimpse of Gram Parsons and his country-rocking International Submarine Band playing in a club, while the Electric Flag, an adventurous Chicago-based blues band led by guitarist Mike Bloomfield, provides the bulk of the soundtrack.
“Psych-Out” (1968): Drugs, hippies, free love and acid-pop – the formula once again includes Nicholson, this time in a starring role. The Storybook, an obscure California band, provides the soundtrack for this exploration of “the pleasure lovers” who will “ask for a dime with hungry eyes … but they’ll give you love — for NOTHING!”
“Head” (1968): The Monkees confounded their audience with this dark, enigmatic satire of America’s everyday “Matrix”-like futility. This is the twisted flip side of the cuddly, lovable bubblegum band of prime-time childhood dreams, with cameos by Frank Zappa and Annette Funicello, and a killer soundtrack that includes the Monkees’ psych-pop gem, “Porpoise Song,” written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin.
“Sympathy for the Devil” (1968): French director Jean-Luc Godard’s first English language film is essentially a collage of documentary footage, fictional scenes and political readings. It’s a jumble, primarily notable for its fly-on-the-wall depiction of the Rolling Stones developing the title song in a London studio.
“Zabriskie Point” (1970): Italian visionary Michelangelo Antonioni dove deep into American counterculture with this visual and sonic spectacle, loosely organized around a student protest. Music flows from Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones and John Fahey, among others. Roy Orbison wrote and sang the theme song, “So Young.”
“Woodstock” (1970): A three-hour concert documentary of the quintessential ‘60s festival, and so much more. In between footage of the Who, Joan Baez, Crosby Stills & Nash, Jimi Hendrix (including the iconic moment when he conjures the bombs bursting in air during “The Star-Spangled Banner”), Santana and dozens more, director Michael Wadleigh sought out everyone from the townsfolk and policemen to the stoned hippies for front-line perspective. The mood isn’t all one of mud-and-flowers utopia. A sanitation worker cleaning out a portable toilet reports that one of his sons is attending the festival while another couldn’t make it because he was in Vietnam.
“Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii” (1972): Still a year away from mega-stardom, the British quartet turned a concert in an amphitheater in Italy into an art film. The cutaways aren’t to the audience — there is none — but to the ancient ruins, which give this enterprise an appropriately surreal aura.
“The Song Remains the Same” (1976): Late to the game, perhaps, but Led Zeppelin were not to be outdone in the self-indulgent concert-documentary sweepstakes. The performance footage was actually drawn from a 1973 stand at Madison Square Garden, but took three years to fashion into a film as the band tinkered with “fantasia” vignettes from each band member. Where else are you going to see Jimmy Page climb a mountaintop to meet a hooded wizard or Robert Plant wield a flaming sword? Golden gods? Perhaps. “Lord of the Rings” super fans? Undoubtedly.