Words: Isobel Trott

What strange times we find ourselves in. At least we’re learning a lot… Including about how boring isolation can get sometimes, how much TV it’s actually possible to binge at once, and just how much fun snacking really is. To help beat the boredom, we’ve pulled together a list of 8 great films about music for you to stream in isolation. Music can be an amazing escape, but sometimes you just need to chill out and settle into a great, comforting, insightful, heart-warming, or just downright entertaining flick…

By no means a definitive list – these 8 films are viewing suggestions; some nuggets and ideas to watch to help make these socially-distant days a little more bearable. And all have music at the heart and soul. From a masterful Amy Winehouse documentary to Eminem’s Oscar-winning biopic… from Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Western Stars’ to Country music-meets-Glasgow in ‘Wild Rose’ – we’ve got you covered.

School of Rock, Richard Linklater

In the words of AC/DC: We roll tonight… to the guitar bite… and for those about to rock… I salute you.” 

Since we’re a music and rock school, let’s start with the obvious shall we?! It goes without saying, this 00’s comedy is an absolute must-see; you’re dad’s favourite movie, right? You’ve got to admit on this one, he might be right. Chellooo, you’ve got a bass!”….  “Now raise your goblet of rock”…. “You’re tacky and I hate you”…  You know the quotes; probably know the songs off by heart too, right? Why not dive back into this Jack Black classic as part of your isolation viewing. 

For those who don’t know, Black stars as wannabe-try-hard rocker Dewy Finn who isn’t quite making music work for him financially (know the feeling, right?). Out of work, dumped by his band, and trying to pay rent, Dewy takes the place of his flatmate as a substitute teacher at a local prep school… Only to turn his unsuspecting pupils into a larger than life rock group – with himself as the show-stopping frontman. 

If you haven’t seen it – you should, and if you’ve already seen it – you should definitely watch it again.  

Where to find it: Rent on Amazon, Google Play or YouTube

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story, Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese’s 2019 documentary focuses on the legendary Bob Dylan and his 1975 small-time ramble of a concert tour called Rolling Stone Revue. The tour went exclusively to small venues (Dylan fancied a break from the limelight) and brought along a rather motley crew; Allen Ginsberg, Sam Shepard, Ronee Blakley, and other bohemian figures joined the tour. “It wasn’t a success”, one interviewee comments, “not if you measure success in terms of profit”. Dylan had, quite revolutionarily, arranged the tour to be filmed at the time, that film never got made. Until now….

Scorsese uses this archived footage to paint a fascinating, never-before-seen picture of Dylan in concert, arguably, at his “most gnarly”. This digitally restored, and impeccably edited film is more than just a concert film – it’s a retrospective portrait of the cult figure, and a unique visceral slice of 70’s backstage life; of a dying beatnik generation… of poets, artists, rockers and dreamers…. According to Variety, it is an “audaciously alive 2-hour-and-22-minute Scorsese feast of a 1970s verité sprawl” – and we highly suggest you get stuck in.

Where to find it: Netflix

Wild Rose, Tom Harper

Country Music heads to Glasgow in this heart-warming story about Rose-Lynn Harlan – a budding country artist with a troubled past, two kids to look after, and the conviction that she’s destined for stardom in the states.

Fresh out of prison in Glasgow, Rose is talented, and aiming high – with the aspiration and sheer cheek to try and make it as a country singer in the United States. But fiesty ambition faces fierce opposition in the form of Rose’s mother played by (a convincingly Scottish) Julie Walters, who reminds Rose of the biting sting of reality and forces her to take responsibility with a cleaning job in her small town-hometown. However with some unlikely support, sheer talent and just a little bit of luck, the pull of a wild country scene (and real success) across the pond soon comes calling. An original soundtrack matches this heart-warming, raw story about finding hope in the most unlikely of places. A heart-warmer and spirit-lifter for these strange days in lockdown, that’s for sure!

Where to find it: Amazon Prime, Google Play (rental)

Fancy studying with us in Glasgow? Find out more.

, Damien Chazelle

There are no two words more harmful in the English language than ‘good job‘”.

One for the percussionist’s out there. This film drums up the tension pretty excruciatingly. Whiplash, from director and one-time aspiring-drummer Damien Chazelle (La, La, Land), is a tense, painful at times, formidable, and yet inspiring and plentiful uplifting (in the end) film that you should really, really watch.

Andrew (played by Miles Teller) is trying to make it as a jazz drummer – nay jazz legend –  at an elite music school. His new instructor/conductor, and absolute battle-axe, Terance Fletcher (played by the formidable J.K. Simmons) reluctantly spots some potential, and begins to test Andrew in a way that pushes the very bounds of sanity and reason. Blood, sweat and tears is poured into Andrew’s drum coaching – Fletcher’s harsh training is designed to test Andrew, to see if he has what it takes to become one of the greats – a Charlie Parker (as is so often mentioned), a Buddy Rich or Jo Jones – not simply a “good” or “nice” drummer. It’s a fascinatingly detailed look into the precision of this kind of music – making us question the practices of what it takes to get the ‘legendary’ status.

Where to find it: Rent on Amazon, Google Play or YouTube


Western Stars, Thom Zimny and Bruce Springsteen

I’ve spent 35 years trying to learn how to let go of the destructive parts of my character

The Boss’ latest album Western Stars gets the big screen treatment in this epic visual album. Springsteen’s orchestral new record is filmed live in Bruce’s old barn on his ranch in New Jersey.  The entire album, including great tracks like The Wayfarer, Sleepy Joe’s Cafe, and the emotional Hello Sunshine, are performed in full, with the stunning and enchanting visual backdrop of a vast American western landscape, and an old ramshackle barn; while Springsteen himself is “undoubtedly magnetic, his voice a honeyed growl” as narrator and star of the show.

Interspersed with Bruce’s rumbling narration about his ‘Glory Days’, the demons of his past and meditations on aging – these “nuggets of cowboy wisdom” add a hypotonic, poignant and poetic dimension to the Boss’ expansive, endearing, and every-growing body of work. This might just be the perfect film to put on in the background on a lazy, chilled evening, and get lost in the romantic pull of a western fairytale.

Where to find it: Rent on Amazon, Google Play or YouTube

Amy, Asif Kapadia

Recently, we interviewed 4 female students for International Women’s Day, and a few of them noted the late, great Amy Winehouse as a key inspiration. Therefore we must, must MUST, suggest this film. Although it’s slightly less light socially-distanced viewing, this gritty documentary is a powerful, impactful, and important gaze into the life and death of the singer, putting her raw talent above sensationalism.

The 2015 documentary film dives into the life of Amy Winehouse, who sadly died at just 27 years of age in 2011. As a study of a very public life and death, Amy is a hard watch at times – but the film shines new light onto what’s commonly depicted as a dark, and troubled tale in the mainstream media. It arrived in 2015 to some controversy; naturally the film opens old wounds about her treatment by her management, the pubic gaze, other public figures, telling a sad story and ultimately questioning our relationship and reliance on tabloids, the press and the idea of ‘celebrity’. Without narration, Amy’s lyrics are left (quite rightly) here to tell her story. It’s “sober, unsensational, and overwhelming sad” according to Mark Kermode – but it’s an important watch, so if you haven’t already seen, we suggest allocating a quiet hour for this sombre masterpiece, and you can appreciate the talent of this extraordinary artist, all over again.

8 Mile, Curtis Hanson

Eminem stars as ‘Rabbit’ in this passionate, semi-biographical flick – with Eminem winning the 2003 Oscar for the film’s soundtrack song ‘Lose Yourself’. 8 Mile is a rags to riches tale of a symbolical-Eminem – a talented white rapper living in Detroit, in a primarily black community. Rabbit is “white trash”, living in a trailer park in the outskirts of the city with his erratic mother, and little sister; yet he professes a lyrical prowess that gains him acceptance in the black community, and ultimately a way out of his trapped life.  

This classic, hip-hop flick is an interesting portrait, in part, of the complex racial politics within hip-hop and tells the subtle tale well of how an impoverished, white kid from Detroit became one of the most successful, and respected rappers in the world. Hard-hitting, gritty, and gloriously empowering. If you’re looking for something a little different in lockdown, this could be it.

Where to find it: Rent on Amazon, Google Play or YouTube

Check out our free online hip hop and rap short course.

Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe

“One day, you’ll be cool”.

You don’t need to be on stage to make it in music. This story, of a budding young music journalist, based loosely on director Cameron Crowe’s experiences as a young music enthusiast, shows just how cool it can be behind the scenes. A feast of late 60s/70s rock and roll nostalgia, this is the story of William, a 15-year-old kid who flukes his way into going on the road with up-and-coming rock band Stillwater, and writing about it for Rolling Stone Magazine. 

Starring Billy Crudup as Stillwater’s scruffy frontman, Frances Mcdormand as William’s protective mother, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs, a rock journalist who takes William under his wing. It’s a greatly sentimental and feel-good, with some great tracks on the soundtrack – Elton John’s Tiny Dancer, as sung by a busload of longhaired rockers, The Beach Boys’ Feel Flows and The Allmans’ rock/blues hit One Way Out.

Where to find it: Rent on Amazon, Google Play or YouTube

Want more content? Check out our International Women’s Day blog and read our Coronavirus and Musicians advice blog here.