Concert Films: Legit Art or Cash Grab?

With the upcoming release of Katy Perry: Part of Me on the horizon, I think its important to dissect the necessity of the concert film. Surely, fans would rather see their favorite musical artists in the flesh than on the big screen right? While nothing will ever beat the live experience, concert films do have their benefits–even if they serve as nothing more than a PR machine for the artists in question.

Take for example Madonna: Truth or Dare. The 1990 documentary chronicled the happenings of her famous Blonde Ambition Tour while also divulging aspects of her personal life-like her relationship with Dick Tracy co-star Warren Beatty. The film is ranked as the eighth highest documentary of all time and is constantly mentioned in the public’s conversation of concert films.

Other popular 80′s acts like U2 took a stab at the genre with 2008′s U23D. The film holds an astounding 92% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was hailed by many critics to be a superior experience to the live concert. The New York Times gave the film a glowing review, stating that U23D was “the first IMAX movie that deserves to be called a work of art.” The film captured U2 on their Vertigo tour to support the album “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.”

Okay, so This is Spinal Tap might not be a real documentary, but it displays more grit and humor than the glossy and over-produced cinematic offerings that cram theaters today. It didn’t need the gimmick of 3D to get people in the seats. This is Spinal Tap’s satirical look at the world of rock music poked fun at the ultra serious artists of the day who were wrapped up in their own egos. The Library of Congress selected This Is Spinal Tap for inclusion in the National Film Registry.

Thanks to Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert, the concert-doc was no longer the rock-n-roll generation. Pre-teens were now allow to enjoy seeing their music idols shimming on the big screen. The film was released in February of 2008 for an exclusive one week showing but due to the concert’s tremendous popularity and the difficulty of purchasing tickets to the actual live show, the film stuck around and ended its run with over $70 million. At the beginning of the film, Miley Cyrus dons the sparkly wardrobe of her blonde Disney Channel alter ego, Hannah Montana. Halfway through she makes her concert debut as herself, singing songs from the b-side of her double album. The success of this film is credited with generating interest for the concert docs that followed including Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. 

Even television phenomenons have gotten in on the act. The popular Fox dramedy Glee released their own concert film called Glee: The 3D Concert Movie. Although the film did poor business at the box office, it proved that the trend of concert-docs would never end.

Indeed, the posthumous Michael Jackson: This Is It, a depiction of the concert Jackson never lived to finish, posted great numbers and staying power. Another popular doc is the Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Stones film Shine A Light.

In Katy Perry: Part of Me, Perry promises to tell the truth about her life during her wildly popular California Dreams tour, including her divorce from comedian Russell Brand. The latter has recently appeared in promotional material for the film. While Part of Me will feature all eight singles from Teenage Dream, its unclear whether or not the film will be as raw as Perry is claiming.

Perry is not the only popular artist hitting the big screen this year. Neil Young Journeys opens in theaters July 6th.

Those artists who refuse to commit themselves to full length features have instead released DVDs of their concerts. Grammy winner Adele scored a best seller last year with her DVD Live At the Royal Albert Hall.

Other popular titles are Beyonce’s Live at Wembly, Bruce Springsteen’s London Calling: Live From Hyde Park and Lady Gaga Presents the Monster Ball Tour: At Madison Square Garden. The later film originally aired on HBO and featured behind the scene footage of Gaga in her dressing room and before the concert.

No matter how well Katy Perry: Part of Me does, there will always be a concert documentaries.


Many may question the purpose of such a genre. Does the artist really want to help their fans save money, or is it for a way to extend their brand? Some films answer the question more obviously than others. The one thing that everyone can agree on however, is the immense joy a fan gleans from seeing their favorite artists, whether it be on the stage or the big screen.

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About Brittany Tenpenny

Brittany Tenpenny has wanted to be a writer for as long as she could remember. Aside from brief fantasies of pop stardom and becoming the female Indiana Jones, Brittany was dead set on writing. She pursued her dream all through her academic career, becoming a staff writer for "The Argo" at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey where she graduated at the top of her class with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications. Last year, Brittany's fictional pieces were published in the e-book "A Calm Whisper."

Brittany is now a graduate student at Rowan University and is currently working on a novel.