LET THERE BE ROCK-AC/DC
by Burl Burlingame
Tuesday, Sept. 16, 1980
Rock ’n’ roll movies have always been somewhat of a problem. Do you make the film of a concert performance, or do you make a fiction film that’s rock-like In theme, simply aided by the music?
Both have their conceptual problems. “Animal House,” for example, is a great rock ’n’ roll movie, with its enervating sense of anarchy, its liberating use of (then) forbidden music. Other terrific rock films lately have included “Rock ’n’ Roll High School,” “American Hot Wax” “The Buddy Holly Story” and “The Idolmaker.” Their very rambunctiousness has included them. But they are all primarily films with a plot, aided immensely by the beat. The effect of the music, not the music: itself, is the main focus.
Concert films are another story. It’s tough to make a concert interesting without the immediacy of live performers, and there is the problem of getting too close to the musicians. The effect can be like sitting at the edge of the stage during “Swan Lake” and seeing the ballet dancers grunt and sweat. Poof, there goes the magic! Coming away from the Pink Floyd movie of a couple of years ago, one was struck, not by Floyd’s clever music, but by the fact that these guys never seemed to wash their hair.
“Let There Be Rock-AC/DC” has some of that problem, but mercifully the camera lingers at a middle distance, and the effect is concert-like instead of uncomfortably intimate. Australians AC/DC are veteran head-bangers and one of the most popular bands in the world: the movie appears to have been made in Germany by a French crew.
It is also at least a couple of years old, because the lead singer here is the irrepressible Bon Scott, who died some time ago of unspecified causes. Scott wasn’t a real tuneful singer, but he was a great rock ’n’ roller, a swaggering punk with loads of tattoos and ripped jeans.
The centerpiece of the band is guitarist Angus Young, who has a peculiar stage presence, resembling an English schoolboy in the process of being electrocuted. It’s not a pretty sight, but it is a gruesomely fascinating one. It helps that Young is a tremendous instrumentalist for this type of music, with a sense of melody and dramatic timing that helps keep the bombast under rein.
The other three members of the band are absolutely anonymous and difficult to keep track of.
There are two terrific images, though, and they occur near the end; a wide-angle view of the band awash in stroboscope light during the title song, and a sequence of goofy little Angus Young sucking up some oxygen at the edge of the stage and then being borne on the shoulders of a roadie into the audience, playing furiously all the while.
The Cinerama theater has taken care of a major problem with rock movies by installing concert speakers on either side of the screen, so the music is loud and clear. It should be a bit louder and a bit clearer though: the drums are nonexistent on the soundtrack, and a true AC/DC fan knows the volume has to be cranked up enough so that the bass notes can separate your vertebrae. For the proper effect, try butting your head against the wall a few times.
Let there be rock, indeed.