At first glance, John Kenneth Muir’s The Rock & Roll Film Encyclopedia is a staggering piece of work: 358 pages chronicling the legacy of the rock and roll movie through entries on individual titles — documentaries, musicals, and narratives — and the rock stars and musicians who star in them makes for an impressive-looking volume.
And it should be. Based on Muir’s brief, breezy introduction, and his even more succinct conclusion, he’s quite a fan of the rock movie. In his opening remarks, Muir is so into cinematic rock and roll that he likens many of the films from the genre to the mantra of Dewey Finn, Jack Black’s character in School of Rock: one great rock show can change the world. Muir believes this so deeply that he temporarily loses himself in the utopian dreams rock music and movies can elicit:
…the glorious thing about Dewey Finn’s “great rock show” theorem is that perhaps, just perhaps, it could happen.
After all, music is often termed “the universal language.” Music bridges ethnic differences, leaps over language barriers, and can overcome lines of racial divide. It’s the one thing every human being anywhere on Earth can experience and internalize without the interference or stratifications of class, wealth, or country of origin.
With such a passionate soul as the guide through rock and roll movie history, you would think that the encyclopedia itself would be a flawless piece of well-researched reference material. Unfortunately, The Rock & Roll Film Encyclopedia proves that there's something to that cliché of not judging a book by its cover.
No one can quibble with what Muir decided to include in the book. The movies he included are based on five categories: documentaries, soundtracks, musicians starring in the film, the subject of the movie is rock and roll, and rock operas and musicals. These groups, Muir says, make up the “rock genre.” From the genre he plucks 231 entries: movies, ranging from the popular to staples of the midnight movie scene to titles few have heard of, and individuals found in those movies. Some entries are longer than others, and the length of each entry seems based on the popularity of the movie, its availability, its significance, or if Muir could get someone to talk to him about the movie.