Love Me Tender (1956): Elvis Presley wanted to be an actor. Before music, his passion was movies, and as his star rose he spoke of attending the Actors Studio. He even insisted that any movie roles would be nonsinging. Alas, Colonel Tom Parker had other ideas, and ordered that his client’s debut vehicle include some crooning, even if his style of music didn’t exactly gibe with the setting: the Civil War. Of course, the title song is a Civil War ballad, but the other numbers find The King introducing the 19th century to some mighty fine rockabilly.
Zachariah (1971): Around the same time Robert Altman was laying Leonard Cohen’s first album on top of his anti-western McCabe & Mrs Miller, someone had an even more radical idea: turn Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha into “the first electric western.” The James Gang and Country Joe & the Fish swing by to crank out some crunchy tunes, although Ginger Baker denied an offer to play the lead. At least it scored a young Don Johnson.
Dirty Dancing (1987): A summer of ’62 opus that ends with our heroes dancing to that golden oldie, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.”
A Knight’s Tale (2001): Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! disoriented many by relocating “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Like a Virgin” et al. to 1900’s Paris. But this medieval romp got there first, depicting joust crowds chanting “We Will Rock You,” Thin Lizzy and other Jock Rock faves.
House of Pleasures (2011): The best film of last year takes an opium-drenched look at a turn-of-the-(last)-century French brothel, but saves its strangest moment for the end. As their profession faces a grim fate on the world’s streets, the prostitutes dance sadly to the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin”—the future encroaching upon them even as its dreamy sounds comfort them.
W.E. (2011): A period drama on the notorious king-seducer and Nazi sympathizer Wallis Simpson made by Madonna ought to be a lot crazier, although it at least features a scene where its hero, for some reason, screams along to the Sex Pistol’s “Pretty Vacant.” It’s a move stolen from Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette , but it’s something.