Big Me: Foo Fighters on the Screen
By Kelly Dearmore
Over the course of the band’s 27-year career, Foo Fighters have become stars of the screen, both big and small, almost as much as they’ve been giants of the studio and stage.
A strong case can be made that many fans mourning the death of Kurt Cobain only learned of Dave Grohl’s new band once the hilarious video for “Big Me” dominated airwaves in 1996. Since making his directorial debut 1997 with the “Monkey Wrench” music video, Dave Grohl has prolifically added respectable bullet points to his own IMDB page, including hilarious turns in a Hamilton-inspired episode of Drunk History, and as Satan in the film Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny.
As rightfully respected for their MTV smash hits as they are, the group’s visual excellence extends well beyond the music video medium. From late-night television, to film soundtracks and acclaimed documentaries, Grohl and the Foo Fighters have forcefully made their presence felt.
You can be excused if you don’t immediately recall the Tom Arnold-starring indie film based on the 1987 Elmore Leonard novel. Lukewarm reviews and disappointing box office totals sent the film on a quick exit from theaters, in spite of a solid cast and well-regarded director in Paul Schrader. As forgettable as the film may be, the guitar-driven, rock-based score composed by our hero made the film worth the $2.99 Blockbuster rental fee.
“Everlong” and Letterman
The love affair between band and host began in 1995 when the group made its television debut on the Late Show with David Letterman. And a warning: if you’re allergic to goosebumps and fist-pumping, avoid these clips at all costs. In early 2000, the host returned to his show after weeks of recovering from life-saving open-heart surgery. His one wish was to have Foo Fighters perform “Everlong” on his first show back. Initially thought to be unavailable, the band surprised Letterman by appearing and playing the song as powerfully as it ever had.
Fast forward to the spring of 2015, to Letterman’s final episode, when a tuxedo-clad Foo Fighters again performs a thrilling, extended “Everlong.” As memorable clips of the late-night show’s history rolled, leaving the band out of view, the marriages of fan and band, of audio and visual, packed a wallop not felt since.
Letterman’s love of all things Foo was evident beyond the Ed Sullivan Theatre. When it was time to choose the introduction theme song for Ed, the NBC legal comedy series his company, Worldwide Pants, produced, the choice seemed simple enough. “Next Year” gave the intro credits a warm, jangly vibe while the lyrics “I’ll be coming home next year” matched the return of the show’s titular character to his small-town childhood home.
Back and Forth
Released in conjunction with the band’s 2011 LP Wasting Light, this comprehensive look at the band’s history was a revelation. In a move not common with many documentary centerpieces, Grohl allowed some of the behind-the-scenes squabbles and warts to be exposed. The inclusion of interviews with former members were enlightening, especially when it comes to founding Foo drummer William Goldsmith. The friction described between he and Grohl, followed by his emotionally messy firing from the band prior to the release of their second record made for a vivid window into the workings of a band.
The segment dealing with the recording of One by One was also particularly compelling, in that it was one of the difficult points for the band and offered a stark reminder that the Foo Fighters came perilously close to becoming just another short-lived group of Grohl’s.
Sound City and Sonic Highways
In 2013 Grohl made a wildly successful jump from video director to documentary filmmaker with the debut of Sound City. Combining the historical tale of the legendary Los Angeles-area Sound City Studio, where Nirvana recorded Nevermind, with footage of impossibly epic jam sessions featuring Trent Reznor, Rick Springfield and Paul McCartney, among many others, carries an impressive 100% Rotten Tomatoes critic’s score, seven years after its release.
Airing on HBO in 2014, Grohl directed the eight-episode Sonic Highways series following the band as it traveled to cities including Austin, Seattle, Nashville and Mew York Ctiy, to write and record songs for a new album based on the history of each city. Acting as a spiritual sequel to Sound City, a great deal of emphasis was paid to the unique histories of the studios the band recorded the songs in each week.