I watch a lot of movies and I’ve come to love independent cinema. I mean truly independent films, with zero big-name stars, no studio backing and a minimal marketing spend (if any). They’ve rewritten my mental template for what a movie should be. Turns out movies are basically miracles. They’re mountains summited in fits and starts by small teams of artists who desperately want their work out in the world. Few are perfect products, and that’s OK. Flaws are key to art. It’s hard to nitpick something with so much blood, sweat and tears put into every frame. More important than “objective” quality to me is whether a movie is memorable. Does it expand my vision for what a movie can be? Few hit that mark.
Death of a Rockstar does. Writer, director and primary musician Röckët Stähr spent nearly a decade in production on his fully animated rock opera, inspired visually by Yellow Submarine and tonally by The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It follows the birth of Röcky (voiced by Stähr), a clone creature created to bring rock ‘n’ roll back to the world in a fascist future 2164. His “‘father,” Creigh A. Tor (also Stähr) abhors the way the world has destroyed true freedom. Right and left came together and, in doing so, created a conformity only hardcore music can overcome. If Tor’s plan comes together, Röcky might just save the world through the power of song, peace and the love of a rebellious woman named Ronnie (Abby Ahmad).
Although inspired by the Beatles, the art style reminds this elder millennial of something seen on Newgrounds or other early Flash animation sites — long-forgotten hubs of cultural fun and humor. The emphasis on large breasts feels like a cultural faux pas these days, but it’s funny within the context of its similar animated ilk. In fact, the music (written and performed by Stähr) speaks to a certain ethos that feels long gone, too. His lyrics are obsessed with religion, consumerism and whether worship even of artists is a moral slippery slope. It all boils down to a notion of freedom that feels more at home with a style of music more relevant 20, 30 or 40 years ago, when this kind of anger felt more marketable than the corporate blandness of our contemporary age.
It’s not the sort of film that will appeal to all audiences. Admittedly, the animation is rough and inexpressive, which puts a lot of the onus on the music to convey the story’s themes, which are honestly pretty traditional for rock ‘n’ roll. There are many moments of surreal visual creativity that complement Stähr’s vocals, but it’s not quite consistent enough to make large sections of the film feel like much more than a music video for his concept album.
The music, however, is pretty good — and the raw creativity on display is, in itself, fascinating to watch. There are few films produced at such a personal scale that speak so broadly to all of an artist’s feelings and interests, and with such audacity. It’s a film that makes you think, “What the hell, he actually made that?” That’s valuable. It’s important for an artist to dream bigger than their means, and it’s always great to see them succeed. I’ll be thinking about this one for awhile.