A Selection of Musicians on Film That We Wish Were Real

Musicians have long had a place in films, whether rock stars, jazz sidemen, or tormented composers. What follows is a selection of memorable ones taken from ten films. They range from drug-addicted cult favorites to ambitious hip-hop stars, from showtune composers to sidemen now living in small-town obscurity. What they share is a certain quality: a lingering sense that, if these characters were real, we’d want to seek out more of their music. Sometimes that’s accomplished through a deft performance, and sometimes via a writer or director who brings an insider’s knowledge of a particular style of music. In all cases, there’s something utterly compelling, and something that endures past the last frames of film.

Curt Wild, Velvet Goldmine

Todd Haynes is a director whose understanding and cinematic use of music takes a different form than most. Some directors — Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, and Olivier Assayas among them — innately understand the relationship between popular music and narrative cinema, and have meshed together inspired pairings of sound and image.

Haynes takes a more meditative approach — most recently in I’m Not There, his intentionally fractured look at the work and legacy of Bob Dylan. But those same tendencies took a more visceral, and sometimes heartbreaking, form in Velvet Goldmine, his examination of glam rock. And the Iggy Pop-inspired Curt Wild, played by Ewan McGregor, shifts from the film’s object of desire to, in a way, its unexpected soul.