LOS ANGELES - Long before Russell Brand scores a single baggie of heroin or trashes a Las Vegas hotel suite as British singer Aldous Snow in "Get Him to the Greek," there's been a proud and loud tradition of movies about rock-star wretched excess. After a while they almost become parodies of themselves. But some of them know just the right way to turn it up to 11:
* "Almost Famous" (2000) - Probably Cameron Crowe's best film; certainly his funniest, sweetest and most moving. He won an Oscar for the screenplay, inspired by his own teenage years as a reporter for Rolling Stone. We see all the madness of a life on the road through the innocent eyes of Crowe's on-screen stand-in, played by Patrick Fugit, who goes on tour with the up-and-coming band Stillwater. Just say the words "I am a golden god!" and everyone will know what you're talking about. Crowe made it all look dangerous and cool but wistful at the same time.
* "Pink Floyd The Wall" (1982) - Inspired in part by Roger Waters' childhood, this nightmarish look at a rock star's descent into isolation and madness is harrowing - especially if the viewer is under the influence of some mind-altering substance, as well. As the burned-out lead singer Pink, Bob Geldof hides in a hotel room, boozes it up and delves into painful memories of his past. Frightening animated segments suggest his inner torment. But eventually he unleashes his pent-up rage and trashes the joint in spectacular fashion, to the shock of the hapless groupie who's followed him there.
* "The Rose" (1979) - Bette Midler tears it up as the title character, a self-aggrandizing, self-destructive rock star very clearly inspired by Janis Joplin. It's all there: the booze and drugs, highs and lows, histrionics and reconciliations. All Rose wants to do is rest after a hard-driving life of recording and touring, but her ruthless manager (Alan Bates) won't let her. Flashbacks reveal the road that's led her to the verge of snapping. Midler had appeared in bit parts before this, but "The Rose" provided her first shot at a leading role and earned her an Academy Award nomination for best actress.
* "This Is Spinal Tap" (1984) - For nearly as long as there have been rock-star movies, there have been parodies of rock-star movies. This is, of course, the mother of them all - the film that started the entire subgenre of Christopher Guest mockumentaries. With this faux verite look at Spinal Tap, the mediocre-at-best British band, director Rob Reiner just nails the absurdity of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle: the makeup and tight pants, the big hair and a tiny Stonehenge. Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer are all masters of deadpan improvisation. Too many classic lines to quote, but my favorite: "I've told them a hundred times: Put 'Spinal Tap' first and 'Puppet Show' last."
* "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" (2007) - This hilariously over-the-top (and underappreciated) spoof is pretty much one long example of wretched excess. John C. Reilly is a total hoot as Dewey Cox, whose early life and rise to fame bear more than a little resemblance to those of Johnny Cash. He tries to remain a wholesome Southern boy as his career takes off, but then one of his bandmates (a perfectly deadpan Tim Meadows) introduces him to one drug after another. Orgies, trashed bathrooms, adopted zoo animals and countless children by multiple wives ensue.