Bikes, fights and debauchery: Meat Loaf at the movies

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Meat Loaf’s songs were so inherently cinematic – the hysterical melodrama of I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That), the three-act sex-comedy of Paradise By the Dashboard Light, the biker-movie wildness of Bat Out of Hell – that they seemed to emerge not from the speakers but from a rowdy drive-in or a tumbledown picture palace. Perhaps that explains why he never found (or went looking for) the sort of distinctive movie role that would have decanted his persona on to the screen like David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth, Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan or Prince in Purple Rain. A single signature movie might have over-egged the Meat Loaf, or else looked measly next to songs that felt like all-night film shows.

If any performance distilled his essence, it was the one he gave in The Rocky Horror Picture Show in 1975. His first major role, it came two years before the release of Bat Out of Hell and feels now like a taster for that album. As the biker Eddie, he roars out of the deep freeze and into the pristine laboratory of Dr Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) and his guests (Christopher Biggins among them), fouling up the place with his uncouth manner and nasty exhaust fumes. Bellowing out Hot Patootie (Bless My Soul) and parping on his saxophone, he introduces some grubby animal magnetism into the air of camp debauchery. It doesn’t last long: Frank-N-Furter kills him with a pick-axe.

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The singer’s most prominent role was in Alan Rudolph’s likable 1980 comedy Roadie, where he plays the title character – a big lug largely oblivious to music (he thinks Alice Cooper is a woman) who becomes the best roadie in the world. The film is peppered with cameos from musical stars: Cooper, Roy Orbison, the whole of Blondie.

That same two-tier system, with Meat Loaf as a character surrounded by music-industry colleagues playing themselves, was in operation again in the 1992 comedy Wayne’s World, directed by Penelope Spheeris and co-written by its star, Mike Myers. Cooper played himself once more, condescending to be worshipped by the goofy heroes, Wayne (Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey), while Meat Loaf was cast as a bouncer named Tiny. Not a little odd given that Wayne and Garth, high on the operatic pomp of Bohemian Rhapsody, would surely have been Bat Out of Hell devotees to boot.

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It was the same story in another music-laden film with “World” in the title. In Spice World: The Movie, released five years later, Elton John and Bob Geldof got to play themselves while Meat Loaf – possibly in homage to Roadie – drives a tour bus. He does at least get to smuggle in the title of one of his biggest hits. Those Spice Girls, he says, he’d do anything for them. But clean the toilets? He won’t do that.

There was an essential earthiness to Meat Loaf’s persona that allowed him to play these blue-collar parts without it seeming bizarre that a man responsible for one of the biggest-selling albums of all time was dressing like a teamster. There may have been trouble off-screen – the fights with his Bat Out of Hell songwriter Jim Steinman, the bankruptcy, the well-documented volatility – but it didn’t seep into the performances.

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Other highlights included Leap of Faith (1992), which marked a move into drama for Steve Martin as a faith healer and co-starred a young Philip Seymour Hoffman, and David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999), where Meat Loaf played a man whose high oestrogen levels give him breasts. Unlike his co-stars in that macho hothouse, he kept his shirt on.

A TV movie based on his life, Meat Loaf: To Hell and Back, was directed in 2000 by Jim McBride, who also made the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic Great Balls of Fire! A Meat Loaf movie seems by-the-by, however, when all the cinematic grandeur you need is right there in the records.

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