Eric Clapton has appeared sporadically in films throughout his 45+ year career. He has been interviewed for documentaries, appeared in concert films and has even taken small acting roles.
The first film Eric appeared in was Farewell Cream a 1968 documentary of the band’s final concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall in November 1968. It has long been available on video and was released on DVD in the UK in 2002. A few weeks after those concerts, Eric was filmed along with John Lennon, Keith Richards and Mitch Mitchell as "The Dirty Mac" for the Rolling Stone’s Rock And Roll Circus in December 1968. It remained unreleased for decades, but enjoyed a theatrical run in recent years and is now available on DVD (2004).
In 1971, Clapton took part in The Concert For Bangladesh, which was filmed for theatrical release. He is seen in interview segments in Film About Jimi Hendrix (1973). Both are available on DVD, with the former undergoing extensive restoration before it’s DVD release in 2005.
In 1974, Eric Clapton appeared as “The Preacher” in the movie version of The Who’s rock opera, Tommy (available on DVD). Eric is seen performing “Eyesight To The Blind” as well as playing on “Sally Simpson.” Regarding the experience in filming Tommy, he recalled, “I think it was the song he [Townshend] thought fitted me because it’s the only one he didn’t write and it’s written by Sonny Boy Williamson. It’s a blues, you know. I think he just thought that I could do that better than anything else and I think he wanted me to be in it as a mate because he wanted all his mates to do it. I don’t think it was the role as much as the interpretation of the song because I found it very difficult to do. It’s a pretty strange song if you’re going to act a preacher and sing a song like that.” (From Conversations With Eric Clapton / 1976).
In 1975, Eric appeared in Circasia, a film that featured famous people including Richard Harris, Shirley McLaine, and Burgess Meredith in clown costumes. It was made as a benefit for the Central Remedial Clinic and Variety Club of Ireland.
The following year, he was featured in a performance segment of the Martin Scorcese film, The Last Waltz. It is a documentary of The Band’s final performances at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. The concert took place over the American Thanksgiving Holiday in November 1976. An expanded edition was released to the home market on DVD.
In 1978, Eric’s European Tour with support act of Muddy Waters was filmed for a documentary. Entitled Eric Clapton’s Rolling Hotel it was shown at a few film festivals but it was eventually shelved. It remains unreleased.
Eric took a small role in the 1985 film, Water, which starred Michael Caine and Valerie Perrine. He appears alongside George Harrison and Ringo Starr in Billy Connelly’s backing group on the song “Freedom”. However, they do not actually play on the soundtrack. It has been released on DVD.
In 1986, Eric took part in a special concert to celebrate Chuck Berry’s 60th Birthday, which had been organized by Keith Richards. The theatrical version of Hail Hail Rock N Roll was released to the home market on VHS but was out of print for many years. In 2006, to celebrate the 20th Anniversary, it was released on DVD in 2 and 4 disc versions.
He also appeared in Blues Brother’s 2000 as one of the Louisiana Gator Boys. In addition to being in the band, he had a small speaking role.
“Concert For George”, a tribute to the late George Harrison, was filmed on 29 November 2002 at the Royal Albert Hall in London. During the summer and fall of 2003, it enjoyed a limited theatrical release in select cities around the world. It was released on DVD in November 2003 in a double disc set which included the full concert on one disc and the theatrical version with bonus material on the second disc.
Eric has also taken part in numerous documentary projects. Those of more recent vintage include “The Life and Music of Robert Johnson: Can You Hear The Wind Howl” (1997), “Tom Dowd: The Language of Music” (2003), “J.J. Cale To Tulsa and Back” (2006) and “Before The Music Dies (2006). Some of these have been screened at various film festivals around the world and all are available on DVD.