Allison Anders and Kurt Voss wanted to re-team on another rock ‘n’ roll film since their 1983-begun, four-year shot Border Radio released in 1987, and the critical and box-office success of her Brill Building and Beach Boys “what if” rock flick Grace of My Heart (1996).
The film’s second genesis was their friend, bassist John Taylor, who aspired to begin an acting career; so Anders and Voss manned the typewriters to create an acting showcase for the ex-Duran Duran’er. To lend to the film’s realism, Anders and Voss opted to cast musicians in lieu of actors: the rest of the cast stars former Spandau Ballet bassist Martin Kemp (who found acclaim in the 1990 British mobster flick The Krays; however, he worked as an actor since the early ’70s), Michael Des Barres (of Silverhead, Detective, and Power Station; as an actor, you know him as Murdoc from the original ’80s MacGyver), and John Doe of X (A Matter of Degrees). Also acting in the film — and providing the film’s musical direction — is Larry Klein, the ex-husband of ’70s folkie Joni Mitchell.
The plot concerns the exploits of Clive, Jonesey, and Nick (Taylor, Kemp, and Des Barres), three washed-up L.A. rock superstars who attempt to formulate a supergroup from their career ashes. They, of course, think they’ll return to the top of the charts with the outrageously sexist tune, “Gravy Stain Girl.” Their fellow washed-up L.A. rocker cohort, Carl (John Doe), is at odds with his pregnant wife over his recent hire as a lead guitarist for an up-and-coming singer. Roseanna Arquette stars as Eva, Clive’s equally washed-up and age-out actress wife, struggling to stay on top in Hollywood. Beverly D’Angelo is an older, rich woman who will back Clive’s musical endeavors — provided he sleeps with her.
Keep your ears open for John Doe’s post-X work in The John Doe Thing with “Tragedy by Definition.” The grungy alt-rock crowd will notice the sounds of PJ Harvey, Thalia Zedek’s Come, and Seattle’s Sup Pop’ers Combustible Edison on the soundtrack. J. Mascis of Dinosaur, Jr. (he recently appeared in I’ll Be Around), who scored Gas Food Lodging for Anders, provides the film score.
Made for a measly, budget conscious quarter of a million dollars, the film barely broke $170,000 in U.S. box office. So, don’t go into this expecting a mainstream Ray or Walk the Line; however, if you enjoy seeing rockers on film and enjoyed ’90s indie flicks courtesy of the October Films and Miramax imprints, then there’s something here for you to enjoy.
And for the Allison Anders and John Doe collaboration completists and Johnny Cash fans hankering for another cinematic beyond Walk the Line: Doe stars as the father of June Carter Cash (played by Jewel Kilcher instead of Reese Witherspoon) in Ring of Fire (2013), a cable TV adaption of the book Anchored in Love: An Intimate Portrait of June Carter Cash.
You can watch Sugar Town on You Tube.
From the “Trivia to Impress Your Friends at Parties Department”: John’s daughter Elena Nommensen, who has a bit part here (and in John’s 2007 film, The Sandpiper), became a wardrobe and art director. In addition to working on the upcoming Venom: Let There Be Carnage, she also worked (didn’t realize it then) on the recently reviewed short The Devil’s Passengers (discovered on a You Tube dive), and worked alongside her dad in his upcoming, 82nd acting project, D.O.A: The Movie.