The Rogues’ Tavern (1936)

You’ll need to cut me a lot of slack with this movie, due to its nostalgia value of watching this on the defunct Good Life TV Network with my dad — where we also watched the 1981 war epic Inchon, which was produced by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the head of the controversial Unification Church, who also owned the cable channel.

This is just a good ‘ol fashioned murder mystery concerning a soon-to-be-married pair of detectives (he’s a “real detective”; she’s just a “store detective”) who stopover at Red Rock Tavern on a bleak and windy night.

As they settle in and mingle with their other guests — a wild dog breaks in through an open window and attacks and kills two of the guests. The sleuthin’ is on as detectives Jimmy Kelly (Wallace Ford) and Marjorie Burns (Barbara Pepper) discover that the dog isn’t the real killer. Then all of the guests discover they’re trapped inside the tavern by locked doors and windows.

Like I said, this is just a good ‘ol fashioned murder mystery the way the used to make ’em and the way they don’t know how to make ’em anymore.

See, Pop? Making me watch those old flicks wasn’t for naught.

Oh, there’s a twist here: Barbara Pepper, a notable, flashy Hollywood “blonde dame” of the 1930s and 1940s Golden Era of cinema, became better known to us younger folks as Doris Ziffel on TV’s Green Acres and Petticoat Junction. You . . . maybe . . . might remember (I do) Wallace Ford starring as Marshal Herk Lamson in The Deputy, just one of those (many) short-lived TV westerns that didn’t live to up the likes of Bonanza and Gunsmoke.

You can watch this in the public domain on You Tube.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Prey for Rock & Roll (2004)

In 2002, long time L.A. rocker Cheri Lovedog found critical acclaim for her stage play Prey for Rock & Roll which had a successful run at New York’s famed rock club CBGBs. This caught the attention of film producer and music consultant Alex Steyermark (Hedwig and the Angry Itch), who was searching for a film to break him as a first time director. Lovedog’s self-professed “rock n’ roll love letter” to the L.A. club scene stars Gina Gershon (who got her start in Girls Just Want To Have Fun with Helen Hunt, found acclaim in Bound, and while great in it, deserves better than Showgirls) as a 40-year-old tattoo artist and rocker deep in a mid-life crisis, wondering how much longer she can deal with the struggles of keeping her band together.

Starring as the Clam Dandies (since it’s an all-girl band, read into it) are Drea Dematteo (HBO’s The Sapranos) as terminally-stoned bassist Tracy, Laura Petty (Tank Girl) as Faith, and (the awesome; yeah he’s from Pittsburgh, baby) Marc Blucas (TV’s Buffy) as “Animal” the roadie. Shelly Cole (Madeline Lynn from TV’s Gilmore Girls) impresses with her drum skills; she hits all the right notes as one of the best “film” drummers out there. Petty fakes it well, while Dematteo knows her way around the neck and Gershon, who didn’t play a note before the film, blows the doors off with her power chords. The soundtrack composed by Cheri Lovedog — and sung by Gina Gershon — features an alternative-rock super group of the Lunachick’s guitarist Gina Volpe, bassist Sara Lee of Gang of Four, and later of the B-52s, and Hole drummer Samantha Maloney.

To promote the picture on the festival circuit, Gina took to the road with the Washington D.C. punk outfit Girls vs. Boys (aka GvsB, they provided “Kill the Sex Player” to Kevin’s Smith’s Clerks) as her backing band, which was chronicled in the IFC Cable Series Gina Gerhson: Rocked. Cheri Lovedog compiled the feature documentary Hollywood Trash & Tinsel on the making of the film. Musician Stephen Trask, who also worked on Hedwig and the Angry Itch alongside Alex Steyermark, produced the soundtrack.

Astute viewers will notice the footage of X in the film’s opening refrains originates from The Decline of Western Civilization. Fans of the Lunachick’s can watch Gina Volpe’s bandmate Theo Kagan in Live Freaky, Die Freaky (a seriously f’d up animated puppet movie where, in a distant future, a cult forms around the Manson Family and Charles Manson is mistaken as a Jesus-messiah; the film also stars the voices of the members of Green Day and the Go-Gos). Lovedog’s other films include 2010’s All American Gender Outlaw and Go Hard or Go Home, a 2012 document on the indie band Devil Dolls MC. Alex Steyermark made another rock n’ roll flick, the indie ’80s rock tale, Losers Take All, which, despite Kevin Smith’s involvement, failed at the box office and VHS shelves.

During the film’s initial stages, Joan Jett was involved in the soundtrack’s production, but left early on due to the usual “artistic differences”; Linda Perry of Pink and 4 Non Blondes (“What Going On?”; their cover of Van Halen’s “I’m the One” appears in Airheads) stepped in (it is also said Jett was to star in the Gershone role, but had issues with the script). However, as you can see from Gina Gershon’s look and tone, Joan definitely left her mark on the film — in many ways Gershon’s Jacki harkens Jett’s own Patti Rasnick in 1987’s Light of Day.

As with any rock flick that isn’t a splashy, A-List bioflick of the Jim Morrison, Johnny Cash, or Ray Charles variety, the critical — both professional and general movie goer — response was, as with Light of Day, lukewarm. Many reviews, while praising the costuming and set design, and calling out Gershon’s dead-on portrayal of a failed, disillusioned rocker, dropped the word “soap opera” in their reviews in regards to the endless stream of bad luck befallen the band (e.g., a band member’s rape; another’s death by car accident; a recording deal falling through because Jacki didn’t “put out” for the record executive) that came across as “phony.”

As someone who experienced this life as radio jock dealing with local bands, as a roadie for said bands, and bassist myself, I can attest that Alex Steyermark’s directorial debut is a commendable first effort that ranks up there with Paul Schrader’s Light of Day as one of the most accurate portrayals of a struggling rock band; Steyermark pulls back the curtain on a musician’s love of rock ‘n’ roll clashing with their family and relationship obligations. Yes, most struggling musician’s lives are a hot mess — just like in this movie.

The film’s soundtrack has also taken its share of critical hits; many critqued the music as “awful.” Personally, I enjoyed Lovedog’s music for the film, which serves as a sort of “greatest hits/best of” compilation of her life’s work. Not to say that the music was purposefully composed as “bad” for dramatic effect or that Lovedog can’t write — but isn’t that the point? It is one thing to love music: it’s another thing to be able to write it . . . and yet another to write it successfully. So, if you’re watching the film for the first time, and you think the music “sucks,” it should only lend to your appreciation of the film as a whole and in your understanding of why many, many local bands — no matter how hard they try — never make it.

This film is a must watch. The soundtrack is a must listen. Do it. And stick around for the band flyer-inspired end credits. The film — as well as the soundtrack — is readily and easily available in the online marketplace with VOD streams on a wide variety of platforms. Vignettes from the film and its music abound on You Tube to enjoy.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

The Perfect Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll (2009)

We briefly touched upon this feature film writing and directing debut by Scott D. Rosenbaum during our tribute week of reviews to the works of Mark L. Lester and his 2010 rock flick, Groupie.

The connection came courtesy of Tayrn Manning, who stars in this indie rock flick alongside the always awesome Peter Fonda (of Easy Rider; here, he is the wise ex-rocker, natch), along with Jason Ritter (the son of Three’s Company John, as the troubled rocker) and Lucas Haas (of Last Days, here as the intrepid journalist).

The inclusion of Fonda is no accident: This is a “road movie” where the legends of the “27 Club” meets Eddie and the Cruisers — only with a dramatic arc and production quality that rises it to the level of Almost Famous (based on the downfall of Humble Pie) and British-made Still Crazy (based on the ’80s Animals reunion) — in tale about a a gothic-rocker (with a heavy Cobain influence) whose sophomore album for his band The Lost Soulz flops; he returns to his hometown to make amends (i.e., suck up) with the incognito-music teacher responsible for writing the songs for the first album.

Lead actors Kevin Zegers (Damian Daalgard in TV’s Gossip Girl and Mel in AMC’s Fear of the Walking Dead) and Jason Ritter star and provide the vocals to the original songs “Turn Me On,” “Sweet Rock Candy,” “Without You,” and “Lonely Planet Boy.”  The soundtrack also features atmospheric songs by Nirvana, Aerosmith, Violent Femmes, and Jane’s Addiction. Both are stunning in their dual-duties.

The script displays Rosenbaum’s keen knowledge of the Grateful Dead: Lukas Haas portrays a rock journalist named “Clifton Hanger,” which was the name late Grateful Dead keyboardist Brent Myland used when checking into hotels. Peter Fonda appears as road manager “August West,” which is a character in the Grateful Dead song, “Wharf Rat.”  Making his acting debut: blues great Pinetop Perkins.

You can also find this in the overseas marketplace under the title, Coda, which also serves as the title for the 2005 short film in which this is based. Sorry, no freebies on this one, kids. You can check it out as a VOD on Amazon Prime (where it pulls 4 to 5 stars and a 91% approval), Apple iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, and You Tube Movies.

Great stuff. Watch it.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Border Radio (1987)

Was it worth waiting a few years before finding a copy of this poorly-distributed VHS in a cut-out bin at an old Sound Warehouse?

Oh, yeah.

Fans of the cult film existentialism of Easy Rider, Vanishing Point, and Two-Lane Blacktop — or any art film that finds a reissue on the Criterion Collection — will enjoy this grim, black and white film noir homage (shot on Super 16mm) to the French new-wave films of old; to that end, the film employs a disjointed, non-linear narrative. Do you enjoy the films of Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise (1984), Down by Law (1986), and Mystery Train (1989)? Did you enjoy the later Clerks (1994) by Kevin Smith? Do the “mood pieces” of Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni — such as 1975’s The Passenger — appeal to you?

Then you’ll enjoy Border Radio — although this UCLA student film by Allison Anders and Kurt Voss (Down and Out with the Dolls) doesn’t possess the “slickness” of those films, as you can see from the trailer.

Border Radio is a noirish tale of three southern California punk rockers — two musicians and a roadie (Chris D. and John Doe) — who decided a club stiffed them on a gig, so they rob the club. Chris D. subsequently abandons his rock journalist wife and crosses the border into Mexico with his split of the caper, leaving her holding the bag in repaying the debt of their robbery; she sends John Doe into Mexico to find him.

The caveat of Border Radio: this is not a punk film.

U.S.-issued VHS by Michael Nesmith’s Pacific Arts Video courtesy of 112 Video/Paul Zamarelli of VHS

There are punk rockers cast in the film as actors, but the music and punk aesthetic is void from its frames. The film’s stars, Chris D. of the Flesh Eaters and the Divine Horsemen, and John Doe of X, do not perform any of their music in the film. At the time Allison Anders (1992’s Gas Food Lodging, 1999’s Sugar Town, 2001’s Things Behind the Sun) completed the four-years-shot film begun in 1983, L.A.’s punk scene — with the musicians she cast as actors — was over.

The Flesh Eaters disbanded and the Divine Horsemen (lead singer Julie Christensen stars in the film) were set to release their first recordings; Billy Zoom left X; Phil and Dave Alvin (Dave co-stars in the film) disbanded the Blasters, and Texacala Jones (who also appears in du-Beat-eo) split from Tex and the Horseheads. Green on Red (they appear on stage at the Hong Kong Cafe), who got their start on Slash Records with Gravity Talks (1983) and wrote the soundtrack for Anders’s Gas Food Lodging (1985), also folded up the tents after their three, pre-grunge albums for Mercury: The Killer Inside Me (1987), Here Come the Snakes (1988), and This Time Around (1989) failed to expand beyond college rock airplay and connect with the burgeoning, commercial alternative rock scene. The film’s theme song, “Border Radio,” is performed by The Tonys, aka L.A.’s the Dils, aka Rank n’ File, led by Chip and Tony Kinman; by the time of the film’s release, they formed the synth-based Blackbird project.

You can learn more about the out-of–print Enigma Records soundtrack — never released on compact disc — on The film is not currently available on PPV and VOD platforms, but DVDs can be purchased direct from Criterion.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Hey, you want to write for us? We have a “John Doe Week” coming up in December. You can get all the deets, HERE.

Eat the Rich (1987)

Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister
December 24, 1945 – December 28, 2015

If you’re not a fan of the late Lemmy Kilminster and Motorhead, you’ll hate this movie. If you’re a fan the late Lemmy Kilminster and Motorhead, you’ll hate this movie.

Yes, I love Motorhead. And I hate this movie.

Image of U.S.-issued VHS courtesy of Videonut324/Paul Zamarelli of VHS

Why? You love all of this f’up, obscure stuff, R.D.

The MTV video for the film’s title song, “Eat the Rich,” from Motorhead’s ninth studio album, 1987’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, was in heavy rotation (complete with “BEEPS”), with featured clips from the film that led us to believe Lemmy starred in the film. Yep, you guessed right: we ended up with very little Lemmy — who we rented to see — and a whole lot of British comedian-comedienne-cum-drag queen Al Pellay, aka Lanah Pellay — who we didn’t rent to see. And while the MTV video put focus on the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman and the Beatles’ Paul McCartney to the forefront (Hugh Cornwell from the Stranglers and Jools Holland of Squeeze show up), they’re in the film less than Lemmy.

Again, as with A Matter of Degrees and The Runnin’ Kind, the distribution on this was nil; I didn’t see the film until the mid-90s, when a Blockbuster Video-absorbed Sound Warehouse — all which were converting into Blockbuster Music outlets (remember those shiny, commercialized shiteholes?) — dumped their VHS inventory ($2.00 bucks: sold, along with John Doe of X in Border Radio, $2.00: sold).

I was over the moon. Then the moon crashed.

Yeah, I hated this movie. I watched it once, bulked it, and copied a behind-the-green curtain Jenna Jameson porn over it. In fact, skip this movie. Watch the Motorhead video instead — and call it a day. Then find a Jenna Jameson porn online. You’ll thank me later.

In fact, don’t even finish reading this review of this movie that you shouldn’t watch and just read Lemmy’s sexual innuendo word smithin’, for his lyrics are more entertaining than the actual script that served as his lyrical inspiration.

They say music is the food of love
Let’s see if you’re hungry enough
Take a bite, take another
Just like a good boy would
Get a sweet thing on the side
Home cooking, homicide
Side order, could be your daughter
Finger licking good

Come on baby, eat the rich
Put the bite on the son of a (BEEP)
Don’t mess up, don’t you give me no switch
Come on baby, and eat the rich
Come on baby, and eat the rich

Sitting down in a restaurant
Tell the waiter just what you want
Is that the meat you wanted to eat?
How would you ever know?

Hash browns and bacon strips
I love the way that you lick your lips
No fooling, I can see you drooling
Feel the hunger grow

Come on baby, eat the rich
Put the bite on the son of a (BEEP)
Don’t mess up, don’t you give me no switch
Come on baby, and eat the rich
Come on baby, and eat the rich
Come on honey, here’s your supper
Come on baby, bite that sucker

I’ll eat you, baby, you eat me
Eat two, baby get one free
Shetland pony, extra pepperoni
Just pick up the phone
Eat Greek or eat Chinese
Eat salad or scarf up grease
You’re on the shelf, you eat yourself
Come on and bite my bone

Come on baby, eat the rich
Bite down on the son of a (BEEP)
Don’t mess around, don’t you give me no switch
Come on baby, and eat the rich
Come on baby, and eat the rich
Sitting here in a hired tuxedo
You wanna see my bacon torpedo
Eat it baby, eat the rich

Lemmy. Friggin’ genius. And MTV is stupid. A song that talks about “bacon torpedoes” and implores listeners to “bite the bone,” and you’re worried about the word “bitch” tainting young ears? And we haven’t even got to the lyrics of “Orgasmatron,” which also appears in the film.

The film’s genesis was in the writing room of The Comic Strip, a Saturday Night Live-styled ensemble of British comedians that hosted a successful series The Comic Strip Presents . . . on the BBC’s Channel Four. After five years of ratings success since the show’s 1982 inception — with a cast featuring Adrian Edmonson, Rik Mayall, and Nigel Planer (of MTV’s The Young Ones), along with Dawn French (of The Vicar of Dibley) and Jennifer Saunders (of the French and Saunders comedy team and Absolutely Fabulous) — it was decided the time was right to do a “racier,” feature film — one with a message about Britain’s Thatcherism welfare state and the nationalism of the U.K.’s tightly-regulated economy.

Yeah, this is going to be comedic gold.

Eat the Rich was written and directed by Peter Richardson (aka Spider Webb of the very funny, late ’80s metal parody band/TV series Bad News with Rik Mayall) as a follow up to the comedy troupe’s feature film debut, The Supergrass (1985). Richardson set his Pythonesque, black comedy in a future, fascist London concerning a terrorist faction looking to derail the upcoming Prime Minister elections and overthrow the Conservative Party.

Involved in the political intrigue is Alex (Pillay) a fired, disgruntled server at Bastards, an exclusive restaurant. Finding refuge in the Party, Alex strikes back at the cultural elite with a ragtag group of Robin Hood-styled anarchists who return to the restaurant and kill the clientele and staff — and serves up the bodies of those dead Yuppies to Yuppies, as the rechristened Eat the Rich becomes the talk of London. (For those who care: Lemmy is Spider, the sidekick of a Russian double agent, who learns of the eatery’s secret menu and plans to stop the Conservative-cannibal carnage.)

Yeah, this is going to be comedic gold. Not.

However, in the film’s defense, the politically uncorrect religious, political, and social classes humor is totally British — and even my own personal, steady dozes of U.S. Public Television-broadcasted Brit-coms, such as Doctor in the House, The Goodies, Are You Being Served, Keeping Up Appearances, and The Young Ones wasn’t enough to prime my inner joke box. Sure, the story’s literal take of Conservatives “eating” the non-Conservatives for their own person gain is an interesting approach — but it’s just not funny. Reflect back on some of the SNL-bred movies of the ’80s: Corky Romano, Night at the Roxbury, Superstar. Yeah, it’s like that: a well-made, affably-acted effort that, never the less, falls flat. BURP!

Why New Line Cinema opted to bring the film to U.S. shores for a theatrical release is anyone’s guess (surely not for the Motorhead connection; did they think they had the next RuPaul on their hands with Lanah Pellay?). But after pulling in just over $200,000 on four screens in Los Angeles and New York, the film was pulled and dumped onto the home video market via RCA/Columbia. Again, British humor works, for U.S. audiences, in a half-hour format on public television — not in an hour and a half film.

And it didn’t work in Britain either: Eat the Rich is rated as one of that country’s “50 Greatest Cinematic Flops.” Channel Four subsequently kiboshed plans for The Comic Strip’s third feature film, Five Go To Hell. And there hasn’t been a film since. The troop folded up the tents in 2000, reactivating from 2005–2016.

But it’s not all awful, for there are a few magical moments . . . when the Motorhead kicks in, natch: A DHSS office is stormed and robbed to the beat of “Nothing Up My Sleeve”; Lemmy, aka Spider, and his Russian boss ride their cycles through the British countryside while the title track from Motorhead’s seventh studio album, 1986’s Orgasmatron, plays in the background; at a dinner party, Motorhead takes to the stage and plays another cut from Orgasmatron, “Doctor Rock.” (“Built for Speed” and a live version of “On the Road” also appears in the film). Pillay’s cabaret-parody, which hit the British Top 100 and Australia Top 20, “Pistol In My Pocket,” also appears.

In the wake of revisiting this film all these years later — an after reviewing the Sex Pistols in 1980’s The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle this week as part of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week II” — perhaps if Eat the Rich was made during punk’s heyday, with Johnny Rotten in Al/Lanah Pellay’s disgruntled waiter role recruited by a political terrorist group . . . and with, say, Adam Ant instead of Lemmy, and a couple guys from the Clash — with them beating up Billy Idol as the Prime Minister to-run (as an in-joke for selling out to American radio) — we could have had ourselves a twisted, politi-punk version of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, instead of an unfunny, dead-in-water Rock ‘N’ Roll Hotel.

Where’s Roger Corman when you really need him?

Lemmy followed up his acting debut in Eat the Rich with a role as an aquatic taxi driver in Hardware (1990), as an ex-school newspaper reporter in Airheads (1994), as the narrator in Lloyd Kaufman’s Tromeo and Juliet, and as Joe in Down and Out with the Dolls (2001).

You can readily stream Eat the Rich on Amazon Prime and You Tube Movies. You can roll the full albums of Orgasmatron and Rock ‘n’ Roll on You Tube, as well. Clips from the film abound on the platform as well.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

I’ll Be Around (2020)

The teen deliquency of the ’50s, the counterculture of the ’60s, and the hangin’ out of the ’70s that we enjoyed in American Graffiti, Easy Rider, and Dazed and Confused collide in this cinematic homage to Robert Altman’s 1975 satirical ensemble comedy-drama Nashville — only, instead of the country music industry of Altman’s film — this tale follows the lives of several struggling thirty-somethings on their way to a post-punk music festival. The featured attraction of the festival, punk star Eve Valentine (Sarah Lawrence of 2009’s Australian comedy Stoned Bros), as with her fans, has her own thirty-something problems: she no longer feels a connection to the art or the fans that brought her succcess. Gen-X angst, past-their-prime adolscent confusion, the struggles of making a living as an artist, and comedy, ensues.

The eclectic cast of fifty features a wealth of eccentric characters portrayed by college rock icon J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., Jonah Ray (of the 2017 Netflix reboot of Mystery Science Theater 3000), Frank Agnew (of the Adolescents), Casey Royer (of D.I. from Suburbia), and punk icon Pleasant Gehman (The Runnin’ Kind). The new kids on the music block feature the sounds of Echolust, Band Aparte, and The Electric West.

So, with fifty characters in play via intertwined storylines, in conjunction with the Altman critique, the caveat here is that I’ll Be Around clocks in — with opening titles and end credits — at a whopping 2 hours and 3 minutes. And while self-taught micro-budget purveyor Mikel Cuenca isn’t Robert Altman here — at least not yet — he’s certainly on his way to having an O.C and Stiggs or Brewster McCloud moment (my two favorites of his resume). As with Altman: there’s a lot of words and actions afoot, so you really need to watch Cuenca’s scribed intelligence closely, so you don’t miss anything. All the pieces fit and, as with any puzzle, you need all of the pieces to appreciate the bigger picture.

I’ll Be Around is available on all PPV and VOD platforms on September 23 from Indie Rights. You can learn more about the film at its official website.

Music Trivia Footnotes: You’ll remember the Adolescents hail from Fullerton, California, as part of the early ’80s hardcore punk movement in southern California and shared Orange County stages with Agent Orange (River’s Edge) and Social Distortion (Another State of Mind). Their self-titled debut album featured the Posh Boy (label of T.S.O.L, also of Suburbia fame) gold single, “Amoeba,” which came to prominence as result of its inclusion on a volume of KROQ-FM disc jockey Rodney Bingenheimer’s (The Mayor of Sunset Strip) Rodney on the ROQ compilations.

Disclaimer: We were provided a screener by the film’s P.R firm. That has no bearing on our review.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

In the context of our previous “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week II” review for Orion: The Man Who Would Be King, we mentioned the unsung career of Detroit musician Arthur Pendragon cast as The Phantom by Capitol Records in 1974. By the late 1980’s, the overseas pirate industry would victimize his career on vinyl, which was later exacerbated by the advent of the compact disc.

Another mysterious Detroit musician victimized by the pirate industry—but later, unlike The Phantom, finding success as result of those vinyl buccaneers—was Sixto Rodriguez, a singer-songwriter discovered in the late Sixties performing in a Detroit nightclub by an ex-Motown Records’ executive. With the stealthy shades of the outlandish, managerial marketing of Tony DeFries with John Cougar, Kim Fowley with the Runaways, Jerry Brandt with Jobriath, and Ed “Punch” Andrews with The Phantom, Rodriquez was hailed as the next “Bob Dylan”—and, as usual, the ostentatious promotion failed to translate into radio play or retail sales. The brief, promising career of Rodriquez, which garnered some critical acclaim, flamed out with an outlandish rumor: he committed a bizarre onstage suicide. Like the Phantom, hailed as the next “Jim Morrison,” the next “Bob Dylan” shined brightly, briefly, and then drifted into obscurity.

Except in South Africa.

The songs of protest by Rodriquez struck a chord in the poor, oppressed masses suffering under apartheid, who affectionately dubbed Rodriguez with the nom de plume: the Sugar Man (after his most infamous tune). Unknown to the mysterious, post-Rudy Martinez (of Detroit’s Question Mark, of ? and the Mysterians) and pre-Phantom Rodriquez, the Sugar Man’s compositions of dissent became as popular to South Africans as the Rolling Stones or Elvis Presley. Yet, as with the Phantom, the Sugar Man, never saw a penny in royalties—everyone thought Rodriquez (as well as the Phantom) was dead.

Forty years later, Malik Bendjelloul, a Stockholm, Sweden, documentary filmmaker, upon hearing the legend for the first time in a Cape Town, South Africa, record shop, set out to find the mysterious “Bob Dylan of Detroit.” The result of Bendjelloul’s search was the Sugar Man’s triumphant return to the stage with a 1998 series of South African concerts.

In the tradition of the positive effect the book and film documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil had on Anvil, a previously obscure Canadian metal band, Rodriquez experienced a career resurgence resulting from the renewed interest generated by Bendjelloul’s 2002 film, Searching for Sugar Man. Becoming a hit on the film festival circuit, the document bequeathed the once “dead” Rodriquez his first worldwide, mainstream exposure for the previous South African “hit songs” of “Sugar Man,” “Inner City Blues,” “I Wonder,” and “A Most Disgusting Song.”

Searching for Sugar Man is readily available across all PPV and VOD streaming platforms, including Amazon Prime.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publishes on Medium. You can find his books on the career of Arthur Pendragon—The Ghost of Jim Morrison, the Phantom of Detroit, and the Fates of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Tales from a Wizard: The Oral History of Walpurgis—as softcover and eBooks in the online marketplace at all eRetailers—including Amazon.

Orion: The Man Who Would Be King (2015)

Prior to the 1974 appearance of Capitol Records’ ambiguous, Jim Morrison doppelganger, aka The Phantom (Arthur Pendragon), the city of Detroit cultivated its first musical “Phantom” in 1966 with a faceless, Vox organ-inflected quintet out of Flint, Michigan, fronted by the perpetually sun glasses-clad (masked) Rudy Martinez, aka ? (Question Mark).

Scoring a local hit on Flint’s WTAC (home to the famed “Sherwood Forest” concerts in nearby Davison) and Detroit’s KCLW radio with “96 Tears,” Neil Bogart, then a 23-year-old sales manager for Cameo-Parkway Records (later of Buddah, and the founder of Casablanca and Boardwalk Records; see the careers of Kiss and Joan Jett), purchased the master tapes of ? and the Mysterians’ hit single, along with Bob Seger’s first singles, for national release in 1966.

However, Question Mark and the Mysterians was not the first rock band to experience chart success by concealing their identity.

In the early days of 1964 Beatlemania, an unknown American rock band with a catchy Beatlesque, Merseybeat single, “Roses Are Red (My Love),” found themselves packaged as the You Know Who Group—insinuating it could be a new single by the Beatles—and reached #43 on the U.S charts and #21 in Canada. Then, in 1965, a promising Canadian band became one of the biggest selling pop-rock groups of the early Seventies, in spite of their initial marketing under the same “mysterious” circumstances.

Upon hearing Chad Allan & the Expressions’ cover of “Shakin’ All Over,” a pre-Beatles British Invasion hit by Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, Quality Records insinuated members of the Beatles and other popular British Invasion bands recorded the song as a “supergroup”—with a playful “Guess Who?” moniker (like the earlier Masked Marauders who had a hit with “I Can’t Get No Nookie“). As with Question Mark and the Mysterians, the gimmick worked. Forever known as the Guess Who, their first single reached number one in Canada, #22 in the U.S, and #27 in Australia. The success set the stage for their RCA Records debut, Wheatfield Soul, and its 1969, U.S Top Ten hit, “These Eyes.”

Jimmy “Orion” Ellis with Sun Records’ Shelby Singleton and Kiss during the 1977 Love Gun tour.

The gimmick of a mystery group was not unique to the late Sixties. All the above noted bands were preceded by another mystery singer—a Fifties rockabilly singer who also utilized the “Phantom” moniker: Jerry Lott.

Born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1938, Lott played country music until 1956; then Elvis Presley’s melding of country and “race records” took him in a new musical direction. This lead Lott to compose “Love Me,” recorded in 1958 at Gulf Coast Studios, located in Mobile, Alabama. National audiences discovered the song thanks crooner Pat Boone’s Cooga-Mooga Records. Based on the song’s Elvis sound-alike qualities, Pat Boone suggested the “Phantom” stage name to Lott to maximize the record’s marketing potential. Tragically, just as the record started to break, Lott’s car skid off a 600-foot mountainside outside of Spartanburg, South Carolina. The accident left Elvis’s first “phantom” paralyzed.

In the wake of Jim Morrison returning from the dead in 1974 as the Phantom and Canada’s Klaatu working the charts in 1977 as a phantom Beatles, it turned out Elvis Presley’s death—like Jim Morrison’s—was “faked.”

The idea for this second “phantom” Elvis birthed in the fictionalized pages of Gail Brewer Giorgio’s novel, Orion. Published prior to Presley’s August 1977 death—with a somewhat analogous storyline to Jim Morrison’s alleged The Bank of America of Louisiana tome (and predating P.F Kluge’s similarly-styled 1980 novel, Eddie and the Cruisers)—Giorgio’s novel concerned an Elvis-styled singer who faked his death to escape fame.

Under the Orion facade was Alabama-born Jimmy Ellis, a musician who knocked around the country-music business since 1964—blessed (or cursed) with a singing and speaking voice analogous to Elvis (as with Arthur Pendragon’s to Jim Morrison’s; listen to the Phantom’s backward poem, forwarded). After hearing an Ellis demo, Shelby Singleton, the then owner of Sun Records, Elvis Presley’s old recording home, pinched from Giorgio’s book (Giorgio was not complicit in Singleton’s marketing scheme) and created an Elvis doppelganger—Orion.

Adorning Ellis in Elvis-inspired capes and jumpsuits, then slapping on a pompadour wig and jeweled Lone Rangersque-mask (Jerry Lott wore a similar eye-mask), the “marketing” worked. Not only was Orion’s 1978 album, Reborn (You Tube/full album), embraced by radio and the Elvis-loving record-buying public, Giorgio’s book, once ignored, received renewed interest from those who believed the King was not only alive, but that Giorgio’s book was actually Elvis Presley’s memoirs thinly disguised as a fictional novel. In addition, as with the Guess Who and Question Mark and the Mysterians before him, Orion’s first singles entered the marketplace with a question mark (?) nom de plume to create a pre-release buzz for the full-length Orion album.

As with the Arthur Pendragon’s Jim Morrison-albatross, Jimmy Ellis suffered under his phantomesque yokes with a desire for everyone to see the real person under the mask. Sadly, the recognition Jimmy Ellis craved and deserved arrived too late. A failed 1998 robbery at his Alabama pawnshop resulted in his murder. He was unable to see his career preserved in the 2015 documentary, Orion: The Man Who Would Be King.

So goes the tales of the marketing hype with phantom rockers, ghostgroups and supergroups, as well as concept albums and rock operas, rock theatrics and ad-hoc studio supersessions—and, in most cases, their resulting lack of achieving commercial inroads. Unfortunately, there is more to rock ‘n’ roll than just the song in the business end of rock ‘n’ roll; it is about the packaging of the sights and sounds, of the images and marketing: for every Jim Morrison, there’s a Phantom. For every Knack, there’s a Nirvana.

And for every Elvis, there’s a Jimmy Ellis.

Orion: The Man Who Would Be King is readily available as a PPV and VOD in the online marketplace, and can be streamed at Amazon Prime and Vimeo on Demand.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publishes on Medium. You can find his books on the career of Arthur Pendragon—The Ghost of Jim Morrison, the Phantom of Detroit, and the Fates of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Tales from a Wizard: The Oral History of Walpurgis—as softcover and eBooks in the online marketplace at all eRetailers—including Amazon.

The Runnin’ Kind (1989)

This is one of those punk flick obscurities that no one saw in theatres and barely caught on video due to a poor critical reception and worse distribution. Movies starring James Cromwell (Dr. Zefram Cochrane in Star Trek: First Contact; the evil warden in Adam Sandler’s remake of The Longest Yard, just to name two of his films) and El Duce of the Mentors, tend to work out that way.

My memory of The Runnin’ Kind stems from Henry Rollins name dropping the film, along with Robert Altman’s O.C and Stiggs (1985), in the pages of one of his books, possibly Fanatic!: Songs Lists and Notes from the Harmony In My Head Radio Show, about his DJ exploits on L.A.’s Indie 103.1 FM. It wasn’t until the mid-’90s when I finally found a copy of The Runnin’ Kind (along with the college-rock coveted A Matter of Degrees) courtesy of a mom-and-pop video store’s “Going Out of Business Sale.” (I VHS-snagged O.C and Stiggs off a late ’80s UHF-TV replay.)

The latter Altman film received Rollins’s fandom as result of King Sunny Ade appearing the film; if you know Rollins, you know how he feels about that Nigerian African pop singer — and Robert Altman. The Runnin’ Kind (as I vaguely recall) got his attention as result of it serving as the screenwriting debut of Pleasant Gehman, the lead singer of the underground L.A. cowboy-punk band, the Screamin’ Sirens. The band’s then pioneering mix of punk, country, and rockabilly was more commercially acceptable than the somewhat similar the Cramps, and served as an early progenitor to what became known in the grungy, early ’90s as “alternative country,” a musical form practiced by the likes of Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, the Jayhawks, Whiskeytown, and Son Volt.

In existence from 1983 to 1987, the Screamin’ Sirens managed to released one album on Engima Records (Capitol affiliated; home to hitmakers Stryper, Poison, and Hurricane): Fiesta! (1984), along with Voodoo (1987) on the U.S. “college rock” indie label, Restless Records. In addition to appearing on a couple of Engima compilations and a 1983 Rodney on the ROQ compilation, they also provided the songs for a Thrasher Magazine CD compilation, along with “Love Slave” for Reform School Girls (1987; starring Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics).

Directing and assisting in rewrites on Gehman’s screenplay was Max Tash; getting his start in television, The Runnin’ Kind, produced for United Artists, was his feature film debut. Upon the film’s poor reception (and its failure in advancing the Screamin’ Sirens to mainstream acceptance; it was a multimedia showcase), Tash returned to television, forging a career with the likes of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose (Corin Nemic, later of Mark L. Lester’s Sand Sharks) and The New WKRP in Cincinnati, just to name a few.

Courtesy of strosfan74/eBay

As story unfolds, it’s pretty obvious United Artists’ was going for a (little late to the show) Risky Business vibe with its preppy, self-discovering ne’er-do-well in the Cruise-esque David Packer (most notably as Daniel Bernstein in NBC-TV’s sci-fi series V).

Packer is Joey, a recent college graduate with his future planned by his over-bearing father and well-meaning, but naive mother (notable TV mainstays John Carter and Susan Strasberg). But — as with the Max Glass, the preppy ne’er-do-well of A Matter of Degrees on his way to Columbia and having a “college-life crisis” and losing himself in the campus radio station — Joey Carter isn’t having any of this clerking-for-his-father’s-law firm non-sense and attending Yale Law in the fall. In a last fling before signing his life away, Joey’s yuppie buddies from Shaker Heights take him to the rundown part of Cleveland to check out a punk show. At the concert Joey’s heart is “thunderstruck” (Thanks, Angus!) by Thunder (Brie Howard), the female drummer of a band fronted by Joe Wood (of T.S.O.L, who perform “Hit and Run” on stage).

Head over heels in love, Thunder is the inspiration Joey needs to escape his father’s grip; he ends up Los Angeles and bunks with his Uncle Phil and Aunt Barbara (James Cromwell and Julie Cobb; yep, the mom from Charles in Charge). During his search of the L.A. punk scene for Thunder, Joey’s befriended by Pleasant Gehman and her band, the She-Devils (aka the Screamin’ Sirens). In need of a drummer, he comes to introduce the band to Thunder and uses his law skills to manage the band. Along the way Joey also meets Susan Ursitti (sigh . . . Boof from Teen Wolf) and Juliette Lewis (if you don’t know Juliette by now, buddy), El Duce (Suburbia, The Mentors: The Kings of Sleaze), and Rodney Bingenheimer (Mayor of the Sunset Strip).

The affable-on-screen Brie Howard was a member of the pioneering, all-female rock band Fanny. Their album, Rock and Roll Survivors (1974; Casablanca Records, home of Kiss and Angel), had a hit single in “I’ve Had It,” which reached #79 on the U.S. Top 100 Billboard chart; the album’s second single, “Butter Boy,” peaked at #29 in 1975. Transitioning into acting, Howard made her big screen debut as the “Ripley” character in the Alien-inspired and Klaus Kinski-starring Android and followed up her work in The Runnin’ Kind with Tapeheads (starring John Cusack, along with Jello Biafra of Terminal City Ricochet). Patti Quatro, the sister of Suzi Quatro (Suzi Q), was a one-time Fanny member alongside Howard.

T.S.O.L, through a plethora of roster upheavals (from Jack Grisham to Joe Wood on lead vocals) and style changes (from hard core, metal, and back again), continue to record in 2020. In addition to appearing in Suburbia, they also provided songs to The Return of the Living Dead and Dangerously Close. Their songs “Flowers by the Door” and “Hear Me Cry” also appeared in Hear Me Cry, an ’80s installment of the CBS Schoolbreak Special (yeah, we found it on You Tube).

We found a free rip of The Runnin’ Kind on You Tube, and be grateful; for this one isn’t available as a DVD (not even in the grey market) or as PPV or VOD stream. It was previously available for streaming at Amazon Prime, but ran into licensing issues and is no longer accessible on that digital platform.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Teenage Cruisers (1977)

Did you know that adult movies—the surest celluloid thing in the ’70s—could actually bomb on the adult grindhouse circuit? And this Johnny Legend-fronted flick is the only one that did.

Adult films in the ’70s were what slasher films were in the ’80s: a can’t miss investment for any pseudo-producer wanting to break into the movin’-picktures business (to sleaze some chicks). But by 1977, the era of “porn chic”—when adult grindhousers broke down the mainstream, tinsel town gates to transform Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door (both 1972) into box office bonanzas—was over. In fact, by 1977, Doors’ star Marilyn Chambers transitioned into the (somewhat) conventional with David Cronenberg’s early “body horror” oeuvre entry, Rabid. So wildman wrestler, actor, and musician Johnny Legend, along with his producing partner, adult film purveyor Tom Denucci (who produced a porn version of Rambo), were a little late to the party. Not a problem. Their film had a rock ‘n’ roll connection, so they might be able to turn it around into the next The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Oh, yeah. This is going to work.

Tim Curry as a lingerie-clad sweet transvesite was kitchy . . . while Johnny Legend as a foul-mouthed, bottom-of-the-barrel Wolfman Jack-redux was just plain tacky. But you have to give Legend credit for producing what no other adult film attempted: inject (nasty n’ tawdry) comedy and (’50s style) rock ‘n’ roll amid the Deep Green Door roughness. Remember our recent review of Kentucky Fried Movie? Okay, so that movie. Only not as funny. Then cut in clips from Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door.

No, wait. Take American Graffiti. Nix Ron Howard and cast adult film icon John Holmes (check out the fantastic Val Kilmer as Holmes in Wonderland). Then replace Wolfman Jack with Legend. Remember those ’50s teen-action car dramas we reviewed during our “Drive-In Friday: Fast & Furious ’50s Style” featurette? Okay, now spoof those films. Then cut in clips from Deep Throat and Behind the Green Doors.

Oh, yeah. This is going to work.

And you thought Harry Hope and Harry Tampa’s hicksploitation hybrids with disco and vampires (Smokey and the Judge and Nocturna) were a mess. . . . But what else would you expect from a man who put ‘70s pro-wrestler Fred Blassie and comedian Andy Kaufman into a room and ripped off Louis Malle’s My Dinner With Andre as My Breakfast with Blassie—in a Sambos, of all places. Well, John Howard meshed the slasher ’80s with porn in Spine, so maybe. . . .

No. This isn’t going to work. You’ve been warned.

Courtesy of Amazon

Although Legend billed Teenage Cruisers as the first adult-rated rock ‘n’ roll movie, the early ‘70s sex-flick The Mind of Dirty Young Sally (that found a second life on VHS in the ’80s via the Something Weird imprint) concerned with an 18-Wheeled pirate radio DJ treaded similar waters. (Yes, that radio sex romp bombed and yes . . . it’s awful, don’t bother seeking it out.)

Johnny Legend is the infamous L.A. disc jockey, Mambo Remus <eye roll>, who dispenses sexual advice to his listeners between the rock ‘n’ roll records. And as with American Graffiti, the Remus-patter strings together the exploits of Van Nuys’ car cruisin’ listeners, such as a sexually frustrated army veteran, a group of high school boys visiting a Hollywood whorehouse, two sex maniacs cruising the strip for boys, and an escaped psychotic-nymphomaniac prowling for victims. The film score features the rockabilly guitars of Billy Zoom (The Decline of Western Civilization) from the L.A. punk band X.

Johnny Legend was responsible for a slew of low-budgeted B-flicks in the early ‘70s, as well as issuing several albums of his own brand of sci-fi rockabilly tunes. In addition to working as the host/spokesman for a number of ’70s-reissue flicks on the Rhino and Something Weird imprints, Legend pops up from time-to-time in support roles in film such films as Bride of Re-Animator, Children of the Corn III, and Severed Ties. Legend also worked as an actor under the name of Martin Margulies—the most notable being (in grindhouse circles) the Ed Woodian juvenile delinquency potboiler, Pot, Parents and Police (1972).

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.