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.

Monkey Grip (1982)

“Songs about sadomasochism and masturbation can’t be on the radio. The children! Protect the children!”
— the battle cry of the PMRC’s  membership

Courtesy of the Divinyls’ MTV’s patronage—and the conservative right’s “outrage” over the songs “Pleasure and Pain” from their second album, What a Life! (1983), and “I Touch Myself” from their fourth album, Divinyls (1991)—Sydney, Australia’s doppelganger to Akron, Ohio-by-way-of-London the Pretenders (with a little AC/DC raunch and punky Blondie in the woofers), rose up the U.S. charts.

There’s nothing quite like a little Tipper Gore-mock controversy to inject a floundering career. . . .

I remember my ex-Operations Director, with her endless stream of inane memos and made-up-week-by-week-as-you-go-along “station policies” that she’d spring on us; she loved her “write-ups” and warnings. The memo I especially remember—in the context of this film review—is the one advising us that, while it’s a “real toe-tapper” (Her words, I kid you not. Who works in radio and vocabulary-holsters “toe tapper”?), “I Touch Myself” by the Divinyls will not be added to our rotation. Forget the fact we were an alt-rock station that specialized in indie-artists and unsigned locals in the midst of a grunge wave and if a mainstream Madonna-lite copy was put into rotation, it would have be accidently-on-purpose scratched-beyond-airplay or “misfiled” into the 40-pound hallway receptacle—then buried under more trash. “Toe tapper,” indeed. But, once again, I digress. . . .

Anywhoo . . . we say “floundering” because, unlike MTV turning around the then floundering career of Duran Duran (with those bane-of-my-existence Sonny Crockett-on-a-yacht videos), the audience response (due to MTV’s low rotation) to the Divinyl’s debut American single-video “Boys in Town”—was indifference. (That song, in addition to “Elsie” and “Only Lonely” from the soundtrack, were reissued on their international debut, Desperate.) But the late Christina Amphlett had black bangs (!), looked cute on the album cover, and she’d swing a neon-bluelight mic-stand like no other. And the song was like a chick-fronted version of AC/DC; even Blondie-heavy (before that band started meandering with disco-rap hybrids and faux-reggae tunes like a pre-Crash Test Dummies annoyance). So I bought the album. It was a hell of a lot better than Men at Work. And that Men Without Hats cacophony. Oh, wait. They’re from Canada. Never mind.

And if you’re creating a Divinyls-list for the .mp3 files: don’t forget their (minor) hit cover of the Syndicate of Sounds’ ‘60s garage classic “Hey Little Girl” (changed to boy, natch) on their third Chrysalis album, 1988’s Temperamental (which my old station did play, because it fit the format). And it if all sounds like Blondie, that’s because that band’s producer, Mike Chapman (Suzi Q), is behind the boards. And if you hear of a dash of Madonna erotica in the grooves, that’s because “I Touch Myself” was written by the team of Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, who wrote “Like a Virgin.”

Ack! Get back to the movie!

Anyway, before the bogusversy and before MTV, there was Christina Amphlett’s AACTA nomination for Best Supporting Actress in Monkey Grip (and she never acted again). Amphlett got her part by way of the Divinyls’ rise on the Melbourne local scene—and the film called for a band whose female lead singer is the gal-pal for the film’s domestically-troubled lead character. And instead of casting actors in a lip-sync faux-band, the producers cast a real band—in a rock flick doppelganger to Nina Hagen’s Cha-Cha and Nena’s Hangin’ Out (and, in a male perspective: Michael Hutchence of INXS co-starring in the punk chronicle Dogs in Space)—the Divinyls.

Based on the best-selling Australian cult novel by Helen Graham and fueled by a six-song EP soundtrack by the Divinyls, the story follows Nora, a single-mother in her thirties scratching out a living on the outskirts of Melbourne’s alternative music scene-business. In addition to struggling to raise her thirteen year-old daughter, she has to deal with her own mental and physical abuse at the hands of her heroin-addicted lover, Javo, a mostly-unemployed theatre actor. As result of the financial and domestic instability, she squats in a number of households with other single parents in Melbourne’s local art community (the suburbs of Calton and Fitzroy; think of New York’s Greenwich Village and Los Angeles’ Silver Lake communities) of musicians, actors, and writers. Nora, as with her likeminded contemporaries, refuses to play by the rules of conventionality, torn by their competing desires for freedom and stability that’s exacerbated by their artistic endeavors.

There’s no freebie online rips. But we found this 10-minute clip of scenes to sample and a VOD stream on Vimeo. You can learn more about the influential novel behind the film with its extensive Wikipage.

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

Last Days (2005)

When considering the legalities of music publishing and the licensing of music for films—especially a film shining an unfavorable light on persons and corporations connected to Kurt Cobain’s estate, a biographically-accurate (and not an inspired-by-events) screenplay about a Generation X’s “Jim Morrison” seems a production impossibility.

The best explanation of this screenplay-to-film improbability of a narrative Cobain career chronicle sets in the work of Oliver Stone, who brought the tale of Jim Morrison and the Doors to the silver screen. When Mr. Stone began developing his football expose, Any Given Sunday, the unfavorable light the screenplay shed on the National Football League led to the organization rebuffing Stone’s request for involvement; Stone dreamed up an ersatz professional football league for the film.

A faux biopic analogous to Rock Star, a film loosely inspired by the career of Judas Priest’s Tim “Ripper” Owens—and not akin to the critically acclaimed box office bonanza biographies of Ray Charles or Johnny Cash—is the only way, it seems, a true Cobain biopic can appear on screen. (His daughter, Frances Bean, has since produced 2015’s Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, which is considered the most-accurate of the many Cobain-Nirvana chronicles, but it is still a documentary and not a narrative piece.)

Film productions have music consultants who prepare a film’s soundtrack; a film about the life of a controversial musician with an estate controlled by a widow who’s partial to filing lawsuitsand going on expletive-riddled rants on The Howard Stern Show about how everyone (including ex-bandmates) manipulates her ex-husband’s work, opens a plethora of legalities; as such, business entities cast in an unfavorable position are not licensing their music for such a film.

During our first “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” in July we reviewed Down on Us, the low-budget, exploitive tale on the Doors by Larry Buchanan that experienced similar licensing issues regarding the music of the Doors, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix; Buchanan contracted musicians to forge replicates of those artists for the film. Thus, Oscar nominated and award-winning director Gus Van Sant exceptionally and effectively executed this same approach with Last Days, his faux-Kurt Cobain docudrama concerning actor Michael Pitt’s eerily portrayed pseudo-grunge rocker, Blake, fronting the film’s scripted Nirvana substitute, Pagoda—featuring stunning Nirvana simulations composed by Pitt. (It all goes back to poet William Blake, one of Jim Morrison’s lyrical inspirations. The circle completes.)

As with his previous effort, Elephant, which was a thinly-veiled account of the Columbine tragedy, Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) crafted this faux-bioflick of Cobain’s “last days”; until his take, the only cinematic document on the troubled Nirvana leader was Nick Broomfield’s 1998 pseudo-document Kurt & Courtney (a chronicle, courtesy of Courtney Love’s perpetual legalese, turned what was to be a Cobain tribute into a tale of the sad hanger-ons of Grunge’s Sid & Nancy). It was Sant’s indie-pedigree and Oscar success, in conjunction with the Cobain subject matter, that led to Last Days becoming the debut release for Picturehouse, a joint-shingle between Time Warner, New Line Cinema, and HBO Films (which is why it plays incessantly on that channel) to create domestic art house, independent foreign, and documentary films.

And Last Days is definitely an “art house” film—to the point of being an “independent foreign film,” courtesy of its Felliniesque minimalism; this is Oliver Stone’s The Doors reflecting through a Michelangelo Antonioni transom. So, don’t expect flash; expect dead-pan scripting that concentrates on haunting cinematography and quasi-over-the-head symbolisms.

The narrative dispenses with the usual rise-and-fall tales of Taylor Hackford’s and James Mangold’s respective major-studio bios Ray or Walk the Line—with Michael Pitt (Hedwig and the Angry Itch) as the mythical-rocker, Blake, of grunge superstars Pagoda, living his last days in his Pacific Northwest home. The tale beings with Blake sneaking out of a rehab clinic and taking up residence in a forest with a makeshift, lakeside campfire; he walks around with a shotgun in his house pointing it at his band/roommates; he hangs up on phone-harassing record executives droning about tour date obligations. The story meanders through its entrancing simplicity (e.g., extended scenes of Blake making and eating a bowl of cereal, long, pondering (but beautiful) tracking shots across lawns and through windows, extended, stagnant shots of Blake writing-recording a song) until an electrician discovers Blake’s body in an apartment above the home’s garage.

Fans of Sonic Youth and watchers of the concert document 1991: The Year Punk Broke will notice bassist Kim Gordon in her dramatic acting debut (as a concerned record executive) while her band mate-husband, Thurston Moore (We Jam Econo), supervised the soundtrack (Sonic Youth also scored the French-made Demonlover, along with the Beatles “what if” Backbeat, Heavy, and Made in the USA).

Moore’s supervision assisted Michael Pitt in his crafting two Cobainesque songs for the film: “That Day,” the acoustic “Death to Birth,” along with an extended electric jam, “Fetus.” Lukas Haas (in the “Krist Novoselic” role) composed “Untitled,” while Rodriqo Lopresti (of fellow “Seattle band” The Hermitt) composed “Seen as None” and “Pointless Ride.” The DVD release features an additional song, “Happy Song,” along with a mock video for Blake’s Pagoda, which is a nostalgic return to the Seattle-styled videos that permeated MTV’s airwaves in the 120 Minutes-crazed ’90s. The film also features a soundscape “Doors of Perception” (know your Jim Morrison trivia).

There’s more grunge-era films to be had with our “Exploring: 50 Gen-X Grunge Films of the Alt-Rock ‘90s” featurette.

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

My Life with Morrissey (2003)

“. . . and now I know how Joan of Arc felt.”
—Morrissey

The greats always come in pairs: Johnny Thunders and David Johansen in the New York Dolls (Mona et Moi). Keith Richards and Mick Jagger in the Rolling Stones. Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and Steven Tyler. . . .

And Johnny Marr and (Steven) Morrissey of the Smiths.

How rare is this movie? This is the best one-sheet image we could find.

The Smiths: you either love them or you hate them. There’s no middle ground for this U.K. band that shamelessly—but with integrity—wallowed in self-absorbed self-pity and spiritual anguish. And the songs were all hits—every one of them—from “Big Mouth Strikes Again” to “The Boy with a Thorn in his Side” to “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” to “Girlfriend in a Coma.” Uplifting, dark tunes from a band who gave you albums entitled Meat Is Murder.

So it makes sense that the depression-obsessive lyricist behind that morbid pop-oeuvre would inspire amorous fanaticism. And it comes in the form of Jackie (a stellar Jackie Buscarino, in her acting debut; currently the producer of Cartoon Network’s long-running Steven Universe), an already off-kilter office worker whose cramped flat doubles as a museum-shrine for all things Smiths—and keeps adding to the collection as she obsessively trolls records stores for memorabilia and rare albums by her dream lover. So it follows that she completely unravels (think of a female version of a spiraling Crispin Glover obsessed over Debbie Harry) when she happens to meet her mopish idol: Morrissey.

And when the ephemera wells run dry, Jackie takes the next logical step: stalking her idol’s favorite hangouts in Los Angeles. And she gets the ultimate collectible: his food leftovers. And when Morrissey (Jose Maldondo in shadow and silhouette; his only acting role) assumes she’s homeless and hungry, he takes pity and gives her a ride home. And now they’re a couple—so she thinks.

This is an indie film with low-budget pride. This is an off-the-wall stupid-weird unconventional-demented gem. Even if you loathe Morrissey, you’ll love this movie. No, it’s no Bowfinger. It’s no Being John Malkovich. It’s definitely no Bubba Ho Tep. But this directing debut by long-time Cartoon Network animator Andrew Overtoom is better than most fictional portrayals of a famed musician (or actor) (pick one of the ’80s Elvis “what if’ers”) in comical circumstances. If you dug the off-beat n’ quirky Ed and his Death Mother and Ghost World with Steve Buscemi and its cool ‘n quirky cousins Bartleby, Ed and Rubin, and Twister with Crispin Glover, then My Life with Morrissey will slide nicely into your, well . . . store nicely on your digital shelf hard drive.

The Emptor the Caveats Department: Take into account that Jackie—and her love of the Smiths—reminds me of my former “punk rock girlfriend,” the similarly-named Jessica, in all her granny dress and platformed Dr. Martens Mary Janes, stringy-black haired clipped glory. So the mileage of your particular romantic nostalgia for the movie may vary.

You can stream this on 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.

Slipstream (1973)

“If I ventured in the slipstream
Between the viaducts of your dreams.”

— Van Morrison, “Astral Weeks” (1968)

My attendance of the recent Saturday Night Drive-In Asylum Double Feature Watch Party on September 5 — which featured The Redeemer (1978) — brings us to this review. And I have to admit that, until this most recent viewing of The Redeemer and digging deeper into the film’s history, I had no idea of that occult-slasher’s connection to this Canadian radio drama by way of actor Michael Hollingsworth. If we are to believe the digital content managers at the IMDb, Hollingsworth, in the role of the hippy Billy, made his acting debut in Slipstream—and vanished from the business after his portrayal of the gay actor, Roger, who met his fate at the hands of The Redeemer.

The writer of Slipstream, William Fruet, aka the “Roger Corman of Canada,” is a name oft mentioned around these ‘ere parts of Steel Town, U.S.A., if not in a direct review, such as for his works Funeral Home, Baker County, U.S.A., Killer Party, and Blue Monkey, we’ve mentioned his work in passing within the context of other canuxploitation flicks.

One day, we’ll get to three of my personal favorites of Fruet’s oft-run, ’80s HBO and Showtime oeuvre with the Perry King and Don Stroud Vietnam-slanted serial killer drama, Search and Destroy (1979), the Peter Fonda and Oliver Reed-starring giant serpent romp, Spasms (1983), and, what I consider Fruet’s crowned jewel: the home-invasion classic, House by the Lake, aka Death Weekend (1976), which also stars Don Stroud, along with Brenda Vaccaro as the damsel-in-distress. Of Fruet’s seven writing credits, among his thirty-nine directing credits, he directed House by the Lake and Spasms. He already proved his skills as a director on his first feature film: Wedding in White (1972), a film starring Donald Pleasence and Carol Kane which he also wrote. Why the reins of Slipstream were turned over to first-time director David Acomba, who never expanded his recognition beyond the Great White North’s borders, sans his work on The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978), is a reason lost to the ages.

Now, looking at the theatrical one-sheet, we’re sure your eyes perked up at the sight of Macon, Georgia-born actor Luke Askew, who first came to widespread acclaim with his role as Boss Paul in his third feature film, Cool Hand Luke (1967) starring Paul Newman, and the Charlton Heston western follow-up, Will Penny (1967). In addition to appearing in the war flicks The Devil’s Brigade (1968) alongside William Holden and The Green Berets (1968) with John Wayne (Hey, Pops!), Askew delved into Italian spaghetti westerns as a first-time leading man with Night of the Serpent (1969), and the annals of bikerdom with the likes of Easy Rider (1969), and Angel Unchained (1970) with Don Stroud. By the time of his role as troubled DJ Mike Mallard in Slipstream, Askew began his long-fruitful transition as a well-respected U.S. television actor, appearing in both series and TV movies. But Askew took the time to work with David Carradine in The Warrior and the Sorcerer (1984) and Ciro H. Santiago’s Mad Max rip, Dune Warriors (1991). Oh, and there’s Paul Schrader’s Rolling Thunder (1977) with William Devane.

Yeah, we could go on and on with all of the great movies we’ve watched with the late Luke Askew. . . . Oh, almost forget: he was a recording artist that Bob Dylan likened to blues great Bobby Blue Bland.

And that brings us to this Canadian film that’s mismarketed as “featuring” the music of Van Morrison and Eric Clapton”; in reality, it features only a snippet of one Morrison song — the title cut from his breakthrough album Astral Weeks (1968) that bookends the film — and one Clapton song in its entirety — “Layla” from Derek & the Dominos.

Askew is Mike Millard, a popular but brooding-reclusive Albertan DJ who runs his popular pirate radio station from a remote wilderness farmhouse. As with Clint Eastwood’s Dave Garver on KRML in Play Misty for Me (1971), Millard is all about mood; he spins off-beat tunes interjected by poetic passages that connect with the youth counterculture. Millard’s soul rolls with the independent spirit of Wyatt Williams from Easy Rider; in lieu of a motorcycle, Mike uses the airwaves; his on-air style is one where he sticks the studio’s microphone outside the window to capture the sounds of a thunderstorm as he begins the refrains of “Layla” by the then “hot” Derek & and the Dominos.

The mysticism and mystery of his secluded broadcasts — a gimmick devised by his producer to develop an audience — has led his listeners painstakingly searching the wilds of Alberta to find him — one listener, Kathy, does, which Mallard begins to romance. Adding to Millard’s aggravation: as the show’s popularity grows, his producer wants him to play “more commercial music,” so as to expand the audience even more — even if it alienates the listeners who made his career.

Unlike the genre’s most popular film, the Michael Brandon-starring FM (1978), William Fruet dispatches with that radio chronicle’s slapstick moments for an introspective examination on the psychology; the need of a DJ being on the air and the responsibility of connecting with one’s audience through integrity and not gimmicks; about the creative, audio war where the commercial needs of the bean counters clashes with the artistic needs of a radio station’s airstaff. Fruet’s anti-hero soon comes to realize the allure of the “glass booth” that once gave him freedom is now a psychological prison.

The walls of that prison become more evident as the now emotionally-crumbling Mallard shatters the illusions of his beloved on-air persona with a half-baked interview that crushes the fandom of a young journalist-fan who successfully tracked down his broadcast.

As with most Canadian-made films, the recently reviewed Terminal City Ricochet in particular, Slipstream had a virtually non-existent VHS release south of the border and no (possibly limited; I never seen it) UHF-TV or ’80s HBO or Showtime replays. This is one of those films that — being a radio DJ and big Luke Askew fan, with a desire to see this lost Canada radio drama — I had no choice but to purchase it as a grey market taped-from TV VHS. And as with most of those back-of-magazine grey market distributors utilizing low-grade VHS tapes in multi-packed, shrink-wrapped bricks and churning out copies via high-speed dubbing machines, I lost that cherished copy of Slipstream to the blue screen of death. Chatting with one of my Detroit-based radio contemporaries who’s lived in Canada for a number of years, tells me Slipstream has never been issued on DVD and rarely airs on Canadian TV; not only has it been years since he’s seen it on TV, he hasn’t seen a VHS for as long.

My hats off to Bill Van Ryn of Groovy Doom and Sam Panico of you-know-who for their joint Drive-In Asylum Double Feature Watch Party nights and screening The Redeemer, affording me the opportunity to revisit a radio film — and one of my favorite films overall — that is truly lost for the ages.

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

Mona et Moi (1989), aka Mona and I

Guitarist Johnny Thunders and vocalist David Johansen were the garage-punk coefficient of the Rolling Stones’ “Glimmer Twins” Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. They were the “Toxic Twins” before Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and Steven Tyler. Before there were Sex Pistols, there were New York Dolls. As with those British-screaming snots, the “Gemini Snots” defined a scene: the ‘Dolls were New York. Bands such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, formed out of “The Bromley Contingent,” the Sex Pistols’ fan-clique based around London’s 100 Club. The Buzzcocks (!) birthed because of the ‘Pistols. There’d be no Clash or the Ruts or the Stranglers without ‘Pistols. In New York, bands formed out of the ‘Dolls’ audience at The Bowery-based CBGBs. There’d be no Blondie, Ramones, Television, or Talking Heads without the Thunders-Johansen dichotomy.

But not every gunslinger of the six-string electric is destined to be Thomas Edison: sometimes you’re Nicola Telsa.

While their Todd Rundgren-produced (Meat Loaf’s Bat out of Hell was the ex-Nazz leader’s big one; he produced Sparks (of Rollercoaster fame) as well) eponymous debut on (Mercury, 1973) is regarded as a “rock classic,” no classic rock radio station will ever play them. (Nor will any of today’s alt-rock stations spin the ‘Dolls’ as “golds” analogues to classic rock radio’s spins of the Rolling Stones.) The ‘Dolls’ debut was—as with most “innovators”—a resounding marketing failure compounded by the release of their appropriately-titled sophomore-final, Too Much Too Soon (Mercury, 1974). And, with that, the New York Dolls—along with, to an extent, their Detroit-based inspirational precursors the MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges—singlehandedly soured major records labels on punk snot . . . at least until some blonde-haired kid from the Pacific Northwest decided (well, the X-Generation decided) to become the new Jim Morrison. By the time the Sex Pistols first took to the stage in 1976, the ‘Dolls’ were punk vestiges, but not enough in ruins that megla-Svengali Malcolm McLaren (The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle) didn’t want to sink his fangs and extract the last ounce of snot. But it gave him the idea to “form” the Sex Pistols <eye roll>, so it all worked out.

In the midst of the fad-driven major-label mania over rock “supergroups” (that run the gambit from Blind Faith in the 60’s to KBG in the ‘70s to Asia—the last of them—in the ‘80s), there was (before some kid named Tom Petty absconded it as a suffix-moniker) (The) Heartbreakers—a ‘Dolls’ phoenix stoked by Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan with ex-Television (formed out of the ‘Dolls’ audience, natch) bassist Richard Hell. As with all supergroup outings (Fastway comes to mind: UFO’s Pete Way was out before Motorhead’s Fast Eddie Clark and Humble Pie’s Jerry Shirley recorded their debut album proper and became the “No False Metal” voice for Sammy Curr in Trick or Treat), Hell was out before Thunders and company recorded their first album in England (where the ‘Dolls’ had a rabid fan base as much as they had an indifferent fan base in America), L.A.M.F (1977). And, with that, Richard Hell was off to form the Voidoids.

Could you imagine—if he wasn’t so ambivalently indifferent in perpetuity—Kurt Cobain being talked into taking an acting role, say like the Kurt-divergent Eddie Vedder appearing in Cameron Crowe’s “grunge Friends” flick, Singles?

Well, Thunder’s ex-Heartbreakers’ mate Richard Hell used his infamy for a quick stage-to-film transition in Blank Generation (1979). It would be a decade before Thunders repeated the cinematic leap made by Hell (and Debbie Harry in Union City, Iggy Pop in Cry Baby, or the Ramones in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School)—and Thunders had to cross an ocean to do it.

Initially shot in 1984 in a start-stop-start, financially-plagued production schedule (and released three years before his 1991 New Orleans death; it was released in 1988 in France; then Europe in 1989), this acting debut by Johnny Thunders is, needless to say, an extremely rare VHS that’s impossible to find outside of its native country of origin. Alongside with a little-to-nothing to say Jerry Nolan and Billy Rath from Heartbreakers, Thunders stars as Johnny Valentine: a troublesome New York rock star (not far removed from his own self, natch) that’s left in the charge of a music manager assigned to “babysit” the hard-living artist for a week. The thin premise for the drama is a down-and-out rock promoter flying Johnny into Paris to headline a concert. The romantic triangles tinkle as Thunders falls in love with Mona, the manager’s girlfriend. And if that sounds a lot like the character and pseudo-plot of Richard Hell’s Blank Generation, then it probably is. And if the “babysitting” manager angle sounds too much like Get Him to the Greek (with Russell Brand’s obnoxious-oblivious-rocker Aldous Snow—only with less heroin sheik and more Apatow raunch), then it probably is.

While Hell was clean (we think) and coherent in his role in Blank Generation, it’s hard to watch Thunders swagger-stagger through the film either drunk, stoned—or both. Regardless of the cool factor in having one of punk’s forefathers in an acting role (and truth be told, Thunders isn’t half bad at it), it’s nonetheless heartbreaking (sorry) to see a clearly broken Thunders squeezing out (or manipulated into) his last ounce of fame infamy—especially when considering the mainstream film appearance of his clean and sober ‘Dolls’ mate David Johansen in hit films such as Scrooged and Married to the Mob.

While Thunders was (always) a musical-footnote oddity in the States, he was, nevertheless, a celebrity in France—alongside ex-U.S. punks Stiv Bators of the Dead Boys and Willy DeVille of Mink DeVille. So, in that country, he continued to record and perform in concert—long after the early ’70 glam and late ‘70s punk halcyon days. In a historical twist, his solo debut, So Alone (1978), featured the backing of ex-Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook. Director Lech Kowalski (D.O.A) examined the troubled life of Thunders in Born to Lose (1999) and offered additional insights with the direct-to-video New York Doll. The Polish director also shot and recorded a pair of shows with Thunders for his heroin-document Gringo, aka The Story of a Junkie; while that film-music partnership floundered, the footage ended up in Lech’s subsequent Thunder-documentaries.

An extremely clean rip of the Mona Et Moi—with subtitles—is offered on the You Tube page of Cult Fusion TV.

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 Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle (1980) and The Filth and the Fury (2000)

“The gospel according to the Ayatollah Malcolm.”
— Johnny Rotten

So agent provocateur and clandestine entrepreneur Malcolm McLaren owns a London fashion shop called Sex . . . eh, we don’t need to go that far back. . . . So co-founder/bassist/chief songwriter Glen Matlock is kicked out the Sex Pistols for “liking the Beatles. . . .” No, we don’t need to go that far back. . . .

When it came to the Sex Pistols, it was all about the marketing manipulation and McLaren the Machiavellian squeezed out every last drop of the group’s nihilistic sociopolitical ejaculate from their fourteen-month existence (November 1976 to January 1978). Regardless of their extensive discography that, by 1990, swelled to 20-plus albums, the group recorded only one actual studio album: the high-expectation and commercially-disappointing Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (1977). (The “flop” in the U.K. and Euro-markets was result of the album’s composition from the band’s already released 45-rpms and a “legal” 1977 bootleg album, Spunk.) And part of McLaren’s high-profile manipulations was to create a punk version of Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night—with Johnny Rotten refusing to have anything to do with the project. The “project” was initially developed by—of all peoples—Russ Meyer, with snobby film critic Roger Ebert as the screenwriter, in tow—both who had a little experience in the rock ‘n’ roll genre with their “epic” about the rise and fall of the Carrie Nations, 1970’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls . . . but Meyer also had lots of experience with large-breasted women (1965’s Motor Psycho and 1966’s Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!).

Yeah, this is going to work just fine. . . .

Well, it didn’t.

So, two-plus years later of false starts and stops with an array of people and footage shot here and there—which produced the Meyer-unfinished Who Killed Bambi?, British music video-artist, filmmaker, and ‘Pistols running mate Julien Temple (1989’s Earth Girls are Easy) got the Alan Sacks job of “doin’ a duBeat-eo” with the hours upon hours of narrative footage and concert clips of the Pistols during their heyday, along with surreal Kentucky Fried Movie-esque skits (that go beyond the funny into the silly . . . and the outright stupid).

Now, for those of you wondering: “What da frack does ‘Doin’ a duBeat-eo’ mean . . . and who is Alan Sacks . . . and what does this all have to do with the friggin’ Sex Pistols?” Well, impatient one, here’s your answer:

Alan Sacks came to fame as the creator of ’70 TV’s Welcome Back, Kotter; you know, that’s the show with the “Ooo! Ooo! Mr. Kotter!” pop culture catch phrase . . . the show that gave John Travolta his start. (He was most recently in the one-two punch bombs The Fanatic and Gotti.) And Alan Sacks got the job of taking the analogously dead pet-project of America’s Malcolm McLaren-doppelganger, record producer-songwriter Svengali Kim Fowley who, ironically ripping off McLaren’s idea, wanted to put his own “female” version of the ‘Pistols, the Runaways, into a “Beatlesesque” movie. (Remember: the ‘Pistols had “Anarchy in the U.K.” while the Runaways had “Cherry Bomb” as their signature tune.) Failed-developed as We’re All Crazy Now, Sacks got the Julien Temple-job of creating coherency out of chaos—and came up with duBeat-e-o, a film that has as much to do with the Runaways as The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle has to do with the Sex Pistols.

So, what did Temple come up with?

Well, he cut Who Killed Bambi? into the film. Sid Vicious—post-Sex Pistols—cut an album, Sid Sings (1979), and cut a video for that album’s centerpiece: a cover Elvis’s and Frank Sinatra’s signature tune, “My Way”—so Temple cut that into the film. (Warning: Sid pulls a gun and shoots into the audience.) And since Johnny Rotten wanted nothing to do with the project from the get-go, Temple opens the film with the snotty lead singer burned in effigy . . . and created an animated sequence that chronicles a beating the vocalist behind “God Save the Queen” took at the hands of Queen Mum-lovin’ thugs. And guitarist Steve Jones’s Rio de Janero visit with infamous British bank robber Ronnie Biggs is cut in. (Jones, ironically, along with Paul Cook and Glen Matlock, worked with Joan Jett on her self-titled solo debut, aka Bad Reputation.) And yeah, and Kurt Cobain Sid Vicious and Courtney Love Nancy Spungen, aka the punk rock John and Yoko, go through their own little psychodrama safety-pin voguing on screen. And, instead of Sex Pistols tunes: you get disco versions of Sex Pistols tunes by a group called the Black Arabs.

You can check out the track listings for each soundtrack on Discogs: Swindle and Fury.

. . . and the ‘swindle’ continues . . .

So Temple decided to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the film with a “sequel”. . . that cut The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle’s footage into the—admittedly—more coherent The Filth and the Fury (1990). And, if you’re keeping track . . . marks the third film chronicling punk’s most notorious band: the second was Alex Cox’s (Repo Man, Tombstone Rashomon) spunky, but not wholly historically accurate, Sid and Nancy (1986)—which Johnny Rotten also hated, natch.

With The Filth and the Fury—and without Malcolm McLaren’s marketing imperialism (. . . did you know he embarked on a “solo” career: with producer Trevor Horn, he assembled (McLaren never creates; he can’t. He thieves.) 1983’s Duck Soup)—Temple secured the full cooperation of Johnny Rotten, along with drummer Paul Cook, guitarist Steve Jones, and ex-bassist Glen Matlock, each who provide a new series of interviews, along with “new” interview footage of the late Sid Vicious not seen in Swindle. The interviews are well-executed: Temple peels Rotten-Lydon’s acidic layers and exposes his emotions over Sid’s decline and death. And there’s plenty of “new” footage, albeit, sometimes (most times) with grainy and out-of-sync sound, but kudos for Temple preserving those decrepit 16 mm and shot-on-videotape analog artifacts for the now, digital generations.

Temple was also able to circumcise McLaren’s cultural plundering of punk’s esthetics by showing us that punk rock wasn’t just about flogging the dead horse of Black Sabbath-inspired progressive rock and replenishing the wheezing lungs of rock ‘n’ roll. Punk was an artistic expression of the frustrations the British working class and unemployed (which include Rotten-Lydon’s contemporaries) against the stodgy and greedy British class system (a country where everyone’s on the dole, in poverty; meanwhile, Princess Di and Prince Charles have a huge matrimonial blowout). To that end, Temple also includes new footage of the protests, riots and unrest of the times (think of today’s Black Lives Matter movement and the upheaval in today’s Portland, Oregeon). So while Swindle was a “Swindle” to a point—which wasn’t Temple’s fault, he did a great job with whom and what he had to work with—Fury gets the facts straight and conveys the spirit of the times. So, as you watch both films as a double feature all these years later: you get Malcolm McLaren’s side . . . and the Sex Pistols side. And the twain shall never meet. Not even in the hands of Alex Cox.

The Great Rock ‘n Roll Music Trivia Swindle (you knew there was going to be a trivia sidebar): Before McLaren sunk his incisors into the Sex Pistols, he managed a down-and-out and ready-to-implode New York Dolls, which culminated with the 1975-recorded live, Euro-only album, Red Patent Leather (1984; which features new tunes not available on their two Mercury studio albums).

Also in Mal’s Svengali-stable was the burgeoning Adam and the Ants, who he subsequently “broke up” to provide musical backing for his own “Runaway” embodied in fifteen-year-old singer Annabella Lwin. Upon the eventual implosion of Bow Wow Wow (You do remember “I Want Candy,” right?)—as McLaren turned his Runaway into a singular-named solo artist, you know, like Madonna (not!)—guitarist Matthew Ashman formed Chiefs of Relief. And that band features another musician from the McLaren stables: Sex Pistols’ drummer Paul Cook (produced one eponymous debut album for Sire in 1988).

Prior to the Chiefs—and post-Sex Pistols (by the end of that band, only Steve Jones and Paul Cook were left to finish off a light smattering of tracks to close out that band’s career)—Jones and Cook formed the Professionals (with guitarist Ray McVeigh and bassist Paul Meyers). And, if you’re keeping track of your rock ‘n’ roll flicks, the “band” appeared—sans McVeigh and Meyers—with Paul Simonon of the Clash and British actor Ray Winston in their places, in Ladies and Gentleman, the Fabulous Stains.

Steve Jones’s solo career culminated with his forming a band around Iggy Pop, which recorded a couple of “comeback” albums for Detroit’s Jim Osterberg in the burgeoning years of the Year of our Lord Kurt Cobain. Johnny Rotten, as you know, reverted to his given name of Lydon and created the band Public Image, Ltd. with ex-Clash guitarist Keith Levene. Ex-Pistols’ bassist Glen Matlock formed the less-punk-more-Knacky new wave the Rich Kids with future Visage and Ultravox members Midge Ure and Rusty Egan, which scored a minor hit single with the title cut song from their lone album, 1983 Ghosts of Princes in Towers. Matlock eventually ended up in Concrete Bulletproof Invisible (an outgrowth of Doll by Doll that recorded one album for MCA Records) which released one pre-grunge album, Big Tears (1988).

Both films and their related soundtracks are easily availble as DVDs and CDs, with the films as VODs and PPVs on multiple, international online platforms.

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