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.

Vanishing Point (1997)

Did you know their was a remake of Vanishing Point? It’s okay. No one does.

The FOX-TV Network—back when they were in the business of creating original content, in lieu of reality programming and weirdo-dorky Seinfeld (sorry, Sam) wanna-be shitcoms—retooled this 1971 classic made by their sister film studio. Ack! No one should be poking around Richard C. Sarafian’s classic. And how did Sarafian go from this, to Farrah Fawcett’s Sunburn (1979), to become “Alan Smithee” on Solar Crisis (1990)? And so it goes in the B&S About Movies universe. (See? Too many movies, so little time. So many reviews to write!)

Of course, since this is a TV film, the vague existentialism and “thinking road flick” gibberish of the original is excised, thus transforming Barry Newman’s Kowalski into an action hero. Luckily: it features the same model 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T as the original film. Sadly: the messages regarding religious cults, racism, drug abuse, homophobia, and police entrapment are lost . . . and we’re stuck with a Challenger-driven Bonnie and Clyde redux.

And if you thought Sarafian’s transition from Vanishing Point ’71 to Farrah was odd: The director, Charles Robert Carner, wrote Gymkata (1985) for Robert Clouse. Yes. The film starring American Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas—as if no one learned their lessons from trying to turn Olympian Mitch Gaylord into a film star with American Anthem and American Tiger.

In the Challenger cockpit is the always welcomed Viggo Mortensen (who starred in the rock-religious flick Salvation with his then wife, Exene Cervenka of X; and yes, he’s Aragorn from Lord of the Rings) as Kowalski; he’s still employed by a car delivery service, but now he’s a Desert Storm veteran pining for his glory days as a stock car racer. This Kowalski’s “need for speed” isn’t the result of drugs, bets or personal demons: he’s a clean, faithful husband desperate to get home to his pregnant wife who’s suddenly hospitalized. While the ‘70s Kowalski didn’t need a reason to say “Fuck the Man!” to earn his folk hero status, the ‘90s Kowalski becomes an Americana hero as result of being mislabeled as a “terrorist” by an overzealous government abusing new anti-terror laws. 

Helping out on the radio front is a politically outspoken DJ simply known as “The Voice,” (Jason “Beverly Hills 90210” Priestly, a FOX-TV series, natch) on KBHX 106.5, “The Voice of the Rocky Mountains.” At least Priestly’s DJ is hip enough to spin tunes such as “Volunteers” by the John Doe Thing. Not helping matters is a hard-edged, ex-stock racer turned Utah State Trooper (the always welcomed Steve Railsback of Lifeforce) in hot pursuit with a Hemi of his own and a catch-Kowalski-at-all-costs attitude (if this sounds a lot like the Marjoe Gortner-Railsback persuit in The Survivalist, it probably is.) And in with the desert-dwelling assist is rocker John Doe (A Matter of Degrees) as an anti-government tax evader with a knack for repairing Hemis. (And rock trivia buffs take note: This is only time you’ll see the ex-husbands of X vocalist Exene Cervenka—Viggo and John Doe—together in the same film.)

It’s interesting to note that while a TV movie, Vanishing Point ’97 has a 90-minute, theatrical-running time. Movies shot-for-TV run 80 minutes, then 40 minutes of commercials are added to fill a two-hour programming block. Thus, 10 minutes of advertising are lost to fit the film into that 120-minute programming block. That’s bad business. So, considering Viggo’s status at the time, was this intended as a theatrical feature, and 20th Century Fox realized their production faux-pas and dumped it on TV?

What do you think, Eric?

“Jesus. Even the poster for this sucks. What the f**k was Viggo thinking.”
— Eric, purveyor of film quality and Seinfeld hater

Indeed, Eric. Indeed.

You can watch Vanishing Point ’97 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.

The Existential and the Furious: Part 3: Vanishing Point (1971)

Author’s Note: Yeah, we know you’ve seen them before and know them well. But we’ve got some movie “Easter Eggs” in these reviews. Thanks for revisiting the classics with the B&S gang, where we coddle the obscure and the forgotten films of the VHS, UHF, and Drive-In yesteryears.

This 20th Century Fox tale reminds a lot of Elektra Glide in Blue, United Artists’ 1973 existential road flick entry about a disgraced biker-cop (Robert Blake) produced-directed by James William Guercio, who managed and performed with the Beach Boys and produced several albums for ’70s pop-meisters Chicago (who appear in the film). We also had Vanishing Point on the short list for “Radio Week,”* thanks to Cleavon Little’s blind DJ. While it was bumped for that week—but it’s prime fodder for “Fast and Furious Week.” Thank god for Dodge Chargers. . . .

Kowalski (Barry Newman) is a Vietnam veteran, disgraced ex-cop and former professional road racer of motorcycles and stock cars. To cope with his personal demons, he lives on the open road as a driver for a car delivery service. Before heading out on his next assignment—transporting a supercharged 1970 Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco—he scores a hit of speed and makes a bet with his drug-pusher that he can make the trip in 15 hours.

As the police follow in hot pursuit, Kowalski becomes a folk hero to the roadside eccentrics and Vietnam-war worn masses, thanks to the on-air updates of the cross country chase by a blind DJ “Supersoul” (Cleavon “The Prince of Darkness” Little of FM) on KOW, an 50,000-watt R&B/Soul station broadcasting across Nevada, Utah and parts of Colorado and California. (Little’s engineer—an unaccredited role—is John Amos of TVs Good Times, but youngins know him for his work in Die Hard 2: Die Harder and Coming to America.) (And, is it just me, or is Outside Ozona a slasher version of Vanishing Point? That’s not critical insult, but a kudos.)

Yeah, we love this movie, but this movie also really wants to be the next Easy Rider, with its replacement of Steppenwolf by way of the equally biker-acceptable Mountain with “Mississippi Queen,” along with the counterculture band Delaney, Bonnie & Friends (see the history of Eric Clapton and Fleetwood Mac), who also appear in the film as a singing group at a religious revival caravan.

There’s no online streams, but Blus, DVDs, and used VHS-tapes are available on Amazon to watch Vanishing Point. . . .

So, we teased you about the two “sequels” to Easy Rider . . . but did you know their was a remake to Vanishing Point? It’s okay. No one does. Join us tomorrow, August 7 at 6 pm, for more tales of the fast and the furious . . . and the vanishing . . . with Vanishing Point ’97.

How much is this film loved? It has die-cast cars!

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

Suzi Q (2020)

If you’re a fan of Detroit rock ‘n’ roll of the late ’60s (Louder Than Love)—amid all the crazy fandom for all things Alice Cooper, Grand Funk Railroad, Iggy Pop, Bob Seger, and Ted Nugent—you might have heard of Suzi Quatro with her bands The Pleasure Seekers (You Tube) and Cradle (You Tube).

Then she hooked up with British music impresario Micky Most and RAK Records to become one of the U.K.’s biggest glam stars. And that success grew when she began working with Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, best known for their work behind the scenes in making Sweet (“Fox on the Run,” “Love Is Like Oxygen”) into international glam stars.

Achieving only minor Top 200 chart placings in the U.S with her Top 10 Euro-hits “Can the Can,” “48 Crash,” and “Devil Gate Drive,” Suzi eventually found notice in America courtesy of her recurring appearances as Leather Tuscadero during the 1977 to 1978 season of the ABC-TV U.S sitcom, Happy Days (you can watch a compilation of all her music appearances on the show in the video below).

Unfortunately, the show failed to consolidate her success on U.S radio, but she did score her lone Top 10 hit, “Stumblin’ In,” a 1978 duet with British singer Chris Norman. Eventually, with the Knack-inspired new wave in full swing, she scored her final two, U.S Top 100 hits with “Lipstick” and “Rock Hard” from her 1980 album, Rock Hard.

Then along came an artist that Suzi inspired: one who achieved that number one single and album in America that eluded her: Joan Jett.

However, while the Detroit-born bassist never found mainstream success in her homeland, she kept on rocking, scoring an international hit with “Strict Machine” from her 2011 album, In the Spotlight, co-produced with Andy Scott of Sweet.

What elevates this Australian made documentary heads and shoulders above other pedestrian “talking head” rock documentaries is that director Liam Firmager chose not to travel the “feel good” promo route and create a puff piece on his subject; he eliminated all of the usual docu-candy coating. Suzi Q isn’t a cookie cutter journal that inserts a talking head here, an old photo there, and a rare film clip here; Firmager chose to tell a story—through over 400 rare archival film clips—that gives Suzi Q the feel of a musical biographical drama. However, unlike other rock bioflicks (The Doors, Ray, Walk the Line) this chronicle on the life of Suzi Quatro has no filtering; there’s no compression or compositing of characters and fabrication of pseudo events for “dramatic effect.”

Firmager not only researched his subject, he spoke to his subject; he got inside his subject. So, while Suzi Q is for the fans of an artist who sold 55 million records around the world, it’s also a film for Suzi Quatro. This is a film that shows rock ‘n’ roll fans that, at the end of the day, a rock star is just a musician. And a musician is just a job. And behind that job is a person. And that person has hopes and dreams, success and regrets, joys and pain. Firmager makes us, the fans, realize that those people behind those records on our turntables and posters on the walls sacrifice life’s normalcies that we take for granted. Through this film, Firmager provided Suzi Quatro a cathartis; a spiritual cleansing and life resolution that most of us will never be blessed; a realization that our lives were worth the journey. And that, maybe, we didn’t end up where we wanted to be or expected to be, but we ended up exactly where we need to be. And Suzi needed to rock ‘n’ roll and be the trailblazer and harbinger for the lives of others.

Suzi Q will launch on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD on July 3, while the film had a planned theatrical release at select U.S cinemas on July 1. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic closing theatres, Utopia Distribution will host a “SUZI Q” virtual event on July 1st featuring the film and an exclusive Q&A featuring Suzi Quatro and a Special Guest (available for 24 hours only) in advance of the film’s traditional release on VOD and DVD on July 3rd. The Q&A will be conducted by Cherie Currie of the Runaways and Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go’s. A portion of the proceeds from the event will support MusiCares, the Recording Academy’s™ charity, to raise funds in support of the organization’s COVID relief fund for music artists in need.

Suzi Q had its U.S. premiere at the Sonoma International Film Festival on March 29, where Quatro made an appearance; it made its theatrical debut last fall in the UK and Australia, where Quatro had her biggest chart successes. You can learn more about the film at its official website.

Oh, and since B&S About Movies is a movie review site . . . there’s a “video fringe” connection to Suzi: her sister Arlene, also an ex-The Pleasure Seekers/Cradle member, is the mother of actress Sherilyn Fenn (Crime Zone, The Wraith, Outside Ozona). And here’s a tune from her uber-talented, underrated brother, Mike Quatro.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Disclaimer: This was sent to us by the film’s PA firm and has no bearing on our review.

A Night of Horror: Nightmare Radio (2019)

The Argentinean duo-brothers Nicolas and Luciano Onetti are back with another of their retro-Italian Giallos, which began with Deep Sleep (2013) and continued with Francesca (2015), What the Waters Left Behind (2017), and Abrakadabra (2018). This time they step back from their usual writer and director chairs and serve as producers on this horror anthology throwback to the Amicus pictures of old that unfolds as a “greatest hits” package of superior horror shorts from around the world.

Now if this sound a lot like the William Shatner-starring A Christmas Horror Story with our favorite starship captain as the macabre DJ spinning the portmanteau follies, you’ve guess right. But what sets this omnibus package apart: it’s an earnest attempt by the Onetti Brothers to provide an opportunity for unknown, first time filmmakers to present their work to a larger audience.

To package the films, the Onetti’s developed their own wraparound sequence that features—instead of say, a crypt keeper of the Sir Ralph Richardson variety from Freddie Francis and Milton Subotsky’s anthology gold standard, 1972’s Tales from the Crypt—a cryptic radio disc jockey. Unlike most anthologies that strive for long segments across three—but typically five stories—the Onetti’s opt for eight quicker and shorter tales—along with a ninth wraparound—with tales of the macabre.

The anthology flicks of the ‘70s that the Ornetti’s successfully emulate with A Night of Horror: Nightmare Radio are rooted in the classic words of Gothic horror authors Sheridan Le Fanu, Gaston LeRoux, and Guy de Mausspaunt—Sheridan Le Fanu’s influential short-story collection In a Glass, Darkly (featuring the vampire classic “Carmella”), in particular.

The wrap around, if you haven’t already guessed, is the subtitle of the film:

Nightmare Radio: Rod Wilson (James Wright in his film debut; looking a lot like Rob Zombie) is the resident prick of a radio host (is there any other kind in suspense or horror films set inside radio stations?) of an overnight radio program, which he hosts in a converted ranch house, and is dedicated to all things metal and horror, as he spins his own tales and allows listeners to tell their own. Then, one evening, he receives enigmatic phone calls from a troubled child desperate for help. At first, Rod thinks it’s all a joke . . . until he discovers the calls are the clues to uncovering a dark secret of his own life that unravels across the stories:

In the Dark, Dark Woods: An invisible witch haunts a patch of woods and becomes a catalyst for another woman’s life . . .

Post-Mortem Mary: When a young girl dies in a rural Australian village, a neighbor and her young daughter help the girl’s parents prepare her body for burial. Through some post-mortem photography, they discover a sinister force in the woods has possessed her body . . .

A Little Off the Top: And for a little touch of Sweeney Todd, we have a psychologically-bent hairstylist with an unhealthy obsession about the “art” of his profession . . . and over one of his female clients. And that leads him to go Saw on her, strapping her head in a medieval torture device. Then he breaks out the Sharpie and starts to mark dashes on her forehead . . .

The Disappearance of Willie Bingham: A newly hired supervisor at a prison institutes a program (that reminds of Eli Roth’s Hostel) where criminals can atone for their crimes though elective surgery amputations based on the sex crimes they committed . . .

Drops: A professional theatre dancer’s struggles with relationship and professional issues takes a deadly turn when a demon begins to intrude in her life . . .

The Smiling Man: A little girl and a trail of creepy balloons. But it’s not a clown of the Stephen King variety responsible: it’s a gangly demon offering her a tasty treat made of something . . .

Ack! WTF! Watch out for the balloons. It’s The Smiling Man!

Into the Mud: The 10th Victim goes horror as a woman wakes up in the woods and finds herself pursued by a mysterious hunter; her salvation may come in the form of an equally mysterious creature . . .

Vicious: After a late-night out, a woman returns home and discover her sister in terror at the hands of deformed demons who’ve invaded the house.

The best three of the lot are In the Dark, Dark Woods, Post-Mortem Mary, and The Disappearance of Willie Bingham. But The Smiling Man . . . yikes. It’s a serious creep fest that I hope the Onetti’s expanded into a feature film.

Now, when you’re juggling multiple films from multiple writers, and even more directors, and trying to patch them together into a single, cohesive film, that spells trouble. It usually means you’ll end up with a disjointed film lacking in consistency across all the disciplines. Such is not the case with this latest Onetti Brothers’ entry. This looks a lot like Rob Zombie movie: well-shot, well-verse in its Giallo roots and filled with rich colors. Granted, it may have a few clumsy creative moments, and few strained performances in the acting department, but overall the Onetti’s Frankenstein’d a film worthy of a horror fan’s watch from horror’s newest crop of filmmakers.

A Night of Horror: Nightmare Radio recently premiered to a receptive audience at the Brooklyn Festival of Horror this past October and is currently in the market for U.S distribution. You can keep abreast on when it hits all of the usual online streaming and PPV platforms (definitely on Shutter and Netflix) via their Facebook page. You can check out more trailers from the catalog of the Onetti Brothers’ Black Mandala Productions on You Tube.

Update: This will be available on DVD all VOD platforms on September 1.

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

What’s that? You want more anthology flicks? Then check out our “Ten Horror Anthologies” exploration.

Some other portmanteaus we’ve recently reviewed are:

All the Creatures Were Stirring (2018)
The Dark Tapes (2019)
Dead of Night
The Dungeonmaster (1984)
From a Whisper to a Scream (1987)
Hi-Death (2018)
Holiday Hell (2019)
Morbid Stories (2019)
Shevenge (2019)
Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)
Terror Tales (2016)
Trilogy of Terror II (1996)
The Twilight Zone (1983)
The Uncanny (1977)
Vault of Horror (1973)

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

Street Survivors (2020)

This film’s story—my story—is not just about the plane crash but also about my personal relationship with the genius that was Ronnie Van Zant—whom I loved like a brother and still miss to this day.”
Artimus Pyle

While much has been said about Southern Rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd over the years through several documentaries, this drama’s period-correct costuming by Lisa Norcia and set design by Eve McCarney—in conjunction with strong performances by its cast of unknown actors—will bring fans something extra beyond those “talking head” chronicles. In fact, being “inside” the plane and seeing it unfold—instead of being told what happened—is an emotionally tough watch (brought to fruition by an extremely well-executed CGI effect).

Ian Michael Shultis, an ex-EFL football player for Germany’s Furstenfeldbruck Razorbacks, shines in his leading man debut: his role as Artimus Pyle is just the beginning of a long career. The multi-talented Taylor Clift as Ronnie Van Zant — who does his own vocals on the classics “Free Bird,” “Call Me The Breeze,” and “Sweet Home Alabama” — also has a bright future ahead of him. And keep your eyes open for ex-Rough Cutt, Quiet Riot, and Dokken bassist Sean McNabb in his small but effective role as ’70s iconic impresario David Krebs (Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Scorpions); here’s to hoping he scores himself some larger roles as well (he’s been part of FOX-TV’s Sons of Anarchy franchise).

This long-gestating rock bioflick (stymied by lawsuits; see this article at Ultimate Classic Rock) recreates the ill-fated October 20, 1977, crash in the swamps of Mississippi through the eyes of former Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle (who narrates the film via vignettes). Following a concert at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium in Greenville, South Carolina, the band boarded a two-prop plane bound for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where they were scheduled to appear at LSU the following night. (The crash came just three days after the release of their fifth album, Street Survivors.) Pyle not only survived the crash that claimed the life of the band’s founder and frontman Ronnie Van Zant (along with guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister, back-up singer Cassie Gaines), he also physically pulled the remaining survivors out of the wreckage before staggering towards the nearest farmhouse to seek help.

The aftermath of the crash is typical of the rock ‘n’ roll business: Artimus joined the band upon the recording of their third album and wasn’t “under contract” with the record company—thus, Pyle was responsible for his own medical bills. And when the FAA discovered “drugs” (proved to be vials of legal ginseng extract) in Pyle’s recovered luggage, they called in the DEA and threatened to charge Pyle with drug trafficking.

Only in the corporate meat grinder that is the music business.

You can get your copy of Street Survivors on Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD formats on June 30 and pre-order copies though the MVD Entertainment Group. In addition, Cleopatra Records is releasing a standalone official film soundtrack (performed by Artimus and his sons Marshall and Chris). Cleopatra also released Verotika, the feature film writing and directing debut by Glenn Danzig.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

The Incoherents (2020)

“The alternative/independent rock scene that exploded in the late ’80s/early ’90s was a period we hold dear to our hearts. The music created during that stretch still has great influence today, as the descendants of Nirvana, The Pixies, Sonic Youth, The Replacements, Radiohead and their compatriots are everywhere on rock radio.”

I’ve couldn’t have said it better myself, ye press bard for Loaded Barrel Studios.

April 5th marked the 26th anniversary of the death of Kurt Cobain and he’s still as much alive in our hearts today as he was in the MTV 120 Minutes days of our lives on The Cutting Edge. I am forever grateful for the opportunity afforded me to be on the air as a DJ during the ‘90s alt-rock explosion. If you’ve read my “Exploring: 50 Gen-X Grunge Films of the Alt-Rock ‘90s” and “Exploring: Radio Stations on Film” featurettes, along with my nostalgic waxing over the era-films A Matter of Degrees, duBeat-e-o, S.F.W., and Trees Lounge, you know of my melancholy and infinite sadness at the grunge-era’s passing. It is a time—like the Beatlemania-British Invasion, the late ‘60s San Francisco-seeded progressive rock era, and the ‘80s hair metal nation teased in Los Angeles (chronicled in the frames of Incident at Channel Q)—that can never be duplicated; only remembered, as the refrains of “Freak Scene,” “The Second I Wake,” and “Teenage Riot” from Dinosaur Jr., the Screaming Trees, and Sonic Youth poke digital reminders on our vinyl-reminiscing eardrums via our iPods.

The vinyl-pumping heart within the kindred spirits of writer-star Jeff Auer and director Jared Barel has created a film for us: we the drowning survivors of Seattle’s grungy backwaters. They know these musicians as well as I know these flannel troubadours: the once local, college-campus band rescued from indie label-dom, catapulted to mainstream acceptance on a national label (e.g., the Offspring, Rust, Shudder to Think, the Toadies, etc.), only to land with a marketing thud as a one hit wonder (Collective Soul, Marcy’s Playground, Possum Dixon, Semisonic, 7 Mary 3, Tonic, Tripping Daisy, and Vertical Horizon) as rap music became, as Gene Simmons pointed out, the new de rigueur “heavy metal” of 21st century. As if J. Mascis, Mark Lanegan, and Thurston Moore would receive an Elvis-embrace by more than 1% of America’s 300 million-plus consumers. . . .

Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe’s rock ‘n’ roll love letter to his days as a ‘70s rock journalist, is reflected upon in the press kit for The Incoherents. And while Auer-Barel’s mellifluous billet-doux to ‘90s alt-rock certainly lives up to Martin Scorcese’s critique as a “needle drop” film, the analog VHS centers of my brain loaded in a copy of the lesser-known 1998 British rock flick, Still Crazy. While Almost Famous was the tale of the on-the-top-of-the-world Stillwater (aka Humble Pie) falling apart, the Brian Gibson directed (of the punk-rock version of Almost Famous: 1980’s Breaking Glass) Still Crazy chronicled the reformation of the once-great Strange Fruit (aka The Animals) for a second shag n’ bite of Eve and that damned apple.

“Welcome to the music business,” cackles Clotho, Lachesis, Atropos, the three weaving witches of the looms of fate.

And the threadbare soul of Bruce Flansburgh (Jeff Auer), a 40-something New York paralegal, is desperate enough to give the Moirai one more spool of thread. If the Pixies and Soundgarden can tempt those Greek bitches, then why not The Incoherents?

Tracking down his fellow stagnated grunge stallions, Bruce quickly opens old wounds with Jimmy (Alex Emanuel), the band’s guitarist and co-songwriter, who served as the Keith Richards to Bruce’s Mick Jagger, aka the Joe Perry to his Steven Tyler. But the glimmer’s long since gone and the toxic resentments of the “Simmer Twins” still simmers bitter. And the reunion deepens the already festering wounds of his stalemated-homemaker wife Liz (Kate Arrington) who wants more than Bruce’s paralegal job can give. Will The Incoherents rule the charts once again in the young man’s game of rock ‘n’ roll?

What sells the film—like the soundtracks of Still Crazy and the Gina Gershon-starring Prey for Rock & Roll (2003)—is the ’90s college-rock retro original music that breathes life into the faux-proceedings. Actors Alex Emanuel and Jeff Auer—both accomplished musicians in their own right—wrote and perform the band’s songs; their backing band features ‘90s alt-rockers Sean Eden from Luna and drummer Kevin March of Guided by Voices. A great song—or songs—can sell a film: the ’60s retro-romp That Thing You Do! and 1999’s likeminded The Suburbans (a low-budget tale about a Knack-cum-The Romantics-esque reformed one hit wonder) come to mind. And The Incoherents brings the tunes to the turntable.

The marquee names on this indie-gem are the instantly recognizable Annette O’Toole (stealing the show as the salty-mouth rehearsal studio owner Mrs. Graham) from her too many-to-mention films and TV series. Fans of Showtime’s Billions and CBS-TV’s The Good Wife will recognize Kate Arrington, while others will remember Amy Carlson (as a dream-stealing industry mover n’ shaker) as Mark Wahlberg’s wife on CBS-TV’s Blue Bloods. And you’ve seen leading man Jeff Auer in his guest-starring roles on TV’s The Blacklist, Blue Bloods, and Luke Cage. Adding a realistic-retro vibe to the plight of The Incoherents are the acting cameos by (an insult hurling) guitarist Richard Barone of The Bongos and Lou Reed, along with Chris Barron—who’s all too familiar with cruel realties of the alt-rock ‘90s rollercoaster ride with his band, The Spin Doctors (aka the ’90s alt-rock inversion of the ’80s Men at Work).

Director Jared Barel has six shorts under his belt—one was the 2013 short-film version of The Incoherents. Coming off a successful festival run, the feature-length version won “Best Feature” and “Best Home Grown Feature” at the 2019 New York Coney Island Film Festival and New Jersey’s Garden State Film Festival, while Barel walked away with double awards for “Best Director” and “Best Feature Film” at the Studio City Film Festival. It also garnered nominations for “Best Feature Comedy” and “Feature Film” at the Queens World Film Festival, along with multiple nods at the SoHo International Film Festival. So that tells you The Incoherents is worth hitting the big red streaming button.

And it tells you I really dig this film.

The Incoherents is high on my rock ‘n’ roll VHS charts alongside American Satan, Bandwagon, Breaking Glass, Prey for Rock & Roll, Rock Star, and Still Crazy as a gold record-standard for accuracy in the lives of the men and women who suffer for their art. And the ones who lugged their equipment: like me.

The caveat is that one must consider this reviewer’s radio and roadie background: you may want to take my raves as an incoherent grain of salt—as I can’t not rave about a film that namedrops the Archers of Loaf, Generation X, Guided by Voices, Pavement, and Sebodah (especially Archers of Loaf?! Sebodah?! What the hell, Auer?). The Incoherents is a case of “you had to be there” to appreciate Jared Barel’s retro-vinyl craftsmanship. This isn’t a pretty n’ pat, major studio Jamie Foxx or Joaquin Phoenix music-bio crafted to entertain the mainstream masses via an actor’s Oscar-hopeful mimicry. This film is, first and foremost, about the music. It’s a film for guys like me: the ones who perpetually swim against the aqua firma and mount the musical and film driftwoods of salvation in those drowning, mainstream waters.

And, with that, I’m pulling out the forgotten cardboard tchotchke that is the Screaming Trees’ Invisible Lantern, and following with vinyl chasers from the Buck Pets, the Divine Horsemen, the Doughboys, and Mary My Hope . . . and remembering when my life was a bit more incoherent. And freakin’ beautiful.

Thanks for plugging B&S About Movies!

The Incoherents is available on iTunes and all VOD platforms on April 28. You can learn more at the film’s official website and Facebook.

(If you need more faux bands on film, be sure to check out our “Ten Bands Made Up for Movies” featurette.)

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Disclaimer: This movie was sent to us by its PR company and, as you know, that has no bearing on our review. But, as you can tell by this review, we would have bought it anyway.


It All Begins With a Song (2020)

I could go on and on all day long, uh, all week long, about the unsung musicians of yesteryear. I should know, I wrote two books about Jim Morrison’s doppelganger from 1974, an artist cast as The Phantom, who released an album now heralded as a heavy-metal classic: Phantom’s Divine Comedy: Part 1.

Over on my Medium page, I wax nostalgic about the careers of songwriter extraordinaire Russ Ballard, of pop smith Lane Caudell, of rockers Jim Gustafson, Neil Merryweather, and Kim Milford, of gospel’s Gene Townsel, of county’s Jessie Lee Turner, and of Detroit’s Jerry Zubal—each deserves a documentary film in their own right. But that’s never going to happen. And I am a writer first and everything else second, so I do what I can on my little digital puff of the cloud to preserve the lost chords of forgotten troubadours. (Shamless review plug: we touch on the unknown career of Lori Lieberman in our “Radio Week” review of Play Misty for Me.)

However, be the musician known or unknown, before they get into that studio, it begins at 3 AM at the kitchen table with a notepad and a guitar; it begins with that song written by a lone soul who, if they recorded their own music, they’d be bigger than Elvis or Steven Tyler of Aerosmith.

And this movie is about the unsung kitchen musicians who wrote the hits for those two artists—and so many, many more.

They’re the melodies we hum, the songs we sing in the shower and to our car radio by heart. They’re forever lodged in our psyches. They are the songs that make us laugh about a memory of good times. And make us cry as we remember the bad. Those days of love and of heartbreak live in the songs of others. And while we sing their songs, that songwriter who we associate with those moments of our lives, is unsung.

So, in this music document, the stars of pop, rock, and country take a backseat to give voice to the songwriter—the Nashville songwriter—a town that’s responsible for more hit songs than any other town in world.

You’ll be amazed at the hit after hit song rattled off in the trailer. And you’ll be amazed by this film directed by the Venezuelan born and raised, Chusy, an ex-advertising executive who successfully transitioned into the world of short film and feature documentaries. He expertly culled over 100 hours of interview with the Nashville-based songwriting-artists you know, including Garth Brooks, Luke Bryan, Kacey Musgraves, and Brad Paisley, and the songwriters you don’t know, including Jessi Alexander (“The Climb” by Miley Cyrus), Desmond Child (“Angel” by Aerosmith and “You Give Love a Bad Name” by Bon Jovi), Mac Davis (“A Little Less Conversation” and “In the Ghetto” by Elvis Presley), and Mikky Ekko and Claude Kelly (“Grenade” for Bruno Mars and “Circus” for Britney Spears).

It All Begins With a Song does for Nashville what Paul Justman’s Standing in the Shadow of Motown (2002) did for Detroit’s The Funk Brothers. It’s a film that needed to be done. It’s a film that’s a must watch for any musician or for any serious music lover who wants to know who’s responsible for half of those 3,000 songs in their iPod.

It All Begins With a Song made its streaming debut on March 3 courtesy of TriCoast Pictures on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vimeo on Demand, Vudu, and You Tube Movies.

Here’s the rest of the great films released under the Rock Salt Releasing/TriCoast Worldwide co-banner we’ve reviewed:

Agatha Christine: Spy Next Door
Blood Hunters: Rise of the Hybrids
Bombshells and Dollies
Case 347
Lone Star Deception
My Hindu Friend
The Soul Collector
Tombstone Rashomon

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 and publishes on Medium.

Louder Than Love (2012)

For Kurt Cobain: February 20, 1967 – April 5, 1994

Before Nirvana, the Spin Doctors, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Pearl Jam, no one knew the meaning of grunge, or even cared where Seattle was: flannel was a fashion no-no. Do you remember the days of post-modern and cutting-edge rock, when everyone wore black and they were always depressed? Remember the days when Gen-X’ers were confused, unable to decide if they were “alternative” or “progressive,” so they stumbled through the X-decade, trying to be both?

Well before those incoherent flannel days of Seattle, when a muddy, grunge wave swept across America—and while the West Coast was frolicking in the Fillmore to the sounds of the Summer of Love in 1967—Detroit was rippin’ out a hard-driving, gritty and raw sound from the four walls of the scene’s epicenter: The Grande Ballroom.

The Grande is where the likes of the MC5, Iggy & the Stooges, and Ted Nugent & the Amboy Dukes got their start. The Grande also served as the main-Midwest concert stop for legendary acts such as B.B King, Cream, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and the Who. Then there’s the local Detroit bands that made it to the biggest stage in town—some signing record deals, that you may have never heard of—such Dick Wagner’s the Frost, Frigid Pink, Dave Gilbert’s of the Rockets precursor Shakey Jake, SRC, and Arthur Pendragon’s Walpurgis (aka Phantom’s Divine Comedy).

The Grande is the dance hall that started it all. Some of the world’s best bands came from Detroit from 1967 to 1980 and Louder Than Love is the story of those times—of The Grande—as told through the artists who graced her stage.

Filmmaker and music historian Tony D’Annunzio is currently offering a free stream of the U.S. PBS-TV broadcast version of the film (60-minute running time) on his You Tube page. While there’s no online streams of the feature-length version (80-minutes/1 hour and twenty minutes), you can purchase DVDs of that theatrical/direct-to-video version—released in 2016—at various brick-and-mortar and online retailers such as Walmart, Target, and Amazon.

And since this is Kurt’s special day . . . take a moment to remember him with the Seattle documents 1991: The Year Punk Broke on Daily Motion and Hype! on TubiTv. And, while you may not know him, could you take a moment to remember the unsung career of Detroit’s Arthur Pendragon? You can listen to his complete catalog over on my You Tube tribute page to his life and career.

In fact, here’s the 1973 full concert debut of Walpurgis at The Grande Ballroom opening for Dick Wagner’s the Frost and Jethro Tull. Arthur Pendragon — April 23, 1951 – March 28, 1999 — would be 69 this month.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

Trees Lounge (1996)

In tribute to Kurt Cobain: February 20, 1967 – April 5, 1994

There are two reasons (of many) why I love Trees Lounge: First: It serves as the screenwriting and directing debut by one of my favorite actors: Steve Buscemi. He’s the type of actor who appears in huge, major studio tent poles—like Armageddon and Con Air—and he leaves you clamoring for another film that centers on his character’s backstories. Second: Trees Lounge has an incredible (nostalgic for me), ‘90s college rock radio gem with a theme song from Hayden. If you love Chris Whitley (who? here, listen to this), if you love the alt-country of Uncle Tupelo (who? listen here), or the indie-sounds of California’s Pavement (listen here), Britain’s Placebo (listen here), or the crowded-kings of college rock, Dinosaur, Jr. (listen here), you’ll love Hayden.

Yep. I love Hayden and the college rock era . . .

And Steve Buscemi also loves his rock ‘n’ roll.

“The Stealer” from Paul Rogers and Free (you know, the “All Right Now” guys) receiving a well-deserved soundtrack position? And we’re not hatin’ on Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up,” John Mayall’s “Light the Fuse,” Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “You Ain’t Seen Nuthin’ Yet” and “Roll On Down the Highway,” and Earl Hooker’s blues chops with “Off the Hook,” either. And tunes from The Ink Spots? Just wow.

It’s an incredible soundtrack replicating just what you’d expect in the jukebox at a decrepit, little bar in small-town America. And we have Evan Lurie, who, with his brother John Lurie (John consulted-scored John Travolta’s Get Shorty), founded the ‘80s jazz collective, the Lounge Lizards, to thank. You know Evan though his music consulting and scoring on a wide array of films, such as the Oscar winners Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, along with the rest of Steve Buscemi’s writing and directing credits: Animal Factory (2000), Lonesome Jim (2005), and Interview (2007).

Check out the rock video single of “Trees Lounge” . . . featuring Seymour Cassel on drums and Rockets Redglare on guitar?

As for Trees Lounge, the movie . . .

It’s of a time and place. It’s of the ‘90s when indie record labels, such as Homestead, Dutch East, SST, and Caroline, cultivated the college rock scene. Meanwhile, on the big screen, studio imprints, such as Miramax (shameless plug: check out our “8 Films of Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures”) and Orion Classics (which distributed Trees Lounge), filled the rising alt-nation’s screens with all manner of indie art-house and foreign films. It was the era that entertained us non-mainstream swimmers with the likes of Greg Araki’s The Doom Generation, Eric Bogosians’s SurbUria, Larry Clark’s Kids, Tom DiCillo’s Living in Oblivion, Richard Linklater’s Slacker and Dazed and Confused, Kevin Smith’s Clerks and Mallrats, Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy, and Wayne Wang’s Smoke, along with Bandwagon, Floundering, Gas Food Lodging, The Low Life, Roadside Prophets, and S.F.W.

Yeah, the ‘90s were my music and film heaven.

I know, I know. “Geeze, Marie, enough with the trip down memory lane. When are you going to review the movie?”

Well, that’s just the point: Trees Lounge is Steve Buscemi’s trip down memory lane.

Long before he became an actor, Buscemi served as a New York firefighter in the early ‘80s at Engine Company 55 in Manhattan’s Little Italy. So, if you’re from the five Burroughs, keep your eyes open: you’ll see your old streets of The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island.

Rob’s Body Shop doubled as “Nick’s Service Center” (where Steve’s character is fired from). Scenes were shot at Stobierksi’s Lucas Gardenview Funeral Home and Firemen’s Memorial Field (where Steve’s character is attacked-by-baseball bat). The Assembly Bar on Cooper Avenue, in Glendale, Queens, doubles as “Trees Lounge” (where Steve’s character drinks away his troubles). And Trees Lounge was a real place: after the original bar shut down, Steve purchased the sign and restored it for the movie, but he was ultimately not allowed to use it. (So he gifted it to his friend: a waitress-bartender who worked at Trees Lounge for over forty years.) Another autobiographical element of the film: before becoming a fireman, Steve, as his character, drove an ice cream truck on the movie’s same streets.

Influenced by the buck-the-studio system indie flicks of John Cassavetes (1958’s Shadows, 1968’s Faces, 1970’s Husbands, and 1974’s A Woman Under the Influence), by the writings of poet-author Charles Bukowski (whose work was translated as the 1987 Mickey Rourke-starring Barfly), and Jack Kerouac’s novels On the Road (1957) and The Dharma Bums, Buscemi brings his tales of the lonely, lost denizens of Trees Lounge.

It’s the story of Tommy Basilio, an unemployed car mechanic who, even when he was employed, spent most of his time drinking his life away at a blue collar watering hole where he lives alone in an apartment above. And, as with the tragic-heroes of Cassavetes and Bukowksi: Tommy is a self-destructive, Type D personality who blames everyone but himself for his troubles. (In fact, if you salt Tommy with more violent tendencies, you’d get Buscemi’s Carl Showalter in Fargo.)

In quick succession: Tommy loses his job after borrowing money (i.e. he stole it and got caught) from the auto repair shop where he worked; in turn, he loses Theresa (Lorraine “Goodfellas” Bracco’s sister, Elizabeth), his girlfriend of eight years to his boss, Rob (Anthony LaPaglia)—and now she’s pregnant. And Tommy believes he’s the father. To make ends meet, Tommy reluctantly takes over his late Uncle Al’s (Seymour Cassel) ice cream truck route.

Tommy’s logical response to his ever mounting problems: making them worse. And he accomplishes that goal by having an affair with Theresa’s flirtatious seventeen-year-old niece, Debbie (Chloe Sevigny). Then Jerry (Daniel Baldwin), the husband of Patty (Mimi Rogers), Theresa’s sister, takes him to task with a baseball bat and trashes the ice cream truck.

Yeah, it’s only a matter of time before Tommy takes over the stool of longtime barfly, Bill (Bronson Dudley; the “bass player” in the Hayden video) . . . and stares down into the errs of his ways . . . in the bottom of a glass on the bar at Trees Lounge.

The bottom line: Steve Buscemi’s debut as a screenwriter and director is pure magic in a bottle. Not a bad for a film shot for just over a million dollars in 24 days.

And the rest of the supporting cast of Trees Lounge’s outcasts: wow. Rockets Redglare (an actor in over 30 films, he roadied for Billy Joel’s The Hassels and was the Sex Pistol’s Sid Vicious’s drug dealer), Carol Kane (Fred Walton’s When a Stranger Calls), Mark Boone Junior (American Satan), Kevin Corrigan (Ray Liotta’s little brother in Goodfellas), and Michael Imperioli (TV’s Law and Order, The Sopranos) are each excellent in their roles. Co-stars Anthony LaPaglia and Debi Mazar (Ray Liotta’s coke-snorting hussy in Goodfellas) also starred in Empire Records. And watch out for Samuel L. Jackson.

So spend a day in Trees Lounge—with movie and the soundtrack. You’ll be drunk-in-amazement on how awesome it all is. You can enjoy this soundtrack re-creation (below) that I cooked up on You Tube. And you can watch the movie for free—with limited commercials—on TubiTv.

You can also remember Kurt by visiting our “Exploring: 50 Gen-X Grunge Films of the Alt-Rock ‘90s” feature and our review for the quintessential movie about college-rock radio, A Matter of Degrees.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.