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.
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.
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 with his lone album.
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.
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).
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, Hal Hartley’s Simple Men and Amateur, and Wayne Wang’s Smoke, along with the films 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; also of the aforementioned Bandwagon), and Michael Imperioli (TV’s Law and Order, The Sopranos; got his start in A Matter of Degrees) 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.
In tribute to Kurt Cobain: February 20, 1967 – April 5, 1994
First, there was Rick Van Ryan, the malcontent, social injustice warrior VJ of Incident at Channel Q. Then, when the metal ’80s buckled to the grungy ’90s, the Catcher In the Rye-styled, disenfranchised Generation X’ers of America needed a new hero: they got Cliff Spab.
If Cliff Spab had been a pirate radio DJ, he would have been “Hard Harry” in Pump Up the Volume. If Cliff had gone to college, became enchanted with the campus radio station, and took the course titles “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Ethnicity,” he would have been Maxwell Glass in A Matter of Degrees. A well-read, apathetic convenience store clerk: he’d be Dante Hicks (well, maybe more Randal Graves) in Clerks. If Dustin Hoffman’s Ben Braddock from The Graduate had been a hippie: he’d be Spab. A filmmaker: he’d be Alan Shapiro in duBeat-eo—each expounding the same Holden Caulfield nihilism-cum-Abbie Hoffman anarchism. And, is it just me, but is Ethan Hawke’s Troy Dyer from 1994’s Reality Bitesjust a little too close-for-comfort-Spab coincidental?
R.E.M’s Michael Stipe produced (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Velvet Goldmine), along with noted rock video producer Sigurjon Sighvatsson (Hard Rock Zombies, American Drive-In), this loose adaptation of Andrew Wellman’s satiric Generation X novel that explores the price of fame colliding with reckless tabloid journalism. Stephen Dorff (while he played the role younger, he made his big screen debut in 1987 at the age of 14 in the “No False Metal” classic The Gate; he recently wrapped the first season of FOX-TV’s Deputy) is the apathetic-reluctant hero, Cliff Spab, whose “catch phases”—his stock answer to everything is “So Fucking What?”—during his captivity of a televised hostage crisis, transforms him into a media sensation—and his unwanted, new found fame serves as a bigger prison than his previous apathetic fast-food worker lifestyle (apparent in the novel; lost in the movie).
In this tale of youth alienation, Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers goes grunge as Spab becomes a nation anti-hero after surviving for 36 days as one of five hostages in a non-descript, suburban Detroit convenience store by a gang of armed, camera-wielding terrorists—complete in white janitor-jumpsuits and stocking masks—who force the networks to carry the crisis in its entirety on the air. When Spab and his childhood friend, Joe Dice, kill the terrorists (and Dice dies in the process), Spab becomes a media sensation, alongside fellow hostage Wendy, an upper-class girl (Reese Witherspoon), splashed across the covers of magazines and reported on TV ad nauseam.
The novel’s writer, Andrew Wellman, at the age of 21, won the 1989 Playboy College Fiction Award and was quickly signed by Random House. The publisher then took the “unfinished” award-winning manuscript “The Madison Heights Syndrome,” (at a breezy 147 pages, the book is more novella than as the novel it is marketed), and chose a truncated version of the Spab character’s oft-repeated dismissive as the new title. And, because of the book’s timely correlation to the grunge ethos sweeping America, the book was marketed for a movie deal. If you read the now out-of-print book (my local library still has a copy), you’ll discover Wellman’s social commentary analogous to the voice of Bret Easton Ellis, whose (awesome) novels of disenfranchised malcontents—Less Than Zero (1985), The Rules of Attraction (1987), and, to a lesser extent, American Psycho (1991)—were adapted into films (that were more successful than S.F.W.).
Sadly, as is the case with cinematic adaptations of books-to-screenplays, an author’s flights-of-fancy narratives must be compressed, with events and characters composited and sanitized to the Hollywood screenwriting standard of 90 to 110 pages. As result, the film loses Wellman’s effective analogy regarding the sensationalistic tendencies of film by having Spab hiding out inside an abandoned movie theatre—where the character relates his story in flashbacks (just a like a movie).
Luckily, the film retained the book’s character of Morrow Streeter (an excellent Jake Busey; the jarhead “Ace Levy” in Starship Troopers), Spab’s shady-violent friend who’s prone to gay-bashing and pulling guns on and urinating on girlfriends (toned down for the film, natch). Another film highlight alongside Busey’s is Richard Portnow’s (Howard Stern’s dad in Private Parts) FBI agent who’s utterly convinced the store siege was an elaborate ruse perpetrated by Spab.
Another creative, celluloid choice that stifled the power of Wellman’s book is the film’s awkward “message” on consumerism—by stocking the non-descript convenience store with similarly non-descript, white-packaged generic item (e.g., cans of soup say “soup,” paper towels, say “paper towels” with no brand names). The “artistic” images and its related “message” flat lines on the screen.
And what’s the deal with Gary Coleman from TV’s Diff’rent Strokes being cast (it’s not in the book) alongside the clumsy-uncomfortable Tori Spelling-clone (aka, the sexually-degradingly named “Dori Smelling”) in the “TV movie version” of the hostage crisis? And there’s Levy’s “in-joke” with one of his previous film’s characters from Inside Monkey Zetterland (played by Steve Antin) appearing. What’s the point? What’s the message? The self-deprecation—especially Coleman’s—falls flat. (As a kid actor, Dorff starred in an episode of Diff’rent Strokes; were they still friends and did he bring Coleman onto film?)
Then there’s the . . . well, I can best describe it as the “Eddie Murphy Coming to America gag”—via the casting of John Roarke (lots of network TV series, but I remember him best from the truly awful sci-fi comedy rental, 1989’s Mutant on the Bounty) as the thinly-disguised clones of popular, real-life celebrity journalists Alan Dershowitz, Phil Donahue, Sam Donaldson, Ted Koppel, and Larry King. True, Roarke is a very talented impressionist-mimic, but unlike Eddie Murphy’s work (also in The Nutty Professor), it’s obvious to the viewer it’s the same actor in each of the rolls. We’re not fooled. And telling us that the “distortion” of the celebrity reporters are being filtered through “Spab’s point of view” doesn’t sell it either. Why would he “distort” reporters in his mind to look like Phil Donahue? The gag induces groans and any intentions at contemporary hipness are a total loss; the film would have been better served by playing it straight via casting an array of actors as faux-celebrity news hacks.
In the end the Coleman and Roarke celluloid subterfuges negate the film’s goal: the irony of the media complex transforming tragedies (e.g. 9-11) into television “programming” and then dipping in their hands in the tills a second time with their post-adaptations of those misfortunes with biographical and fictional films (World Trade Center, United 93).
S.F.W. was written by Danny Rubin (Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day) and directed by Jefrey Levy. Levy’s career began with the multiple award-winning, 1991 independent feature Drive (starring David Warner, of From Beyond the Grave and Ice Cream Man, as an acidic, middle-aged Brit reduced to chauffeuring the rich, liberal elite). During your mid-‘90s HBO excursions, you may have come across Levy’s feature film debut proper, Inside Monkey Zetterland (1992), a semi-autobiographical tale about an out-of-work gay screenwriter in Hollywood. That film starred Steve Antin (“Jessie” of Rick Springfield’s video hit single, the teen comedy The Last American Virgin, Don Coscarelli’s post-Phantasm flick Survival Quest, and three seasons on TV’s NYPD Blue; he wrote and directed the 2010 Christina Aguilera and Cher-starring bomb, Burlesque).
After the failure of S.F.W., Levy rebounded with a successful directing career on U.S network television and self-produced a couple of never-heard-of-them, low-budget indie flicks. Rubin, after writing the Marlee Matlin and Martin Sheen-starring Hear No Evil (1993), vanished from the business.
At the time of S.F.W.’s release, grunge was all the rage and the major label record companies and film studios couldn’t sit back and allow the indie label network (Homestead! Dutch East! SST! Caroline!) and college radio stations (staffed with guys like me) that birthed the alt-rock ‘90s in the first place, rake in all the dough. So began a corporate synergy to create a plethora of soundtrack-film hybrids with the likes of the aforementioned A Matter of Degrees, along with Kevin Smith’s Clerks (the soundtrack clearances cost more than the film itself), and Ben Stiller’s Reality Bites. The only problem: the soundtracks for most of these films featuring the then college radio and MTV 120 Minutes and IRS: The Cutting Edge darlings—especially in the case of A Matter of Degrees—were more successful than the box office bomb movies they promoted. And the S.F.W. soundtrack is no exception.
“Jesus Christ Pose” — Soundgarden “Get Your Gunn” — Marilyn Manson “Can I Stay?” — Pretty Mary Sunshine “Teenage Whore” — Hole “Negasonic Teenage Warhead” — Monster Magnet “Like Suicide (Acoustic Version)” — Chris Cornell “No Fuck’n Problem” — Suicidal Tendencies “Surrender” — Paw “Creep” — Radiohead “Two at a Time” — Cop Shoot Cop “Say What You Want” — Babes in Toyland “S.F.W.” — GWAR
Three songs appearing in the film but not on the soundtrack (clearance issues) are the Ronnie James Dio-era of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow with “A Light in the Black” (featured in the trailer), Australia’s Mantissa with “Mary, Mary” (they appear via their rock video on TV), and Ireland’s Therapy? with “Speedball.” And while they make an appearance via a “Spab Tribute Concert” and spew some dialog, Babes in Toyland do not perform their soundtrack contribution. (Personally, we could have done without the Coleman bit and had Babes in Toyland “live” on stage; the Cheap Trick original of “Surrender” (which could have been a nice homage to the similarly themed, juvenile delinquent flick Over the Edge (a Kurt Cobain favorite) on the soundtrack, and had Paw represented by their then popular tunes of “The Bridge” or “Jessie.”)
And there was one more song that was planned to be included in the film. And if this chain-of-events sounds a lot like Cameron Crowe wanting to include “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in his 1992 grunge-flick entry Singles. . . then it probably is.
In the pages of a June 1994 issue of Entertainment Weekly (yes, the studio put their full marketing gauntlet behind the film), director Jefrey Levy spoke of the Cliff Spab-to-Kurt Cobain parallels, as both were just regular kids with extraordinary sensitivity thrust into extraordinary circumstances. So, to that end, Levy wanted to include Nirvana’s then hit single, “All Apologies,” from the band’s third album, In Utero.
Levy stated that while Cobain responded positively to the movie, he failed to acquire formal permission to include the song due to Cobain’s suicide (on April 5, 1994) shortly after. Levy did, however, as a consolation prize, was able to include the song “Teenage Whore” from Kurt’s widow, Courtney Love and her band Hole (for the scuzzy-love scene between Spab and Joey Lauren Adams’s Monica Dice). Cobain’s peripheral attachment to the film took on an eerie quality when Love, during the televised park vigil reading of Cobain’s suicide note, kept chastising Cobain with the term “So fucking what?” over and over.
And did that Cobain connection, in conjunction with the soundtrack that our favorite college radio DJs spun ‘n plugged (as with A Matter of Degrees and Clerks) make us rent the VHS copy, then search out Andrew Wellman’s book? Yep!
Yes, a film had to break one of metal’s most enduring bands because, as usual, U.S radio was—and always will be—a day late and dollar short, stumbling behind the times. Sure, there were a few of the still independent progressive FM rock stations—ones not yet gobbled up by corporate America and its damned marketing consultants with their cursed “focus groups” and computerized “McDonald’s of Radio” playlists—that gave a few spins to the pre-Highway to Hell tunes “High Voltage,” “T.N.T.,” and “Whole Lotta Rosie.”
U.S radio eventually caught up with its European counterpart, where AC/DC was already a well-known and respected band, by way of their sixth album, the pretty-hard-to-ignore powerhouse, 1979’s Highway to Hell, featuring the now classic rock radio staple title song. But when the band’s first concert film played as a midnight movie in U.S theatres in the winter months of 1980, their stardom as a premiere heavy metal band in American was sealed.
And we have Tracy Sebastian, aka Billy Eye Harper, the leader of the greatest faux rock band of all time, Head Mistress, to thank for bringing AC/DC to America.
To hear Ferd Sebastian, the director of Rocktober Blood, tell it in the U.K pages of Hysteria Lives!, his son, Tracy, was on vacation in Paris and seen the French-shot and European-released film that chronicled a December 9, 1979, AC/DC performance during their “Highway to Hell Tour” at the Pavillon de Paris.
Tracy, being a rock ‘n’ roll fanatic, and with his dad in the film business, a light bulb went off: he was adamant Sebastian International Pictures bring the film to America. After taking care of some post-production sound issues with the film and finalizing a distribution deal, the film was released on the U.S midnight movie circuit and, according to Ferd, “we four-walled the theatres and brought the money home every night. Lots of it.” And Warner Bros. took notice and wanted a piece of the action. So the Sebastians cut a deal with Bugs and the gang and made even more money. And it was the funds from the film that broke AC/DC in American that financed the production of our beloved heavy metal horror film featuring the slashin’ n’ singin’ of Billy Eye Harper.
Sadly, AC/DC’s lead singer, Bon Scott, never had a chance to enjoy the film’s success: he died on February 19. 1980, just over two months after filming was completed. Though the film shares its title and artwork, along with a few songs, from AC/DC’s fourth studio album, Let There Be Rock, the movie also includes live versions of songs from their albums from T.N.T., Powerage, and Highway to Hell, their 2nd, 5th, and 6th albums, respectively.
The film spends its first ten minutes with the band backstage, and then the music starts. For those of you not familiar with the pre-Brian Johnson era of the band, this is a chronicle of AC/DC when they were still, essentially, a bar band, only carousing on a larger stage—and sans the stage effects and pyrotechnics they became noted for in their post-Black In Black years. As the music unfolds, interviews conducted with the band two days before the concert are intercut between the songs.
What sets Let There Be Rock apart from other midnight movie concert films of the era: instead of shooting upwards, from a fan’s pit vantage point in front of the stage, as is typical of most concert films, Let There Be Rock is shot from above or on the stage—and is noted as the first concert film that “put the fans on stage” with the band.
The subsequent Warner Bros. DVDs—that ditched the original 1980 artwork (totally bogus!)—are readily available on all of the usual seller sites—even Walmart. But how are there no PPV online streams? Luckily, you can watch a pretty clean rip of the film on Daily Motion.
There was individual track-by-track playlist of the soundtrack on You Tube, sans interviews and backstage scenes, featuring film’s songs in order of their film appearance, but that playlist has since been deleted (par for the You Tube course).
“Live Wire” (T.N.T., 1975) “Shot Down In Flames” (Highway to Hell, 1979) “Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be” (Let There Be Rock, 1977) “Sin City” (Powerage, 1978) “Walk All Over You” (Highway to Hell, 1979) “Bad Boy Boogie” (Let There Be Rock, 1977) “The Jack” (T.N.T., 1975) “Highway to Hell” (Highway to Hell, 1979) “Girls Got Rhythm” (Highway to Hell, 1979) “High Voltage” (T.N.T., 1975) “Whole Lotta Rosie” (Let There Be Rock, 1977) “Rocker” (T.N.T., 1975) “Let There Be Rock” (Let There Be Rock, 1977)
In lieu of that deleted playlist, you can watch this version of “Live Wire” from the the film.
I came to B&S About Movies, the website, after I listened to B&S About Movies, the podcast. And long before I became a writer at B&S About Movies, Sam expressed his love of horror films and heavy metal music with his first “theme week” in 2017: “No False Metal.” So, for this Drive-In Friday, we’ll pay tribute to that first theme week with a “Heavy Metal Horror Night” under the moonlight.
What is “Heavy Metal Horror,” you ask? Is it the same as the “metalsploitation” moniker I’ve seen critics use?
At the same time those direct-to-video “boobs and blades” knock-offs of John Carpenter’s Halloween started flying off the video store shelves, a new form of heavy metal birthed in Britain in the late seventies—dubbed by Sounds magazine as “The New Wave of British Heavy Metal” (NWOBHM).
Featuring the violent, religious mania and bloody lyrics composed by the likes of Venom and Iron Maiden, complete with the requisite Satanic imagery on the album covers, slasher films and heavy metal music were a match made in hell: the music coming out of England was, in fact, Giallo musicals. This music-inspired slasher sub-genre even got its own name: metalsploitation, which featured other beloved so-bad-they’re-good bloody analog tales showcasing the exploitive titles of Black Roses, Shock ’em Dead, Terror on Tour, Rock ’n’ Roll Nightmare, and Hard Rock Zombies. The genre peaked—and quickly burnt out—when the major studios took a slice of the metalsploitation pie with 1986’s big-budgeted Trick or Treat.
So flash those horns and let’s get the reels a-rollin’ with Monster Dog, Blood Tracks, Terror on Tour, and Rocktober Blood . . . and a surprise wildcard, so I hope you tore that coupon out of the paper to redeem it.
And don’t forget: Movies and Mosquitoes go better with a Pepsi!
So he took this gig, starring as the world-famous Vince Raven, who takes his band to his childhood home for rest, relaxation, and a video shoot—in the remote wilds of Spain, natch. And there’s wild dogs and bad dreams and a hostage crisis and videos for Alice’s tunes “Identity Crisis” and “See Me in the Mirror.”
It’s awful. It’s crazy and it makes no sense. And we love it.
Sam pitches this movie perfectly in his review: The Hills Have Eyes set at a ski-lodge. I’ll take it one step further: Take Alice Cooper’s Monster Dog, remove the werewolf, and insert an axe-wielding maniac.
Yep. Instead of Alice Cooper as Vince Raven, we have another band—in this case, real-life Swedish hair metal band Easy Action, as the faux Solid Gold—going to a remote location to shoot a rock video.
Yep. They’re dispatched by axe, by sword . . . and bye-bye Swedish rockers, for we so wish you were Swiss rocker Krokus.
You can watch the full Movie for free on You Tube.
Intermission! Welcome to our tents . . . Acid Witch!
In our review of 1971’s psycho-slasher Point of Terror, we discussed the resume of trash filmmaker Don Edmonds and his works with Dyanne Thorne. Together, they made two of the ‘70s trashiest Drive-In fests that became ‘80s video rental de rigueur: Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (1975) and Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976).
And this movie needed a dose of Dyanne. Badly.
Anyway, the “terror” is the bargain-basement KISS clone the Clowns, who dress in black leotards, wigs and Phantom of the Opera-styled half-masks. And someone is dressing up as one of the Clowns and killing their fans. And what in the hell is the “Soup Nazi” from Seinfeld doing here? Hey, starting his acting career.
Oh, the Clowns are actually the Rockford, Illinois, band the Names. Yes, they did gigs back in the day with Cheap Trick. And Chip Greenman, the drummer in the Names, sat on the drum kit with the Cheap Trick precursor, Fuse, which featured Rick Nielsen and Tom Peterson. And when Rick and Tom put together a “new band,” Chip turned down their invitation to join, instead signing on the dotted line with the Names.
Chip got to star in this movie as the consolation prize. And he can’t act. And neither can the rest of the Names.
You can watch the full movie for free on You Tube.
Oh, dear lord Satan. How Sam and I (especially me) go on and on about this pinnacle-mixture of heavy metal and horror. Sam did a pretty good job in chronicling the exploits of Billy Eye Harper (review), but I had to go and take another crack at it (review). And then we examined the never-made sequel, Rocktober Blood 2: Billy’s Revenge.
See, we told you we love Billy Eye Harper around here. We even review never-made-movies about him.
The short of it: Billy Eye Harper and his band Head Mistress are recording music for their annual October Rocktober Blood tour and—it seems—Billy has a psychotic break, murders members of his crew, a few record executives, and fails in his attempt to murder his co-vocalist, Lynn Starling.
Of course, as the poster’s tagline teases: Billy returns from the dead to kill—and rock again. The music of Head Mistress (You Tube soundtrack playlist)—provided by the L.A band Sorcery (of Stunt Rock fame)—is excellent, even more so that the actually movie. Oh, and Billy’s “voice” is the late Nigel Benjamin of the post-Mott the Hoople band, Mott.
And did you know that Billy Eye Harper, aka actor Trey Loren, aka Tracy Sebastian, is responsible for bringing AC/DC: Let There Be Rock to the big screen? True story . . . and we’ll get into that with our review on that film, which broke AC/DC in America, tomorrow at 11 AM.
You can watch the full movie for free on You Tube.
How in the hell did Krishna Shah, a double-graduate of Yale and UCLA, come to hook up with E.J Curse of the Gene Simmons-produced L.A. band Silent Rage (and formed Dead Flowers with ex-Guns N’ Roses Gilby Clarke) and ‘80s metal songsmith Paul Sabu to make a movie, about . . . a small time rock band, Holy Moses, who stumbles into a creepy, small town that Adolf Hitler is using to launch the Fourth Reich—all with the help of werewolves, murderous dwarfs, a hot blonde hitchhiker with a penchant for hand chopping, and medieval songs that resurrect the dead? Yeah, I know that’s a run-on sentence, but I need it to describe this . . . movie!
Well, now that we look at this all these years later . . . our educated, filmmaking and critical eye realizes Shah was creating a parody of the metalsploitation genre and all of that Nazi craziness that horror films deployed back in the ’50s and ’60s. So, the reality is: we love Mr. Shah for giving us this movie. It surely sits proudly on my VHS shelf of cherished, used analog ditties.
Trivia Alert: This was shot back-to-back with Krishna Shah’s T&A epic, American Drive-In (1985) . . . and Hard Rock Zombies is the movie playing in the Drive-In of that movie. Oh, and Emily Longstreth from American Drive-In, also starred in the Alien knock-off Star Crystal and the apoc-romp Wired to Kill. And Shah’s co-producer, Sigurjon Sighvatsson, produced Steven Dorff’s grunge flick S.F.W. (1994; reviewed on April 5th, in remembrance of Kurt . . . and thank you, Sig, for I LOVE that grunge delight).
You can watch the full movie for free on You Tube. Hell, ya! The full soundtrack for Hard Rock Zombies is on You Tube, courtesy of Paul Sabu! “Oh, Cassie!”
Don’t forget to hang up the speakers and please use our trash receptacles on the way out. Don’t throw your trash on the grounds. Thank you! And tickets are still available for the Kix, Bang Tango, and Thor show under the Big Top on Sunday. Bring your VHS tapes and albums, as all three bands are doin’ a meet-and-greet after the show.
Now, let’s have Acid Witch take us out with Midnight Movies, their all-covers EP of songs from ’80s heavy metal horror films. Hit it, boys!
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.
Although the American swing, jazz, big band, and country musicians of the twenties, thirties and forties starred or performed in comedic, suspense and dramatic films with musical plot lines set in nightclubs and radio stations — it was the year 1955 that set the stage: 1955 is the year that birthed rock ’n’ roll films. The origins of those reels of musical celluloid trace back to Blackboard Jungle — the first film to feature rock ’n’ roll on the soundtrack, and the first film to make the correlation of juvenile delinquency as a byproduct of rock music.
The song featured in Blackboard Jungle, “Rock Around the Clock,” by Bill Haley and the Comets, holds the distinction as the first “rock song” featured in a Hollywood movie. When the song rose to #1 on the charts, it also became the inspiration for the first film to be scripted around a rock song: 1956s Rock Around the Clock; its success, in turn, spawned a quickly assembled sequel in Don’t Knock the Rock, released that same year.
Another influential film was James Dean’s second of his three films: Rebel Without a Cause. Released the same year as Blackboard Jungle, the film served as the blueprint for numerous rock ’n’ roll-based flicks throughout the years. In fact, it’s alleged Elvis Presley was in consideration for the Dean role; it was to serve as Elvis’s big-screen debut. Elvis, the “King of Rock ’n’ Roll”: the first musician to successfully combine county music and the blues of the American Southeast into a new form of music: Rock ’n’ Roll.
Elvis Presley’s first starring role in 1956’s Love Me Tender borrowed the marketing scheme of Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock: use the artist as the “star” and utilize their hit song as the title of a movie. And with that, any rock band with a hit song found themselves appearing in, or having films crafted around their group and songs. Just ask the members of Herman’s Hermits, the Dave Clark Five, Cliff Richard and the Shadows, and, of course, the Beatles.
However, the crafting of films around successful musicians — or creating dancing-and-swimming sing-a-long musicals starring Fred Astaire or Esther Williams — wasn’t born in 1955. The first musician on “sound” film was Al Jolson, who starred in 1927’s The Jazz Singer, the first feature-length, nationally distributed motion picture with talking sequences, music and sound effects. Movie goers could see and hear Al Jolson perform “Toot, Toot, Tootsie (Goo’ Bye),” “Blue Skies,” and “My Mammy.”
Country-western star Cindy Walker carved a prolific career not only in music, but in film as well. Cindy Walker holds the distinction of charting Top Ten hits in every decade — from the forties through the eighties. Cindy sold her first song, “Lone Star Trail,” to Bing Crosby in 1940, which lead to her own record deal with Decca Records. She soon found her songs recorded not only by Bing Crosby, but by Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Kenny Rogers, and Elvis Presley. Her best known song, “You Don’t Know Me,” charted three times: first in 1956 for Eddie Arnold; in 1962 for Ray Charles, and again in 1981 for Mickey Gilley. Cindy’s music continues to exist into the 21st century, with the song’s most recent appearance in the Jodie Foster radio-set film, The Brave One.
As result of her writing 39 songs for producer Bob Willis’s western movies of the early-forties, Cindy transitioned into an acting career with the western musicals Ride Tenderfoot, Ride and Frontier Vengeance in 1940, 1942’s Bearcat Mountain Girl, and 1944’s Ti-Yi-Yippe-Aye, then made her final appearance in 1953’s Oil Town, U.S.A. Even one of the bands starring with Cindy in Oil Town, U.S.A, country-western legends Sons of the Pioneers, carved out a film career of their own — long before Billy Haley arrived in 1955 — beginning with 1935’s Slightly Static, up through 1951’s Fighting Coast Guard.
Another film that utilized chart-topping musicians and music as a plot device — long prior to the rock-movie craze initiated with Rock Around the Clock — was the 1943 comedy Reveille with Beverly. The film provides an early peek into the screen career of Frank Sinatra — before his rising to the Hollywood A-List with his star-making turn in 1953’s From Here to Eternity, which served as his acting debut.
In speaking of Frank Sinatra: Billy Haley and Elvis Presley would not have made the transition to film, and Elvis would not have had an acting career, if not for Mr. Sinatra blazing the trail. Mr. Sinatra first appeared on the silver screen as a member of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra/Band in 1941’s Las Vegas Nights and 1942’s Ship Ahoy. After earning his first screen credit as a solo artist with a music performance in Reveille with Beverly, he moved onto his now classic roles in From Here to Eternity, Von Ryan’s Express, and Ocean’s Eleven.
An interesting point on Reveille with Beverly: the setting inside a radio station also served as the plotline utilized in numerous, early rock ’n’ roll films. The film stars noted dancer and singer Ann Miller (the Madonna/Britney Spears of the day) as disc jockey “Beverly Ross,” who cons her way into a gig at a military radio station charged with entertaining the troops. While there, she organizes a big band/swing show with performances by some of radio’s biggest stars of the day: Frank Sinatra, Freddy Slack and his Orchestra, Duke Ellington, the Mills Brothers, and Count Basie.
America’s fascination with the radio not only provided Hollywood with a plot device for films; the “voices” of the radio also transitioned to the silver screen. Prior to the radio careers of disc jockey Alan Freed in the fifties, Wolfman Jack (The Midnight Hour) and Casey Kasem (The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant) in the sixties, and Rick Dees (The Gladiator) in the seventies transitioning from behind the microphone to the front of the camera, Hollywood made an actor out of legendary Los Angeles radio personality Fred Crane.
Best known for his cameo appearance as one of Scarlett O’Hara’s beaus in the 1939 classic Gone with the Wind, it is Fred Crane’s voice that opens the film with the line: “What do we care if we were expelled from college, Scarlett? The war is going to start any day now.”
Crane began his radio broadcasting career as the staff announcer for Jack Benny’s radio program on the NBC Radio Network. In 1946, Crane began his prolific radio career in Southern California on 1330 AM KFAC Classical Radio. He remained with the station, placing frequently in the Top Five for drive-time ratings, until the station’s demise in 1988. During his 40-plus years on KFAC, he segued into a television acting career with the series Hawaiian Eye, The Lawman, Lost in Space, 77 Sunset Strip, Surfside 6, The Twilight Zone, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and was a regular on General Hospital in the seventies. His film roles include 1949’s The Gay Amigo, and a co-starring role as the henchman “Duke” in the theatrical version of the hit TV Western, The Cisco Kid.
As with the films of the fifties, the musically-plotted films dating to the thirties and forties served as showcases for the current music stars of the day. These progenitors to the rock ’n’ roll films of the fifties also padded their short running times with concert clips and/or on-screen performances, due to the film’s lack of a real script or plot.
Film was the perfect medium; a marketing tool in a world not yet exposed to today’s multi-channel universe of cable television and Internet-based marketing. Television was not a necessity of the masses; it was a luxury not afforded to every household in America. The same goes for the attendance of music concerts. The most cost-effective and affordable entertainment to the masses was the local movie house or drive-in theater (and that portable radio perched on the top of your grandmother’s refrigerator or that transistor radio in your pocket); both served as the only way many Americans could see their favorite music stars of the radio perform — in person.
There’s a LOT of radio station-based films and this list of recent B&S About Movies reviews only scratches the surface.
If I had all the time in the world, I’d write up more detailed essays on more of the films from the industry that I love. So, here are a few quick ones.
Airheads (1994) Dog Day Afternoon goes rock. Only this time, instead of a bank, it’s a radio station as three aspiring alt-metal heads (Brandon Fraser, Steve Buscemi and Adam Sandler) launch a desperate attempt to have their music aired on Los Angeles’ KPPX “Rebel Radio.” Michael McKean of the rock ‘n’ roll flicks This is Spinal Tap and Light Of Day is the station program director, Joe Mantegna (U.S TV’s Criminal Minds) is (excellent as) radio personality “Ian the Shark,” and Judd Nelson is the record executive. MTV’s Kurt Loder, Motorhead’s Lemmy, and Howard Stern’s Stuttering John Melendez (Stuttering John, the band, placed a song in the film) appear in cameos. White Zombie and The Galactic Cowboys (as the Sons of Thunder) perform; Anthrax and Primus appear on the soundtrack. Director Michael Lehmann returned with the radio station rom-com, The Truth About Cats and Dogs.
* Many thanks to Gregg Harrington over at the Neon Maniacs podcast for coming to the rescue and reviewing this awesome, grungy slice of ’90s nostalgia for B&S, as we just didn’t have time to give it a full review proper.
Eldorado (1995) This Canadian grunge-drama follows a disc jockey who serves as the background for multiple storylines. Lloyd is a disc jockey for an alternative station that’s in love with a bartender at a local punk club, who’s involved with a liquor store clerk. The rest of the Gen X slackers: a rollerblading criminal with a wealthy friend who cares for the homeless, and a shrink with an uncooperative patient.
The Four Corners of Nowhere (1995) In A Matter of Degrees, shenanigans at the campus radio station served as the backdrop for a group of misguided college students in Providence, Rhode Island. In Singles, the grunge rock scene of Seattle served as the backdrop. In The Four Corners of Nowhere the romantic comedy takes place in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as a college radio disc jockey uses the lives and relationships of his local coffee shop friends as fodder for his radio program. It’s the usual collection of aspiring musicians, law students and artists searching for the meaning of live.
On the Air Live with Captain Midnight (1979) This less effective ode to radio piracy-by-van (so it also qualifies as a “vansploitation” flick; see Van Nuys Blvd.) appeared on The USA Network’s weekend Night Flight programming block in the early ‘80s. It stars Tracy Sebastian, aka Trey Loren, as the titled pirate who drives his pirate operation up and down Van Nuys Blvd., much to the chagrin of an F.C.C agent portrayed by John Ireland (Incubus). Jim Ladd of L.A.’s KMET radio also co-stars. One of Tracy’s earliest roles was in his parents’ ‘Gator Bait and he starred in Rocktober Blood.
Pump Up the Volume (1990) A high school loaner, nicely played by Christian Slater (True Romance), leads a double life as “Hard Harry,” a sarcastic pirate disc jockey bunkered in his parent’s basement. He soon invites the wrath of the school’s administration as he begins to question the school’s operating methods. Those parents: they just don’t understand. He spins “Titanium Expose” by Sonic Youth and the Pixies’ “Wave of Mutilation,” along with Soundgarden, Peter Murphy, and Henry Rollins fronting the Bad Brains on “Kick out the Jams.” It’s all from the pen of Allan Moyle, who brought you Times Square (itself partially set in a radio station jocked by Tim “Dr. Frank-N-Furter” Curry) and Empire Records.
Rude (1995) A Canadian radio romp similar to Eldorado, only with the on air banter of a pirate radio disc jockey, Rude. He’s the plot-connective between the lives of several people living in Toronto’s tough inner city: an ex-drug dealing mural artist tries to reconnect with his family after being released from prison, an aspiring boxer destroys his career by participating in the assault of a gay man, and a woman faces the outcome of an abortion.
Times Square(1980) While Tim Curry received top-billing in the initial ad campaign he’s barely in the film, shooting all of his scenes in two days—but what a great two days of shooting. His underground DJ Johnny LaGuardia takes advantage of two misanthropic (lesbian) runaways from the opposite sides of the tracks that are championed by the cultural malcontents New York’s 42nd Street. Give it up for the Sleeze Sisters!
* Many thanks to Jennifer Upton for picking up the slack and writing a full review proper for Times Square. Be sure to visit her blog where she frequently writes about horror and sci-fi: Womanycom.
The Rest of the Best:
Alan Partridge (2013): When a media conglomerate takes over a small British radio station, a self-absorbed disc jockey (comedian Steve Coogan) becomes the reluctant hostage negotiator for the disc jockey he got fired.
Bad Channels (1992): A publicity-hungry shock jock battles an alien using the station’s signal to capture and shrink human females in this “sequel” to Full Moon’s Demonic Toys and Dollman. Actually, it ties into five Full Moon movies (I think), but who’s counting?
* Hey, wait a minute . . . my boss, Sam, reviewed this one already? Doh! There’s too many films on this site! And here’s another take courtesy of our good friend John Leavengood over at Movies, Film and Flix.
The Brave One (2007): Jodie Foster stars as a popular New York liberal radio talk jock who goes “Death Wish” over the murder of her fiancée.
Comfort and Joy (1984): Only Scottish writer-director Bill Forsyth, who gave us the adored HBO favorite Gregory’s Girl, can come up with a movie about mobsters, radio stations . . . and ice cream. After a radio disc jockey’s life goes into a comedic, downward spiral after his kleptomaniac girlfriend leaves him, he becomes involved in the rivalry of two Italian families over the city of Glasgow’s ice cream market.
* Our thanks to fellow film blogger TenSecondsFromNow at Film-Authority.com for bringing up the fact that we forgot to mention this movie.
Pirate Radio (2009): A group of rogue British DJs takes on the British establishment. Also known as The Boat that Rocked, it’s based on the famed ‘60s station Radio Caroline.
Private Parts (1997): Howard Stern’s New York Times best-selling biography becomes one of the most accurate—and funny—portrayals of radio on film.
Radio Days (1987): Woody Allen’s love-letter to listening to the radio of his youth.
Talk Radio (1988): Eric Bogosian shines as the acidic Dallas DJ Barry Champlain that’s based on the tragic 1984 assassination of radio host Alan Berg.
Talk to Me (2007): Don Cheadle (of the Iron Man and Avengers franchise) portrays real life ex-con Petey Green who went on to became a top-rated Washington, D.C disc jockey.
The Upside of Anger (2005): Kevin Costner is an alcoholic ex-ballplayer and sports radio talk jock involved with his widowed neighbor and her three daughters.
There’s more music-centric film reviews to enjoy!
* Banner by R.D Francis. Clash 45-rpm sleeve courtesy of Discogs.com and text courtesy of PicFont.com.
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.
After posting our review of Charles Band’s Bad Channels for our “Radio Week” of reviews regarding films set inside radio stations (March 15 to 21), this Al Corley-starring and Storm Thorgerson-directed movie (well, long-form Escher’s “Magic Mirror” video that features videos within the video) popped into my head. Yeah, it takes place inside an UHF-TV station and not a radio station; it features a VJ and not a DJ. But my memories of Incident at Channel Q “peanut butter into my chocolate,” if you will, with Bad Channels courtesy of an old Books-A-Million location (or was it a Waldenbooks?) that carried used copies of VHS tapes in their cut-out bins.
If you were a metal head in the early ‘80s, this movie holds fond memories for you. If you’re a younger lad and a new inductee to the world of ‘80s metal, courtesy of the hosts of SirusXM Satellite Radio’s Hair Nation, who’ve mentioned this slice of metal nostalgia on several occasions, you’re clamoring for a copy.
And I am clamoring for one ever since my copy became infected by the blue screen of death alongside my copy of The Dark Backward. Frack you, Starbuck.
If there’s ever an old VHS that needs an official DVD/streaming reissue, Incident at Channel Q is the movie. (Shameless plug: read our “10 Movies That Were Never Released to DVD” featurette.) Hell, we’d even settle for a forbidden world grey market impress at this point. The VHS and even rarer Laser Disc pop up on seller sites from time to time—if you want to donate a kidney for it. And how is it the IMDb page for Incident at Channel Q is a barren wasteland? There’s no photo stills? Not even an image of the VHS? It’s not even rated at Rotten Tomatoes? Not even a Discogs page for its soundtrack?
Yeah. You’re damn right it’s time to show this VHS gem the love. Load the tape. Let’s rock.
As you look at the theatrical one-sheet, you notice the logo for AMC Theatres: the theatre chained backed the production and distributed it as an exclusive midnight movie—which was my first exposure to it. Later, I rented the RCA/Columbia Home Video copy from my corner video store. And I begged the horseshoe-haired, garlic-pepperoni halitosis guy running the joint to please sell me the one-sheet hanging in the store. Of course, he did not. (Insert “word” for lower abdominal appendage. Frack you, film nerd.)
The Midnight Movie
Prior to the advent of video stores and cable television in the ‘80s, the midnight movie was a ‘70s marketing gimmick for non-commercial films, mainly exploitation films and just about everything that made the dreaded “video nasties” list. (Shameless plug #2: check out our three part “Exploring: Video Nasties” featurette.)
For those of us too young to go to concerts: We got to see Led Zeppelin for the first time in The Song Remains the Same (1976). We became “Dead Heads” courtesy of The Grateful Dead Movie (1977). We got a double dose of Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult with Black and Blue (1981). Our first AC/DC concert (distributed by Fred and Beverly Sebastian of Rocktober Blood fame; also a midnight movie, natch) was AC/DC: Let There Be Rock (1980). And how can we forget The Rocky Horror Picture Show. (Shameless plug #3: read about Kim Milford, the original Rocky, and his rock flick Song of the Succubus.)
And since the nascent MTV video network wasn’t cleared for broadcast in all markets and all cable systems, the only way you could see rock videos—besides an errant, overnight video program on some low-wattage UHF-TV station—was in a movie theatre—some of which would run videos before their midnight movie features; in-between if it was a double feature.
Incident at Channel Q: Behind the Q
It’s the brainchild of the British graphic design company Hipgnosis founded by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell. Do we really have to rattle off all of the top-selling album covers they’ve designed? Name a classic rock artist from the ‘60s to the ‘80s and, odds are, Hipgnosis designed the cover. (Def Leppard’s High ‘n Dry, with the image of a man diving into a swimming pool? That’s a rejected Pink Floyd Hipgnosis cover, for example.) When music videos became de rigueur, Hipgnosis incorporated Green Back Films—and the hits continued with Robert Plant’s “Big Log” and “Owner of Lonely Heart” for Yes, just to name a few. Hipgnosis formed Green Back in a partnership with Pink Floyd associate and noted documentarian Nigel Lesmoir-Gordon. One of Lesmoir’s films was the “ancient future” classic, The Colors of Infinity, starring science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke.
If you’ve familiar with Christian Slater’s “Hard Harry” from the Pump Up the Volume (1990), then you’re up to speed on the antics of VJ Rick Van Ryan (Al Corley), a sarcastic agent provocateur at a struggling South Florida UHF-TV station, Q 23 (actually Fort Lauderdale’s WKID-51 doubling for the small-town of “Springfield”), which flipped to an all-rock video format. As with Karlan Pickett being hired over at KRZY “Power 98” in the frames of Power 98: the management hates the jock, but they “love the numbers,” so the Devil’s radio, uh, TV station, it is.
Of course those teenaged metal-scamps love Rick! But, uh-oh, the Christian conservatives lit the torches and sharpened the pitchforks demanding that “satanic program,” Heavy Metal Heaven, be taken off the air because, well, you know, there are souls to be saved. And like any Nancy Pelosi-fearing Christian who doesn’t “hate people,” but “prays for them,” the station’s God-fearing hosts and sponsors want Rick off the air. And to that end: a couple of right-wing bullies are hired to “wise up Rick” with a good ‘ol fashioned, Christian beat down, you know, for God and country. To hell with the Devil: even if it means grievous bodily harm, for the bible told them so.
That’s it, Rick’s had enough. So taking a cue from the staff of the “other station” with a Q—Los Angeles’ QKSY-FM 7-11 (FM), he barricades himself inside the TV station and rallies the metal head masses (well, okay, 12 people) in an Airheads-style revolt.
The Rock Video Rundown
Incident at Channel Q is pure homage (most critics miss that point) to those old Alan Freed DJ-starring films from the ‘50s—Rock Around the Clock, Rock, Rock, Rock, Mister Rock and Roll, Don’t Knock the Rock, and Go, Johnny, Go!—and to that end: it’s all about musical numbers and not the story. Sometimes, with those old rock flicks, the bands didn’t even appear “live” in the film as “actors”; the film would “cut away” to a TV performance (of an old band clip, natch) that the kids were watching. So Rick Van Ryan loading up videos is the equivalent of that narrative approach. Thus, while it would have been awesome to have had Iron Maiden showing up for a live parking lot concert to support Rick’s quest, we get video clips inserted into the action from:
Rush – “The Body Electric” Lita Ford – “Gotta Let Go” Golden Earring – “Twilight Zone” Motorhead – “Iron Fist” Scorpions – “Rock You Like a Hurricane” Iron Maiden – “Aces High” Motley Crue – “Looks that Kill” Rainbow – “Can’t Happen Here” Deep Purple – “Knockin’ at Your Back Door” Kiss – “All Hell’s Breaking Loose” Bon Jovi – “In and Out of Love”
Hell, yeah! Incident at Channel Q is an ‘80s rock fan’s dream, with some of the greatest metal videos of all time featuring more than enough poofy hair, tight pants and studded leather, debauchery, depravity and post-apocalyptic imagery (shamless plug #4: check out our month-long homage to apoc films with our two-part Atomic Dustbin round up) to satiate our devil-influenced, MTV nostalgia.
None of the South Florida community actors cast in the film starred in anything else after making their feature film debuts on Incident at Channel Q. But proving everyone has to start somewhere:
Camera and Lighting Department gaffer Greg Patterson embarked on a successful career in his field, working on Stallone’s The Specialist, The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and Harrison Ford’s most recent film, The Call of the Wild (2020).
Barry J. Anderson was another of the South Florida acting hopefuls who auditioned for one of the metal scamps, but earned a part as one of the background acting, protesting metal hoards (so jealous, I’d love to have been one of them, but I wasn’t acting at the time). In addition to working as a recurring background actor on Miami Vice in the series’ squad room, Anderson became a special effects engineer and make-up artist on several Florida-produced “video nasties,” such as Ted V. Mikels’s Astro Zombies: M4 (2012), then worked his way up to more prestigious horror films, such as George Romeo’s Day of the Dead (1985), Scared Stiff (1987), The Unholy (1988), the remake of Hairspray (2007), as well as the Jeepers Creepers and The Butterfly Effect franchises.
Actor Charles Knight, who played the character Horowitz, the station’s engineer with hopes of becoming a metal host at Channel Q (he appears on the bottom right corner on the rear of the VHS and Laser Disc artwork), came by his role, accidentally, by way of his ex-girlfriend actress. His actress ex was auditioning for a principal role in Miami Beach as he waited in his car outside. A “British dude” leaned in and asked Knight if he was there to audition. Knight explained why he was there. The British dude said that Knight “had the look that they wanted” and invited him in for a cold reading. He read for the part of Vinnie, but the role had already been promised, so he was cast-on-the-spot as Horowitz. Charles Knight still resides in Florida and has acted in a couple indie films.
The Al Corley Lowdown
The Wichita, Kansas-born Al Corley got his start as a doorman at New York’s famed Studio 54 in the late ‘70s and appeared in a VH 1 Behind the Music special to recount his experiences. The contacts Corley made at the club transitioned him into an acting career; he was soon cast as the first Steven Carrington for 37 episodes during the 1981 to 1982 season of the popular ABC-TV prime time soap opera Dynasty. (And, in prime soap opera fashion: Corley was recast with a “new” actor via “plastic surgery after an oil rig explosion.” No, really.)
During those years, Corley was in a relationship with Carly Simon. So deep was the love that he appears on one of her album covers; that’s his back to the camera on the album artwork for 1981’s Torch (this Carly Simon blog regarding her album covers chronicles Corley’s involvement). You know Carly from the ‘70s song “Anticipation” and her James Bond theme song “The Spy Who Loved Me.” (Shamlesss plug #5: April is “James Bond Month” at B&S About Movies.)
But Corley was always a musician first and foremost (his Discogs page) and he, like American TV actors David Soul, Rick Springfield, Don Johnson, and David Hasselhoff before him, embarked on a successful European singing career across three albums: Square Rooms (1984), Riot of Color (1986) and Big Picture (1988). His debut album produced two European Top 20 singles/videos: “Square Rooms” and “Cold Dresses,” with the title cut single reaching number one in France. His other Top 100 Euro-hits were “After the Fall” from Riot of Color and “Land of the Giants” from Big Picture.
Those hits, in turn, netted Corley the lead in the 1989 West Germany-produced feature film Hard Days, Hard Nights (aka Beat Boys), a very loose, pseudo-Beatles bioflick about a Liverpudlian rock band’s quest for stardom in Hamburg. And rock on this: Corley’s co-star, in his acting debut, was Nick Moran: you know, Scabior from the Harry Potter franchise. Moving into directing, Corley fronted the MGM rom-com Bigger Than the Sky (2005; you can watch it for free on Vudu).
This Is The End, My Friend
And that, my wee rockers, is the story behind Incident at Channel Q . . . and you can rock with this full video-soundtrack recreation I cooked up on You Tube.
Keep the horns high! That’s it for “Radio Week” kids. We’ll have an “Exploring: Radio Stations on Film” round up with links to all of this week’s films this evening at 6 PM.
About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis, as well as short stories based on his screenplays, on Medium. You can learn more about his work on Facebook.He also writes for B&S About Movies.
A female radio psychologist taunted by a killer is familiar damsel-in-distress fodder for the Lifetime cable network, which also aired the similarly-plotted The Night Caller (1998), Requiem for Murder (1999), and A Lover’s Revenge (2005).
Dr. Jill Peterman (Canadian actress Georgina Haig, who’s very good), a Minneapolis, Minnesota (aka Toronto), “relationship therapist” who advocates a tough-love approach when counseling her listeners, walks away from the business when a listener, “Alexis,” takes her advice of “end this pathetic life” of allowing a man to cheat on her, literally—and she commits suicide on the air.
A year later, with WRMD 96.5 FM at the bottom of the ratings and ready to change to an automated dance format, her old General Manager persuades her to return to the air—with the guilt trip that she’ll be “saving everyone’s jobs.” As she settles back into her show, the mysterious calls from “Alexis” begin. Then her billboards around the city are vandalized with the words “How Do You Sleep?”—a message that’s repeated on the greeting cards enclosed with the deliveries of black roses.
Let slip the red herrings of noir.
Did Alexis actually kill herself? Is she the one leaving threats? Or is someone else behind them? The police never found a woman who committed suicide matching that name and they believe it was a prank—even a rating-grabbing station stunt that backfired. Could it be the win-at-all-costs station owner, her producer, or her promotion-driven production assistant? Is it the barista at the local coffee house who is Dr. Jill’s #1 fan? Is any of this real and is it all in Jill’s head?
The radio studio is a poorly done build that’s darkly lit to hide the “studios” shortcomings of its ubiquitous equipment-strewn business desks and—not another recording studio mixer being used as an audio board. Ugh. But at least there’s some digital touch screen audio equipment used. And the expositional industry jargon between the station owner and general manager about terrestrial radio competing with podcasting, ratings and format changes give the proceedings a sense of reality.
You can watch this Canadian TV movie—reimaged with the sensationalistic When Murder Calls for its U.S debut—for free on You Tube and You Tube.
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 Movies.
The question is not how far one will go to take a life, but how far one will go to save a life in this German-produced slasher-noir where Andrew Kevin Walker’s Seven (1995) and 8MM (1999) meets Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio (1988) and Allan Moyle’s Pump Up the Volume (1990).
The “Roc Doc,” an acidic and opinionated amateur psychologist, operates the basement-bound Radio Nighthawk as he spins ‘60s American soul records and expounds on the news of the day—and he makes the mistake mocking the police for failing to prevent the gruesome murders of the media-dubbed The Night Slitter.
“How difficult can it be to prevent The Night Slitter from breaking down his next victim into individual parts?” Roc Doc ponders.
“Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is,” calls-in The Night Slitter. “After all, everyone has a body buried in the basement. The ego is not master in its own house, Roc Doc.”
And so begins the cat and mouse game with the Roc Doc forced to stay on the air—and admit to his own inner monster and skeletons—if he wants to save the life of The Night Slitter’s current victim: he’s audibly torturing the daughter of the grizzled police inspector on his trail.
Beginning as a Euro-festival acclaimed 20 minute short released in 2010, this 95-minute feature length version—alternately known as Der Tod hört mit (Death Listens) and On Air in other quarters—borrows its inspiration from the New French Extremity film movement spearheaded by Alexandre Aja’s worldwide hit High Tension (2003).
It made its U.S debut under the title Radio Silence via the festival circuit, where it won multiple Best Film and Best Director awards at the Screamfest Horror Film Festival in Los Angeles, the Sacramento Horror Film Fest, the Atlanta Horror Film Festival, and the Rhode Island Int’l Film Festival.
You can watch the full film—with English subtitles—on TubiTv. You can catch up on the cycle of French Horror Films with this great roundup on Scoopwoop.
About the Author:You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and B&S Movies, and learn more about his work on Facebook.