Day 16 Rock ‘n’ Roll Miscreants: Give some screen time to the punks and/or metal heads
Strap yourself in. Get ready for the rock ‘n’ roll adventures of film and television visionary Alan Sacks (aka Alan ‘duBeat-e-o’ Shapiro) and the film debut of Joan Jett.
While the pioneering, all-female rock band the Runaways were unable to repeat their explosive, overseas radio and retail chart acceptance (they were huge in Japan and the Pacific Rim countries) in the U.S, the Suzi Quatro-inspired rockers nonetheless became ubiquitous, sexy fodder for the late ‘70s U.S rock press — especially in the teen-oriented pages of Circus, Crawdaddy, Creem, and Hit Parader (dude, do I miss those mags!).
Were those magazines’ Runaways-centerfold posters on this wee-tween’s walls? You better believe it: right alongside the tear-outs of my motocross idol, Roger DeCoster. My Runaways albums spun alongside Frampton Comes Alive and Kiss’ Dressed to Kill.
“Hey, why don’t we make a female version of A Hard Day’s Night to promote the band?” rubbed the greedy little hands of their songwriter-svengali, Kim Fowley. “Frampton did that dumb Sgt. Pepper movie; Kiss did that Phantom of the Park mess, so why can’t we make a disaster-rock flick too? This dumb kid with the DeCoster pictures on his wall will eat it up.”
“Turning the Runaways into the Beatles? You’ve done it again, K.F!” says KROQ disc jockey Rodney Bingenheimer. “It’ll make millions! And to stick it to Capitol Records and the Knack, you should title it: Eight Days a Week.”
So, in a September 22, 1979, issue of the radio & records industry newspaper, Billboard, the marketing-machine genius of Kim Fowley began to grind:
LOS ANGELES—Production has started on the feature motion picture “We’re All Crazy Now,” loosely based on the career of the all-girl rock act the Runaways. The Zane-Helpern independent production stars Arte Johnson, Runaways’ member Joan Jett and former Herman’s Hermits leader Peter Noone. Cheryl Smith, along with Karen and Kathy Fallentine, round out the cast as the remainder of the original Runaways.
Okay, so did you hear the one about the on-the-downward-slide comedic actor from the ‘60s TV variety show, Laugh-In, a washed-up Beatles clone, and Rainbeaux Smith from the infamous women-in-prison flick, Caged Heat (1974), walking into a bar?
Oh, this is going to work out quite well, Mr. Fowley.
And we trip in Doc Brown’s DeLorean to a 1984 where Joan Jett scored a worldwide #1 solo hit with “I Love Rock & Roll” and formed a faux-rock band with Marty McFly and David St. Hubbins from Spinal Tap to sing a Bruce Springsteen-penned song in a film written by the guy who dreamed up Travis Bickle — who inspired Mark David Chapman to assassinate John Lennon so he could impress Jodie Foster — who starred with Cheri Currie of the Runaways in Foxes alongside keyboardist Greg Guiffria and his band, Angel.
My mind is in FUBAR crash mode. I need a Dr. Pepper and Pringles sleeve reboot.
“So, Mr. Du-beat-e-o. How about you make me a movie?” says Uncle Leo from TV’s Seinfeld to Ray Sharkey from The Idolmaker.
And out of the Fowley-chaotic womb, instead of birthing a Beatlesque twin, an acid-infused, bizzaro-Jerry version of the Monkees’ incomprehensible debut film, Head, was born. It turns out Jack Nicholson was right: dropping acid while making a narcissistic rock ‘n’ roll movie without a script and no mainstream commercial appeal, actually works.
“. . . a punk movie that matches it’s style to its music.” — Filmex
“Aesthetically with its heavy doses of callous violence and flashy technique, the film recalls ‘A Clockwork Orange’. . . .” — Variety
Thank you, Uncle Leo, for giving me an f’d-up Stanley Kubrick punk rock movie! I’m all in!
And . . . what the hell is with all these breakaways to porno-smut Polaroids? Why are their pictures of dead animals? Who’s this weird, punk-rock Stevie Nicks chick dancing around in black lace? And where’s Joan Jett? Where’s Malcolm McDowell and the rest of the Droogs? Where’s the Laugh-In dude and the Beatle-wannabe? Why is there so much El Duce of the Mentors in this film? You’re telling me the guy who dreamed up the loveable characters of Vinnie Barbarino and Arnold Horseshack, and paired Jack Albertson from The Poseidon Adventure with Freddy Prinze —
“You made this?” interrupts the unknown actress who supported Johnny Depp in Private Resort (1985), starring as duBeat-e-o’s actress-valley girl-hostage in the editing room.
“Take a flying fuck to paradise, Derf Scratch,” duBeat-e-o barks his ubiquitous quote to anyone who doesn’t understand his “artistic vision” — even the bad ass, take-no-crap-o bassist from the L.A punk band, Fear. duBeat-e-o clutches a gun to the head of Derf, forcing his editor-character of Benny to feverishly splice a psychotic montage of five year old, left over footage of Joan Jett, along with porno-smut Polaroids, religious kitsch images, and El Duce of the Mentors providing voiceovers.
So, Nora Gaye, I think the real question is: Why did you agree to star in this? But I get, Nora. You were duped. But you really should have stuck to the Trapper John, M.D guest spots.
It turns out the guy who really made this sack-o-crap-o was Alan Sacks: Yes, the creator of the hit ‘70s TV sitcoms Welcome Back Kotter and Chico and the Man was given the job of somehow turning the half-of-a-movie celluloid table scraps of We’re All Crazy Now into a functioning, full length feature film. And he gave the cinematic sewing gig to his writing partner, Marc Sheffler, a former actor who starred in Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left.
“Hey, let’s hire that Sacks kid,” ponders the cigar-chompin’ executive over his desk-perched wing tips. “He did a pretty decent job with that skateboard movie, Thrashin’, the one that starred that kid who grew up to be George W. Bush in that movie directed by that guy who made The Doors movie. He’ll make this steaming pile work. Look what his little Sweathog show did for that kid in the Bees Gees disco movie.”
“I think a more contemporary reference for the younger readers is to reference Josh Brolin’s work in the Deadpool and Avengers universes,” mentions Marc Sheffler to the executive.
“Don’t tell me how to do my job,” kid,” chomps down the leg breaking financier on his stogie.
So, in a typical life-imitating-art fashion, the reimaging of We’re All Crazy Now . . . also ran out of money . . . just like original We’re All Crazy Now did. And when you’re brimming with the über cool, nihilistic I-don’t-give-a-fuck altitude of Alan Sacks, what do you do?
You “F” the bastards by having the art-imitate-your-life: Director Alan “duBeat-e-o” Sharpiro (read: Alan Sacks) is given the job by Hendricks, a greedy, leg breaking producer-financier (read: loan shark; played by Len “Uncle Leo” Lesser) with no film experience, to make a movie about “Joanie Jett.”
That’s it. That’s the plot.
And where in the hell is Joan? So far, all I’ve seen is Ray Sharkey fluttering around on a cheap, one-set stage play environment that would give the makers of Bela Lugosi’s worst cardboard-films pause, screaming at Derf Scratch and Nora Gaye, with an occasional appearance by Uncle Leo in a wheelchair — all backed by a musical accompaniment courtesy of a couple of Social Distortion tunes and some punk band, Even Worse, lamenting “We Suck,” while another band, Dr. Know, sings about giving someone a “Fist Fuck.”
What in the hell did I rent?
That’s right. Squint and look at the monitors on Derf’s editing suite, because that’s how Joan “stars” in this “movie” — via the five year old footage shot in 1979 by Bernard Girard (more on him, later).
“Okay, well, that’s ten minutes of a movie,” says Sheffler to Sacks. “What do we do to fill out the remaining 80 minutes?”
“Here, start spicing-in images of these,” duBeat-e-o suggests with the toss of a stack of Polaroids.
“Smut photos?” says Derf.
“Yeah, I took them during one of my sex-coke binges. And create stills from that stack of porno magazines over there and, uh, yeah, use that shelf of old porn movies over there . . . and I have some random stock newsreel footage around here, somewhere,” creates duBeat-e-o on his stumble-bumble apartment search for the reels. “Oh yeah, and see if you can find or take some pictures of fresh road kill.”
“Road kill? Alan, are you okay?”
“And give El Duce from the Mentors a call. I want him to roll around in the sack with Johanna Went and that Linda Texas Jones chick from Tex and the Horseheads in a nightmare sex scene where El talks about foreskin and uncircumcised appendages.”
“And Ray will think he’s having sex with Johanna and Linda, but it turns out he’s bangin’ El Duce.”
“And what I am supposed to do for dialog, Alan?” Marc wonders.
“After you splice it all together, we’ll have El invite over some of his friends, we’ll all watch it, and make funny comments. You know, it’ll be a like nihilistic, punk rock version of Mystery Science Theatre 3000.”
“Alan, Joan will sue us if we do this to her. And I don’t think Tomata du Plenty will be happy we stole the Screamers’ Gary Panters-designed band logo,” reasons Marc. “I mean, the Screamers aren’t even on the soundtrack, let alone in the movie. And I might add that Kim’s rights to the Runaways’ songs are so screwed up, we can’t use them on the film’s promotional soundtrack album.”
“Look, Marc. This project was a flea-bitten piece-o-dog crap-o when I got snookered into doing it. So we might as well have some fun and “fist fuck” the producers. As for Joan: She can take a flyin’ fuck to paradise. That’s what she gets for getting involved with Kim Fowley in the first place.”
“Well, you better hope that R.D Francis, that “Remember the Phantom” freak-o-dude, doesn’t mention duBeat-e-o in the same breath as the Camp Rock and Jonas Brothers: The 3-D Concert Experience movies you’ll make later on. He already reminded them you made Thrashin’.”
“Hey, Thrashin’ was certainly better than Space Mutiny, that Battlestar Galactica rip-off piece-o-crap-o that David Winters has on his directing resume. He should be thankful for the gig I gave him directing that one.”
“This thing is nuts. It played in theatres!” — The Psychotronic Video Guide
And so, there it was, five years later, on this writer’s local video store’s shelf alongside the 1984-released copies of Rocktober Blood and Terror on Tour. It seems the mullet-haired and acne-scarred, video-clerking film dorks of America couldn’t even make head or tails of what the hell was up with duBeat-eo — and filed it in the horror section.
So how did Joan Jett get into this mess, running around Hollywood surrounded by faux-Runaways like it was 1964 Liverpool — sans the Beatles’ touring school bus breaking down at, what seems to be, a woodsy summer camp filled with butch motorcycle-riding lesbians? Are Joan and the rest of the Runaways floating around inside a spaceship? They were abducted by aliens? What in the hell is going on?
Well, it’s no secret the Runaways’ career was a tumultuous one amid the creative differences-brew that was Joan Jett and Lita Ford — with Joan wanting to take the band in a punk direction (she saw that vision through with guys from the Sex Pistols and Blondie backing her eponymous solo debut, also known as Bad Reputation) that conflicted with Lita’s metal urges. They were, however, united in their Cheri Currie-resentment: she sang most of the songs they wrote — at Fowley’s insistence — and his referring to Cheri as the band’s “Cherry Bomb,” didn’t help either.
So, as with Jimmy Page left holding the contractual bag with the Yardbirds and making the best of it . . . Joan Jett stayed with the project. And where’s Fowley? He ran away with the Runaways’ Laurie McAllister to form another all-girl group, the Orchids.
Subsequent Billboard production teasers reported We’re All Crazy Now would be directed by James Roberson, known in the Drive-In exploitation trash universe as the cinematographer who worked on the low-budget portmanteau Encounter with the Unknown (1972), along with Charles B. Pierce’s Winterhawk (1975), The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976), and Grayeagle (1977), The Great Lester Boggs (1974; aka Redneck Country), and the big kahuna of rock ‘n’ roll trash films: Don Edmonds’ Terror on Tour (1980; not released until 1984 on video).
Then Billboard reported Roberson was out and the industry-respected Bernard Girard — who directed James Coburn in Dead Heat on a Merry Go Round (1966), Burt Reynolds in Hunters Are For Killing (1970), an early Christopher Walken film, The Happiness Cage (1972; The Mind Snatchers), and Robert Culp in A Name for Evil (1973), along with the Sammy Davis, Jr. and James Caan co-starrer, Little Moon & Judd McGraw (1974; aka Gone with the West) — was behind the lens.
And we know how that worked out, don’t we?
“Hey, what’s the deal with the artwork from the Screamers you were talking about earlier that appears on the theatrical one-sheets and video boxes,” you ask. “Who are the Screamers?”
The legendary L.A underground punk band the Screamers began in Seattle grunge country fronted by Tomata du Plenty and some guy named Eldon Hoke — who became El Duce of the Mentors (their 1981 debut single, “Get Up and Die,” appears on the duBeat-e-o soundtrack). El Duce received his infamous “mainstream” recognition as result of his suspicious death via a drunken-stupor-train track-nap two days after completing an interview for Nick Broomfield’s sensationalistic and unauthorized Nirvana documentary, Kurt & Courtney. In the film, El Duce claimed Courtney Love offered to pay him to kill Kurt Cobain — which led rock ‘n’ conspiracy theorists of the Jim Morrison variety to believe the train death was, in fact, a murder set up by Love.
“You watched this and know all of this trivia about the movie?” Nora Gaye scrunches her face at this writer like I’m some kind of loser duBeat-e-o groupie. “Do you, like live in the basement of your mother’s house or something, reading film books all day?”
Yes, Nora, I did, I do, and I am. And I love every continuity-confused and logic-out-the-window minute of duBeat-e-o. Why? Alan Sack is epitome of “punk rock” and understands the ethos like no other writer-director before or since. He’s proof you can sans a guitar and take a camera and screw with the establishment. Sacks did with duBeat-e-o what Nicholson did with Head: he gave us a punk rock Monkees movie.
“. . . duBeat-e-o is destined to become a cult classic.” — L.A Weekly
And with that . . . I’ll go into my Mom’s basement and spin my vinyl copy of the duBeat-e-o soundtrack and pop my VHS copy into the VCR and take a pleasurable, flyin’ ‘you-know-what’ to my trash-cinema paradise. (Add this one to the “10 Movies That Were Never Released on DVD” or soundtracks never released on CD, for that matter.)
Need more Alan Sacks? Here’s a Proudly Presents podcast interview with Alan — who went from creating Welcome Back, Kotter, to going deep into the LA Punk scene, to making Disney Movies. Need to know more about El Duce? Check out this documentary on his life and career with The Mentors: The Kings of Sleaze (2017) and you can watch his insights in Kurt and Courtney (1998), both on TubiTV. He’s also the subject of a new 2019 document, The El Duce Tapes (you can learn more about the film with this review at POV Magazine).
About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn about his work on Facebook.