Friday, August 6, 2010

Get Crazy

In my neighborhood—Fort Greene, Brooklyn, home of brownstones, bodegas, and baby strollers—they have a flea market every weekend in the summer. I like to stroll through on Saturday afternoons, still stinky from sleep, to buy a fancy hot dog covered with apple chutney from the food tents or maybe a bootleg funk compilation from the guy selling incense. But my favorite booth sells used CDs (I found a promo copy of bodybuilder/heavy metal god John Mikl Thor's Thor Against the World for five bucks), DVD-R's of out-of-print movies, and random duped CD compilations (I got one called Ultra Chicks Vol. 5 that's full of French bubblegum pop from the sixties. I'm weird like that.) It's run by one of those hyperactive older gentlemen who never really grew up. On weekends, he projects real 35mm film prints of strange old movies at a playground in my old neighborhood (Greenpoint, which is like Sesame Street, only with Polish people instead of Muppets). He still rocks a vintage rock T-shirt, usually Television or New York Dolls or something of that vintage, and despite his upbeat demeanor, he carries an air of melancholy. He seems like a man who's watched the world leave him behind as it forgot about all of the music and movies he loved when he was young and vital. But he's a fighter, so he shows up every weekend with a small assortment of lovingly hand-selected bootlegs to spread the word. I bought Chained Heat from him, as well as the cheapest copy of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! in existence. He's one of those older guys who's just so psyched that a young dude is at all interested or knowledgeable in anything made before 1998. You should have seen his eyes light up when he realized that I knew who Henry Silva was. For just a moment, he believed that maybe the glories of his youth wouldn't be buried under the sands of time, that there are a few whippersnappers out there who can tell the difference between classic and old. And I looked at him and I wondered: Is this my future? Someday, when my roguish good looks have abandoned me, will I be out there in the park, preaching the gospel of Kickboxer and Luther the Geek to a crowd of skinny hipsters who can't even remember a time when movies weren't all 3-D choose-your-own-adventures that get beamed directly into your cerebral cortex? Maybe. If that's what it takes to keep the B-movie alive in the 21st century and beyond, then so be it. I will be a prophet of the absurd, unappreciated and malnourished, but crackling with wisdom for those brave enough to absorb it.

Anyway, this dude really recommended today's movie to me, and it's a great one. He called it "the best rock movie of all time," and I think he may be right. It's directed by Allan Arkush, a graduate of the Roger Corman Academy of the Drive-In Arts, and it's a pseudo-sequel of sorts to Arkush's earlier cult classic Rock & Roll High School, the movie that airlifted the Ramones from the dank cellars of Queens to the sun-kissed streets of California, where they looked like leather-clad bog monsters compared to all the tanned teenyboppers.

Get Crazy might be even better. It's a screwy madcap comedy set at a Filmore-esque theater on New Year's Eve, 1982. It begins, as every movie did back then, with a Star Wars parody. A model spaceship with a hair dryer hot-glued to its underbelly flies overhead with a tinfoil-wrapped astronaut astride it, Dr. Strangelove-style. It crashes into a giant blinking 1983 sign, and the lights come up, introducing us to the wacky crew of the Saturn Theater. Daniel Stern is the harried stage manager who has to wrangle the night's concert into shape, but he's kind of distracted because he just met the girl of his dreams and every time he looks at her he imagines that he's Tarzan and she's Jane, so they have these getting-to-know you conversations while he walks around with a live chimp in his arms. It's that kind of movie.

Meanwhile, the villain (Ed Begley, Jr.—remember him?) and his two sycophantic sidekicks Mark and Marv (former teen heartthrobs Bobby Sherman and Fabian) are trying to buy the theater so they can turn it into a soulless stadium where the kids can't afford tickets and no one can see the stage. "Fuck you and fuck rock & roll!" he declares, fucking fighting words if I've ever fucking heard them.

Luckily, the rockolytes of the Saturn have an ace in the hole in the form of their drug dealer, Electric Larry, a glowy-eyed cryptkeeper heavy metal high plains drifter from outer space who appears in a puff of smoke every time anybody needs any pharmaceutical enhancement, whether they know it or not. I don't want to lapse into hyperbole here, so I will merely say that Electric Larry is only the coolest goddamn thing I have ever seen in my entire fucking life and leave it at that.

So then the bands start arriving, and they rule, too. The opening act, a Muddy Waters parody called King Blues, is underwhelming, but he does provide a much-needed history lesson by singing a boogie-woogie song called "The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll." From that point on, every succeeding act does their own cover of "Hoochie Coochie Man," bringing it back to where it all began and proving that no matter what style you play, it's all American music, baby, straight from the gut.

The next band is called Nada, and they're a sort of New Wave Oingo Boingo-y chick band with a million members and a lead singer in a cheerleader/marching band uniform who likes to do cartwheels around the stage while the audience pogos up and down like lottery balls. Then they bring out punk icon Lee Ving on vocals. He's playing a dude named Piggy who's pretty much the Tazmanian Devil of rock who has to be chained up before the performance so he doesn't headbutt everybody to death. With him encouraging the people in the balcony to perform 20-foot triple-lindy stagedives, they blast through a supersonic punk version of "Hoochie Coochie Man" that flat-out rocks. "Who says a whiteboy can't sing the blues?" says King Blues.

The next act is the best. It's a Mick Jagger spoof called Reggie Wanker played by none other than Malcolm Mac-Fucking-Dowell, who is so awesome I can't even describe it. Most actors simply don't have the raw animal charisma to play a believable rock star, but he does. He doesn't have a great voice, but who gives fuck? This is rock and roll. You want perfect pitch, go listen to folk, hippie. He belts out a Kiss-like "God of Thunder"-y anthem called "Hot Shot" with lyrics along the lines of "I'm a mystical sage of a nuclear age in seduction / I can take any heart, I've mastered the art of corruption!" It's phenomenal, a truly transcendental rock saga. Then, while his Keith Moon-like drummer (played by Doors skinsman John Densmore) pounds out a 20-minute solo on a kit the size of a cargo van, Wanker goes backstage to have an orgy with a literal roomful of naked girls packed from floor to ceiling in a cube-shaped mass of sweaty limbs. Unfortunately, when he extricates himself, he discovers that his wife is banging the house nerd (Dan Frishman of Head of the Class fame), so he goes back onstage and turns "Hot Shot" into a heartbreaking lighters-in-the-air dirge. Then he sips some Electric Larry-spiked water and goes into the bathroom to get a pep talk from his penis, who becomes his new manager.

Fuck, this movie rules.

Anyway, there's all kinds of other shit going on backstage, like a glowing disco bomb and an uptight fire inspector, played by Robert Picardo, one of fellow Corman alumni Joe Dante's stock company. (He was the first werewolf in The Howling.) Other great cameos include Clint Howard in a one-line role, Eating Raul's Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel doing their usual thing, and, most interestingly, Dick Miller and Jackie Joseph, who played Mr. and Mrs. Futterman in Dante's Gremlins—which didn't come out until the following year. I have no idea how this strange cinematic intermingling came about, but it's probably my favorite dual cameo of all time. I doubt anyone else gives a shit, but seeing this early version of the Futtermans made my fucking day.

In the end, the theater is saved, a giant talking joint walks around, and Lou Reed (supposedly playing a Dylan parody, though I honestly couldn't tell the difference) shows up for a solo closing number that actually kind of breaks your heart. This movie is just pure joy from front to end, a big, stupid, sublime rock & roll blowjob. Movies just aren't this fun anymore. It's a shame I had to find this one on bootleg DVD on a racketball court in Brooklyn when it should be out there in every Best Buy in the land. I guess that's why we need people like the guy who sold me Get Crazy. He's the real Electric Larry. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

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