Wednesday, December 31, 2008
The End Is Always A New Beginning
Nearly a year ago I was wondering about films set during New Year’s Eve. Now I’m doing that again. I hope I’ve managed to do a few things in the interim. Anyway, the Cinematheque is showing THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE at the Egyptian as the opening of their Disaster Film series in a few days, so I’ll wait on that one. Last Saturday the New Beverly ran NEW YEAR’S EVIL at midnight so I got to see that. Starring Roz ‘Pinky Tuscadero” Kelly, this Cannon slasher film from 1980 is a pretty terrible ripoff of HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH but something about it was strangely compelling, maybe partly because of how it veered slightly away from the formula, leading to a twist in the third act that at least I was a little surprised by. But now I never need to see it again. THE APARTMENT always comes to mind and for all I know I really will wind up watching it on New Year’s Eve, with a bottle of champagne I’ll open at midnight just in case any Fran Kubeliks in my life happen to knock on my door shortly after twelve. Not that I expect that to happen. But one that I have a huge fondness for is GET CRAZY, a rock n’ roll comedy from 1983 directed by Allan Arkush. His cult success is of course the earlier ROCK N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL but this is the one I really love. I don’t know if it has a cult—maybe more of a small gathering. Janet Maslin gave it a favorable review in The New York Times when it was released and the Boston Globe once called it “The era’s great lost rock comedy,” so it’s too bad that the film isn’t better known. I once met the female lead Gail Edwards and asked her “Would I be the first person to ever tell you he was a big fan of GET CRAZY?” “No,” she responded with hesitation, indicating that it wasn’t exactly a common occurrence. At the New Beverly’s Dante Festival earlier this year I got to tell Arkush himself how much of a fan I was and he sadly informed me that issues with the sound elements were making a DVD release impossible. That really is a shame, especially because not only am I watching the thing on a VHS, I’m watching a version I taped off HBO more than 20 years ago. It’s still watchable, kind of. I’ll have to make it last. Looking at it again it not only holds up, I find myself wishing that I’d spent more time telling Arkush how much I really do love it.
It’s New Year’s Eve 1983 and world famous rock venue the Saturn Theater is preparing for its big 15th anniversary show. The theater is owned by music legend Max Wolfe (Allen Goorwitz) who is preparing the show with stage manager Neil Allen (Daniel Stern), weasly nephew Sammy (Miles Chapin) and a whole cast of characters. Just as former stage manager Willy Loman (Gail Edwards, best remembered today for the “It’s a Living”/”Making a Living” sitcom) stops by for a visit, Max Wolfe suddenly has to deal with rival concert promoter Colin Beverly (Ed Begley, Jr) who wants to buy the Saturn, level it and build his own massive concert hall. Meanwhile, Neil has to deal with getting the show ready as the acts begin to arrive. They include the King of the Blues, King Blues (Bill Henderson), New Wave star Nada (Lori Eastside) and her band with “special guest star Piggy” (Lee Ving), Captain Cloud (Howard Kaylan of The Turles) and the Rainbow Telegraph and the Jagger-like rock legend Reggie Wanker (top-billed Malcolm MacDowell).
The film is a huge hodge-podge of comedy from AIRPLANE!-type gags to lot of truly tasteless jokes to a lot of sex and drug humor (it’s hard to imagine this film being made, or at least made with some of these jokes, only a few years later as “Just Say No” and AIDS hit the news) to lots and lots of music which, even though the film is a spoof, is surprisingly good. Practically a concert movie for long stretches, the music covers rock, new wave, punk, blues and other things, most of which is very enjoyable while still being a valid comment on the types of music it’s satirizing. MacDowell does all his own singing and is very funny throughout (he gets just about the most insane conclusion to his character arc imaginable) but even better is Lori Eastside, also the film’s choreographer, who is all kinds of awesome as new wave singer Nada (NADANADANADANADANADA) and Lee Ving as punk singer Piggy, so hardcore that he wears barbed wire around his chest, is amazing. Amazing. Also in there is Lou Reed, very funny as the Dylan-like recluse Auden (introduced in a shot composition that parodies the cover of the “Bringing It All Back Home” album) who gets convinced to turn up at the show. Inspired by Arkush’s own days when he worked at the Fillmore East theater in New York, within it’s nonstop comedy the whole thing is very much a tribute by Arkush to this world. He clearly loves the music and the people, with the feeling extending to everything about the film, one of the many things that make it fun to see again and again all the way through the end credits and remember not to leave until they’re done. If only the world of music were still as fun as it looks here. There’s a no-holds-barred feel to the comedy in every possible way and the movie doesn’t waste any time with that tone starting right from the beginning but for all the sex and drug, many of the funniest things in the movie are the silliest—there’s an upside-down gag which gets me laughing every time. Random Tarantino observation: throughout GET CRAZY a certain font is used to introduce characters or settings, freeing the film from the burden of too much exposition. When Harvey Keitel’s Winston Wolf drives up in PULP FICTION that exact same font is used (“nine minutes thirty seconds later…”) and the way it gets wiped off the screen I almost have to believe that it’s a reference to this movie.
The leads are all very funny--Stern and Edwards in particular have a nice chemistry without the love story ever getting too bogged down. The film really does have a huge cast, to the point where it seems like almost everyone who gets a line is somebody recognizable. Also appearing, among others, are HALLOWEEN III’s Stacey Nelkin, Fabian, Bobby Sherman, John Densmore, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Robert Picardo, Dick Miller, Jackie Joseph, Clint Howard, Anna Bjorn (also in MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITTI, the New Year’s movie I wrote about at the beginning of 2008) and probably somebody else I’m forgetting to mention. Everyone feels like they hit just the right note and there really is a party atmosphere to the whole thing giving the impression that everyone is getting along. Malcolm MacDowell even says “Catch ya later” to his BLUE THUNDER co-star Stern at one point, an in-joke I can’t believe I didn’t catch years ago.
The New Year’s Eve setting seems a little random--hell, there are more random things in this movie than I could possibly list anyway--but it’s a valid reason why Max Wolfe hopes it will be “the biggest concert in the history of the world”, as well as a good excuse for everyone partying so hard. But the occasion also provides a small amount of optimism in the film. “The End is always a new beginning,” offers Captain Cloud and the whole thing does look forward to the future with hope and promise. After watching it countless times over the years, GET CRAZY is still hugely enjoyable and makes me laugh out loud throughout. Until my tape of it disintegrates, it’s the perfect thing to watch after THE APARTMENT as I wait, wondering if Miss Kubelik will show up at my door so we can start the New Year together. Even if that doesn’t happen, the night will still be a new beginning. Happy New Year to all.