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.

18 comments:

Captain Terrific said...

GREAT movie, truly unheralded. I wish I still had my vhs copy taped off HBO! Arkush's HEARTBEEPS is also on my list of buried treasures, though I suspect he prefers it buried.

January at the Egyptian is loaded with must see entertainment. I highly recommend the amazing double bills running on the 23, 24 and 25 if you've missed them in the past.

Happy New Year, Peel. You are our man in L.A.

Mr. Peel said...

Great to hear from another GET CRAZY fan! If only more knew about it. As for HEARTBEEPS I remember it but I'm not sure I've ever seen the whole thing from start to finish, so it's on my netflix queue just in case.

And I'll definitely be going to the Egyptian a few times in the next month--there's some great stuff coming up like FREEBIE AND THE BEAN which I saw there are few years ago and absolutely loved.

Thanks very much Captain Terrific, whoever you are!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Mr. Peel-- Can I pencil you in for FREEBIE plus HICKEY AND BOGGS? God, this is almost as good as CHARLEY VARRICK & PELHAM!

Thanks for this excellent revisiting of GET CRAZY, a movie that is, you are absolutely correct, way better than what little reputation it seems to have. I actually got to speak with Allan Arkush at some length at a Christmas party a couple of weeks ago, and I not only related to him my GET CRAZY love (he reiterated exactly what you said, Mr. P., with noticeable disappointment), but my fondness for HEARTBEEPS as well. I asked him if he thought there would ever be a reconstituted version made available that added back in the things that were obviously cut down for the theatrical release. He told me he really didn't know if the elements were still out there or not, but if they were it seemed unlikely that such an event would occur. And actually, Captain Terrific, he seemed rather pleased that someone remembered the movie with anything resembling respect and affection. From our conversation, I think he concurs that it's a buried treasure and would jump at the chance to see it restored.

Anyway, best of all y'all in 2009. See you at the Egyptian in January? (I'll be there tonight for EARTHQUAKE too!)

Mr. Peel said...

Dennis--

Thanks very much for that and great to see you the other night, if only briefly. Glad to learn that you know and love GET CRAZY as well. And I'm definitely looking forward to the FREEBIE/HICKEY double bill!

aarkush said...

Thank you so much for the nice comments about a forgotten film. it will remain as such because the original mag sound has been lost. Along with Get Crazy this is one of my favorite works that have received basicly no distribution & deserved better.
It was insane to make-New Year's EVE for 2 months!!! A giant & very high energy cast that kept me running. The only way I could make it (David Begelman ran the production company that put up the money) was as an "Airplane kind of comedy. I sometimes wish I could remake with the original intention & tone, sort of a Rock n Roll Amarcord is you cam imagine such a thing.
Working with Malocom M. was a joy. He has been a big supporter of the film thru out the years, and we would often reminisce on the set of Heroes hr really liked being Reggie Wanker. About 10 years ago Lou Reed came up to me in a restaurant & thanked me,
"Hey Man, its the only time anyone has ever made me be funny."
So thanks again guys. It was really nice to meet you both.

aarkush said...

I meant to write, "Along with Elvis Meets Nixon" this is one of my fave lost films.

Mr. Peel said...

Allan—

I’m absolutely thrilled to hear from you and want you to know that I meant every word of it. The “Rock n’ Roll Amarcord” idea sounds fascinating but I really do love the film we got. If I had just listed all the things I look forward to each time I see it the piece would have been much, much longer. It was great reading your comments here and I’m just sorry that it seems like we won’t get to hear a full audio commentary any time soon. Anyway, it was great getting to meet you too and I’ll be sure to say hello if our paths cross again at the New Beverly! Again, thanks very much!

aaron said...

I'm coming to this late, but what a great piece on a great film - where oh where did you find those fantastic stills?! I can't believe that this will now be a "lost" film.

One of my more prized movie memorabilia possessions is an LP of the film signed by McDowall and Howard Kaylan (Captain Cloud!)

I asked McDowall about it in '07, noting that he's since worked with Arkush again, on "Heroes". He had nothing but nice words for the film and the man.

Mr. Peel said...

Aaron--

Thanks so much, I'm glad you liked the piece. And it shows that the film has another fan out there! Check out the imdb page, I think there are a few shots from it. And that's great that you have a signed copy of the album! I wish there were a CD of it.

aarkush said...

Guys, Once again i'm flattered & surprised that Get Crazy gets any attention at all.so thanks. i don't think the soundtrack came out on CD, I have a vinyl LP somewhere.
The cinemateque does have some good stuff coming up. When I worked for Roger Corman in the 70's he was going thru a big car chase period so we had to study every movie with a car chase in it since i was directing a lot of second unit & cutting trailers with car chases in them. Many Saturday matinees at the Vista & on Hollywood Blvd. So I've seen Freebie & the Bean several times, also Dirty Mary...., Vanishing Point, Gone in 60 Seconds(the original), and so many others. Gonna pass on Freebie but maybe Play It As It Lays-Love Tuesday Weld, she will always be Thalia meninger to me, and in the cashmere sweater club in Lord Love a Duck & of course Pretty Poison.

aarkush said...

Guys, Once again i'm flattered & surprised that Get Crazy gets any attention at all.so thanks. i don't think the soundtrack came out on CD, I have a vinyl LP somewhere.
The cinemateque does have some good stuff coming up. When I worked for Roger Corman in the 70's he was going thru a big car chase period so we had to study every movie with a car chase in it since i was directing a lot of second unit & cutting trailers with car chases in them. Many Saturday matinees at the Vista & on Hollywood Blvd. So I've seen Freebie & the Bean several times, also Dirty Mary...., Vanishing Point, Gone in 60 Seconds(the original), and so many others. Gonna pass on Freebie but maybe Play It As It Lays-Love Tuesday Weld, she will always be Thalia meninger to me, and in the cashmere sweater club in Lord Love a Duck & of course Pretty Poison.

Mr. Peel said...

Allan, it's a huge pleasure for somebody like myself to get the chance to tell you just how much I've enjoyed this film over the years. I'm pretty sure I have a cassette of the soundtrack somewhere as well. I really should try to find it.

I'm really looking forward to a few of these films coming up at the Egyptian and may very well be spending a good deal of time there over the next few days. I'll keep an eye out for you, Allan, so I can say hello and once again tell you how much I really love this film!

mike weber/fairportfan said...

I had a running battle with IMDB a few years ago and finally convinced them to list the film under "Get Crazy!" rather than "Flip Out".

My own review of the film is at http://electronictiger.net/reviews/getcrazy.htm

In the review i mention the video Arkush did for Bette Midler's version of "Beast of Burden" {http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4R9FiKE0Tk}, which seems to have been made at the same time, and features what i'm pretty sure is Stacy Nelkin (at about 2:40, as Bette sings the line about "little sister").

Woth a watch if you haven't seen it.

aarkush said...

I really had a great time making the Beast of Burden video.Yes that is Stacy Nelkin. I made a couple more, Elvis Costelllo's "Only Flame in Town" & Christine Mc Vie's "Love Will Show Us How." right after Get Crazy & the videos I started Directing the TV series "Fame".
Check out the latest stuff on Trailersfromhell.com I did a commentery on Eat My Dust thats fun.

mike weber/fairportfan said...

Neat to get a response from Alan confirming my ID of Stacy Nelkinin the "Beast of Burden" video.

Your remark about how even a few years later, in the "Just Say NO" and AIDS era, it would have been impossible to make this film echoes my own remarks in a review i posted at Amazon many years ago - and also reminds me that I was saddened when i discovered (in doing some research on "Get Crazy!" for a post i'm doing elsewhere) that Suzi Sidewinder, one of the members of Nada's band in the film, died only a few years later (987) from AIDS complications...

aarkush said...

yes, that was sad about Suzie Sidewinder. i still stay in touch with Lori Eastside. We have worked together in several different capacities over the years. that's her as a saxophone player in my Elvis Costello video"Only Flame". She choreographed "Shake Rattle & Rock", and more...........
Get Crazy at the Cinefamily was a blast.

Fred said...

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.

I remember that! Man, I'm so delighted that Mr. Peel chose to review this; I'm tempted to go back, and see how I'd find the film myself, after all these years. (The last time I saw it was on a midnight double bill with Phantom of the Paradise- who knew De Palma and Arkush would be such a natural mix?)

Michael Koenig said...

Alan, if this is you, I BEG YOU - please push to have this released on DVD/BluRay.

I saw this movie as a kid in a theater in Williston, ND ten times, and have been in love with it ever since.

I was fortunate enough to make a DVD copy of a broadcast of your film in Showtime a few years back, and got my daughter hooked on it as well.

It truly is a lost masterpiece, and it should be brought back.