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The Bottom Shelf by Adam Jahnke

Rock & Roll All Nite

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Welcome back, party animals. This time out, I thought we'd crank The Bottom Shelf up to 11 and focus on a few discs with a rock bent. How exactly one can crank up a shelf or even an on-line column to 11, I'm not quite sure but I'm willing to give it a shot. So shout it out loud, head-bangers. Are you ready to rock?


Heavy Metal Parking Lot

Heavy Metal Parking Lot
1986 (2005) - Factory 515

I first saw Heavy Metal Parking Lot a few years ago. The short film came into my possession in the time-honored way of all underground movies. A friend gave me a copy of a copy of a copy of a zillionth generation VHS tape. Like so many others before me, I immediately fell in love with the movie. Now, in honor of the short's 20th anniversary, it looks as though the HMPL underground railroad may be pulling into the station as producers John Heyn and Jeff Krulik have released the definitive HMPL DVD.

In May 1986, Heyn and Krulik took some borrowed video equipment from their local public access cable station to the Capital Centre just outside of Washington, DC, to interview fans tailgating in the parking lot before a Judas Priest concert. What they captured is time-capsule filmmaking at its best.


For fifteen minutes, we're treated to some of the funniest, most candid drunken ramblings ever captured on ¾-inch videotape. From the girl who's ready to jump Rob Halford's bones to the kid in the zebra-striped outfit who declares that "all this punk shit sucks" and says that Madonna can go to hell, HMPL freezes the heavy metal scene in all its mid-80's glory.

What makes HMPL such a classic is that while it captures a specific time and place, the bigger picture you see here is universal. A similar movie shot at a one-time event like Live Aid or at a stop on a milestone circuit like a band's farewell tour wouldn't have the same universal appeal. HMPL captures a seemingly random stop on the tour of a very popular band. You may have never attended a Judas Priest concert in your life but if you were around small town USA in 1986, you knew people just like this. These aren't big-city music fans hitting major clubs in New York or LA. These are headbangers from the heartland. No matter if you spent 1986 in Maryland, Minnesota or, like me, Montana, you'll recognize either yourself or your friends in these faces.

Technically, Heavy Metal Parking Lot looks and sounds better than ever on this DVD. I'm grading on a curve here since in this case "better than ever" isn't really a big leap over how most of us saw this movie in the first place. Let's just say that the image is surprisingly good for a 20-year-old videotape. And the audio... well, it sounds pretty good and frankly it's a bit of a miracle that they got sound as good as they did. Judge for yourself. You can actually see the sound equipment they used in pretty much every shot.

Since HMPL itself runs only about 15 minutes, you'll probably be expecting some major extras to justify picking this up on DVD. Thankfully, the disc does not disappoint. You might want to make your first stop the interactive timeline found in the Production Notes & Credits section of the disc. This spells out the history of HMPL, linking to most of the other features on the disc. If you go at the bonuses this way, it'll help you understand some of the more cryptic features on here such as the TV's From Outer Space music video. The feature itself boasts a commentary by Heyn and Krulik, an introduction by local TV horror host Count Gore De Vol, and an amusing feature called Dub-O-Vision, allowing you to watch the movie the way most of us saw it in the first place, with all the quality of a 10th generation VHS copy.

The packed disc also includes new interviews with a few of the alumni of the parking lot, some deleted footage from the original shoot, a melancholy feature on the destruction of the Capital Centre, and a bunch of features produced for the 15th anniversary HMPL tour. You also get the three official "sequels" made by Heyn and Krulik. Monster Truck Parking Lot is actually more of a trailer for a project that was abandoned after the filmmakers lost interest in the subject. Neil Diamond Parking Lot returns to the Capital Centre to chat with a very different group of music fans. And Harry Potter Parking Lot goes to a local bookstore to talk to kids waiting in line for a book signing with J.K. Rowling. HPPL was my favorite of these follow-ups, although NDPL has its moments. There's a ton of other stuff on this disc, including a music video "tribute" (or rip-off if you're less charitable), media coverage, and a lengthy tour of a Priest fan's metal-themed basement which may give you more information about the band than you care to know. There's no denying you get your money's worth with this disc.

Heavy Metal Parking Lot is one of my favorite short films of all time, guaranteed to remind you where you were in '86. I'm extremely happy that it's come out on DVD, if for no other reason than maybe now John Heyn and Jeff Krulik might be able to make some money off this movie that has been bootlegged for so long. It's available on their website at www.heavymetalparkinglot.com. Check it out and play it loud.

Film Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/A



Thunderstruck

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Thunderstruck
2004 (2005) - Film Finance Corporation Australia (Anchor Bay)

Metal fans are also the focal point of the Australian comedy Thunderstruck. In 1991, five friends and band-mates make each other a promise following an AC/DC concert. If any of them should die young, the others will bury him next to the grave of AC/DC's late lead singer Bon Scott. Flash forward to 2004. The mates' band, The Jack, has broken up and they've gone their separate ways. Only one of them has found any measure of success in the music industry, selling out as a jingle writer and married to a harpy of a pop singer. His death in a freak accident (struck by lightning on a golf course) reunites the remaining four. They steal their friend's ashes and embark on a road trip across Australia to keep their promise.

Thunderstruck is an amiable, if somewhat standard road comedy. You could think of it as the AC/DC equivalent to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The mates fight, joke, sing, reminisce and eventually rediscover their bonds of friendship.


Along the way, they encounter all sorts of bizarre Australian locals, including a hostile wheelchair rugby team and two metalheads truly obsessed with AC/DC who are under the mistaken impression that the ashes belong to Bon Scott himself. Some of this works and some of it doesn't. But the cast is quite likable and there's no denying the effectiveness of the rousing, if somewhat hokey, finale.

Anchor Bay's DVD does a fine job presenting the film with a solid picture and a pretty good 5.1 sound mix. Extras include a decent audio commentary by director Darren Ashton and producer Jodi Matterson, joined via telephone at various times by various actors and writer/actor Shaun Angus Hall. There are a number of deleted scenes, each of which is introduced by Ashton and film editor Martin Connor. The 13-minute Making Thunderstruck is a fine but quick featurette, mostly of interest for providing a glimpse at some rehearsal footage. The disc also has a couple of Easter eggs and trailers for this and other recent Anchor Bay releases.

Thunderstruck is a fun little movie that is probably worth checking out once, especially if you're an AC/DC fan, but didn't really strike me as particularly memorable. The film's breezy attitude and brief running time make it a difficult movie to dislike, even if there's not much here to really fall in love with, either.

Film Rating: C+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/B-



The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons

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The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons
1969-1974 (2005) - Daphne Productions (Shout! Factory)

If you're looking for a demonstration of how much television has changed in the last thirty years, look no further. The Dick Cavett Show, which ran on ABC in various incarnations from 1969 to 1975, was truly like nothing else on the air today. The format of the show was fairly standard-issue late night chat. But Cavett's odd mixture of guests, coupled with his charm and skill as an interviewer, made the show unique. Charlie Rose comes close but doesn't provide the odd melting pot of personalities that Cavett's show had.

For reasons that remain unclear even to Cavett himself, his show became a popular destination for many of the era's most legendary rock stars. Rock Icons is a three-disc set compiling several of the show's best music-related episodes. Disc one kicks things off with one of the most famous rock moments ever broadcast on television. August 19, 1969, the day after the conclusion of Woodstock, Jefferson Airplane, Steven Stills and David Crosby appeared on the Cavett show. Jimi Hendrix was also scheduled to appear but couldn't make it, having closed the show just hours before.


Also on the program was a young Canadian singer-songwriter named Joni Mitchell. Mitchell had been invited to Woodstock but her manager forbade her attending, insisting that appearing on The Dick Cavett Show was far more important to her career than going to a music festival. It's a fascinating hour, with terrific performances by all the artists and a free-spirited sit-in of an interview. The disc continues with a legendary episode from 1970 featuring Sly and the Family Stone. Their performance is excellent but it's when Sly joins the panel (including Debbie Reynolds, tennis player Pancho Gonzales, and Senator and Mrs. Fred Harris) that things really get bizarre. The final episode on the disc is a 1974 hour devoted to David Bowie. He performs "1984" and "Young Americans" before nervously sitting down for an interview.

Disc two boasts three episodes featuring Janis Joplin, a favorite guest of Cavett's. She performs a number of songs on these episodes, from "To Love Somebody" to "My Baby", all of them electrifying. The first episode feels the most dated, with the improv comedy troupe The Committee performing and getting both Cavett and Joplin to participate in an improv exercise. Episode two demonstrates how unusual the groupings of guests could get, with Janis, Raquel Welch, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and newsman Chet Huntley on the panel. The final episode on the disc has an equally eclectic mix, as Janis shares the stage with Gloria Swanson, ex-NFL star Dave Meggysey, and a young, pre-Lois Lane Margot Kidder.

The third and final disc offers a 1970 episode with Stevie Wonder, who unfortunately leaves before the other guests (including Elsa Lanchester, Alain Delon and Tex Ritter) arrive. The second episode focuses on George Harrison. He performs a number with Gary Wright and Wonderwheel before spending the rest of the episode chatting with Cavett. Ravi Shankar appears later in the episode, performing and joining Harrison and Cavett on the panel. Finally, Paul Simon appears in an episode from 1974. He performs a number of songs, including great versions of "Loves Me Like A Rock" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water", and demonstrates an unfinished version of "Still Crazy After All This Years" for Cavett, several years before the tune would be released. The second half of the show is an unusual panel plugging Cavett's recently released autobiography, with noted authors Anthony Burgess, Barbara Howar, and Jerzy Kosinski interviewing Cavett on his writing process.

Rock Icons showcases great musical performances as well as fascinating period interviews. If you're not interested in, say, Pancho Gonzales' thoughts on tennis, Shout! Factory wisely provides an option allowing you to just play the performances and skip all the other stuff. It's a great idea to have that feature but I'm really happy that Shout! Factory presented the complete, uncut episodes for those of us who care to see them. The Dick Cavett Show was one-of-a-kind and to see these episodes as they were originally broadcast (complete with Cavett making plugs for sponsors like Breck shampoo) is to take a trip back in time. Cavett himself provides new introductions for each of the episodes, setting the stage and providing insight into what was going on behind the scenes.

The episodes themselves are remarkably well-maintained. They look great and the sound, while certainly limited by the technology of the era, is generally quite good. Besides the episode intros, there are a couple of extras on disc one. Bob Weide, a friend of Cavett's and current director of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, interviews Cavett in a 33-minute featurette. They reminisce about the show, share backstage stories, and try to shed some insight into why so many legendary rock stars would only appear on the Cavett show. Cavett Meets The Rolling Stones follows the host backstage at Madison Square Garden, interviewing Mick Jagger during the Stones' 1972 tour. Weide and Cavett set the stage for this segment as well.

At first glance, The Dick Cavett Show might not seem a likely candidate for in-depth DVD treatment. But once you pop it in, it's tough not to become addicted to the 70's vibe, the great music, and the unique format. Dick Cavett was a great host and it's too bad that today's TV landscape probably wouldn't have a place for his low-key, thoughtful, witty style. Loading Rock Icons into your DVD player turns your TV into a window on the past. It'll almost make you wish you had a wood-paneled behemoth of a set instead of that fancy widescreen thing you're stuck with these days.

Program Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/B-



Shelf Space - The Midnight Special

When I decided to do a rock-themed column, I knew I'd have to turn to Mr. MusicTAP himself, Matt Rowe, for advice on the Shelf Space. Particularly since I've already used my top two music choices, Tom Waits' concert film Big Time and The Johnny Cash Show, in previous wish lists. Sure enough, Matt provided several excellent candidates for DVD release, including the classic series Hullaballoo and Don Kirshner's Rock Concert. But I'll have to go with The Midnight Special, the great late-night music show with Wolfman Jack that ran on NBC from 1972-1983. Like any long-running show, there's a fair amount of misses mixed in with the hits. But the show attracted the likes of Santana, David Bowie, Aerosmith, Jim Croce, as well as comedians like Andy Kaufman, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, and members of Monty Python. So far, you can only get one measly episode of the show on disc and that one focuses on Andy Kaufman. Some enterprising company needs to roll up their sleeves and sort out the tangled web of licensing issues that would come with a project like this. The Midnight Special deserves to live again on DVD.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


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