Get Crazy (Allan Arkush, 1983)

IT WAS THE GREATEST ROCK EVENT EVER … UNTIL THE PLACE EXPLODED!

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddIt is December 31, 1982.  Ring in 1983 at the Saturn Theater’s annual New Year’s Eve concert – featuring the far-out Captain Cloud and the Rainbow Telegraph, the king bluesman himself, King Blues, Nada and her pop bubble gum/New Wave/punk ensemble, rock icon Reggie Wanker, and folk-rock legend Auden!

The Saturn Theater’s New Year’s Eve concert is an institution to its owner, master showman Max Wolfe (Allen Garfield), but when Max has a heart attack hours before the concert and villainous promoter Colin Beverly (Ed Begley Jr.) enlists Max’s nephew Sammy (Miles Chapin) in a plot to ruin the event and have the venue signed over to Beverly, its up to stage manager Neil Allen (Daniel Stern) and visiting former stage manager Willy Loman (Gail Edwards) to ensure the show goes on.  Luckily Allen and Loman can rely on the dedication of their crew, the professionalism of their acts, and the case of pharmaceuticals provided by the spectral Electric Larry to see the concert through.  Boasting musical performances by Lou Reed, Malcolm McDowell, Lee Ving, Bill Henderson, and Lori Eastside, Allan Arkush (Rock ‘n’ Roll High School) presents a hilarious concert movie spoof celebrating sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll as only the 1980s would have it.

Special Features:

  • New high definition digital transfer
  • High definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard DVD Presentation
  • Original Stereo 2.0 and 5.1 Dolby Surround Options
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Introduction by director, producer and writer Edgar Wright
  • Audio commentary by director Allan Arkush
  • There Will Be No Encores – a new documentary on the making of Get Crazy featuring new interviews with Allan Arkush, Daniel Stern, Malcolm McDowell, Gail Edwards, Allen Garfield, Ed Begley, Jr., Stacey Nelkin, Dan Frischman, Franklyn Ajaye, Robert Picardo, Dick Miller, and Mary Woronov
  • Hot Shots – a new documentary on the music of Get Crazy featuring new interviews with Allan Arkush, Malcolm McDowell, Howard Kaylan, Lee Ving, John Densmore, Lori Eastside, Fabian, and Bobby Sherman
  • Gone Crazy! – director, producer and actor Eli Roth on Get Crazy
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by cult film scholar Mike Watt

Happy new year from MMC!  We kick off 2016 with a New Year’s-themed movie ready to rock your socks (and all your other clothes!) off – Allan Arkush’s Get Crazy!

While being primarily a cult label devoted to horror and violent content, Arrow Video does put aside space for some of those quirkier films of the ’70s and ’80s that choose frivolity and excess over blood and gore.  It’s been quite a while since Arrow Video has made such an announcement, and so MMC! proposes Allan Arkush’s Get Crazy (1983) for cult film canonization.  Despite lacking switchblade killers and zombie hordes, Get Crazy would be a great Arrow Video title thanks to its abundant devotion to skin and narcotics.  It is a film distinctly of the 1980s, before AIDS and Nancy Reagan cast a pall over the party, full of wacky, un-PC humour and a rock ‘n’ roll ethic hearkening back to the ’60s and ’70s music scenes where live performances, iconic venues, and inventive programming mattered.  Part “putting an a show” musical, part parody film, part concert movie – Get Crazy worships at the altar of rock and roll indulgence, demanding a mere 92 minutes be sacrificed to experience the transcendence of 1980s excess.

Allan Arkush’s Get Crazy is inspired by (and dedicated to) his time as an usher at the legendary Fillmore East, and he claims it is based on real events.  Arkush had wanted to make his quasi-memoir in a realist style, but found it would only be produced as an Airplane-style comedy and, fresh of the failure of Heartbeeps (1981), Arkush was happy to make something he cared about.  More on that troubled production later.

Get Crazy is set in Max Wolfe’s Saturn Theatre just hours before the venue’s annual New Year’s Eve concert.  After rejecting a sweetheart deal from slimy promoter and mercenary capitalist Colin Beverly (Ed Begley, Jr. flanked by yes-men played by Fabian and Bobby Sherman), Wolfe suffers a (supposed) heart attack, leaving it up to his stage manager Neil Allen (Daniel Stern) and his visiting former stage manager Willy Loman (Gail Edwards) to rally the crew and put on the show.  Together, they must negotiate the wild impulses of their performers, avoid the wrath of an over-zealous fire inspector (Robert Picardo), watch over Neil’s younger sister (Stacey Nelkin), and manage their mutual attraction (which is represented in outlandish fantasy sequences featuring Neil as Tarzan or Willy as a damsel burned at the stake).  Adding further complication is Max’s greedy nephew Sammy who plots to ruin the concert and have the Theatre signed over to him so as to ingratiate himself to Beverly.  Thankfully, Neil and Willy have the help of Electric Larry, a supernatural drug-dealer who looks like Darth Vader as a Cadillac-driving pimp and doles out pills and powders to inspire stagehands and musicians alike.

Intermixed with Get Crazy‘s zany, backstage hijinks are a series of stage performances usually presented in full, giving the film the feeling of a concert movie.  Much as Bill Graham would program inspired line-ups for shows, having Miles Davis open for Neil Young, Max Wolfe’s New Year’s Eve bash presents an array of acts unusually diverse by contemporary standards.  King Blues (Bill Henderson), the king of the blues, arrives from a blind bluesman funeral (watch your step!) and leads off with a Jewish backing band to play “The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll” (by Muddy Waters) and “Hoochie Coochie Man” (by Willie Dixon), the latter being covered by each subsequent act.  The Nada Band, a New Wave pop/punk act led by Lori Eastside originally of Kid Creole and the Coconuts, follows with a rabid performance by Piggy (Lee Ving of the LA hardcore punk band Fear).  Malcolm McDowell’s Jagger-like Reggie Wanker struts and enunciates through a closing set like a glam rock march hare and the shows rounds out with a performance of “Auld Lang Syne” by Captain Cloud and the Rainbow Telegraph (Captain Cloud performed by the Turtles’ Howard Kaylan).  Lou Reed’s metaphysical rocker Auden, who spends virtually all of the film riding around in a taxicab, arrives to the show late, closing the film with a performance of “Little Sister” just for Neil’s sister Susie.

Get Crazy‘s wild ride is hugely entertaining both on stage and off, providing throughout the sense of spontaneity characteristic of rock.  That recklessness and audacity is often played for laughs in Arkush’s film, but it is usually done in the good ol’ name of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.  Get Crazy very much feels like a film that could not be made today.  The women are too often undressed, the narcotics are too easily consumed, and the sex is too heedlessly engaged in.  It’s salacious, good-natured, and sometimes in questionable taste (particularly by today’s standards), but that’s its charm and the basis for its small cult following.  Arkush reports that the sound masters and negatives to Get Crazy have since been lost, meaning that any quality release of the movie is presumably impossible, but we can still dream.

Part of that dream involves an Arrow Video edition of Get Crazy that not only provides a high-definition transfer of this poorly released film, but also includes a collection of special features that celebrates the movie’s very unusual production history.  Arkush freely complains that Get Crazy‘s producers over-financed the film in an effort to produce a flop straight out of The Producers.  Imagine Arkush’s desired cast of Tom Hanks, Mariska Hargitay, and Jerry Orbach, denied by producer Herbert F. Sokolow!  The movie was filmed in LA’s Wiltern Theatre, which was scheduled for extensive renovation and therefore available to be trashed by the production.  McDowell was cast in the film and on set before he realized that his character engages in a revelatory dialogue with his own penis, which he proceeds to hire as his new manager.  McDowell even throws out a reference to Blue Thunder (John Badham, 1983) with the line, “Catch ya later.”  For those musically savvy enough, Get Crazy is full of in-jokes, including recreated album covers and characters named after drum solos.  For the rest of us, an Arrow Video edition would let us in on these gags.

Get Crazy PosterDespite whatever challenges Arkush faced, Get Crazy manages to be both an insightful love-letter to live rock and a fitting satire of its excesses and failures.  And while the movie’s commercial failure closed Arkush’s film career (moving on to a sustained life in TV), it remains a frantic, fun ride that stands ready to find a broader cult audience.  Arrow Video is the kind of label that understands the importance of helicopters blowing the tops off of attractive women and could give appropriate due to Reggie Wanker’s massive codpiece.  Most importantly, Arrow Video would appreciate the delicate beauty of this poster for the film and the subtle message conveyed by the cannon firing from between Reggie’s legs (hint: the cannon is his penis and the character has a quite a lot of sex).

sis-backstageblogathon-2Credits:  Let’s start with a quick shout out to The Backstage Blogathon scheduled for later this month.  Get Crazy would qualify but for it being made past the blogathon’s cut off of 1970, and so we offer it as a kind of unofficial prelude to our next proposed title, Hellzapoppin’ (H. C. Potter and Edward F. Cline, 1941), and to the event generally.  Be sure to check out what are sure to be some great posts, including MMC! favourites To Be or Not to Be, The Red Shoes, Singin’ in the Rain, , Unfaithfully Yours, All About Eve, A Night at the Opera, Contempt, Variety Lights, Sunset Boulevard, and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (but alas no Bye Bye Birdie as yet).

With regard to our title here, we’ve proposed an edition that emphasizes the making of Get Crazy, featuring extensive interviews.  Allan Arkush has spoken about the film’s production quite frequently, including the Trailers From Hell video posted above and his interview with Jon Zelazny.  We also appreciated Malcolm McDowell’s good-natured and self-deprecating interview on his involvement in the project and hope that he would still be open to discussing the film, as would his co-stars.  We’ve included testimonials by Edgar Wright and Eli Roth, who are both on record as fans of Get Crazy, and chose Mike Watt to supply a booklet essay based on his discussion of the movie in his book, Fervid Filmmaking: 66 Cult Pictures of Vision, Verve and No Self-Restraint.

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4 thoughts on “Get Crazy (Allan Arkush, 1983)

  1. Silver Screenings January 8, 2016 / 7:22 pm

    I’m so glad you reviewed this, otherwise I never would have heard of it. It sounds like a lot of fun!

  2. Michael watt August 25, 2016 / 6:04 pm

    I appreciate the vote of confidence in writing the imaginary liner notes. Thank you very much! I hope in at least one alternate universe, this happened.

    • spinenumbered August 25, 2016 / 6:35 pm

      Thanks for the response! I’m glad you’re up for the imaginary commitment!

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