Director Rene Daalder is best known in cult film circles as the man who gave us Massacre at Central High. But now Cult Epics has released a pair of his films (this and Here Is Always Somewhere Else) that seem more in keeping with his real interests. A long and twisting road led to this effort, starting with an abortive collaboration with Russ Meyer and the Sex Pistols, which brought Daalder into the world of punk rock. In that field he met Tomata Du Plenty, vocalist for The Screamers. After funding for their proposed collaboration Mensch collapsed and Du Plenty’s HIV-positive status became apparent, they put together the present film out of a mixture of footage from the abandoned project, plus new elements. The striking result is Du Plenty as the last survivor of nuclear holocaust, holed up in his bunker, declaming/singing poetic rants about the history of the United States, all the while surrounded by a phantasmagoria of bizarre sights. Whether the result is compelling or pretentious (or both) will depend on one’s sympathies with respect to the art scene from which it emerges, but that it is a work that rigorously works out its conceptual and artistic premises all the way to the end cannot be denied.
Since music plays a crucial role in this release (to be more accurate, it pretty much defines the release), it’s nice that the soundtrack sounds as good as it does. Since we’re talking a semi-underground production originally released in 1986, audiophiles will obviously have to give up any hope of a 5.1 score. But the 2.0 is more than adequate, very lively, and the score is aggressively effective. I doubt very much the film could sound any better than it does, and if it did, the excessive polish would rob the work of its necessary and inherent rawness. At one point during the appended interview with Daalder, his voice suddenly shifts from the front to the rear speakers, for no particular reason, and the result is rather disconcerting.
Once more, this is a disc whose image defies conventional star ratings. All sorts of grain and artifacting is visible, of course, but this is entirely a product of the source material, some of which is extremely raw, and the look is part and parcel of the artistic experience of the film. So, granting the rough edges attendant on such a production, the transfer is excellent, sharp and clear, and adding no new flaws.
A good place to start, before hitting the play button, is with the liner notes, which provide a necessary history of the making of the film. Disc 1 offers a live video of The Screamers (“Vertigo”), four newly released tracks from Du Plenty and co-star Sheela Edwards (two each and audio only, natch), a behind-the-scenes still gallery, original and new trailers for the film as well as “Palace of Variety,” and scenes from the aborted Mensch.
Disc 2 ranges further afield, offering bits and pieces that don’t necessarily have anything to do with Du Plenty, but are nonetheless interesting in their own right. Related to Du Plenty is 40 minutes of concert footage of The Screamers and a tribute to Du Plenty (“Punish Or Be Damned”). There’s another bit of music in the form of a video (“Girls”) by Penelope Houston. Branching out, “Je Maintiendrai” is a satirical mockumentary by Daalder (whose humour, we learn in Here Is Always Somewhere Else, backfired in his native Holland). There is also a strong interview with Daalder, wherein he recounts what led him to the movie (and his memories of working with the Pistols and Meyer are fascinating). Finally, there is footage of Fluxus artist Al Hansen and parts of an interview with Mila (Vampira) Nurmi. Both of these pieces are excerpts from forthcoming films, and the latter will, of course, be of special interest to cult film fanatics.
A thoroughly fascinating release, whose accompanying extras go a long way to grounding a neophyte viewer in the punk world from which the film emerges.