“If this is love, sex is gonna kill you!”
Get Crazy, 1983 (Malcolm McDowell), Embassy Pictures
This is such a fun movie! Pandemonium reigns as harried stage manager Neil Allen (Daniel Stern) tries to put together the ultimate 1983 New Year’s party for Max Wolfe’s (Allen Garfield) famous Saturn Theater in Los Angeles. As he wrangles ridiculous rock acts and coordinates dangerous stage antics, he experiences hilarious sex fantasy sequences involving Willy Loman (pretty Gail Edwards), the former stage manager who has come to visit an ailing Max. Meanwhile, Ed Begley Jr.’s rival promoter, Colin Beverly wants to buy out Max’s lease so he can bulldoze it and put up a skyscraper.
Among the bands performing this night are Nada, a bizarre quasi pop-punk Go-Gos-type group with special guest, Piggy (Lee Ving from Fear!), The King of the Blues (Bill Henderson of the famous “Fred ‘The Dorf’ Dorffman tribute scene from Fletch), a hilarious Malcolm McDowell as Mick Jagger analog, Reggie Wanker, and the great Lou Reed as the Dylan-esque Auden, who hops in a cab destined for the show but tells the driver to take the scenic route so he can work on his new song.
The film plays with various music conceits; the stereotypical rock stars, the sex, the drugs, the groupies, and the money-grubbing developers. When Bill Graham (obviously the inspiration for Max Wolfe) closed the doors of the Fillmore claiming Woodstock opened the flood-gates to music of a lower quality, he pretty much killed the rock n’ roll vibe in the late sixties. Graham made enormous sums of money booking burgeoning rock acts like The Jefferson Airplane and The Doors. In point of fact, he made much more money than those bands saw, so it was about making money, not making music. Max Wolfe is more of an altruistic benefactor to young musicians and kids with no money. Director Allan Arkush had based the movie on his own experiences as an usher at Fillmore.
Get Crazy is loaded with sight gags in addition to Stern’s fantasies. A flooded restroom becomes the ultimate bong for a hookah party. A sentient marijuana cigarette runs through the mezzanine chased by a firefighter. A funeral for an old blues legend populated by a bunch of blind guys with canes takes a turn for the worse. A mysterious dark-cloaked entity provides special effects-laden drug trips to unsuspecting parties. An epic drum solo that ends in a torrent of sweat and turkey legs. Reggie Wanker emerges from under a pile of naked groupie bodies that recalls McDowell’s turn as Caligula a couple of years before.
The cast is incredible. Supplementing Stern, Edwards, Garfield, and McDowell and Reed, we have Stacey Nelkin as Stern’s baby sister, Robert Picardo as the Fire Marshal, Bobby Sherman and Fabian, Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel, Clint Howard, and Dick Miller (a staple of Roger Corman, Joe Dante, and Allan Arkush movies). Despite the work of the entertaining stars, Arkush wanted Tom Hanks for the role of Neil, Jerry Orbach for Garfield’s part, and Mariska Hargitay playing Nelkin’s part (all of whom were virtual unknowns at the time). He was vetoed by Herb Solow, the veteran producer of the movie. I can’t say the movie would’ve been better with Arkush’s choices, because I really love this movie.
In a cute addendum to the credits, Lou Reed’s Auden has missed the show, but finally arrives to perform his song, “My Baby Sister” for an audience of one: Stacey Nelkin (unless you count the sentient marijuana cigarette and a dog wearing sunglasses), who has been waiting for him all night long. It’s wonderful and the perfect ending for a movie like this.
Get Crazy is an interesting case of a movie that was never meant to be seen, like the 1994 version of The Fantastic Four produced by Roger Corman’s company. According to Allan Arkush, shares in the picture were sold to investors expecting the movie to fail, like the plot of Mel Brooks’ The Producers. It was given virtually no promotion or publicity. The movie was sold to cable television and became an instant cult hit along with other musical movies at the time like Smithereens and The Apple. Previously, Arkush directed Rock ‘n’ Roll High School starring P.J. Soles and The Ramones and the criminally underrated Heartbeeps with Andy Kaufman.
Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.