Celebs Behaving Badly | Burbank Edition

This is an installment in a series of personal memoirs. See Celebs Behaving Badly, Celebs Behaving Badly: CalArts Edition, and Celebs Behaving Badly: New York City Edition.

Copyright © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

The gate at The Burbank Studios in 1976.

The gate at The Burbank Studios in 1976. Copyright © 2011 Seeing-Stars.com

Have you ever been to Burbank? Yikes! I spent some quality time there, back in ye olden days before it was a place where anyone actually wanted to live.

Remember The Burbank Studios, the place owned by Columbia Pictures and Warner Bros.? Lotta big TV shows and movies shot there. Once upon a time you could just walk in there armed with nothing but attitude. I did, repeatedly. There’s no better entertainment for free.

Security was indifferent and that place was porn to me. Stars everywhere! I even talked to some without them running away.

Wally World

One time I went to The Burbank Studios with my friend Wendy when she visited me in L.A. Neither of us had any money and we were looking for some cheap fun, so we drove straight to The Burbank Studios.

We parked on the street and headed for the gate. Wendy, never the brightest bulb on the tree, was skeptical that two derps like us could just, you know, walk into a place like that. She was from East Saint Louis, where the only hot stuff was burning tenements. “Just act like you own the place,” I told her.

As if on cue, Buddy Hackett walked past us and we coolly annexed the ass end of his entourage. The guards looked up long enough to be unimpressed before going back to their crossword puzzles.

We were in! We wandered over to the Western town, rubbernecking and smacking into things all the way. A TV show was shooting on Laramie Street.

Laramie Street

Laramie Street

We stood on the wooden porch of a fake building, watching Blythe Danner pretend to have a Wild West snitty fit.

Danner was so adorable, the director felt bad about telling her she wasn’t acting petulant enough. There was laughter while they redid the scene a few times. When she finally got it right, the crew applauded. Where do I get a job like that?

So Wendy and I were intently watching this drama-within-a-drama when some guy sidled up to us on our fake porch and hit on us. Actually, he was pretty cute and very nice. He was actually Richard Thomas. Turns out the shoot we were watching was “The Waltons.”

Thomas tried really hard to befriend us. We kind of just went “uh huh, uh huh” and ignored him, being fixated on the bullshit happening across the fake street. I felt guilty about it later. But he made our trip. Thank you, John-Boy.

john-boy

Norm Alden

Norm Alden

The Girl From S.T.U.P.I.D.

Norm Alden was a prolific character actor in Hollywood. You’ve seen him a million times. He was in everything. Back to the Future, K-Pax, Ed Wood, They Live, Semi-Tough, Tora! Tora! Tora!, “Mod Squad,” “My Three Sons,” “Falcon Crest,” “Mary Hartman,” “The Streets of San Francisco,” even “Gunsmoke” and “Lassie” for chrissakes.

I was lucky that he was a family friend. He and my dad were old pals. They once trespassed on Rudy Vallee’s estate to pilfer grapefruits.

Norm was a sweetie pie who overpaid me to babysit his smart, well-behaved kids in the Beverly Hills house exquisitely decorated by his hot wife, Sharon. How does this even happen?

For some reason Norm liked taking me with him to The Burbank Studios to shmooze peeps for work when he was between jobs. He knew everyone. We always cruised right through the front gate without stopping.

One of the times we went there, Norm and I invaded the commissary. It was jam packed with celebrities. Norm saw someone he wanted to remind that he was alive, so he parked me with a friend while he waded into the abyss to do what he had to do. I was drinking age by then, almost, and really didn’t need protecting, but Norm figured my dad would blow a gasket if I was kidnapped on his watch by B-movie Martians or whatever.

blazing-saddles-pie-fight-1372273854567193_animate

Anyway, this fellow Norm left me with was just another one of his showbiz buds. No big deal. To Norm. But when he introduced me to Fred Koenekamp, my jaw fell on the ground and stayed there.

Fred Koenekamp is a god! He was the director of cinematography for “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” my favorite TV show (also the cinematographer for Patton, Papillon, Billy Jack, and The Amityville Horror). Me, I was his biggest fan.

He obviously didn’t think of himself as a superstar with fans. He spent our whole time together looking around uncomfortably, and I blew my once-in-a-lifetime opp by saying… absolutely nothing. I couldn’t even manage “U.N.C.L.E.’s my favorite show! I love your work!” As I said: Jaw. Floor. Fred was awfully happy when Norm returned to relieve him from guard duty.

Fred Koenekamp

Fred J. Koenekamp and Franklin J. Schaffner in Papillon (1973)
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images – © 2011 Getty Images

Fried Grasshopper to Go

Another time Norm took me to The Burbank Studios with my sister. She was a huge fan of the TV show “Kung Fu.” Norm knew all those guys, too. Next thing we know, we’re piling into a car with Norm and a show exec and David Carradine, the star.

Let me just clarify here that my sister would’ve cleaned Carradine’s shoes with her tongue. Also, it never occurred to her that Carradine (who tried to kill Gene Clark at Clark’s funeral) might in reality not be the uber-spiritual Kwai Chang Caine, he just played one on TV.

Okay. So we’re slaloming through legendary Hollywood backlots in a fancy car with my sister’s all-time number-one idol, David Fucking Carradine. While the adults sat in the front seat talking business, Carradine twisted all the way around to look at me and my sister in the back. By which I mean he nailed us with a horrifying, drug-fueled, crazyass bug-eyed stare that terrified my sister to her core. She never spoke of him again.

Caine finally gets some.

Caine finally gets some. Lionsgate © 2009

What’s in the Box of Sorrows, Jay?

Long ago, in a millennium far, far away, I was on the TV show “Let’s Make a Deal.” This happened because my broke friends and I imagined we could make money on game shows. Sure.

My chums Nancy and Don went with me to the NBC Burbank Studios (different facility from WB’s, same town), where we waited to be inspected on an endless line of idiots in dumb costumes. Of course ours were the best. I think Nancy was a clown and Don’s rig involved an appliance box. I did a Pippi Longstocking thing with my braids and a coat hanger.

Ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille. © 2016 Sydney Schuster

Ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille. © 2016 Sydney Schuster

Presently a guy walks up, points at me, and barks “You!” The security rope lifted and I ran gleefully down the long sidewalk to the studio door, thinking my friends were right behind me. They weren’t. Nancy and Don were still back behind the rope, making sad faces. I asked someone to let them in with me. He said, “No. Just you.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

It was a live taping. I wasn’t chosen for The Big Deal but did score a Quickie Deal. In the last minutes Monty Hall walked straight up to me in the cheap seats. He was orange, which I won’t lie to you was scary. He asked me for my address book. (In ye olden days, people kept addies in little bound books. Everybody had one.) I won something like $5 for every entry in the “S” section. Monty handed me a huge wad of cash. I was thrilled!

As soon as he left, someone ran up and snatched the cash from my hand. “We’ll mail it to you,” he said and scrammed.

I was utterly deflated. And broke again. And now Nancy and Don were REALLY mad.

Eventually the show did mail me a check (it was maybe $60, but $60 bought a month’s groceries back then). Nancy and Don forgave me. And I saw myself on TV. And all I could think was “Ugh! I look like that?”

© 2015 patriotretort.com

Burbank updates:

🐀 Norm Alden did get a part in “Kung Fu,” as Sheriff Crossman in the episode “The Praying Mantis Kills.”

🐀 A millennium later I tried to friend Fred Koenekamp on Facebook. He blew me off. In his defense, he’s about 120 years old.

🐀 Sadly, Laramie Street was razed in 1993 to build offices and a parking lot. “There’s really a squeeze on parking,” explained the supervisor of Warner’s studio tour.

🐀 David Carradine was arrested for assaulting a police officer in the 1950s, for shoplifting and pot possession in the 1960s, for burglary in the 1970s, and for pot possession and DUI in the 1980s. At Gene Clark’s funeral in 1991, Carradine drunkenly attacked Clark’s corpse and screamed at it before being dragged out. In 1994 he was arrested in Toronto for kicking down a door at a Rolling Stones concert. A woman he assaulted in 1974 while high on peyote sued him for $1.1 million. He died in 2009 from autoerotic asphyxiation.

Text and images not otherwise credited: Copyright © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy my book Dead Spot. The Kindle version’s only $5 and you’ll love it! Thanks.

DEAD SPOT on AmazonSydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard | Book Review

41xxSdd-5mL

The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard
by Peter Benjaminson
Book Review © 2014 Sydney Schuster – All Rights Reserved

Whether The Supremes are icons of your youth or a legend you’ve recently discovered, don’t miss The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard. Author Peter Benjaminson skips no juicy details in this splendid biography of the group’s founder and most gifted member.

 

A former investigative reporter and author of the books The Story of Motown and Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar, Benjaminson delivers a seamless portrayal of the R&B luminary who zoomed from projects to stardom at 20, descended into alcoholism and poverty, then died tragically at 32 while attempting a comeback.

Benjaminson’s exhaustive research is impeccable. Every page of The Lost Supreme comes alive with intimate recollections from Ballard and the people who knew her best.

For lovers of showbiz backstory, The Lost Supreme has it all — Ballard’s harrowing rape by an NBA star; her manipulation by Berry Gordy and Diane Ross; the power struggle between the tinny-voiced singer and the throaty, sultry one; the ludicrous contracts; the catfights; the racist attacks; the bizarre meeting with the Beatles; Ballard’s ignominious ouster from the Supremes; the fortune stolen from her; and her unsuccessful $8.7 million lawsuit against Motown.

There are many wonderful quotes, too, like this gem from Ballard about the songs from the Supremes’ first single: “… both flops, but they were good flops.” And this zinger from Mary Wilson: “Whenever Diane would insist on a lead and then sing it, we would sort of look at each other and try not to laugh. She had this weird little whiny sound.”

There are other books about the Supremes, but only this one’s author has a musician’s understanding of R&B, a union spokesman’s understanding of contract law, and a Detroiter’s understanding of the inner city. All serve to illuminate the book’s narrative without overpowering it, as when Benjaminson describes the Motown sound: “This heavy beat was a natural connection between the African past and the mechanized present … African American tradition updated by the incessant pounding of the punch press and buffed to a shiny gloss by contact with an urban society.”

Benjaminson’s writing style is clean and direct but never boring, painting vivid images of civil rights-era America while elegantly putting Ballard’s successes and struggles into perspective. He takes great care to analyze the conflicting reports of certain pivotal events that, Rashomon-like, left fans and historians alike scratching their heads for decades. With a keen talent for juxtaposing quotes and events, he unveils interpersonal dynamics overlooked in other books on this subject.

The author’s wry wit keeps things lively. About Motown’s notorious owner who mixed and matched artists, writers, and producers with wild abandon, he writes: “Gordy hadn’t worked in a factory for nothing: he knew the value of interchangeable parts.”

In short, The Lost Supreme is can’t-put-it-down reading.

The exclusive input from Ballard is riveting. By allowing Flo to speak for herself (based on extensive one-on-one interviews just before her death), Benjaminson and Ballard distinguish fact from myth in the oft-romanticized central story of a beleaguered superstar who stood up to an exploitive recording industry. It all adds up to a remarkable history, brought to life by the people who lived it.

Available on Amazon.
guitars

Don’t miss Peter Benjaminson’s article in Rolling Stone about how The Lost Supreme got thisclose to becoming a movie!guitars

Copyright © 2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy my book Dead Spot. The Kindle version’s only $5 and you’ll love it! Thanks.

DEAD SPOT on Amazon

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

Film Review | Road to Hell

road to hell title

The Long-Awaited Film by Albert Pyun

Movie Review Copyright ©2014 Sydney Schuster – All Rights Reserved

roadtohell_IMDB.43123343

I watch an awful lot of movies. I own very few. One of them is Streets of Fire, the 1984 cult rock drama by Walter Hill about a mercenary soldier, Tom Cody. Another is Cyborg, the 1989 martial arts horror extravaganza by Albert Pyun starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. So when I heard years ago that Pyun was making a sequel to Streets of Fire, it stayed on my radar like gum stuck to my shoe.

I finally got to see it this week. Let me just say this: It is stunning.

Road to Hell, as it’s called, certainly lives up to its name. A largely self-financed labor of love, it was in production for five years and survived many setbacks before finally making its maiden tour of film festivals in 2012. So far it’s won three Best Picture awards: Yellow Fever (Belfast), XIII Costa del Sol Fantasy Film Festival (Spain), and the PollyGrind UnderGround Film Festival (Las Vegas, where it also scored Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Song, and Best Visual Effects). It recently began general theatrical showings. At its first screening, Road to Hell grossed enough to make Indiewire’s box office chart, and was the only independently distributed film in the bunch.

If you get the chance to see it, do not hesitate. Go!

That said, Road to Hell is not what you’d expect. If you’re a Hill fan, keep in mind that it’s an homage, not an official sequel. If you’re a Pyun fan, you’ll love it no matter what. One viewing tip: If you never saw Streets of Fire, watch that first and you’ll appreciate Road to Hell even more. (Rent it. It’s $3 on Amazon.) For fans of both Streets of Fire and Pyun, Road to Hell is totally worth the interminable wait.

So what’s it about? Okay, first let’s review. When we last saw our hero Tom Cody (Michael Paré), it was 1984. He’d just rescued the toothsome Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) from rubber-clad kidnappers and was leaving to attend a war, apparently because he liked guns more than her. Go figure. And she was leaving their slummy ’hood, The Richmond, for rock superstardom. Fair enough.

MSDSTOF EC108

STREETS OF FIRE, Michael Pare, 1984, (c)Universal Pictures

Plotwise, Streets of Fire is your boilerplate morality play with the usual suspects. The only characters with any emotional depth are Cody and his sister Reva (Deborah Van Valkenburgh). The rest are one-dimensional, almost cartoon-like. Or as Pyun explains it, “Cody was all about Ellen and Ellen was all about Ellen.” Which is perfect here, because anything more complex would just muddy an effort of this scale. Sort of the way Ben & Jerry’s flavors all have one too many ingredients so you buy Haagen-Dazs chocolate chip instead, just so your head won’t explode.

Why pay $3 to watch this? I hear you asking. Well, Streets of Fire has singing and dancing. It has brawls and car chases and motorcycles, and stuff exploding everywhere, and the obligatory mash scene is extra steamy. It has a huge cast of talent who became famous for doing something else. The action’s artily set against other-dimensional backdrops of garish 1950-ish tableaux mixed with 1980s hair and semiautomatic weapons.

You might guess a formula like that would never work. You’d be wrong. Not to mention the soundtrack is so bitchin, it had a life all its own. There are songs by Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks, Ry Cooder, Leiber and Stoller, Link Wray, Bob Seger, and Meat Loaf’s wife, Jim Steinman, produced by Jimmy Iovine. The Dan Hartman hit “I Can Dream About You” made Billboard‘s Top 10 chart. In 2007 Vanity Fair rated the film’s score Number 6 on its Best Soundtracks Ever list. Simply put, Streets of Fire is a pre-CG sensory feast.

A rock & roll fable, Hill called it. Others called Streets of Fire the first music video. MTV didn’t exist yet, and Hill famously said in interviews that he filmed all the concert scenes by the seat of his pants, having no precedent to follow.

“It’s cut in time with the music!” oozed viewers who’d never seen A Hard Day’s Night. “You can’t use my song!” snorted Bruce Springsteen when told Hill didn’t want him to sing it. “It wanted to be a comedy and it turned out to be a drama,” costar Rick Moranis groused to Empire magazine. “What is this crap?” said just about everyone at industry screenings.

Nobody got it. One reviewer picked on the stars’ noses. (“…the smallest noses in show business history; perhaps this is why, when their faces meet, so little happens.” — Susan Dworkin, Ms. Magazine, August 1984)

It opened the same week as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Doom being the operative term here, box office was half what the film cost to make. ($14.5 M cost, $8 M gross.) And so Streets of Fire bombed resoundingly, thus claiming its rightful place in the pantheon of Eye Candy Rock Movies We Love, Now.

According to Hill, Streets of Fire was to be the first film in a Tom Cody trilogy. When it tanked at the box office, The Bombers Strike Back and Return of the Sorels sank with it. (Paré claimed the sequels were abandoned because everyone involved left Universal, who owned the rights to the franchise and wouldn’t play nice.)

For three decades, Streets of Fire fans waited patiently for someone to salvage the wreckage. Albert Pyun is their Argo.

Pyun, for those who don’t know, apprenticed to Akira Kurosawa in the 1970s and debuted as a feature film director in 1982, with The Sword and the Sorcerer, one of the top-grossing indie films of all time. His 50-some movies include the horrorfests Nemesis (1992) and Infection (2005), which won best picture and best director awards at VI Semana Internacional de Cine Fantástico y de Terror de Estepona. In 2013 he received the Indie Genre Spirit Award at the Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival.

Pyun first met Paré in the 1990s. Both were making movies for Cannon Pictures then, albeit not together, and racking up industry cred — Paré was upcycling his image to action hero after a decade of mostly forgettable TV roles and romance films, while Pyun was establishing himself as a director who could quickly make profitable movies, often two at a time.

houston knights & women's club 3

Michael Pare in “Houston Knights” (left) and “The Women’s Club” (right)

“We discussed the Road to Hell movie with Paré in 2007, in Spain” at a film festival, says Pyun’s longtime collaborator, Cynthia Curnan. “Albert and Michael had wanted to work together for a long time.”

With Pyun directing, Curnan writing and producing, and the preternaturally handsome Paré in nearly every scene, they started shooting Road to Hell in 2008. The result is more a tribute to Streets of Fire than a followup: not so much singing and dancing, way more violence and blood, all of it set against staggeringly beautiful scenery.

But that’s Pyun’s forté. Shocking visual effects, coupled with edgy dialogue by Curnan that makes you believe ordinary people can triumph in extraordinary circumstances. Like Streets of Fire, Road to Hell is way, way ahead of its time.

Much of the film’s carnage is suggested rather than shown (probably as a result of budget constraints and lost footage — I’ll get to that). There’s a lot of outside-the-letterbox mayhem and sex. Personally, I like this approach. It leaves more room for the characters to develop and the plot to run on its own wheels. A great director is one who presents stories as well as he does entrails.

I don’t want to give away too much plot here. Me, I thought I knew what to expect and still had a visceral reaction at key moments, so I’ll let some other reviewer mess up that pleasure for you.

Suffice it to say that Road to Hell didn’t win PollyGrind’s best effects award for nothing. Much like Streets of Fire, many scenes have mesmerizing other-worldly backdrops. Every color-saturated shot is carefully framed, almost like a postcard — a picture postcard from Hell.

Hell Valley, that is. That’s where we hook up with Cody again, returning from his precious war with a bad case of post traumatic stress disorder. He still has too many weapons. Hell, he is a weapon.

Having had 29 years to reconsider his earlier poor decision, he’s now on his way back to The Richmond to reconnect with the hot girlfriend who got away. Along the way he meets two new characters: Caitlin (Clare Kramer) and Ash (Courtney Peldon), a pair of fetchingly underdressed misanthropes having car trouble on Route 666.

The women are luminous and electric, even while changing a tire that’s bigger than they are, and so reprehensible it’s hard to feel sorry for them. They’re loud and pottymouthed. They kill people for fun. Caitlin thinks she’s found her soul mate in Cody.

Kramer simmers in her role. She was my favorite villain — the mean, funny, fashion-victim god Glory — in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and she makes a good baddie here. Peldon cooks, too. Her best moments come when she realizes her use-by date has expired, and she utters barely a word. It’s all on her beautiful, horrified face.

Speaking of meaningful looks, one part I was compelled to rewatch several times is the scene where Cody meets Caitlin and Ash. Look carefully. You’ll see the face of a softer, younger Cody, the one who wants to believe in love, in a pitched battle with harder, older, no-bullshit Cody who’d rather just kill. Paré’s face actually changes, then changes back. It’s more than acting (bygones, Michael) and it’s not a digital manipulation.

The technical explanation? “A camera malfunction damaged all the shots,” says Curnan. “We had to wait for technology to advance to fix them. We couldn’t afford to rotoscope each frame.” Five years after they started, they were reshooting and repairing scenes. This sequence was among them. What you see is an epic Jekyll/Hyde duel between a 40-something Paré and a 50-something Paré, duking it out for realsies.

And it’s freakin’ awesome. There isn’t a makeup artist alive who could believably achieve what Pyun accomplished here. That he arrived at it while making lemonade out of lemons is the stuff of legends.

If you don’t understand what I mean, or think I’m full of crap, or both, I refer you to 1989’s Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives!, in which a then-30ish Paré alternated between a 20ish Eddie and a 40ish one wholly via makeup, and succeeded at neither. Clare Kramer had an alter ego in Buffy who was more believable, and he was a guy. Not for nothing, but in 1977 Luis Buñuel ingeniously used two actors (Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina) to play one character, Conchita, in That Obscure Object of Desire. No makeup magic there and no one laughed, either, at least not when they weren’t supposed to.

My point is, there are ways to do this sort of thing believably and too often it isn’t, due more to lack of imagination than budget. Film history is littered with detritus from failed id-versus-ego slapdowns. (The Curse of the Werewolf? The ShiningMary Reilly? Sybil? Anyone?) I say do it right or go home, and Pyun nails it.

Among Road to Hell’s other visual treats are the spectacular Nevada desert, subbing for purgatory here with enhancements recalling a bad acid trip (and cleverly referencing Streets of Fire‘s original artwork).

Road to Hell

Streets of Fire posterAnother thing I liked immensely is the juxtaposition of multiple timelines in the present (Cody’s, Ellen Dream’s, and Reva’s) with the Ellen Aim flashbacks. The present-time scenes are all different styles: a graphic novel look for Tom Cody, a cinema verité one for Ellen Dream, and a documentary feel for Reva Cody. They’re knitted artfully with the happy-fuzzy uber-romanticized memories of Ellen Aim. When they all collide at the end, you know exactly where you are.

Anyway, Van Valkenburgh reliably reprises the role of Reva. She does a fine job of tethering the day-glo present to a noir past necessarily relegated to viewer memory. It’s good to see her again. Ellen Aim is played by the sexy Anita Leeman. Other characters from Streets of Fire are mentioned but never shown at all (except for Cody’s sidekick McCoy and arch enemy Raven, briefly and gorily). As always, Brick Bardo (Scott Paulin) is in the mix, too.

Michael Paré of course plays Tom Cody. Michael Paré rocks Tom Cody. It’s impossible to imagine anyone else in that role, ever. If there’s ever a sequel to the sequel, they’ll just have to wheel Paré out and let him gum the scenery. That’s how much he owns the part.

The Cody in Road to Hell is disillusioned and surly, seeking some type of redemption while questioning whether he even deserves it. He’s so discombobulated, he even toys with the idea of badgirl Caitlin as a viable alternative to Ellen, I guess in case his childhood sweetheart who’s probably an altacocker now doesn’t work out. Caitlin’s hot. She’s there. She gives MRE new meaning. So what if she’s depraved?

Granted, it’s a lot of story packed into a compact space and I’ve only told you half of it, like I promised I wouldn’t. Pyun and Curnan cleverly manage to convey all this in terms of biblical allegory. Don’t worry. It’s fun, not preachy.

The unique concept gives an interesting spin to a plot that, in the hands of lesser storytellers, could easily be not so special. I dare you not to love the backstory exposition humorously offered by Gabriel, of all people — yes, the archangel given the unenviable job of telling the Virgin Mary that the rabbit died. Joei Fulco plays the part — yes, she’s a woman. Instead of a horn, this Gabriel wields a mean guitar and modern slang. Her mission: Snatch Cody from the jaws of hell. Woot!

One of many other scripty things Curnan does especially well is sandwich very funny quips in between body blows. Consider this one, delivered ominously by a grinning, up-to-no-good Cody: “I’ve hunted up here. I hunt wabbit. The two-legged breed.” And this, blurted by Ellen Aim’s eternally disappointed daughter (Roxy Gunn) during a confrontation about to turn postal: “I needed you my whole life, asshole!”

Streets of Fire fans will delight in the strategic reuse of signature lines throughout Road to Hell. There are slick cross references, too: a flat tire that changes everything; OTT bondage; Ellen suffers idiotic fan questions about her creative process. Her band sports the same name as Torchie’s band, the Blasters. Cody coldcocks chicks. He even mentions his “dark side,” a sly wink at another Paré cult musical, Eddie and the Cruisers.

Much to the relief of everyone except Springsteen, there’s finally an actual song called “Streets of Fire,” written for the movie by musical director Tony Riparetti and sung the hell out of by Fulco. The whole score is quite good. Two Jim Steinman songs from Streets of Fire were dusted off and performed again, this time by Gunn, and arguably better: “Nowhere Fast” and “Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young.” Gunn is a guitarist and vocalist who wrote and performed many of the film’s excellent tunes. Vegas Rocks! Magazine called Road to Hell “one of the best music-driven films of the year.”

I love Pyun’s willingness to take big chances on relative unknowns, a kind of artistic bravura that really pays off here. Newcomers Fulco and Gunn pull double duty supplying both pipes and pivotal character portrayals, and never miss a beat. Fulco, amazingly, is only about 15 here and has since moved on to leading roles in feature films. She’s going to be a huge star. Quadruple-threat Gunn also has a big career ahead. Her band The Roxy Gunn Project is a favorite on Vegas stages, with a rapidly growing fan base. Both Fulco’s and Gunn’s lungs should be gilded and enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Best of all, Road to Hell has a twist ending you’ll never expect. I foresee it winning a lot more awards. And fans. Go see it. You’re welcome.




Albert Pyun Movies on Facebook
Road to Hell official website
Road to Hell on IMDB

Content of this blog Copyright ©2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved.
Road to Hell material Copyright ©2014 Albert Pyun Movies and Curnan Pictures ★ Images used with permission
Streets of Fire photo of Michael Paré and film poster art © RKO Universal Pictures

I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy my book Dead Spot. The Kindle version’s only $5 and you’ll love it! Thanks.

DEAD SPOT on Amazon

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

Wine Snobism (and how to defeat it)

Copyright © 2012 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

People often ask me: What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Why, the drinking, of course! Not much point in one without the other.

Besides, there’s nothing else to do around here except ride my bike to my fave beach bar, eat something I shouldn’t, drink margaritas and laugh at drunken tourists. If I’m on deadline or the weather sucks, I drive my cute little sports car to the local package store. Nothing fancy about it, just a reliable source of cheap and cheerful table wine.

The only other thing to do around here is watch movies. Remember Sideways? When that was the hot satellite flick, every booze store in the state was invaded by armies of toothless goobers who’d only ever drunk Bud until the week before, and now were overnight experts on pinot noir — experts driven to educate me about a wine I don’t particularly like. Thanks, Fox.

So because of one dumbass movie, giant islands of pinot noir miraculously replaced everything I went to my package store for. Keg of tequila for mixers? Problem. Six-packs of Heineken? Problem. Obscure sub-par pinot noir from Albania? How many truckloads you want?

“Where’s the tequila?” I asked the store owner. “All the agave crops — they was wiped out by droughts!” he lied. “Can’t get tequila no more.”

Why can’t there be a movie about Jimmy Choo, or goat cheese, so I can walk into any store in this backwater and get THAT?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll drink an expensive pinot noir, if someone else pays for it. I do have a refined palette — we don’t drink swill here at Casa Loco. That’s for cooking (not my department). But I’ll openly drink jug wine or stuff from a box with a spout, if it tastes okay. That’s why, when some tractor jockey tries to lecture me on fine bordeaux, I just run away with my 2-for-1 malbecs, giggling hysterically.

I just loves me some good wine. Hate wine snobs.

I’m no expert, but I used to do a lot of wine reading back in ye olden days when I made way more money and blew much of it on choice vino. I lived in a place then where that was easy to do. Plus my father-in-law who was in the business frequently laid $100 bottles of divine barolo on us. I can still taste them. A good thing, because I’ll never drink that again. I could afford nebbiolo now, which is to barolo what weasel is to ermine (i.e., same thing, different season), but nebbiolo isn’t sold here in Hooterville and never will be.

Wine is actually a very interesting subject. I spent many joyful hours talking to my father-in-law and assorted New York City wine purveyors about, you know, wine stuff. I heard awesome gossip. Like, many fabulous Australian wines were in fact South African, back during the apartheid boycotts when most countries wouldn’t buy South Africa’s pencils (or anything else). And the carmenere grape was considered extinct until a shitload of it was discovered in a South American merlot field in the 1990s, and now it’s the signature wine of Chile. And the Italians, legendarily prolific wine producers, didn’t export any of it ever until the 1980s. Why? Because they drank it all.

I am not making this up. But better to drink wine than talk about it. And as far as I’m concerned, heaven is a great $7 bottle of wine. Yes, they do exist, and rooting them out is half the fun. The bargain wines of Spain and Portugal are highly underrated. (Try a dao. Do it today!)

Cabriz Dao

Cabriz Dao

I’ve never had bad cheap Argentine or Chilean wine, either, or Oregon or Washington State wine. And if you’re a fan of the (ridiculously overpriced) California zinfandels, try an Italian primitivo. Same grape, lower price point. Do you like beer but must impress your snotty friends? One word: gewurztraminer. Hard to say, easy to drink with its upscale lager-like flavor.

Here are some tasty cheap wines ($10 and under) currently making me very happy. Cheers!

Foral de Lisboa (Portugal – castelao, touriga franca, syrah)
Palo Alto Reserve (Chile – cabernet sauvignon, carmenere, syrah)
Los Dos (Spain – syrah, grenache)
Mandra Rossa Fiano (Sicily)
Nativa Terra Reserva Carmenere (Chile)
Castello Monaci Piluna Primitivo (Italy)
Lamarca Prosecco (Italy – okay, it’s $13, but it’s sparkling, dammit!)
Le Grand Noir GSM (France – grenache, shiraz, mourvedre)
Casillero del Diablo Malbec (Chile)
Natura Malbec (Chile – organic)

Copyright © 2012 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

DEAD SPOT on Amazon
Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

No Degrees of Separation | My Date with Kevin Bacon

NO DEGREES OF SEPARATION
My Date with Kevin Bacon

Copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Anyone who lives in LA or New York (and I’ve lived in both) bumps into famous people all the time. Me, I’ve seen more famous people than the LAPD.

Most of the time I’m underwhelmed. When Walter Wriston was still CEO of Citicorp, I made him give me an office building. When someone introduced me to Elvin Bishop, I asked him why he was late. I ignored Nicolas Roeg at a party at my own house. I got stuck on a post office line behind Phoebe Cates acting all paranoid about people making an embarrassing fuss, but no one gave a crap. You get the picture.

Anyway, you know how, when you unexpectedly run into someone famous, there’s a beat or two during which you know you know this person but can’t remember why? Well, that didn’t happen yesterday when I was in the art supply store, shopping for crazy handmade papers with names like Mango:natural slate. The aisle was very narrow and I’m very wide. Someone who wanted the Marbled momi:volcano I was blocking said, “Excuse me.”

I looked up. Blow me down! It was Kyra Sedgwick. With her was her mate, hat pulled over his eyes and looking down, apparently hoping nobody would ask him to do the Footloose dance.

Go figure. One second I’m fingering weird paper with garbage mashed into it, the next I’m looking into the smiling face of The Closer. And, um, Mr. Closer. In a store that writers and actors totally don’t need, in a city where none of us lives.

Fun facts: She’s a tiny lady with a huge grin that lights up her whole face. He dyes his hair black so fans won’t recognize him (no problem — I’d totally hit that). My half of our conversation: “Uh, sure!”

So it’s official. I am now zero degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. Everyone I know moves up five (except my friend Lew who knows Kevin’s sister, and my actor ex-boyfriend, a Kevin Bacon look-alike who lost every part he ever auditioned for to … Kevin Bacon). Plus, I have a big honking girlcrush on Mrs. Bacon. No one’s ever been so nice about telling me to get out of the way.

Copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

The Stiff That Wouldn’t Die | Eddie and the Cruisers

This is a story I wrote around 1992. It’s kinda long, but if you like showbiz dirt, stick with it.

It was never published but got thisclose three times. The first magazine decided I didn’t bash celebrities hard or fast or famous enough. The second magazine changed hands before the piece could run, and it got lost in the shuffle. The third magazine, whose content typically derived from repeating other mags’ reportage, demurred because they didn’t understand where the quotes from named sources came from. It’s called “getting an interview,” dogs — bite me!

The story appears here in its original 1992 form, except for a few updates and outtakes too good to leave out. Therefore, some information will seem dated. It is what it is. Real good!

A hack director wants to make the Springsteen story. A desperate band wants a recording contract. A bad actor tells everyone he’s a rock star. A bargain-hunting backer gets a surprise windfall. What do you get?

The Stiff That Wouldn't DieCopyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Go ahead—name one good thing about movie musicals.

That’s right. Unless you’re a Julie Andrews fan, you can’t. That’s because most musicals are on autodestruct. They cost too much. They rarely turn a profit. They age badly, and they ruined Elvis. Often, stars as untalented as they are famous must be dubbed surreptitiously. Poor Marni Nixon is still apologizing because bad swimmer Natalie Wood really wanted to sing in West Side Story.

Sadly, movie musicals often launch stars from other media into the footnotes of film history. Remember Light of Day with Joan Jett? The Allnighter with Suzanna Hoffs? One Trick Pony with Paul Simon? Didn’t think so.

Drifting in this swamp of flotsam is a pair of floaters that were all this and worse. They were low budget and looked it. Their plots defied credulity. The first one’s music was blatantly anachronistic. How the cult bombathon Eddie and the Cruisers got to be the innovative musical of the 1980s is really two intertwining tales of how Hollywood steamrollered a perfectly good novel twice, and a small-town bar band rescued two panting dogs from B-movie hell.

guitars

It all started around 1980, when former Ashley Famous (now ICM) talent agent Martin Davidson decided he could make a better dead rocker film than 1978’s The Buddy Holly Story, or even 1979’s The Rose. Davidson had a hook. His dead rocker would be Bruce Springsteen.

Davidson, you may remember, was immortalized in the Julia Phillips Hollywood tell-all You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again as a writer-screwing philistine. [At a party, he screamed at people that Charles Webb, who was cheated out of screenwriter pay for the Oscar-winning film adaptation of his book The Graduate, deserved to be a shoe salesman in the East Village, which he was. — ss]

After co-directing the sleeper hit The Lords of Flatbush in 1974, Davidson optioned the novel Eddie and the Cruisers, an entertaining yarn about the premature dispatch of an enigmatic rock‘n’roll idol. He then convinced Canadian investors Aurora Film Partners to give him $7 million to film it.

652855

It was a perfectly good book, but because Davidson couldn’t leave well enough alone and Aurora was essentially an investment outfit, Eddie wound up as a tax shelter for dentists.

The production values say it all: Actors’ mouths sing when the soundtrack doesn’t; a boom mic swoops through a shot; props move by themselves; a car drives into oncoming traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel. Lines of dialog howl. “You got your Edsels, Norges, Dumonts — and Eddie Wilson, together at last, creating our own incredible monument to nothing!” Sheesh.

The book Davidson adapted deserved better. Former Wall Street Journal reporter P.F. Kluge authored the lively mystery about a fictional 1950s New Jersey band and its Rubic’s Cube of a front man, Eddie Wilson. Strictly a seashore cover band at first, the Cruisers switch to original material and catch fire. Mistakenly thinking he’s Mozart, Eddie embarks upon an overly ambitious, ill-fated musical experiment. He and the session tapes disappear, and the grumpy Cruisers disband at their career apex.

Thanks to a fairly convoluted plot line, everyone is hounding the surviving Cruisers now, two decades later. The story’s narrator is former keyboardist Frank Ridgeway (Tom Berenger), whom we find mired in a midlife crisis, brooding about his year as a Cruiser and searching for Eddie’s lost tapes. Frank’s sojourn is rudely impacted by bad people who are also chasing his maguffin.

From 1980 to 1982, everyone involved with the cinematic Eddie was chasing something too — a film start. Along the way were financing delays, two fired screenwriters, and an unusable score by, of all people, Joe “You Light Up My Life” Brooks. Brooks was canned [and indicted on 11 counts of rape] and the screenplay was finished by Davidson and his sister Arlene, with uncompensated and uncredited assistance from Kluge.

In another time-honored Hollywood tradition, the final script diverged wildly from the source material. For example, the 1950s flashbacks moved to the 1960s. Eddie’s groundbreaking jazz fusion foray morphed into a post-medicated-Beatles style concept album. The book’s linchpin, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, became Arthur Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell.  A homicidal Rolling Stone writer and his oversexed girlfriend were replaced by one character, an insipid Diane Sawyerish TV reporter who never takes notes (Ellen Barkin). In the book, the missing tapes are in someone’s sock drawer; in the movie they’ve sat in a junkyard for twenty years, miraculously undeteriorated.

From the time he sold Martin Davidson the film rights to his novel, Kluge never really expected his creation to survive intact. “If a butcher buys a cow,” he says he told friends, “is he gonna make changes?”

On top of all that was the Eddie problem. Kluge’s character was a skinny, no-frills Buddy Holly sort. Davidson’s unswerving vision was Bruce Springsteen.

The director denied having a fixation, claiming in interviews that Dion and Jim Morrison were his true inspirations. But someone sent Springsteen a script. And Springsteen’s then-girlfriend, actress Joyce Hyser, was a finalist for the part of Eddie’s girlfriend. Davidson even asked Springsteen’s sound-alike friend, Southside Johnny Lyon of the Asbury Jukes, to produce the score.

No one was bothered that Springsteen, then 33 but not dead, was a tad hoary to play an 18-year-old. No one considered that he might be a budget buster, too. Or that the E Street sound was neither technologically nor historically possible in 1962. In any case, Lyon declined, Hyser lost, and Bruce never called back. [Southside Johnny did record three songs for the film as himself with the Jukes, all of which were cut out.]

A more cost-effective unknown won the Eddie role. Twenty-four-year-old Michael Paré looked like a Calvin Klein ad, had an intractable Brooklyn accent, and couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. Paré’s main talents were effecting a smug superciliousness and filling out jeans nicely, the only skills Davidson apparently figured a rock star needed.

Paré had twelve lines of dialog. But he — and not top-billed Berenger — got the star treatment: a feature in Interview, fashion layouts in Vanity Fair. He careened over the top in interviews, claiming he was a Culinary Institute of America grad (he dropped out halfway through the program), Tavern on the Green’s head chef (just a cook, says Tavern), and a top Zoli model (the agency has no payroll record of him). [An actual top Zoli model of the era told me he saw Paré at some go-sees; that’s apparently as far as he got.] Paré also allegedly studied acting with Uta Hagen. Judge for yourself.

On the dork side: Michael Paré helps model Nancy Donahue with a chiropractic adjustment.

On the dork side: Michael Paré helps model Nancy Donahue with a chiropractic adjustment.

In 1981 the Irish guy with the French name played an Italian kid in ABC’s “The Greatest American Hero,” and a Brooklyn kid in the TV movie Crazy Times. [Paré told Seventeen magazine he also was a crowd scene extra in The Chosen and Fort Apache the Bronx.] This was his entire resume when he was cast, without a test, as rebel wasp Eddie Wilson.

Michael Pare and another woman on Greatest American Hero.

Michael Paré and another woman in “The Greatest American Hero.”

Arlene Davidson boasted to Cosmopolitan magazine that Paré didn’t need to test. “We took one look at him and knew we’d found our Eddie.” [Whatever. In the Seventeen story, Marty Davidson says he thought Paré was “a breath of fresh air” when they first met. After filming started, Davidson tried to fire him.]

Long story short, in the end it took three people to build Eddie Wilson. Paré merely supplied the Thighmastered body. The virtuoso lead guitar licks were provided by Gary Gramolini, and the rhythm guitar work and suspiciously Bosslike singing voice are John Cafferty’s. Both musicians are from a Rhode Island-based band called Beaver Brown. The other members — don’t call them Cruisers, thanks — are keyboardist Bobby Cotoia, bassist Pat Lupo, saxophonist Michael “Tunes” Antunes, original drummer Kenny Jo Silva, and new drummer Jackie Santos.

The band honked around the same club circuit for twenty years with (and managed to outlast) the now-defunct E Street Band. The two white groups with black saxophonists and whisky-voiced front men have been compared relentlessly.

“When you have a group of people the same age, who basically listened to the same radio frequencies at the same time, there are certain things that you all draw from,” Antunes explains without even waiting for the question he still hears every day. “We think of it as a compliment.”

The main difference can be summed up pretty quickly. Cafferty is one of the great underrated vocalists of the century. By comparison, Springsteen croons with all the mellifluousness of a garbage truck on pick-up day. Bruce singing anything makes you want more beer. Cafferty singing “Drift Away” makes you weep in it.

Rolling Stone called Beaver Brown “perhaps the most popular bar band on the East Coast.” Nevertheless, the group couldn’t get a recording contract during its first decade. Bands that sound like Springsteen, recording poobahs kept telling them, don’t sell.

Then in 1982, along came Martin Davidson. He had a deal with Scotti Brothers Records for a soundtrack album for Eddie and the Cruisers. Scotti Brothers is best known for supplying Stallone film soundtracks to your neighborhood bargain bin.

The Scotti sibs are Ben, Fred and Tony. Ben’s an ex-football star (Redskins, Eagles, 49ers) and pugilist (he KOed teammate John Mellekas during an argument over who killed JFK). Tony was a colorful casualty in the granddaddy trash film Valley of the Dolls, and more recently oversaw the bankruptcy of Orion Pictures. Fred’s the one who got permission for Weird Al Yankovic’s Coolio parody “Amish Paradise” that Coolio claims he never gave. All three Scotti brothers exec-produced the tranny comedy mess He’s My Girl. The Scottis know talent. They planned to release the Eddie soundtrack through CBS — Springsteen’s distributor. All they needed was musicians.

Left: Tony Scotti & counterculture casualty Sharon Tate. Right: Ben Scotti gets his arabesque on.

Left: Tony Scotti & counterculture casualty Sharon Tate. Right: Ben Scotti gets his arabesque on.

Fred Scotti in 2007 (left). Kenny Vance (right).

Left: Fred Scotti in 2007. Right: Kenny Vance.

Beaver Brown, Davidson’s fourth choice in his attempt to invoke Springsteen (unless John Mellencamp and Alex Chilton also declined [as it turns out, Rick Springfield was a contender]) was recruited by Davidson’s long-suffering musical director, Kenny Vance. Vance was with Jay and the Americans once. Check it out: His is the tenor singing voice of Cruiser bassist Sal Amato (acted by Axis carmaker shill Matthew Laurance). [Laurance made German car ads for American TV.]

In a neat in-joke, Vance also plays Lew Eisen, the despotic mogul of the film’s Satin Records — the kind of creep you know Vance has met a few times for real. (This was actually the most inspired casting of the whole production, in a tie with Martin Davidson as Barkin’s clueless news colleague.) [Fun Fact: Davidson also gave himself a role in The Lords of Flatbush. Because he’s, you know, just like Hitchcock!]

Vance/Eisen hasn’t heard “Revolver” yet and rebuffs Eddie’s artistic experiment. Vance gets the enviable cinematic task of telling Paré/Eddie he’s no musician.

Eddie takes the news personally and drives his ’57 Chevy off a bridge. He doesn’t bob up with wacky Kennedyesque excuses and a limp date, so everyone assumes he drowned. Except the next day, the Cruiser tapes maligned by Eisen inexplicably vanish from the studio. Is Eddie really alive? Duh.

The movie relies heavily on flashback to 1962-1964, when the Beatles still backed Tony Sheridan and the Boss still hid girlie magazines under his bunkbed. Here the soundtrack falters only in that stylistically, some of the songs couldn’t have been performed that way at that time. But the music is great, as its cult-like legion of followers still attests. That includes “some real rabid fans from Japan that fly to the United States to see us play,” says Beaver Brown bassist Pat Lupo.

“Marty pretty much gave Kenny and the band a free hand in the music,” says Lupo. “He liked us a lot and he trusted us. Marty took a big shot in giving us as much creative control as he did. We had never scored a film before.”

To help with the visual cues informing the film’s period look, Vance recycled Southside Johnny Lyon as his technical adviser. Lyon was tasked with shaping six unknowns into the onscreen Cruisers, a massive feat considering four weren’t musicians and two weren’t  actors. The latter — cabaret hottie Helen Schneider and Beaver Brown saxophonist Michael Antunes — turned in the only authentic performances as band members: Schneider as Eddie’s dishy squeeze Joann, and Antunes as Wendell Newton, a doomed character from the novel whom Davidson admitted to Rolling Stone that he rewrote with E Street’s Clarence Clemons in mind.

The period costumes were covered by expert shopper Sandy Davidson, Martin’s wife. In bowling shirts, skinny lapels, and pre-Spandex stretch knits, all the Cruisers look correct. All of them, that is, except Eddie. Somebody dressed Eddie like … well, like John Cafferty.

Cafferty’s trademark rolled-sleeve black Ts, tatty jeans, and Cuban heel roach-chasers are the exact same not-very-’62 costume Paré wore in the film. Arlene Davidson says the vintage outfits worn by the rest of the cast looked stupid on Paré’s overpumped chassis.

“We were forced to use the only clothes on hand that fit,” she recalls. “The T-shirts and jeans are what he looked best in.” So it was just a coincidence. Really.

No one would go on record about the very special relationship between guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Cafferty and pseudo-guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Paré. In a press release, a quote attributed to Tony Scotti lauded the “tremendous collaboration between … Michael Paré and John Cafferty” — a collaboration, say insiders, that consisted of Paré catching exactly one of Cafferty’s performances, which he left early and parroted shamelessly.

Officially everyone scoffs at any rivalry. But Paré stated in many interviews that he “played” Cafferty’s music. (The only “playing” by Paré was in the rooftop scene where the Cruisers perform “On the Dark Side” for the first time, accompanied by a loud and painfully off-beat whumping sound. It’s Paré’s foot.)

Paré did, in fact, make an album of his own. An album, in fact, that you’ll never hear. It consists of nine songs in which he pathetically apes Cafferty, who (among other things) can hit every note and doesn’t sing through his nose. [And btw, there’s no “playing” by Paré on his album, only “singing.”] The producer shopped it around for years before finally giving up.

Cafferty doesn’t like to talk about Paré. Pretty much all that’s on record is what he told Rolling Stone in 1983: “It’s really hard for me to deal with the fact that ‘Tender Years,’ my most important song, is in a film and somebody else is lip-syncing it.”

Tender Years singles

But one memorable night in 1991, he made up for years of silence. At a gig at the Lone Star Roadhouse in New York City, a free-range no-brainer asked him how that guy in the Eddie movies wrote all those great songs. Cafferty went ballistic. “That guy,” he exploded, “didn’t write nuthin’!”

guitars

Cafferty and Paré collided head on and fast, creating their own incredible monument to nothing when Eddie and the Cruisers was released in September 1983. Promotion was cryptic and minimal. The ads were all pictures and no words. Roger Ebert called the film “all buildup and no payoff.”

Variety crowned it “a mish-mash of a film.” The New York Times deadpanned: “Eddie’s final declaration … stretches the material’s potential for melodrama to its limit, and beyond.”

Other reviews proclaimed it flat out stank, with Rolling Stone using four pages to say just how much. “A dumb, hackneyed melodrama,” wrote Steve Pond. “Isn’t it a little early to make The Bruce Springsteen Story?”

1980s advertising for Eddie and the Cruisers - UK poster (left), US newspaper ad (right)

1980s advertising for Eddie and the Cruisers – UK poster (left), US newspaper ad (right)

The film opened in only eleven cities, shrank to two after five weeks, then disappeared. Filmgoers were more interested in seeing Risky Business and Return of the Jedi. According to Variety, Eddie grossed just under $1.7 million, or about 24 percent of what it cost to make.

The soundtrack went begging too, at first. It was released as an Eddie and the Cruisers record, with Paré on the cover instead of the band that made it. Some of its ten Cafferty/Beaver Brown cuts smack of E Street circa 1977. Others, however, pay delightful homage to Elvis Presley, Dion, and Bobby Freeman.

In July 1984 HBO began a 26-time national run of the Eddie movie, and 17,000 soundtracks sold within a four-day period. Rather unexpectedly, it was soon number 9 on Billboard’s album chart.

The press was all over the then-12-year-old band, hailing them as overnight sensations. In early interviews, Cafferty dismissed his iconic song “On the Dark Side” as “a vehicle for actors.” A year later that stoogemobile reached number 7 on Billboard’s singles chart and number 1 as an MTV music video. It’s still his biggest hit. [In 2015 Spin ranked it number 14 on its 50 Best Fictional Songs of All Time list.]

In August 1984 the soundtrack went gold. By October it had gone platinum. Eventually it sold over 3 million copies, although no one was sure to whom.

Citing what they called an “independent study,” Scotti Brothers claimed Eddie had an astounding 90 percent recognition rate among film viewers age 12-24 following its cable debut.

Perhaps. But the most compelling thing about what happened is actually this: Before Eddie, cable was considered solely an instrument for squeezing the last dollar out of Hollywood flops. Post-Eddie it was perceived quite differently — as a powerful sales tool for direct marketing. Putting it another way, you may very well have Eddie and the Cruisers to blame for the Home Shopping Network.

guitars

Eddie and the Cruisers is singular in moviedom for another reason: It’s the only dead rocker picture with a sequel.

Released in August 1989, Eddie and the Cruisers II — Eddie Lives! picks up the story where Eddie I dumped it. Eddie’s body was never found, it turns out, because he swam to Canada and got a day job.

The Davidsons weren’t involved with the sequel, which the Scotti brothers commandeered.

According to P.F. Kluge, the Scottis didn’t like the first script they’d commissioned from screenwriter Zev Cohen. They hired Kluge to cowrite a replacement with executive producer Jim Stewart. The Scottis didn’t like that script, either. Kluge says they had Cohen rewrite the Kluge/Stewart script. Then they retooled Kluge’s sequel fee by deducting his screenplay fee from it — after they’d grossed $18 million from Eddie I soundtrack sales.

Eddie’s creator is admirably restrained about being treated like an ATM by the Scottis. “I don’t resent their making money out of it,” says Kluge. “I hope they’re satisfied with the work they do.”

Although Variety called it “one of the most commercial indie pics since Dirty Dancing,” the work in question is exactly what you’d expect from seven producers, a splatter pic director (Jean-Claude Lord — Visiting Hours, The Vindicator), and Aurora, which got in on the action again mostly to take advantage of a new 166 percent Quebecois film tax write-off. It shows.

eddie 2

In Eddie II it’s 1984 or thereabouts, and “dead” Eddie has become a legend. The lost experimental tapes have turned up at last. The same unscrupulous music company exec who called Eddie a jerkoff in 1964 is now issuing recordings of “new” Eddie material, a la Jimi Hendrix. Cha-ching!

Eddie’s really torqued now, and he’s dying to tell someone he’s not dead. His passion for life renewed, our hero straps on a new girlfriend named Diane, slathers on some hair product, and organizes a new band with a black saxophonist who play music ahead of their time. Bloodsucking opportunists glom onto Eddie. He goes looking for a bridge in a used Chevy. Diane convinces him that music is more important than greedy sleazebags. Eddie triumphs.

Eddie II lasted about four weeks in theaters, grossing (according to Variety) five figures or less. Scotti Brothers won’t talk about it. The film then retreated to video and cable.

People who wouldn’t be caught dead watching it in movie houses apparently felt more benevolent at home with their blinds drawn. Eddie II spent three months on Variety’s Top 50 video rental list. The soundtrack recording sold over 500,000 copies.

Michael Paré reprised the Eddie role. John Cafferty and Beaver Brown wrote and performed all ten new numbers for Eddie’s ’80s band. The soundtrack album cover has a photo of Paré “playing” them.

51d3u0I8vnL

The band’s popular Eddie catalog alternates traditional rock‘n’roll with smoldering, throbbing stuff about death, resurrection, and devil women that Cafferty wrote to order for directors in the habit of requesting abstruse nonsense. (“Music with Eddie’s pulse” was one such directive.)

Still, it’s all solid stuff, and the Eddie scores stand as a textbook example of astute soundtrack craftsmanship. They transcend being just good music as they adroitly cover details the scripts leave out, such as plots, and what might have constituted artistic rebellion against stultifying Eisenhower-era Top 40.

What happened to Beaver Brown’s careers then, or didn’t happen, is weird. They made two other albums with Scotti Brothers, who didn’t bother promoting either one. Two singles from the first LP, “Tough All Over,” made the Top 20 anyway. The other album, “Roadhouse,” was even more textured and sophisticated and gone in a blink.

tough all over, roadhouse[Author’s update: In 1997 Cafferty sued Scotti Brothers Records in a landmark federal case for copyright infringement, false advertising, unfair competition, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty. He wasn’t paid royalties for an album of live performances and other records (Scotti Brothers claimed they gave them away to customers). Cafferty also claimed that the release of previously unreleased Beaver Brown music and rerelease of Beaver Brown albums as Eddie and the Cruisers records were breaches of contract, and forced him to unfairly compete against himself. He asked the court to order Scotti Brothers to return his property. Cafferty lost the case, and Scotti Brothers (now All American Communications) retained ownership of his recordings.]

guitars

We are now left with one nagging question: Would today’s discriminating moviegoers, after sorting out seating arrangements with their Glocks, be receptive to Eddie III?

The Scotti brothers are certainly ready. Like Satin Records, they keep releasing music outtakes from the first two movies, without notifying the band or paying them.

Beaver Brown’s Pat Lupo says, “I really don’t know what their plans are. Then again, you’re talking to a band member. We’re probably the least informed of anybody.”

Asked if he had news of Eddie III, P.F. Kluge replied, “Good Lord, no!”

Michael Paré was too busy making straight-to-video flicks to return calls for this story, but back in 1989 he claimed in an AP interview that Eddie III was a done deal. He has since appeared in many non-Eddie films naked and on a Spy Magazine list of celebrity prostitutes.

[Fun Fact: Paré portrayed a demonic rock star who gets BBQed by Satan in the 1995 crapfest Raging Angels, directed by the incomparable Alan Smithee.]

Arlene Davidson, the frequent target of low-wattage admirers bearing Eddie scripts, says it’s a short bus she won’t drive again. “There was nothing to work on on Eddie II — no real story. The movie had nothing to say. No way will there be an Eddie III.”

[In 2015 Paré told the Washington Post he’s writing a script for Eddie III himself.]

eddie and the cruisers iii posters

Meanwhile, Beaver Brown still plays clubs. Kluge still writes books and teaches college in Ohio. Martin Davidson went on to direct the box office turkey Heart of Dixie. Scotti Brothers keeps releasing Cafferty/Beaver Brown albums with silly fake concert photos of Paré on the covers. [And Kenny Vance produced an Eddie and the Cruisers stage musical in 2001 and kinda forgot to notify all the movie people about it.]

In 1991 Scotti Brothers issued a CD called “The Unreleased Tapes.” It featured “lost” Eddie songs (four Cafferty/Beaver Brown numbers lopped off the last soundtrack) and a super-special bonus, presumably to save money by not buying new material from Beaver Brown: gripping dialog from both movies! It’s deja vu all over again.

guitars


Above: Michael Paré and Matthew Laurance explain the magic.
“We were horrible. Southside Johnny worked with us as a band. He would get really upset.”


Above: John Cafferty and Beaver Brown performing on American Bandstand in 1986.


Above: Michael Paré 1989 interview about Eddie and the Cruisers II.
“I take [the band] out on the road. We put together a whole new bunch of songs. [They never actually played them. — ss] We had two weeks to rehearse.”


Above: Michael Paré 2012 interview. About Eddie and the Cruisers II (17:35):
“The director came to me and said, ‘I can’t stand this script or the music in this movie.’ And I had to work for this guy for seven more weeks knowing he hated the fucking movie. You can’t print this.”


Above: This is Michael Paré’s demo reel. Eddie Wilson isn’t on it.

guitars

Read this interesting scholarly post by Oxford University Press about Eddie and the Cruisers!

Text copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved.

I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy my book Dead Spot. The Kindle version‘s only $5 and you’ll love it! Thanks.

DEAD SPOT on Amazon

Photo of Michael Paré and Nancy Donahue © Vanity Fair.
Photo of Michael Paré in The Greatest American Hero © Stephen J. Cannell Productions/ABC.
Eddie and the Cruisers book cover © P.F. Kluge
Photos of Tony Scotti and Ben Scotti © Twentieth Century Fox, © Philadelphia Eagles.
Photo of Fred Scotti © Kevin Cable and David Rossi.
Photo of Kenny Vance © Kenny Vance and Josh Aronson.
Advertising photos © Lee Barnes and © NaturesJoy’s Clippings Pinups Books.
Album covers © Scotti Brothers Records/All American Communications.
Eddie and the Cruisers III movie posters © Kevin Matterson (left) and © Jeff Webber, Andrew Huff, Shylo Bisnett for Gapers Block (right).

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.