With the holidays in full swing, I can’t think of a better time than to dig into subject of mad men. I’m not referring to the hipster melodrama from AMC. I’m more interested in exploring a few truly deranged characters caught on film, some real, some imagined. Check it out, plus a few other recent goodies on DVD and Blu-ray. And stay tuned for the Video Fix Annual Gift Guide in a couple weeks—it’ll be a doozie for sure.
Can punk rock and the Bible Belt coexist? Knoxville Tennessee punks The Dirty Works are living proof that it somehow can co-mingle…barely. Led by resident madman and methadone addict Christopher Scum, The Dirty Works have made it their mission to disrupt the status quo, thumbing their noses—and just about any other orifice—at the conservative culture that surrounds them. Rebel Scum is the culmination of two years’ worth of documentary footage of the group and all its troubles, which is often, all too common in the life and times of a rock ‘n’ roll band.
Scum is a nihilist par excellence, injuring himself at every turn, including lighting his hair on fire, calling his fragile mental state into question. Guitarist Steven Crime is a barely functional alcoholic with a knack for self-sabotage, while the rest of the band also finds itself at odds with each other.
But beneath the chaos is an “us against the world” mentality that plucks at the heartstrings and aside from all the lunacy; some of the songs are well above your average punk rock diatribes. Director Video Rahim does a fine job at humanizing his subjects, who would otherwise be seen merely as society’s unwashed outcasts. And it’s this human element that makes this ramshackle crew such compelling subjects. (MVD)
Call Me Lucky
From director Bobcat Goldthwait comes this gritty documentary about comedian Barry Crimmins. Crimmins built a reputation during the ’70s and ’80s for his gruff delivery and political commentary. But while the seemingly crazed comic has had a major influence on comedians to follow, he has harbored a dark secret that is anything but funny.
Call Me Lucky captures Crimmins both at his both his most unhinged and most vulnerable, exploring his traumatic childhood and how he eventually channeled it into positive social advocacy. Call me Lucky is raucous ride from start to finish, and serves as one of the year’s best documentaries—and most compelling stories—of the year. (IFC)
The Mad Genius
This 1931 shocker revolves around a mean-spirited, drug-addled puppeteer who lives vicariously through his male ballet protégé. But unfortunately, the dancer becomes massively successful, leaving him jealous, bitter and even more mentally unbalanced. Veteran actor John Barrymore is eerie and effective as the sadistic Svengali, and it makes for an unpredictable but ultimately satisfying horror view.
It’s also worth nothing that this film came out during the pre-code days of Hollywood, the period in between silent films and the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code censorship program put in place in 1934. Thus, some of its racier aspects would soon become taboo for years to come. (Warner Archive Collection)
One of the greatest silent films of all time gets a pristine Blu-ray overhaul. While earlier versions of Faust do exist, F.W. Murnau’s take on the timeless parable to good and evil still stands as one of the most unnerving films set to screen. Rife with atmosphere and fantastic surreal sets, this German version (1926) showcases the tale of the devilish Mephisto and his manipulation of the misguided Faust. A tragedy if there ever was one, this film is equal parts, horror, occult, thriller and romance, all embellished with stunning visuals (enhanced by Kino’s excellent transfer) and a revamped soundtrack. (Kino Lorber)
The Stanford Prison Experiment
In 1971, Stanford professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo conducted a live study on the psychology of incarceration using students to act as both prisoners and guards. The results were unexpected to say the least. Originally backed by the US Navy, the test displayed the dark side of human nature, with the guards engaging in sadistic behavior and all around skullfuckery. Many of the prisoners soon became passive and fearful, with Zimbardo himself getting caught up in the theatrics.
While documentary footage of the experiment exists, this film is a dramatization, which focuses heavily on the bad behavior dolled out by the guards. While it’s a little heavy-handed in spots, it does a fine job at demonstrating the lengths of cruelty man will go to if left unchecked, kind of like Lord of the Flies for the college set. The acting carries the day, especially Billy Crudup as the overly engaged Zimbardo. (MPI)
A.J. Manglehorn is a mess of an old man with some awkward social skills and a fixation for cats. Can he pull himself together enough to impress the nice woman from the small town, or will he keep on with his depressive ways and questionable hygiene? Al Pacino is top-notch in this dank but charming indie sleeper, which also features contentious director Harmony Korine in one of the central roles. (MPI)
Released in 1964, this peculiar little flick revolves around a seemingly hapless lab tech that happens to collect dolls. Problem is—among other things—he’s also a serial killer with a thing for nurses, who he equates with said dolls. All goes as planned until he shakes things up by killing someone out of anger. Based loosely on the real-life events of the Boston Strangler, killer Leo Kroll is played to the hilt with skin-crawling efficiency by actor Victor Buone, who’d just scored high marks in the equally creepy What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?.
Long out of print, this film can now be had in a decent-quality transfer at an even better price—a worthy addition for vintage-horror fiends. (Warner Archive Collection)
No Means of Escape
Nazareth is one of those bands that thrives as the underdog. In spite of the fact that it may not be a household name in these parts, it can always be counted on for a clutch of solid arena-rocking numbers, ones that you’ve undoubtedly heard on FM radio or in between bands at a hesher rock show. Then there’s the GN’R connection. Fans of Axl Rose will no doubt notice the similarities to recently retired vocalist Dan McCafferty, and the band’s knack for cranking out ballsy, street-level rock ‘n’ roll was an obvious influence as well.
No Means Escape includes a decent live set, but it lacks one major component: Dan McCafferty. Replacement singer Linton Osborne does a valiant job, but is it really Nazareth? What redeems this set is its inclusion of the documentary Made in Scotland. Since so little cinematic documentation exists on this underappreciated act, it’s nice to have a decent outline of its history, including some cool archival footage. (Eagle Rock)
For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a line at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. JK