Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Unsung!: Get Crazy

I first saw this on campus when I was in college (I know what you are probably saying, especially those who read the column every week, “This illiterate gorilla went to college?” First of all, there is no reason to get verbally abusive. Second, thanks to well-placed bribes in just the right amounts, I did not merely GO to college, I GRADJIATED!). The distributor must have thought college kids would dig Get Crazy’s mix of anarchic comedy and rock and roll music.

This college kid dug it the most.

If we lament that comedies today have too few jokes (Hall Pass) or no jokes at all (Family Guy), I am happy to report that 1983’s Get Crazy has too many jokes. Director Allan Arkush once explained that the film has “3000 punchlines, but only 1000 jokes.” Say what you will, this movie is crazy, no false advertising here.

Get Crazy very much follows in the footsteps of Airplane! and that movie’s homemade, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink vibe. The filmmakers seem to be playing “Where’s Waldo”: every shot has some sort of joke in it, the audience just has to find it. This is a film that one really cannot tire of — if there is something you do not like, just wait two minutes and there will be something else you probably will like.

THE PLOT IN BRIEF: Promoter Max Wolfe (Allen Garfield) is preparing his concert hall, the Saturn, for its annual New Year’s Eve extravaganza. Evil businessman Colin Beverly (Ed Begley, Jr.) wants to buy the Saturn and raze it to make room for a high-rise office building. After Max suffers what seems to be a heart attack, it is up to stage manger Neil Allen (Daniel Stern) to save the building and see that the show must go on.
If Arkush had been given his way, this would have been a different film. Arkush wanted a pre-Law & Order Jerry Orbach to play Max Wolfe and a young Tom Hanks to play Neil Allen. Gee, with that casting, do you think this movie would still be unreleased on DVD?

Like Joe Dante, Arkush got his start cutting trailers for American International Pictures; in fact, the two helmed their first picture together, co-directing the ultra-low-budget Hollywood Boulevard (1976). At times, Get Crazy seems to be the AIP/Dante film that never was. Get Crazy shares the same sensibility, cinematography, editing, and casting (Dick Miller, Jackie Joseph, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Robert Picardo, Clint Howard) as many of our favorite Dante and/or AIP films. It is like a class reunion of Seventies drive-in schlock.

There really is a lot to like:

•    Lou Reed plays “Auden,” a reclusive rock god clearly based on Bob Dylan. The first time we see him, he is answering a phone call in a set designed as an exact reproduction of Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home album cover. Reed then spends the rest of the film dreaming up mediocre acoustic folk songs based on remarks from passing strangers and objects he notices in the street. My favorites? “You Know It’s Hard For Me (I Cannot Use The Phone)”and “I Ain’t Got All Day.”

•    Latex Larry the Drug Pusher’s every appearance is signaled by Adrian Belew’s song “Big Electric Cat.” I love that song. Check it out. This is really what life in 1982 was like. I was there. Oh, I almost forgot! Play it LOUD.

•    Sixties teen idols Bobby Sherman and Fabian play the villain’s dreamy henchmen, constantly following him around repeating everything that he says with slightly different words.

•    Casting Malcolm MacDowell as the Mick Jagger-type seems like a slamdunk, but his musical performances are over-the-top and grating. MacDowell excels in the quieter, backstage scenes where he subtly and convincingly portrays a celebrity truly in love with only himself. In fact, MacDowell’s standout scene sees his character in the men’s room having a heart-to-heart talk with his own penis. The penis is very disappointed in him, gives him some sage advice, and even agrees to become the band’s manager -- possibly the funniest “talking penis scene” in modern cinema.

Speaking of Malcolm McDowell’s penis, there are jokes in this film that delight the 12 year-old boy in me: a funeral for a blues musician in which every mourner is a blind, black man facing in a different direction; an opening sequence that tries to trick us into thinking we are watching a different film; and “Joint Man,” a 6-foot tall anthropomorphic marijuana cigarette with arms, legs, a face, and a head ablaze and smoking.

Speaking of “Joint Man” (and Latex Larry the Drug Pusher) this film is a slap in the face to the “Just Say No” Eighties. Drug use is everywhere, encouraged, and even rewarded. Certainly, no one in this movie suffers from drug use. In fact, one of the main bad guys is transformed into an agent of good by drinking from a water cooler spiked with LSD. Just like in your office!

A lot of Get Crazy seems to be a retread of Arkush’s earlier Rock and Roll High School. We get the same hour-long, wacky send-up of a popular institution (The Fillmore East in Get Crazy, high school in RRHS) followed by a half-hour concert sequence that also includes wacky goings-on in the audience. Perhaps after the critical and commercial failure of Heartbeeps, the film he made after Rock and Roll High School, director Arkush was just returning to what he considered a safer template.

But if you, like me, kind of love Rock and Roll High School, wouldn’t you kind of love to see another film just like it? Besides, you have to give the film credit for including the weirdest reference to Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in the history of pop culture.

Get Crazy was briefly available on Netflix about a month ago; not any more. It is not available on…legal…DVD. Good luck! I have already seen it, so I win.


  1. (Heh. I was going to go for a joke about how this must have been so long ago that it was a Land Grant college.)

  2. Ha. Very funny. Actually, I went to college in a CAVE.