Get Crazy

Director: Allan Arkush                           
Daniel Stern, Malcolm McDowell, Gail Edwards

For the past two decades, director Allan Arkush's career has virtually been devoted to directing episodes of series TV and made-for-TV movies. He has been immersed in directing TV for so long, I think that's why in recent years he has been forgotten as once being an up-and-coming cult director. An alumni of Roger Corman's New World Pictures studio, he got his start directing Hollywood Boulevard and Deathsport, two exploitation movies that have managed to generate small cults among B movie fans. Then came his most famous movie Rock 'n' Roll High School, which was an instant cult classic and has managed to keep adding new fans year after year. 

At this point, it seemed Arkush was on the brink of entering the mainstream, but something happened. He next directed Heartbeeps, a financial and critical bomb (though it does have some dedicated fans.) Then five years before his last theatrical movie to date (the awful Caddyshack II), he The ultimate in evil - Begley, Fabian, and Sherman! directed Get Crazy. If you didn't know what happened to Arkush afterwards, you would be convinced that, even with the stench of Heartbeeps not far behind him, this movie would have been the one that finally would put him in the public spotlight. Yet it didn't; it seems to have opened and virtually closed overnight. What's even more bizarre is that in subsequent years, Get Crazy has not managed to build up a cult, at least one of any significant mass. I honestly can't understand the public oversight of this particular movie. It has all the ingredients you find in many cult movies, like cult stars, wild humor, and unusual direction, but especially sex, drugs, and good ol' rock 'n' roll. If Webster's Dictionary ever decides to add a picture to its definition of sleeper, a picture of the movie poster for Get Crazy would be a very apt choice. This movie is a cult classic that is just screaming to be rediscovered.

Almost all of Get Crazy takes place at one location, The Saturn Theater in Los Angeles. You might not think a lot can happen at just one place, but on New Year's Eve 1982, anything can happen - and everything does. We start off by seeing that the situation in the theater is in utter chaos - stagehands, lead by their coordinator Neil (Daniel Stern) are struggling to get everything ready for the theater's 15th annual New Year's rock 'n' roll concert, which starts in just a few hours. Theater owner Max Wolfe (Allen Garfield), perhaps sensing the end of an era, wants to go out with a bang. But there are problems - record promoter Colin Beverly (Ed Begley Jr.) is determined to seize the lease of the theater - and Max's greedy nephew Sammy just might be willing to be the key.

Meanwhile, other people connected to the concert are having problems - stagehand Joe is desperately searching for a willing girlfriend, the backstage is thrown into chaos by the arrival of not only Captain Cloud and his hippie band, but the female punk band Nada and their utterly demented punk singer friend  Piggy (Lee Ving, from the punk band Fear). At the same time, the showcase talent "Why didn't they take up my offer to play selections from 'Metal Machine Music'?" that was invited to the concert  - King Blues (Bill Henderson), the Dylanesque recluse Auden (Lou Reed) and British superstar Reggie Wanker (Malcolm McDowell) are nowhere around, since all of them are having a hard time getting to the theater. Also, Neil falls for the visiting stagehand Willie (Gail Edwards), a fire inspector is threatening to shut the concert down, and a mysterious robot drug dealer is creeping around backstage. All of this - and some other subplots that I haven't mentioned - happens in the movie's first twenty minutes!

And that's not all that the movie deals with for the rest of its running time; there's Neil's young sister, who sneaks out of the house to attend the concert, Beverly's henchmen (Bobby Sherman! Fabian!) attempt to sabotage the concert, Max has a heart attack...I could go on and on. Not only does everything happen, but nothing happens at the same time; there no real plot, just non-stop craziness. And when I say non-stop, I mean non-stop. There is never a moment where everything stops so the movie can take a breath. The rapid pace is at first exhilarating. I was immediately caught up in the movie's sheer energy, and for about the first thirty minutes I was able to rock to its infinite excess. Then all of a sudden, I just became plain tired from never having a chance to sit back and chew on something for a few minutes. In fact, I had to stop the movie at this point (and in a couple of other places later on) just to prevent my brain from being overloaded. 

Sometimes less is more, and Get Crazy is a good example of what can happen when you try to do too much. After all, someone usually doesn't have to scream more than a few times to get your attention, and we all know how annoying it is when someone won't shut up, especially when they are not speaking on topic. If the movie had taken it more easy, I would have enjoyed it more...or would I? I actually can't be sure. It's true that not all the gags that fire out of the movie's comedy machine gun work, but most do. The Something always gets between budding lovers in a movie movie tries so hard to produce humor, that they do anything for a laugh. There are verbal gags (a mistake by the theater gives them not a blues band, but a "Jews band"), hand-drawn animation splashed on the screen (thank the robot drug dealer for justifying this), bizarre sight gags (a human-sized marijuana joint with legs keeps wandering in and out of the movie), slapstick, jokey rock lyrics, and just about any other form of a gag that you can think of. Maybe the insane pace of the movie wore me out, but even through my exhaustion I was able to laugh at all of the craziness thrown in front of me. A less hyper pace would have let me watch all of the movie at one stretch....but to tell the truth, I am not sure I would have had as much fun if there had been fewer attempts to make me laugh.

As well as in delivering so many laughs successfully, a lot of the movie's charm is in thanks to the casting department. All of the actors are extremely enthusiastic, and are obviously having a blast. It's really fun to see all the different people who manage to show up in the course of the running time. We get to see the early performances of now-famous actors, like Daniel Stern, and anyone who is a fan of Lou Reed or any of the other actual musicians who try out their acting chops here will love seeing their idols joining the party and just having fun. Cult movie fans will love the movie for its many cameos, such as Roger Corman alumni Paul Bartel and Dick Miller. The actor who makes the biggest impression is undoubtedly Malcolm McDowell. Though he's not in the movie much more than an extended cameo, he fits the role of the spoiled rock superstar Reggie Wanker (obviously modeled on British rock stars like Mick Jagger) to a T, with his show-off stage mannerisms and middle-finger attitude towards even his fans. (And yes, McDowell actually does the singing his role requires himself - and he does it pretty well.) 

On reflection, though, all the characters - even Reggie Wanker - are pretty thin ones, though that's mainly due to the fact that the movie makes no time to flesh out the characters. Or, for that matter, to have any real story. Despite all that is going Rock and roll with Malcolm McDowell! on, there is no central story thread, and few of these glued-together vignettes really stand out from each other. To hell with the story and the characters! is what the thought behind the movie seems to have been - let's just have a party. So with that in mind, there's pretty much no point in trying to critique the movie any further in any of the other usual aspects that a movie is judged by. This movie is just one big loud party, kind of like how King Frat was. The difference between that party and this one, though, was that this party was unlike any others I'd been to before, and even though I had to take a few quick breathers outside, I wanted to jump back inside quickly so that I would not miss the next bit of craziness to come around. 

UPDATE: J. Canker Huxley provided these insightful comments:

"Hello Greywizard, I am glad to see that you got around to reviewing this lost classic. After  "acquiring" this movie myself and watching it for the first time in almost 15 years, I also wondered why this lost gem did not have more of a following, even a cult following. I have three possible answers: marketing, marketing, marketing.

"At the end of this film, Arkush dedicates this movie to the stage crew he worked with at the famous Filmore East back in the late sixties. At this time, many of the "children of the sixties" (like Arkush) became prominent in Hollywood. I wonder if he sold this idea to the backers who were hoping he would do a sixties dedication movie with tributes to Janet Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, etc. Instead, they got a movie of actor cameos, a bunch of fake or no-name bands and Howard Kaylan (of the Turtles) as goofy old hippie Captain Cloud.

"Because the sixties angle (which was starting to gain popularity with movies like The Chicken Chronicles, The Rose, and the dreadful American Pop) was not feasible, how the hell does one promote this film? I guess it would be a rock-n-roll movie for the drive-in circuit, but in an age of VCRs and MTV revolution, that was dying out. I would guess to try to push the soundtrack.

"Just about every movie with rock music after Elvis hit the screen sported a soundtrack. That was one of the reasons why Arkush's Rock n Roll High School was so successful. Unlike RnRHS, this movie does not have a recognizable artist or group playing for a marketable soundtrack. True, Lou Reed, Fabian, Bobby Sherman, and Howard Kaylan are in the movie, but only Reed performs one whole song (a fantastic version of "(I Love my) Little Sister") but that is only at the final credits.

"Most of the other music from either (at the time) little know actors (veteran actor Bill Henderson is wonderful as King Blues) or fake bands such as Nada and Reggie Wanker. Thy may have had film to show as videos, but it would not make it to MTV. In the early years of MTV, Fear was out of the question and no one probably wanted to have a punk band or a scalding parody of Mick Jagger. And even if they did, his last name would not be "Wanker."

"That's too bad because "Blues had a baby and called it Rock and Roll" and the Nada song ("Enough is enough," I believe) are damn catchy tunes. The movie also has a great running joke about everyone covering King Blues' "trademark" song, "Hoochie Coochie Man." Although I liked the joke and the various versions (blues, glam rock and hardcore punk), one version of a song done several times probably soured any type of marketable soundtrack. With nothing to "sell" to MTV (besides, Get Crazy was an R-rated movie), and no soundtrack, this film had nowhere to go but late-night Cinemax and then movie oblivion.

"However, I do agree this movie is a keeper and would suggest it as a candidate for revival by DVD. Among other things, this movie has a great sense of FUN, more than any film I have seen in a long time.

"I hope no one is put off by Get Crazy because some have labeled this as a "dated" artifact from the 1980s. Other than some of the fashions and hairstyles (not to mention the big "1983" sign over the stage) the story, jokes and dialogue is probably less dated than any of the Scary Movie 
comedies. There are broad parodies of people in the music industry (Wanker = Jagger / Bowie, King Blues = Blues guys, Colin Beverly = Sleazy Record Execs). However, few references to 1980s pop culture appear in this movie (there is one Star Wars reference, but I don't even remember a single reference to the Reagan presidency in this film)!

"There are a lot of references to carefree drug use and sex, but most of them are so outrageous (the giant blunt running around and let's not forget Electric Larry), they are a hard to take seriously. With American Pie, Dude, Where's My Car, Half-Baked, and the soon to be released Jay and Silent Bob movie, Get Crazy probably would fit right in."

And Mike Mueller sent this in:

"Get Crazy may not have been appreciated in the 80s because it had a whiff of hippie about it. Notice how the film plays like a more tightly-wound Cheech`n`Chong flick. Script was based on Alan Arkush`s experiences working @ the Fillmore in the early 70s (or so I recall
from an old Rolling Stone interview.) Saw it because Lou Reed had done such a swell job playing an oleaginous record producer in Paul Simon`s vanity film, One-Trick Pony. (Oddly enough, Allen Garfield and Dan`l Stern are in that one, too.)"


UPDATE 2: Jason Snyder sent in this information:

"In one of your updates, J. Canker Huxley states that Get Crazy did not have a soundtrack.  In fact, a soundtrack album was released on Morocco Records (Motown's short lived rock label) in 1983.  I owned a copy on vinyl, but it was never released on CD, alas."

Stuart Kazanow subsequently wrote in to mention that while the soundtrack is not on CD, "The Lou Reed number from the film did appear on the Lou Reed box set, Between Thought and Expression:  The Lou Reed Anthology." 

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