A whirlwind tour of Arkush's 1983 feature
By Louis Black,
9:00AM, Fri. Feb. 14, 2014
Richard Linklater has curated and is hosting Jewels in the Wasteland, a series of Eighties films for the Austin Film Society on Wednesdays at the Marchesa.
Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy and Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Veronika Voss were the first two films in the series, and Martha Coolidge's Valley Girl screened this past Wednesday night.
Linklater was at the Berlin Film Festival screening Boyhood, so I was asked to co-host the discussion afterward with Lars Nilsen of AFS. During the course of the discussion, a number of my other favorite early Eighties films came up, including Amy Heckerling's Fast Times at Ridgemont High and, especially, Francis Ford Coppola's not just neglected but actively derided masterpiece One from the Heart.
Coincidently, Esther Follies' Austin Jernigan, an old friend, posted a link on my Facebook page to all of Lou Reed's footage from Get Crazy, a film of exactly the same vintage. Lou Reed plays Auden, a reclusive and eccentric poet/singer/songwriter.
Jernigan gives me credit for getting him to show the film at the Ritz back when he booked it. He is gently dismissive of the film itself, noting "I guess it went okay, it was a fairly enjoyable movie." But then he goes on to enthuse, "What blew me away, though, was Lou Reed in the final credits. Ever since, I've wanted to see that scene again."
Finally he found it on YouTube, in a clip that features features not only Reed's complete performance of the closing song but all nine minutes of him in the film:
I still swear by the film, which is set at a special New Year's Eve performance in a venue much like the legendary Filmore East in the East Village in New York City. Promoter Max Wolfe is played by the great character actor Allen Garfield (at this time he had reverted to using his given name, Allen Goorwitz, but eventually went back to that stage name). Claiming to be dying, Wolfe reaches out to a lot of music talents to play this show as a tribute to him.
One of those he contacts is Auden (Reed), who has not performed in years. As if the referential layers weren't already obvious enough, when Wolfe calls him, Auden answers in a setting mimicking the cover of Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home, including a woman dressed in red slouched on a chair smoking in the background.
Just talking to Wolfe begins to break Auden's long writer's block, casual lines of conversation inspiring potential lyrics. Auden agrees to do the show. After getting in a cab, he continues to find inspiration from the most mundane comments and observations. Thus inspired he instructs the cabbie to take the long way. The cab trip becomes a running shaggy dog joke through the rest of the movie as the driver travels all over the place and Auden continues to strum his guitar and compose in the backseat.
When they finally arrive at the venue, the show has ended. Crowds stream out as Auden wanders through the place. Finally, taking the stage he performs "My Baby Sister" for an audience of two as the credits roll. I'm not sure the song ever made it on to a Reed album, but I'm happy to be enlightened on that point.
I saw a number of great shows at the Filmore East including the Jefferson Airplane, Buddy Guy, Sweetwater, It's a Beautiful Day, the Incredible String Band, and The Who. Not only was the ambience of the place magical, but the extended community of the day saw shows there often proving the catalyst for other events. In early May 1968, only months after it opened, I was there for a Jefferson Airplane show with the Crazy World of Arthur Brown opening (featuring the future 15-year Austin resident). During the encore, Jimi Hendrix's drummer Mitch Mitchell sat in with the headliner. They also announced a free show in Central Park on Sunday, May 5. A group of us travelled in from New Jersey. The Paul Butterfield Band opened with Elvin Bishop on lead guitar, Mike Bloomfield having already left the group. Next up was the Airplane. Closing the show was the Grateful Dead, in one of their earliest East Coast performances. By the end of that set, my friends had the dazed/religious/magical/glazed look that would became so familiar during Dead performances. I had missed much of the set arguing with my girlfriend.
The Filmore East then was a special place, which Get Crazy, a superb rock & roll comedy, really captures. Director Allan Arkush's good friend and fellow director Jonathan Kaplan was lighting director there for two years. I'm pretty sure Arkush himself also worked there.
The leads Daniel Stern and Gail Edwards (as Willy Loman), both of whom work there, gradually fall in love over the course of the film. They are the sole audience watching Reed at the end.
The great cast also features Malcolm McDowell as Reggie Wanker, an outlandish British rock star, and Ed Begley Jr. as the villainous developer. It is rounded out by all manner of rockers and scene makers, including Howard Kaylan (the Turtles), Lee Ving (Fear), John Densmore (the Doors), Franklyn Ajaye, Fabian, Bobby Sherman, Coati Mundi (Kid Creole & the Coconuts), Jonathan Melvoin (Smashing Pumpkins), Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, and the ubiquitous Dick Miller.
For those of you unfamiliar with Miller, whom you've undoubtedly seen in dozens of movies (IMDb lists 174 credits), That Guy Dick Miller, a documentary on the actor, is showing at South by Southwest Film 2014. Otherwise check out Reed in Get Crazy; regardless of what you think of the rest of the film, Jernigan's right, it's a gas!
For more on the Jewels in the Wasteland series, see Marjorie Baumgarten's interview with Linklater.