Hollywood Vice Squad (1986)

Hollywood Vice Squad (1986) movie poster

director Penelope Spheeris
viewed: 07/28/2018

I’ve got nothing but (ever increasing) respect and appreciation for Penelope Spheeris. Her 1980s movies reflect her keen interest in Los Angeles, its characters, its denizen. Hollywood Vice Squad perhaps comes off more anomalously, but still presents a picture of street culture in line with her other work.

Hollywood Vice Squad plays a like a little bit of old school exploitation. The crimes depicted purportedly were “based on true events” and Ronny Cox’s Captain Jensen lectures the mother of a runaway on the dark truths of the asphalt jungle.

The episodic drama/comedy doesn’t have much tension but it’s relatively fun. Carrie Fisher has a decent role as a young cop trying to break the glass ceiling in the vice squad. Frank Gorshin makes for a wonderful baddie, and he lights his cigarettes with stylish flips.

“Chile con carne to you too.”

Dudes (1987)

Dudes (1987) movie poster

director Penelope Spheeris
viewed: 05/23/2018

Jon Cryer makes a cute punk.

Penelope Spheeris’s Dudes is very 1987, a transition between between early and late Eighties. It’s also a then present day revenge Western featuring punks versus thugs (also played in part by punks).

It exists between light-toned comdey and a darker sense of drama, also between pure Indie film and something more commercial.

A decent oddity, fitting well in the center of Spheeris’s oeuvre.

The Decline of Western Civilization III (1998)

The Decline of Western Civilization III (1998) movie poster

director Penelope Spheeris
viewed: 11/16/2015

I was thrilled when it was announced earlier this year that director Penelope Spheeris was finally releasing her Deline of Western Civilization trilogy on DVD.  Though in the past you could have hunted down VHS versions of the first two films, the 3rd movie in the series ran very briefly in theaters and then disappeared altogether.  I was also very pleased when the trilogy came to Fandor very recently.

The theme of the films, following a music scene in Los Angeles, focusing on the kids and their culture continues here, though the music becomes less and less the story.  Only 4 bands appear: Final Conflict, Litmus Green, Naked Aggression and The Resistance, none of whom would be considered major influences on the music world.  But the music is telling, in contrast with what she captured in 1988 in The Metal Years. From the vapidity of that film’s would-be rock stars, these bands are very politicized and sing about social critique and change, very close to the kids who are at the film’s true heart.

Spheeris is taken with the gutterpunks, and the bulk of the film is interviews with the disaffected homeless youth.  They share a lot more in common with the punks of her original The Decline of Western Civilization (1981), those living the lives of squatters, scavengers, echoing the words of X’s “We’re Desperate”.  The gutterpunks come across as even more outside of the mainstream world, further outcast, and Spheeris seems to take them more seriously and care for them more than the subjects of her prior two documentaries.

It’s a significant turn from the LA and subjects of 1988.  The obscurity of the subjects here and the obscurity of this film for the past 18 years makes one wonder about the whereabouts and well-beings of the subjects here.  It’s telling that even before the film was completed, one of the kids had killed another.

In total, this is an excellent series of films.  You almost wish that Spheeris had thought to visit the music scene even more, capturing LA at its changing music heart.

The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)

The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988) movie poster

director Penelope Spheeris
viewed: 11/16/2015

Back in 1988, I couldn’t have been less interested in The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years.  What is now disdained as “Hair Metal” was just the active metal scene in those days, scoring top 40 hits and rather inescapable as pop culture.  I spent 1988 actively avoiding such.

Penelope Spheeris, whose 1981 documentary on the LA punk scene, The Decline of Western Civilization, actually documented bands and a scene that had something cool and great about it, here turns her camera and inspection to Hollywood and the music scene a couple years out from her first film.  Here she finds hair, teased and hairsprayed to monumental proportions, cliché-ridden tunes, and sleazy douchebags.

Interestingly, the bands she snags to perform in the film are mostly lesser ones, barely even has-beens, with the exception of Megadeth, who she plops in at the end of the film on a possible up-note.  More notable are her interviewees who don’t perform: Alice Cooper, Lemmy, Ozzy, the band Poison, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of Kiss, and Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, adding more commercial notability.  And in the end, Spheeris seems more interested in the people and culture than in the music as opposed to her first film in the series.

Sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, ever heard that one before?  That is virtually all this film is about, though many avoid copping to the drugs on camera (though booze does nicely).

There are several noteworthy moments.  The whole Ozzy interview is quite amusing.  Lemmy and Alice Cooper come off as pretty cool people, unlike most of these asses.  Some of them come off as inherently charming asses, but it’s interesting to think through the “where are they now?” a bit.  Obviously, the biggest and most famous are still among us.

While not exactly an exposé, The Metal Years seems amusedly disdainful.  Spheeris was in her early 40’s when she made this and you can sense from her voice and questions that she’s maybe a little over-it-all with the hedonist jackasses.  She does interview a couple of groupie girls and a little of a female-fronted metal band, but doesn’t give the latter all that much space.

Though Metallica already existed, it would only be a year or two out that Nirvana would come on the scene and the hair bands large and small would stop representing the face of “metal”.  Thank goodness for that.

An interesting time capsule.

The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)

The Decline of Western Civilization (1981) movie poster

director Penelope Spheeris
viewed: 10/04/2015

On Friday, I noticed that Fandor had added a number of great movies to their selection, things I was keen to see, like Things (1989) and Penelope Spheeris’s entire Decline of Western Civilization series of films.  Fandor, I’m digging it!

Of the three films, the only one I had ever seen was the first, The Decline of Western Civilization.  I may have seen parts of the second film, but I definitely have still not yet seen the third one though I remember when it first came out and I’ve been waiting for it to become available for years.  It was only earlier this year that Spheeris had the trilogy released on a DVD box set.  So you can know that I’ll be watching the latter two toot sweet.

While I’ve never seen the other films, I’ve actually seen this one multiple times, most recently having a version dubbed on VHS.  I’ve also watched the X and Fear segments many times on YouTube.  So, though it’s been over a decade since I last watched it in full, I am quite familiar with it, as I am with the later X documentary X: The Unheard Music (1986) (which is also available on Fandor, by the way.)

I first saw Decline back in the mid-1980’s and at the time probably liked the Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and Fear segments the most.  I was into hardcore punk and the only thing that I really didn’t like was that the movie was old (probably 4 or 5 years old at the time).  I was into bands that were happening in the “now” of then, and by then, X was a much more commercial prospect.  I liked their music okay, but got much more into it as I got older.

For more than 25 years, X has been my favorite band, so I’ve watched this and appreciated it for seeing them in their prime, both onstage and off.  Watching Darby Crash crash everything, knowing that he was dead within a year or so of this movie’s filming, had different points of interest and curiosity.  I’ve gotten into The Germs over the years, but he’s such a hot mess, it’s hard not seeing the end coming sooner.

Overall, the film is an amazing glimpse into the culture and scene of Los Angeles punk at its red-hot best in the late 1970’s.  You only wonder why this band or that band wasn’t included, so many great ones aren’t there.  And a couple lesser bands made the cut.  The Fear sequence has some rather appalling homophobic humor in it, which is too bad because the way they are baiting their audience is otherwise pretty hilarious.

I watched the film with my 11 year old daughter and just turned 14 year old son.  My son is getting into music and I thought he would be interested.  I wanted to show my daughter X.  She hears me talk about them being my favorite band and asks questions.

What did the kids think of the movie?  I don’t know.  It’s 35 years old, and as much as it captures some greatness, it also captures some inanity, some from the young kids Spheeris interviews, some from the bands in their own interviews, some just from the bands in general.

Still, it’s a remarkable artifact.