On the latest episode of The B-Movies Podcast, William “Bibbs” Bibbiani and I had to review both Rock of Ages and That’s My Boy, which was an arduous task at best; you are no longer allowed to accuse us of having a cushy job. If you want to hear a beautiful chorus of groans and agony, be sure to tune in. I feel I was eloquent, in my own sputtering way, in expressing how much I was offended by the up-with-bullies attitude of That’s My Boy. Bibbs expressed a similar exasperation for Rock of Ages, citing its blandness and corny story as major and insufferable weaknesses.
Something about Rock of Ages that we agreed upon was its curious lionization of ‘80s hair metal as the dominant and defining art of that decade. Rock of Ages features a grand finale wherein our hero, our heroine, and the mega rockstar character all sing a crowd-pleasing rendition of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’. Really? Journey is all we’re going to take form the 1980s? I happened to be living in Los Angeles in 1987 (when the film takes place) and while I was inundated with the likes of Warrant, Bon Jovi, and Def Leppard, I was also aware of other musical forms that were also inhabiting the pop landscape. Hair metal wasn’t always at the fore. Indeed, I recall with clarity (even though I only turned 9 in 1987), many of the popular criticisms of the hair metal movement. That it was a hack, commercial enterprise, full of air-headed and untalented hedonists that were more notable for stretch pants and leather codpieces than they were for any kind of notable musical skill. I think we can all give a pass to Guns N’ Roses, but in terms of truly talented metal bands, I was surprised to see that Rock of Ages openly neglected Mötorhead, Iron Maiden, Slayer, Anthrax, or any of the more “hard-edged” groups. And where, pray tell, was Metallica? No. Metal seems to be the domain of Poison. That said, even Brett Michaels would probably hate Rock of Ages.
But seeing a jukebox musical about hair metal gets the mind a-wanderin’. If ‘80s hair metal can be repurposed into what is essentially a glorified Commedia Del Arte plot, and become a huge hit on Broadway (leading to a bland and energetic Hollywood adaptation), why can’t other pop music forms as well? It seems to me that there are far more interesting genres out there that would make dandy stories. Let’s take a look at a few. ‘Cause it’s fun.
"All is Decay"
Genre: Death Metal
Bands Featured: Cradle of Filth, Christian Death, Mayhem,
Cannibal Corpse, Deicide
A young, hopeless Norwegian youth named Tød moves from a blackened cave in the icy tundras of his country’s remote regions to the big city of Oslo. Early in the film, he is hit by a car, and seems to have a broken arm and a broken leg throughout the course of the film. His movement to the big city would be a good place to have a Cradle of Filth song. He attends a death metal concert, drinks well over his weight in whiskey, and does indeed consume some gasoline. Needing to puke, Tød gets lost on his way to the bathroom, and finds that the death metal venue is actually also the site of a Satanic mass. It’s at the Satanic mass that he meets Diamanda, a hot, leather-clad Bride of Satan. When they kill a goat together, they admit that being in one another’s presence makes the blackness bearable.
Soon, however, they both realize that their love is too pure to exist, and that he must murder her in order to be pure to the death metal dictates. In a really disturbing “romantic” climax, the two lovers beat each other with human femurs, and consume the bits of flesh they manage to strip from each other. They participate in this depressing orgy of violence all night, singing Mayhem songs. Just as the sun comes up, it melts Diamanda. It turns out she was a demoness all along. Tød is “happy,” and vows to move to America and kill the president. A death metal version of O Fortuna plays over the credits.
"Bad Reputation," or perhaps just "Riot Grrrl"
Genre: Riot Grrrl Punk.
Bands Featured: Joan Jett, Bikini Kill, L7, Bratmobile, Jack Off Jill,
The Fastbacks, Sleater-Kinney
This one kind of writes itself. It’s 1980. It’s shot in black and white. A young woman named Allison (Alison Pill) is a free spirit in her otherwise button-down suburban community. In an introduction, she sings Pretend We’re Dead by L7. Interrupting the small town idyll, is a traveling bus of hot punk rock girls who got lost on the way to New York. Allison bonds instantly with the girls, and is soon arranging for them to play their music in a local pub after hours, unbeknownst to the bar’s owners, a pair of prim fiftysomething men. Over the course of a few days, Allison not only falls in love with one of the lead singers, but they begin to preach feminist rhetoric, and demand more from this community, and from the male-centric world of rock.
As a climax, the bands take to the streets, playing and demonstrating and singing Bikini Kill’s Rebel Girl. They expose the owners of the bar to be secret misogynists, and they win over all the women in the town with the power of their rock and roll. Allison is happy that all this is going on, but has to reconcile with her mother. Eventually, her mother comes around. Her mother is played by Joan Jett.
Genre: L.A. Hardcore
Bands Featured: Black Flag, Circle Jerks, The Germs, X, Fear,
TSOL, Suicidal Tendencies
Reminiscent of Alex Cox’s Repo Man, Rise Above is a strange punk odyssey about a group of colorful teenage wastoids in a small town in California who spend their days getting into fights, stealing beers, and breaking windows. To show that they are righteously violent, they beat up some skinheads. That’s how tough they are. They have a band, of course, but they are often too drunk, too horny, or too angry to play. They dream of living in L.A., and they sing Los Angeles by X. One of them, when confronted by his comically square mother, recites the entirety of Institutionalized by Suicidal Tendencies
The story kicks into gear when an alien presence lands on the outskirts of their town, and takes possession of a local cop. The life form then, in true Body Snatcher fashion, takes over the minds of all the cops in town. The cops begin insidiously incorporating stricter and stricter laws. The boys’ oblivious parents don’t seem to notice. Luckily for our boys, the aliens’ weaknesses involve loud music and beer. They jury-rig a mobile garage, and trek around town playing and throwing beer bottles at cops. They sing Rise Above by Black Flag. The films ends with the sun coming up, and our heroes shirtless, bleeding, and surrounded by dead alien cops.
Genre: Gangsta Rap
West Coast: NWA, Tupac, Ice-T, Snoop Dogg
East Coast: Biggie, Onyx, Wu-Tang, Lil’ Kim
Easy story: It’s Romeo & Juliet, but with East Coast Rappers and West Coast Rappers. A Lil’ Kim lookalike falls in love with a Snoop Dogg lookalike, much to the frustration of her father, who looks like The Notorious B.I.G. Her father is an egomaniac who sings Big Poppa. Our Juliet is betrothed to a local gangsta, and wants to be more than a moll. She wants to be a rapper herself. She runs away from home to participate in an underground rap-off, and sings No Time.
Told in a parallel story, we see our Romeo character run away from home for similar reasons, and end up at the same rap-off. He falls in love with Juliet immediately. Without knowing anything about each other, the two young lovers run off into the night. After the night of magic, Romeo sings Ice Cube’s Today Was a Good Day. Eventually, they learn they are from opposite coasts, and also get word from some locals that their respective parents are coming. It’s going to be a Biggie and Tupac faceoff in a small town. Will the two young lovers’ rendition of Express Yourself tame them? Or will they be made wild by their rendition of Slam?
"Punch a Beer"
Genre: Nu Metal
Bands featured: Korn, Limp Bizkit, Staind, Slipknot, maybe Tool
In what will prove to be one of the worst musicals in human history, Punch a Beer tells the story of a young man named Drake who works a blue collar job and spends his nights slamming Natural Light with his buddies down at the bar. When he drinks enough, however, Drake transforms. A rag appears over his head, his jeans jacket becomes huge, a soul patch grows on his face, and he gains mystical control over a magical red Chrysler. He becomes a crime fighter of sorts, only he doesn’t really stop crime. He just stops outside of crime scenes, watches the criminals do their things, and screams Before I Forget. Then he drives off to My Way
When the sun comes up, he’s back to being Drake. The film repeats this process three times. There are some sex scenes thrown in for good measure. The women are all sleazy. The story doesn’t really conclude. There’s just a big Korn number.
I hate Nu Metal.
Genre: College A Cappella
Bands featured: Flo Rida, Ace of Base, Toni Basil, Blackstreet
Anna Kendrick finds her voice by joining a college a cappella choir, and uses her sass to update the stodgy songbook, and…
Oh wait… they already made this movie.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: William Bibbiani is busy tracking down everyone responsible for Rock of Ages. He will return next week, after he exacts his revenge, to explain once again why Witney is wrong. About everything. Always.]