My December 2010 film column for Maximum Rock N Roll. Originally appeared in issue 331.
GO OUT AND BUY SOMETHING
Could you think of a better holiday treat this year than a Jello Biafra double feature? Alternative Tentacles has released two films featuring Biafra in supporting roles 1990's Terminal City Ricochet and 1999's The Widower.
Terminal City Ricochet has always held a weird place in my heart since it is directly responsible for my illustrious San Francisco community radio career. It was the day after Thanksgiving 1990, I had the day off work and I was listening to KUSF 90.3fm. Biafra was on being interviewed about the film, which was opening in town that weekend. The station was giving away a copy of the soundtrack and Biafra asked the question, "What did Bart write on the blackboard on last night's Simpsons episode?" I knew it since I had yelled it out to my roommate who was in the kitchen during the opening credits. It was "I will not do that thing with my tongue" from the episode Bart vs. Thanksgiving. I called and won. When I went to pick up the record the next week at the station, I asked how I could join the station. The following week I was at a meeting and the rest is history. I am still there twenty years later.
I also went to see Terminal City Ricochet that same weekend. I remember much less about the film. Watching it again should have revived my memory. It did although not in a fully positive way.
Terminal City Ricochet has an interesting premise. Television personality Ross Gilmore is mayor of Terminal City. He rules as a dictator with his band of corrupt cops led by Biafra. When a paperboy Alex witnesses the mayor's hit and run of one of his supporters, the mayor has Alex branded as "The Rock N Roll Terrorist". The fear of The Rock N Roll Terrorist is used as Gilmore's campaign for his upcoming reelection attempt. When Alex goes on the run, he meets up with a group of underground rebels who try to foil Gilmore's plans. As Alex discovers anyone who stands in the way of Gilmore's reelection gets labeled a terrorist or is simply ends up dead, though not really dead.
One of the more annoying of the plot devices in Terminal City Ricochet is these fake deaths. Hockey superstar Ace known as the Saviour because of his play-off heroics is supposedly dead. He has amnesia from getting hit in the head so he doesn't remember who he is, but everyone else instantly recognizes him. Also Gilmore's son Jim is willingly kidnapped, but his dad escalates the event to his murder. He sees it as a good way to get the sympathy vote. Neither person is dead so their reappearance confuses the mindless citizens of Terminal City. Gilmore and his police squad are already so corrupt it doesn't make sense that they wouldn't just kill anyone who gets in the way. Of course, I know the answer is because then there wouldn't be a plot. Sorry if that is a spoiler.
Overall Terminal City Ricochet is a time capsule of quaint '80s paranoia. Rock n roll and television corrupt people's minds. Politicians are liars. Elections are rigged. People are mindless drones. Things were bad then, but looking back it is nothing compared to all the nonsense we have now. Yet, the constant barrage of conspiracies and doctrines in the film get too monotonous. Instead of a fun political satire, Terminal City Ricochet is weighed down under too much theoretical tedium. Not to mention the odd inconsistency that even though everyone is supposedly so fixated with television they still get the newspaper delivered.
The Terminal City DVD also includes some DOA and I, Braineater music videos plus two interviews with Biafra about the film, one from 1992 and the other from 2006. I will assume Biafra didn't watch the 1992 before his 2006 interview. It is reassuring that he would say almost the exact same thing about the film in both interviews.
The Widower is a more straightforward film. Milton's wife has passed away. He however does not want to let her go so he keeps her corpse in the apartment, dressing and feeding her every day. He avoids the landlady who complains about the smell emanating from his apartment and his wife's sister who is growing more suspicious when her calls don't get returned. A nosey neighbor gets a glimpse of the scene and reports it to a couple of incompetent police officers. Milton and his wife go out on the town while the cops and the neighbor try to track them down.
I was expecting more of an indie Weekend At Bernie's, but it seems everyone except the cops are aware that Milton's wife is dead. Though in the cops' defense they never get to actually see the corpse. Although people make disgusted faces it doesnŐt stop the couple from getting served at a bar or driving around town. When the film delves further into Milton and his wife's relationship, he transforms from sympathetic, lonely widower to spineless, subjugated husband.
In The Widower Biafra plays two minor roles: the proprietor at the "Funeral Parlor" which is really an S&M club and the devil. Unfortunately for him the best character in the film is the nosey neighbor. alternativetentacles.com
Radical Act is a series of interviews done in 1995 with various female musicians and other women involved in the music scene. Each discusses how she got into music as well as how her gender defines what she does. Some of the women interviewed are Kathleen Hanna, Toshi Reagon, Kim Coletta, Melissa York and Gretchen Phillips Radical Act doesn't come out and say it, I suppose since the term has such a stigma these days, but the Riot Grrrl movement is really what this film is about.
A few months ago I reviewed another DVD from the same time period about the same subject called Anything Boys Can Do. Unlike that film, Radical Act focuses on the more positive things about being a female musician. Here there is less of wanting to compete with males and more of a focus on the uniqueness of the female perspective. That is probably due to the film's director Tex Clark who is also female.
The most fascinating part of Radical Act is seeing a young Kathleen Hanna discussing how she started playing music. She is so idealistic and still resolutely independent minded. It's nice. radicalactmovie.com
I am always looking for films to review. If you made one, send a copy to Carolyn Keddy, PO Box 460402, San Francisco, CA 94146-0402. If your film is playing in the San Francisco Bay Area, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will go see it.