ALLAN ARKUSH: Get Crazy never actually got a real release, you know. It was in theaters for a month. . . . A month? I’m sorry, a week, in some places less than that. So a couple of years after that, a finance guy whose company had invested in the movie contacted me. He was in New York, and I went down to see him, and we had lunch. The investor told me that his group had lost several million dollars on Get Crazy. The original production company had had no serious plans for releasing the movie; they had made it to get a tax loss and earn money on that. The Producers comes to mind — we were Bialystocked.
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As 2021 nears its end, Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of Allan Arkush’s rock ’n’ roll comedy Get Crazy (1983), providing home viewers the opportunity (after four decades!) to finally see this bursting-at-the-seams send-up of Bill Graham’s legendary rock club, the Fillmore East, as Arkush initially intended, with the movie’s expressive use of color, its original 16:9 aspect ratio, and its magnificent soundtrack all restored.
Shot almost entirely at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles in the summer of 1982, Get Crazy features Daniel Stern as a stagehand in a music hall called the Saturn Theater, who coordinates a New Year’s Eve benefit concert to save his employer from going under financially. Ed Begley Jr. costars as the film’s heavy, an unscrupulous music promoter, while Malcolm McDowell glimmers in his supporting role as a fatuous superstar named Reggie Wanker. John Densmore, the drummer from the Doors, shows up, too, as does Lou Reed, who plays a Dylanesque poet-rocker fittingly named Auden. Bluesman Bill Henderson and the long-forgotten but still potent New Wave act Lori Eastside & Nada deliver performances that leave the movie sizzling as character actors Dick Miller, Mary Woronov, and Paul Bartel intensify its campy, manic flavor. Teen idols Fabian Forte and Bobby Sherman make the scene, as well, as thugs, no less.
In December, just after the Blu-ray’s release, I spoke to Arkush about his recollections of directing Get Crazy and working on its restoration. Joining us was Kent Beyda, one of the three editors who cut the picture. Beyda first collaborated with Arkush as an assistant editor and PA on Rock ’N’ Roll High School, which Roger Corman’s New World Pictures released in 1979. Beyda cut two other music-themed movies that stand out today as classics: the rock mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap (1984) and the rock documentary X: The Unheard Music (1986).
STEPHEN B. ARMSTRONG: How did Get Crazy initially come to be?
ALLAN ARKUSH: Danny Opatoshu, who wrote the screenplay’s original draft, and I had both studied in NYU’s film school and had been working together at the Fillmore East on the stage crew. A lot of wild stuff happened, and we’d say, “Boy, it would be great to make a movie about this.” Then Danny went off to Los Angeles to work for Roger Corman, and then I went off to Corman, too. At a certain point we said, “You know all that talk we used to have about doing a movie about a rock club? Let’s do it. Let’s sit down and work out an outline.” Danny wrote the script. It was a period picture at first, more like our own lives ten years earlier. It wasn’t as broad a comedy as Get Crazy turned out to be. The original story was a lot lighter. I tell people that we started out aiming for Lubitsch and ended up with Porky’s (1981).
We tried to sell the script everywhere. No one was interested. Then we found this one group, an independent company, who liked the idea of a rock ’n’ roll comedy, but they wanted to do it present-day, and they wanted it to be a lot broader. I was in a tough position in my career. I’d had a failure with Heartbeeps (1981), and I really wanted to do something that I knew I could do well, another Rock ‘N’ Roll High School type of movie. So we agreed to make the changes. We did a couple rewrites, but the money people were not happy. They wanted more sex and nudity, and they wanted more jokes. So those changes went in, but they were not done by Danny. They were done by two new writers, Henry Rosenbaum and David Taylor.
Get Crazy never actually got a real release, you know. It was in theaters for a month. . . . A month? I’m sorry, a week, in some places less than that. So a couple of years after that, a finance guy whose company had invested in the movie contacted me. He was in New York, and I went down to see him, and we had lunch. The investor told me that his group had lost several million dollars on Get Crazy. The original production company had had no serious plans for releasing the movie; they had made it to get a tax loss and earn money on that. The Producers comes to mind — we were Bialystocked. Get Crazy went from distributor to distributor and from vault to vault, as a result of this, and because each distributor has its own way of storing movies, Get Crazy was for decades lost: the sound . . . the picture itself . . . all the paperwork. . . .
As we put together the new release for Kino, Kent followed up on a crazy ambition we had to do a “making-of” story for the movie, and while he created the documentary out of fifty hours of Zoom chats in the editing room, I tracked down what we needed that had disappeared with the paperwork.
KB: Like music rights.
AA: Yeah. That was essentially what it boiled down to — music rights.
KB: In the fall of 2020, Allan decided to start doing Zoom interviews with people who’d been attached to the movie.
AA: When Kino Lorber said that they were going to release the film on Blu-ray, they talked to me about shooting extras, which I thought could be a great way to work with my friends again, like Danny and Kent. All of us had passed through New World Pictures, so we were not deterred by the fact that we had to do all these extras and featurettes for $4,000. We were a little challenged, maybe, but we’d been down this road.
KB: It was a labor of love. We did forty interviews for the making-of doc. I cut down fifty hours of interview footage to an hour and a half with my co-editor, Madison McCabe. Allan also wanted to get the Nada band back together, and we had Lori Eastside over to Allan’s house and shot her lip-synching “Not Gonna Take It No More.” The other Nada band members on their own, on their iPhones, filmed themselves doing the song, too. Our friend Mark Helfrich cut all this together as a music video that appears on the disc.
SA: Get Crazy’s music is what first brought me to the movie thirty-five years ago. I had found the soundtrack album in a remainder bin at a record store and bought it out of curiosity. It’s great from beginning to end, with New Wave, punk, Chicago blues, power pop, Sparks, the Ramones, Marshall Crenshaw. . . .
KB: A lot of the music was recorded for the movie, right, Allan?
AA: It was. Let me say this: I am a frustrated rock critic. One of the things that happened when I was starting to become a serious record collector fifty years ago is that rock criticism became a thing. Rock, that is to say, was at last being taken seriously. One person who inspired me was Jon Landau — he went on to manage Bruce Springsteen. Another was Richard Meltzer, who’s a friend. In Get Crazy you can discern my own thoughts about rock history. That is why every single band does a blues song, for instance. And look at “Not Gonna Take It No More.” In that one you’ve got Lori Eastside crying out: “You askеd me to your gig last week / You made mе dress up like a freak / You said that I could hold you good / And now, baby, I’m having fun.” That song is an homage to the music I grew up on, the girl groups from the Shangri-Las to the Chiffons, with a nod to Blondie and the Go Go’s, even Bikini Kill.
Kent, you probably know, was very involved in the choosing of the needle drops.
KB: In the cutting room, all of us were music lovers. People offered up lots of ideas about music, including myself. And it was a free-for-all. We would just try out things, and if we loved something, we’d set out to get the rights. And if we couldn’t get the rights, we’d move on to something else. The film was shot at the Wiltern. Our editing rooms were across the street. I got to do a follow spot on Malcolm McDowell, at one point, and listen in on the headsets that were wired into the whole place, which was really a gas. There was constantly something exciting happening at the theater. I always wanted to go over there and see people performing.
SA: What is the lure of rock ’n’ roll for you?
KB: Music is a gigantic part of my life. I’m a drummer and a musician, and rhythm is such a huge part of editing. Working on a movie like Get Crazy was like a dream because Allan knew how to cover musical numbers. We had two or three cameras. It was all cut on film back then, so it took a little longer than it does today, but it was really a joy.
AA: I teach at the AFI now, and one of the things I emphasize in my film class is how directors, in particular — but also DPs and to some degree writers and certainly editors — have to find their internal rhythm as they work. You have to find your heartbeat during a scene so that you can sense right away what the correct pace is. When you watch the scene rehearsed, you make adjustments, and when you watch it on the monitor, you make adjustments, all so that when you get to the editing room the movie’s what you think it should be.
SA: As we’re talking about the importance of music and beat on directing and editing here, how about the influence of the comedy Hellzapoppin’ (1941) on Get Crazy? You speak to that film’s importance on the new disc.
AA: Hellzapoppin’ is so meta that it breaks down all the fourth walls, and there’s a lot of postmodern awareness to it that’s also in Get Crazy. The title for our movie originally was HELLZAROCKIN’. I have always been attracted to chaotic movies. The Marx Brothers’ insanity on camera is something that has appealed to me since childhood. Same thing with Jerry Lewis: I like movies where you don’t quite know if you’ve gotten everything the first time you see them. That’s also what appealed to me about a lot of Preston Sturges’ work. In any part of the frame in Get Crazy, there’s always something nutty going on, like a Bruegel painting. And no one, other than the people who saw the picture during its first run, has been able to see this before.
KB: That’s true. Get Crazy doesn’t quite register the same way on YouTube with the wrong aspect ratio. Now you can see all that layering.
SA: While the first movie the two of you worked on together, Rock ‘N’ Roll High School, ends in mayhem, with P. J. Soles and her friends, the Ramones, blowing up a school — Get Crazy closes poignantly with a subdued Lou Reed song — I’m not sure of its title, to be honest — “Little Sister” or “Baby Sister.” And you have him on an empty stage, with all but one female fan, playing to a room full of balloons on New Year’s Eve. It’s such a brilliant and beautiful and sad and absurd closing scene. What was that like shooting Lou Reed?
AA: You have to remember that Lou’s character, Auden, rides around in a taxi for most of the picture writing that song. Lou and I discussed his music at lunch once and where it came from. His album The Blue Mask had just been released, and I said to him: “You continue to pursue this sort of realism like Hubert Selby Jr. in Last Exit to Brooklyn, with the same sort of Beat Generation clarity. You’re not doing I-love-you songs.” He liked that. “What’s it like being Lou Reed?” I asked. So Lou says: “Oh, all the time people come up and tell me they OD’d to my songs, as if I’m the black angel of death.” “All the time?” “Well, no. Once I was in Manny’s Music City. . . .” Manny’s Music was a very famous music store in New York City. If you were in a major rock band and you were on tour and you stopped in New York, you went to Manny’s to buy strings, to hang out, to see what guitars were selling there. Mike Bloomfield, you know, bought the Fender that he plays on “Like a Rolling Stone” at Manny’s an hour before he went in to the studio.
Lou told me he used to go to Manny’s all the time. “I was just buying strings, and I see this kid,” he tells me. “He’s got a Fender, and he’s holding it. He’s thirteen years old and looks like a Jewish kid from Long Island, like me.” At Manny’s you couldn’t plug in a guitar unless you were going to buy it; otherwise the place would be cacophonous. So Lou went on, “I invented this whole story that the kid was just about to be bar mitzvahed, and this was the trade-off — he got a Fender. I started thinking to myself, ‘What’s he going to play first? What song is he going to play on his Fender?’ I’m willing to bet the ranch on ‘Satisfaction’ or ‘I Feel Fine’ by the Beatles or some riff song like that. Then the kid starts chording, and it’s ‘Sweet Jane.’ At that moment I said to myself, ‘Fuck! I’m Lou Reed.’”
KB: Lou’s performance is one of the movie’s great parts. Correct me if I’m wrong, Allan, but the producers didn’t want us to put it in?
AA: It was a battle. They wanted to cut out his song. They didn’t think that we needed it.
KB: I think that’s why we put the closing credits over it? To justify its existence?
AA: Yes. Exactly.
SA: How did you go about cutting that footage of Lou Reed performing the song?
KB: When I approach a project, I read the script and I have a good idea in my mind of what I think it should be. Then I pretty much don’t look at the script again. I deal with the footage as it’s coming in. I have a strong point of view about how I think it should play, and what I think the important parts of a scene are. That’s how I initially put it together. For rock ’n’ roll, it’s about what’s going to be exciting, what’s going to be appealing and what’s the most dramatic way to present the piece of music. Allan and I did a video with Mick Jagger and Bette Midler, “Beast of Burden.” For that part when she pulls Mick up onto the stage, I put in a jump cut, which was novel. I love to take chances like that, to break the rules, to make something work in a way that doesn’t leap out at you, but you still feel it. Mark Goldblatt, Michael Jablow, and I were the editors on Get Crazy. I remember us sitting there in the editing rooms with Allan looking at the KEM, which is a 35 millimeter editing table, and there’d be those moments where one of us would go: “Whoa, what the hell? That’s amazing! Don’t change it!”
AA: We ended up getting a very, very propulsive style with lots of motion cutting in the movie, which is fantastic. You know, from the day that Get Crazy opened, August 6, 1983, it’s only taken thirty-eight years and four months for it to come out looking right on video. Kent and I have raised families in that time!
KB: Well, better late than never. Right, Allan?
AA: Of course.
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Eastside, Lori. “Not Gonna Take It No More.” Track 6 on Get Crazy (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack). Morocco, 1983, LP.
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All images used with permission of Allan Arkush and Kino Lorber.