All Hail the New Year’s Eve Zaniness of Get Crazy

Movies Features Allan Arkush
All Hail the New Year’s Eve Zaniness of Get Crazy

Get Crazy may be the wildest, wackiest musical-comedy set on New Year’s Eve you may not know a damn thing about.

Kinda released in 1983 (and just released on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber Studio Classics), the movie mostly takes place during a rowdy New Year’s Eve show in the Saturn Theater, a storied, L.A.-based performance venue. Just how rowdy does things get, you ask? Well, during one performance, people start jumping off the balcony, with the crowd below safely catching them. (A judging panel is nearby giving scores.)

The balcony-jumping turns out to be the most subdued thing that happens in this cavalcade of chaos. Dogs and chickens are running around. Instead of panties, an appreciative fan tosses a refrigerator to her favorite performer onstage. A masked drug dealer named Electric Larry often materializes out of nowhere, wreaking such drug-fueled havoc as lacing the backstage water cooler with LSD, making one performer have an intimate conversation with his penis. Sixties heartthrobs Bobby Sherman and Fabian appear to plant a bomb. And let’s not forget about the “joint man,” that marijuana cigarette with arms and legs that pops up from time to time.

Get Crazy is some surreal, slap-sticky schlock. It’s also based on a true story. “Everything in that movie is based on real stuff,” director Allan Arkush said in a 2009 interview. A veteran helmer of Roger Corman movies—he previously directed the equally anarchic musical-comedy Rock ’n’ Roll High School, starring scream queen P.J. Soles and punk gods The Ramones—Arkush based the film on his experiences working at the Fillmore East, the legendary New York theater concert-promoting icon Bill Graham ran in the late ’60s. Future Home Alone burglar Daniel Stern basically stars as Arkush, a stage manager—named Neil Allen—who answers to his Bill Graham-esque boss, played by the late character actor, Allen Garfield (née Goorwitz).

The Saturn rounds up a collection of troublemaking performers to help noisily ring in the New Year. The headliner is Reggie Wanker (a gleefully cocky Malcolm McDowell), a Mick Jagger/Rod Stewart mashup whose padded crotch is always ready to unleash some explosive pyrotechnics. Arkush brings in several musicians to play other characters based on real-life rockers. Veteran actor/jazz singer Bill Henderson opens the show as the Muddy Waters-inspired King Blues. The Doors’ John Densmore smashes a lot of stuff as Wanker’s Keith Moon-ish drummer. The same goes for Lee Ving, frontman for the notorious punk band Fear, playing a heavily destructive, shirtless punker named Piggy. (Wanna take a stab at who that stooge is based on?) And Lou Reed makes a deadpan, tongue-in-cheek appearance as a reclusive singer clearly modeled after Bob Dylan. (The first time we see him, he’s in a cobweb-filled living room that’s a facsimile—right down to the cigarette-smoking brunette on the chaise lounge—of Dylan’s Bringing It All Home album cover.)

Arkush originally wanted to make Get Crazy as a ’60s-based valentine to the Fillmore and the bands he saw there. Unfortunately, ’60s nostalgia wasn’t in vogue yet, prompting many studio execs (including a young Jeffrey Katzenberg) to pass on it. Arkush and writer Danny Opatushu eventually had to set their love letter to the ’60s in the present day—New Year’s Eve, 1982—for Hollywood to take notice.

Not only did they change time periods; they also ramped up the incessant zaniness. As a diehard fan of Jerry Lewis movies (especially those directed by Frank Tashlin) and nonsensical 1940s comedies like Hellzapoppin!—Arkush originally wanted to title the movie Hellzarockin!—Arkush wanted the film to be the rock-and-roll equivalent to Airplane!, dropping over-the-top jokes and sight gags—mostly sex, drugs and rock-and-roll-related—at every turn. He even hired Hunt Lowry, who was an associate producer on Airplane!, as a producer. As Arkush put it, “It’s a movie with 3,000 punchlines, but only a 1,000 jokes.”

As far as madhouse comedies go, Get Crazy doesn’t have the relentlessly absurd dialogue or rhythmic comic pacing that made Airplane! a laugh-a-minute masterpiece. No one ever breaks the fourth wall to comment on the outrageousness and give the movie a meta edge. While there are some well-executed gags (the scene where King Blues eulogizes a blind bluesman at a funeral attended by other blind bluesmen made me giggle at its wrongness), the movie is mostly a crass cartoon—the work of someone who obviously binged on Mad Magazine, National Lampoon albums and R. Crumb comics as a young lad.

But Get Crazy still boasts an energetic, balls-to-the-wall rambunctiousness, especially in its gung-ho performances. While McDowell and the aforementioned musicians spend their stage time giving off dick-swinging swagger, the scene-stealers at this concert are The Nada Band, a gang of female punkers led by acrobatic bruiser Nada (Lori Eastside, formerly of Kid Creole & the Coconuts).

So, why haven’t you heard of Get Crazy until now? Remember when I said it was kinda released? According to Arkush, the production company who picked up the film dumped it in only a couple of LA theaters on its opening weekend, taking it out of said theaters the following weekend. (Arkush claims the company released it to sell the shares in it to some Wall Street tax shelter group, and then put it out so it would lose money—“just like The Producers!”) It did have a brief life on cable and home video, gaining savvy fans here and there. (AC/DC’s Brian Johnson told McDowell he and his bandmates watched it often on the tour bus.)

Apart from someone posting the whole film on YouTube, Get Crazy was considered lost until Kino Lorber found the print and gave it a 2K restoration for a long-overdue Blu-ray/DVD release. They also got Arkush to corral surviving cast and crew members on Zoom for an hour-long doc titled “The After Party,” where they all collectively agree that making Get Crazy was the most fun experience they ever had making a movie. Judging from all the comic carnage that’s laid out on-screen, it’s obvious everyone involved had a good-ass time.

Craig D. Lindsey is a Houston-based writer. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @unclecrizzle.

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