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Just Another Step on the Journey, Man!: 1983's Underrated NYE Comedy, Get Crazy

Many films over the years have utilized New Year’s Eve parties as plot points. Action buffs can watch things like the disaster perennial “The Poseidon Adventure” and the once-futuristic and still-potent “Strange Days.” Those with a taste for classic comedy can curl up with the likes of “Holiday,” “After the Thin Man,” “Trading Places” “The Hudsucker Proxy” and “When Harry Met Sally …”. Those with a taste for nostalgia can groove to the sight of the Rat Pack going through their paces in the iconic caper “Ocean’s 11.” And viewers looking for something a little more spine-chilling can kick back with the bizarre mad slasher epic “New Year’s Evil” or the even more terrifying rom-com pile-up “New Year’s Eve.” Even acclaimed dramas such as “The Godfather Part II,” “Boogie Nights,” and “Phantom Thread” have included key sequences that have taken place during the holiday.

With the exception of “New Year’s Eve,” all the movies cited above are obviously worthy choices and you may have a favorite or two I neglected to mention. However, there's one great movie set entirely on New Year’s Eve that's only rarely cited, and that is the wild rock ’n’ roll comedy “Get Crazy.” Originally released in 1983, it did not make an impact at the box office and its long period of unavailability on home video has only caused it to slip further into obscurity. Despite its rarity, the film has still maintained a small-but-loyal cult over the years, and now, at long last, "Get Crazy" has finally been released as a special edition Blu-ray by Kino Lorber, just in time to help usher in 2022.

The movie was directed by Allan Arkush, one of the many filmmakers over the years to have risen through the ranks at Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, having worked in the trailer department to eventually directing the cult classic “Rock ’n’ Roll High School.” After the success of that movie, he directed a project for a major studio that unfortunately turned out to be “Heartbeeps,” a weird comedy-fantasy about a couple of robots (played by Andy Kaufman and Bernadette Peters) who fall in love. 

In search of a project after that commercial and critical flop, Arkush hit upon the idea of a story inspired by his days in the late '60s working as an usher and a member of the stage crew at The Fillmore East, the famous New York venue run by promoter Bill Graham that was a regular stop for many of the biggest music acts of the era. Although Arkush initially contemplated telling a realistic story that was set during the period he actually worked there, it turned out that the only way to get the financing was if it was set in contemporary times and done in a much more broadly comedic manner. 

"Get Crazy" is set on December 31, 1982 as rock impresario Max Wolfe (Allan Garfield) and the staff of the Saturn Theater are preparing for their annual New Year’s Eve concert spectacular, featuring a wide variety of musical acts; Max himself is going to ride a rocket to the stage to lead the countdown at midnight. Max is then visited by sleazy concert promoter Colin Beverly (Ed Begley Jr.) and his henchmen Mark and Marv (one-time teen heartthrobs Bobby Sherman and Fabian Forte), who try to buy out his 30-year lease on the building in order to tear it down. Max refuses and gets so stressed out by the encounter that he suffers a possible heart attack, putting the show's operations in the hands of his loyal stage manager, Neil Allen (Daniel Stern), and Willy Loman (Gail Edwards), a visiting former employee pressed into service. Meanwhile, Max’s weasel nephew Sammy (Miles Chapin) makes his own deal with Colin and goes about trying to sabotage the venue in order to force Max to sign it over.

Courtesy of Kino Lorber

While Neil is putting out any number of fires backstage, both literal and metaphorical, and Sammy is to reaching increasingly desperate lengths to run the curtain down for good, the concert unfolds before a boisterous crowd. There is Captain Cloud (Howard Kaylan, formerly of the Turtles), and the Rainbow Telegraph, a hippie group who turn up to aid Max in his time of need and to spike the water cooler with hallucinogens. King Blues (Bill Henderson) is an old bluesman in the style of Muddy Waters and B.B. King. Next up is Nada (Lori Eastside), whose large band encapsulates most of the major musical trends of the early '80s and whose set also features and appearance by Piggy (Lee Ving of Fear), a deranged punk rocker clearly meant to suggest Iggy Pop. Headlining the show is Reggie Wanker (Malcolm McDowell), an oversexed and egotistical rock legend—who might remind viewers a bit of Mick Jagger—who has all the sex, drugs, and adulation one could ever hope for but still yearns for something more. Missing in action is Auden (Lou Reed ... yes, Lou Reed), a Dylan-like icon who emerges from seclusion to appear at the show but spends virtually all of the film’s running time in the back of a speeding cab as he tries to compose a new song to play.

Having given “Heartbeeps" an inexplicably lethargic pace that contributed to its failings, Arkush goes in the opposite direction right from the get-go and essentially tries to take the frantic last third of “Rock ‘’n’ Roll High School’—which had both mayhem at a Ramones concert and a literally explosive student-led revolution—and sustain it over the course of an entire film. It's a risky move because sustained anarchy is a very difficult thing to pull off in a feature's length, and runs the risk of leaving viewers exhausted rather than amused. Of course, as anyone who has ever worked on a backstage crew can attest, sustained anarchy is a way of life and in that regard, "Get Crazy" does a very good job of capturing the chaos that goes into putting on a show in an amusingly exaggerated manner. Even though the film clocks in at a relatively short 83 minutes, every one of them is crammed to bursting with incidents and lunacies. All the while, Neil careens between everything in a manner that at times suggests one of those guys who used to spin plates on "The Ed Sullivan Show." 

Rock fans will, of course, have a blast watching “Get Crazy” thanks to its barrage of in-jokes, spoofs of various music legends, and the appearances by real-life musicians goofing on their images. Beyond the jokes, the movie also works as a sincere celebration of a time when going to see live music was a genuine communal experience, and when places like The Fillmore East would book acts that would cross musical genres as a way of exposing audiences to new and different sounds. This aspect proved to be especially poignant as the film arrived in theaters right around the time that the live concert industry was finally making the shift from funky smaller places like the Fillmore for anonymous arenas and stadiums that simply try to pack in as many people as possible. (Arkush also pays tribute to his days at New World by including cameos from a number of the people he worked with over there: Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, Clint Howard, and the iconic Dick Miller.) 

The film's decision to go broader instead of more realistic leads to any number of genuinely inspired comedic notions. Malcolm McDowell, for example, is absolutely hysterical as Reggie, whose approach to the part appears to have been to simply recycle the cheerfully over-the-top turn he did in “Caligula.” He makes grand proclamations to his fans onstage and indulges in outrageous behavior backstage, culminating in the unforgettable moment when he introduces one of the members of his band (John Densmore of The Doors) to his new manager, whose identity I will leave for you to discover. That said, the movie is stolen by Lou Reed, a guy not necessarily famous for having a sense of humor (especially at the time) but who turns in a hilarious and winning performance as Auden, effectively satirizing both Dylan and his own self-serious reputation, and then bringing the entire thing to a close with a lovely rendition of “Little Sister.” (Unfortunately, in what proves to be one of the film’s most glaring flaws, Arkush, at the behest of the producer, according to the commentary track, insisted on running the end credits superimposed over the footage of Reed performing.)

When “Get Crazy” hit theaters in the summer of 1983, it got some decent reviews but was hindered by spotty distribution and an ad campaign that didn’t really explain what the movie actually was. For years, it was unavailable on DVD and Blu-ray for various technical reasons, and those who wanted to see it were forced to resort to bootlegs and occasional appearances on YouTube. Now all of the issues have been resolved and Kino Lorber has given it the Blu-ray treatment with a new 2K master and a nice collection of special features that are led by an informative commentary track featuring Arkush, film historian Daniel Kremer, and “Get Crazy” superfan Eli Roth. “The After Party” is a feature-length documentary featuring most of the surviving participants recounting the film’s production and reception. There are even a trio of Arkush-directed music videos, including one for the title song by Sparks and two takes on “Not Gonna Take it No More” from Lori Eastside and the Nada Band, one from when the film was originally released, and another shot during a reunion performance earlier this year.

Of course, for fans of the film who have been yearning to retire their bootleg copies for years, simply having a decent copy of “Get Crazy” is the biggest bonus of them all. Still as weird and wild as it was when it first came out, this movie is ripe for rediscovery and hopefully this Blu-ray will help it find the audience that it has long deserved. Those who make "Get Crazy" part of their upcoming New Year’s Eve will find it impossible to exit the shittiest of years without a genuine smile on their face.

To order your copy of "Get Crazy" on Kino Lober Blu-ray, click here.

Peter Sobczynski

Peter Sobczynski is a contributor to eFilmcritic.com and Magill's Cinema Annual and can be heard weekly on the nationally syndicated "Mancow's Morning Madhouse" radio show.

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