PART III: DESTROY ALL MOVIES!!!: An interview with Zack Carlson & Brian Connolly
A lot of colorful people cross in front of your eyes when trapped behind a video counter. Especially during a 12-hour work day. The entire bat-shit spectrum is covered, from crusty mumbling porno-freaks to the almost savant minded library brains of uber-geekdom. Not sure which of those I prefer…But every so often, someone zany enough...just bent in the brainhole enough…comes along and topples you off your high horse, bringing you to a point of awe. Zack Carlson was one of those people.
I vaguely remember meeting him in a whirlwind scenario. He was picking up some sorta extreme meat concoction at the deli next door and stopped in while the order was processed. He bounced down the isles like a cartoon on meth (sans scabs) and proceeded to talk about absurd films dealing with comical Nazis, summer camp fatties, clown hands and Don Rickles growing missiles out of his shoulders. The froth and vigor on this kids lips took me back. I hadn’t seen someone this knowledgeable in well, shit...many a moon. In the five or so minutes we chatted I learned that this walking textbook had worked at Scarecrow Video, ran his own record shop, fronted hardcore bands, and had regularly curated all night film screenings in Olympia, WA. Evidently he had some time to spare. Soon after this chance meeting I asked him to be part of the Video Vertigo family. Or maybe he just started showing up? My mind fades. And like all the extended family members, they showered me with gifts. Meaning unlimited use of whatever films they had at home that were missing from the stores already eclectic collection. Between him (and folks like Janet Hammer and Jesse Sundvall) the store seemed to grow threefold. Zack became a partner in crime, a Muppet of power and a voice for the weird little community I was part of. He’d help get me sponsorships, work the stores counter hours for pennies. Hell, even land me a job at Scarecrow when it all went tits up.
When he wasn’t running around in circles, chasing bacon or trying to impress the ladies with his vast knowledge of Don Knotts, Zack was honing his writing skills. Along with his same brained twin, Brian Connolly, he decided to step up the game and start work on a daunting task…
Cataloging every movie – EVER - with a punk in it. All of them.
A lifetime of work to the normal film buff seemed to breeze by at the hands of these wildmen. So there they were. Garbage bags full of VHS in grasp. Eating tuna pizza and drinking Jolt cola. How they managed to do all this drug-free is beyond my comprehension. Five years or more pass by and PLOP. Half a decade laid to rest in a gloriously oversized, jolly candy-like, black, white and and pink soft-bounder. DESTROY ALL MOVIES!!! So big. So brutal. So thorough. And still, a hell of an entertaining read! This is an interview done over drinks and Diet Coke during their SF stop on a West coast book tour. We ate Mexico and watched Times Square. Zack shook hands with a kid from Monster Squad. Brian got a mowhawk. READ ON...
TB: No holds barred! Name yourselves and why…
BC: I’m Brian Connolly and I helped write and edit the book 'Destroy All Movies!!!: The Complete History of Punks on Film'.
ZC: I’m Zack Carlson and I did that shit too. You can edit out the word shit.
TB: But WHY? Why spend so much time and effort on this subject?
BC: Because there are no rules in this world and you can do whatever you want!
TB: 'Destroy All Movies!!!' took you guys seven years to complete?
ZC: Yeah, it took us seven years. We decided that we wanted to do this because punks are thee most ludicrously misrepresented people in film, ever.
TB: Even in films that are factual…
ZC: Even in the documentaries. It seems people somehow miss the actualities of punk, more so than anything else you’ve ever seen. Not since the Twenties and Thirties, when directors were putting zany bug-eyed African American butlers in movies, has there been such a wronged culture. But instead of being offended or feeling some sense of ownership to the movement, we have to not take it seriously and just enjoy these films. See how ridiculous they are and love ‘em for it. And while we’re at it, we can celebrate movies like Penelope Spheeris’ Suburbia and the films of Wolfgang Buld. Films that actually did get it right by people who made really great movies about punks. Those hadn’t really been written about fairly, either. The whole subject seems to be below most film writers’ content. There are millions of movie nerds as well as millions of punk nerds out there that we thought could see the fun in this type of thing. So that’s why we did it.
TB: Bravo! End scene...I only submitted around five or six reviews for this brick of a book. That’s peanuts compared to your efforts. Roughly how many reviews did each of you do?
BC: Zack did about 700. I did close to 450. I screened a lot of the movies at the start, actually looking for the punks.
ZC: He did a bunch of the whittling down work…
BC: I went through and took notes down on stuff for Zack, and I to go back and review.
ZC: …and then we had to do all the interviews, which are also a big part of the book. Interviews with the directors and actors, people from the documentaries and musicians. That was a lot of work...
TB: How hard was it to get some of the bigger names involved?
ZC: It’s weird. The people that you think would lead to wild goose chases – like even attempting to get a hold of someone such as Richard Hell, who has been called iconic by the press - you’d think they’d be untouchable and not be interested in talking to you. Especially for free…
BC: Or they’d just be so tired of talking about this thing that they were a part of.
ZC: Hell is often said to be one of the inventors of punk in general, so why would he wanna talk about it still, 35 years later? He said it himself that he rarely answers requests like this, but he seemed so amused by our jackass book that he okayed it. It was something new that no one had approached him about before, or in such a specific way. It was those kinds of replies that led to the interviews that were the best in the book - and the easiest people to get ahold of. The bigger names (Penelope Spheeris, Richard Hell, Ian McKaye, etc.) were really open to it. But then you’d talk to someone who played a punk in one movie back in 1986 and they’re like, “How much are ya gonna pay me? You’ve got ten minutes!” What the hell?! You’re like a pre-school teacher now! It was such a weird imbalance. The best interviews came from the folks we thought would be the least receptive to it.
TB: What about Eddie Deezen? I need more dirt on Eddie Deezen…he’s amazing!
ZC: Eddie Deezen, for those of you out there who don’t recognize his name, you’d definitely recognize his face. He was the most compelling and earth-shattering Eighties movie nerd, by far! He’s the guy that got every major nerd role back then, except (oddly enough) one in Revenge of the Nerds. This is a man who speaks in all capital letters, with no punctuation, at all times. In person or in e-mails, it’s always that way...We contacted him because he played the lead baddy in this great comedy called Surf II. He met us for steak and eggs at his favorite restaurant and talked about making his one punk movie, even though he’s the least punk man in all of Los Angeles! Then on the way out of the restaurant, we almost got ran over by a car and he shouted (Zack does a pretty spot on impersonation of the Deezen sub-par Jerry Lewis whine) “JESUS CHRIST THAT GUY'S A MANIAC!” It turns out to be John Stamos driving the car. Seriously. What a day. What a wild day. But Eddie was one of the many people we never thought we’d get to talk to.
TB: When you two first started this, I remember you guys coming into Scarecrow Video (Seattle) with trash bags and hitting the isles, just emptying the store on an almost nightly basis…
ZC: We would bring home an average of four large garbage bags of tapes every couple weeks, and we lived over an hour away from the video store…ugh.
TB: How did you keep it up? There was so much, just so much fodder to sit through, often only to find out if there wasn’t even a punk in there…
BC: Luckily I have very intense OCD, so I am able to commit to something like this. I have to see it all the way to the end, or else I’ll start to feel my hands smell like my mother or something (!?). Once we realized how deep into it we were, it became a no-brainer. It wasn’t a question of it becoming too much at times and we’d just have to quit. No. We’re gonna do this and we’re gonna get it done right, because this is how we do things. It's how things should be done.
ZC: It didn’t ever feel like endurance…
BC: For the most part it was fun. I was getting to see movies I’d never heard of or had never seen before. Stuff that you had never got a chance to watch. Now I know that a lot of it was terrible and these movies should be avoided at all costs! But I get to warn people about them in reviews, which is great.
ZC: We never questioned doing it. We never said "Maybe we’ll do a truncated version..."
TB: Not like you hit the “let’s just make this thing a blog” point and wanted to move on to something else…
ZC: Right! We didn’t want to do that. That just seems so disposable.
BC: It’s exciting to go into a place like Scarecrow. We love – truly LOVE - movies. We love them with all our hearts. I love them more than anything else in the world. Other than Zack Carlson.
ZC: :-) (my first emoticon ever…I feel weird. – RSF)
BC: It was a lot like treasure hunting. We would dig up all these brilliant masterworks from the Eighties. Lost films that have been sitting on shelves, collecting dust for some stupid reason…and they’re like, goddamn masterpieces!
ZC: We treated the movies with respect, even if they were well known. It wasn’t just us trying to be obscure. Movies like Repo Man or Return of the Living Dead; we love them and we talked about them. We gave them an objective assessment. But we were really excited to find out about other movies, like Never Too Young to Die…
BC: And Oddballs. That one is great!
ZC: Yeah, stuff like that. Stuff that’s only on VHS and should be considered their own type of disabled classics by now.
BC: What’s great about punks on film in the Eighties is that they crossed over into every fun party comedy. We were able to watch every Eighties party comedy that existed, just because the punks are often thrown into the mix along with all the other nerds, frat slobs and those kinda stereotypes. Movies like this are the ones I really enjoy and some I have never gotten a chance to see…so it becomes somewhat romantic.
ZC: The shocking thing is when they would show up in stuff that weren’t party comedies, horror or action films at all. Like, punks show up in Woody Allen movies! They show up in the film, El Norte. That’s a serious drama! There’s a part where the lead actors are just walking along the screen…and there’s this punk in the background. There’s a Willie Nelson movie directed by Alan Rudolph called Songwriter where Willie and Kris Kristofferson are eating at a Denny’s…
BC: And there are punks in there…and they probably were just there, eating for real.
ZC: Yeah! Just some punks caught eating eggs, 20 feet behind Willie Nelson, in this rural Texas diner. “Alright! It’s in the book!”
TB: Is there a case of the most extreme minimal punk sighting in the book? One that has shortest time on screen?
BC: There is one in the movie Brewster’s Millions, the Richard Pryor and Walter Hill film. He’s there for only half a second and even then all you see is part of his mohawk. The only way we found it was by putting the DVD on slow motion during a pause…pause-pause-pause…scrolling through this large crowd scene. There are all sorts of people in this crowd, so we’re thinking there might be a punk in there. And sure enough, in the far-far upper right corner, you can see this blurry bit of a pointed mohawk! You can only really distinguish it by zooming in all the way on the widescreen disc. It’s cut out on VHS and even if it was in Cinerama at a theater, you probably wouldn’t see it. But if you zoom in here, you get this little pixellated colored mohawk, and I was able to find it! That was probably the craziest, split-second, not-even-in-the-movie-punk, punk!
ZC: Even if a punk is on screen for half a second and they’re only two pixels tall on your television, it counted! Bam! In the pages it goes…
TB: Did anybody notify you guys of this stuff? Did you get leads on punks or tidbits of other useful information?
BC: Nah, it was just part of the research. To carefully watch every damn movie ever made!
ZC: It’s like playing “where’s that punk”…
BC: I had all of those 'Where’s Waldo?' books when I was a kid. I stupidly circled him when found in magic marker, ruining them for all time. I was seven and I didn’t know any better. I think those books helped train me for this - being able to spot a punk, in the far background of something like a crappy Bette Midler movie. One that shows up for only frame or two. It’s really a dumb way to watch a film, but we had to do that.
ZC: Now of course the book is done, published and in stores, and we still can’t help but do it. We’ll be watching a movie - like something with Steven Seagal busting out of the subway and onto a NY street - and we’re just terrified that there’s gonna’ be a punk somewhere in the background that we missed!
BC: It got to the point where we were so into the project a few years back, that we’d go out for a food and a guy with a mohawk would walk into the sandwich shop and we’d hold each other and go (deep gasp)! Our hearts would race and we’d freak out “There’s one! There’s one!”...and then you realize that this is the real world, and that it DOESN’T MEAN SHIT! Seriously, it happened a lot. I’d be on a bus and a crusty would walk on and I’d go (thwacking Zack’s back) “There’s one! There’s one!” Ugh, it doesn’t matter…I’m just riding a bus…
TB: And he’s nowhere near as fun as the “reel” scene chewing film punk…
ZC: That’s very true. Sad.
TB: I know that Scarecrow helped out a lot (and video stores, in general) in getting this completed. But, even still, at some point you’re gonna have to start digging around online and dealing with mailorder…
ZC: In all honestly though, video stores were way more crucial to this book than IMDB or any internet site. Being able to go through the shelves and look at the physical thing versus just reading off a title on the internet…
BC: If you type “punk” into the search engine on IMDB as a character or subject matter, you get all these movies from the Thirties full of gangsters and hoods. Stuff with these street thugs, and it becomes not so helpful. All in all, the internet probably got us around twenty more movies. IMDB got us to watch the bullshit from the Nineties like Fresno Smooth, which is a PIECE OF SHIT; I wanna go on record saying that! Movies like this that we wouldn’t have heard of because they’re total garbage, but there IS a punk in it…ugh. Gotta get it for the book. Most of the stuff that it pulled up otherwise were things we already had or films that had those "Beat It"-type video thugs in em. Those and Thirties-style Edward G. Robinson movies and the East Side/Dead End Kids films.
ZC: Plus - just because of the nature of the book - if there’s an extra in a film that walks by in the background, like in a cross walk or something, they’re not gonna be in the credits listed on IMDB. You have to scan thru all this stuff to know that.
TB: So what was the big obscure one? That ridiculously hard to find movie? The one you’d spend months looking for just to see a print of and it and may or may not have even paid off?
BC: The most obscure movie in the book is Banned, by Roberta Findlay. Banned was listed on IMDB, but there was no real information on it. All it said was there’s this movie and it has a punk in it. We couldn’t find it anywhere…
ZC: Roberta Findlay had been a huge exploitation filmmaker. Along with her husband, Michael, she made the notorious Touch of Her Flesh trilogy, Prime Evil and countless others, but this was the last film listed to her credit and it had never been released on any format, as far as we could tell. I was able to track down where she works and called her. It was an audio recording studio in New York. She answered - “Oh, I’d be happy to help you, do you have questions for me? I’m always happy to talk about my old movies!” – “Yeah, the movie I’m interested in is called Banned”…and she just hung up on me! “Not interested.” CLICK. We did end up tracking it down through the writer of the film; a guy named Jim Cirile. He had it on VHS and was so entertained by the fact that we wanted to watch it that he sent me a dub of it.
BC: It still had the time code on it! It was never released to theaters, or even for a single film festival. The movie was completed and then shelved…
ZC: Because the director, Findlay, hated it so much, she suppressed its release. She never directed again after that.
TB: That’s crazy. Because the Findlays, they had made some serious shit…
BC: …to put it nicely!
ZC: But this was even beneath her standards. So that was the movie that went so unseen, that the people who even made it haven’t seen it - but we were able to secure it for the book. That felt great.
BC: And it truly is one of the best movies in the book, for real! It’s like this zany sub-par Zucker Brothers movie from ‘87 or ’88. It’s about a white jazz-fusion band in NYC whose lead singer gets possessed by the ghost of a punk that lives in the toilet bowl at a recording studio! While they’re playing, the frontman starts - in mid performance - getting taken over by this punk ghost and he suffers from something like punk Tourettes! They’ll be playing this smooth jazz and the singer starts swearing and making rude Billy Idol faces. They eventually start making this music that’s this crazy punk-white-jazz hybrid and it sounds great! Like the music itself sounds amazing. Of course, they become famous for it. But then there are all these insane antics going on. There’s a part where an old feeble white man turns into a large handsome black guy?! It’s got a ton of weird humor in it.
ZC: Banned is like the punk version of that movie Repossessed with Linda Blair and Leslie Neilson…which also has punks in it, by the way!
TB: How did the research process for this begin? Did you guys just start bouncing film names off of each other one night or…?
ZC: That’s how it started, yeah…but then we realized the enormity of it all. We actually went to Scarecrow, which is the biggest video store in the world, mind you - and spent three fifteen hour days flipping each video box over and looking at it. The whole time thinking; “Well, this movie takes place in a major urban area...". Or in a high school. Or maybe there’s a party scene in it. So we had to watch it. We made a list that was thousands of titles long and we would constantly add to it. Then we’d go to other video stores and start in on the internet research after that.
TB: So what is the earliest film with a punk in it?
BC: There were two of them that were made around the same time. Blank Generation, the documentary about CBGBs without sync sound. That was like the first on-screen documentation of what was to be known as punk. That was in 1975.
ZC: The first narrative feature to have a punk in it was the movie Punk Rock, a porn film by Carter Stevens. As far as we can tell that was being shot really early on, like during some of those early Max’s Kansas City punk shows. He just hopped on that train and said; “Well here’s something new…I’m gonna’ put it in my film!” The woman he was dating at the time was into punk and she was excited about all this new music. So to placate his girlfriend, he said let’s do that. He wasn’t even interested in it personally, and he talks about that in the book as well. Stevens wasn’t deliberately trying to do any landmark type of thing; he was just making another porno film. Later as punk emerged on a larger scale, he did an R-rated version of Punk Rock and made an additional chunk of money from the new cut. He went in and edited out all the boners and butts and added more material of NY bands like The Fast, The Stilettos and The Squirrels. “It’s an all new music movie about this punk stuff!” He just took all the semen out of the old version and filled it up with rock music…
TB: First mainstream attempt at showing a punk?
BC: Rock & Roll High School or maybe Jubilee. But does Jubilee count as mainstream? Probably not. It’s an art film. So I’d say Rock & Roll High School was the first major player in the drive-in circuit that went around the country. And Roger Corman…
TB: …wanted Cheap Trick!
ZC: Yeah! First Cheap Trick, then Devo…and finally they ended up with the Ramones. Rock & Roll High School was like the first time kids in Topeka, Kansas were at a movie and saying “what the fuck?!” It’s not even just because of The Ramones. There’s that audience scene at the Ramones show where the crowd is filled with real LA punk kids, animal costumes and Darby Crash going nuts. So guys in Tulsa or wherever were like “What the…?” And that was in 1979. That’s pretty early for a wide release like this.
TB: What was the time frame set for required viewing? The years you considered as the punk film era?
ZC: It’s kinda nebulous as to when punk starts. The Stooges were punk or Marlon Brando in The Wild One counts, or whatever. We decided to start when the term was accepted to describe a type of music and a culture would define it. 1975 it is. 1974 or 1975. We wanted to end it with the Eighties. We really wished that the 20th century had ended in 1990 so we wouldn’t have to have written about all these shitty indie dramas. Films where dreadlocked folk singers fall in love in Lollapalooza parking lots or what have you. But there are punks in those fucking movies, sometimes. So we did go all the way to the end of the 20th century. There are movies from 1999 in there, and almost invariably, the later in the Nineties the film was released, the more horrendous and unwatchable it is!
BC: The only good movie from the Nineties in our book is Wayne’s World 2! There’s a punk in it only for a second, but it may be the only good movie from the Nineties in the whole book. ‘99 was the cut off year too because if we didn’t stop there, we’d be working on this thing forever. When do you end it? Where do you draw the line? I mean, people employed at K-Mart have pink hair, old women have nose rings and everyone has a tattoo, so it’s like we’d be arguing in reviews for eternity about are they true punk, alternative brats or mall punks…and the music, there’s just so much shit now since it’s been embedded into the accepted culture.
TB: I know some folks get pretty pissy about the whole real punk vs. fake punk in movies…
ZC: Yeah, I know! I mean real punk was great in movies that document it well and fake punk was great when it was entertaining. Any movie is good as long as it entertains you. Punk flicks aren’t an exception to that.
TB: How much writing had you guys done prior to this?
BC: We had written a lot of screenplays together before this and we’re gonna continue doing that again when we’re done touring around.
ZC: We never intended to write a research project. This was never like a dream of ours…
BC: It just kinda happened. “Oh, here’s something to do...”. Then it was “Oh, here’s a LOT to do!” It side-tracked all our other goals, which was fine. Initially we thought it’d be pretty easy and it would take no longer than any other project we did, but then it ended up taking over our lives for more than half a decade…it’s kinda nuts!
ZC: It ended relationships and jobs! The money I spent on bootlegs and VHS tapes was over $2000…and most of those were films that just might’ve had a punk in them but we couldn’t find them anywhere to review. So you spend $50 on a bootleg only to find out it doesn’t have a punk in it and now you’re stuck with this thing. Some mid-Nineties bullshit that you own now. Ugh.
TB: How many video tapes do you actually have?
ZC: For the book or in general? In general, a couple thousand tapes. All stuff that’s not on DVD. But a fair chunk of those I bought for the book were worth keeping. Punk or not.
TB: Is there a lot of scraps on the “cutting room floor” so to speak?
BC: There were a lot of reviews we dropped. Initially we were gonna include movies that had pictures of punks on the wall, or even flyers in the background…
ZC: Or a record…
BC: Yeah, like album covers. Someone else can write that! So we dropped close to 15 or 20 movies right off the bat and just stuck to actual punk people. We then decided to drop punks playing parts that were not punk…it just seemed kinda silly. There was really no reason for those in there and the project was just gonna lose focus. So that’s for another book. None of those books have been made yet. We did cover TV specials and made-for-TV movies, but we didn’t do TV shows. We figured movies were hard enough to find the sources to, but with TV shows you’d have to watch every episode to every series ever. Like everyone knows about the CHiPs “Pain” segment, but once you get into everything else, it’s gonna take 14 more years! Fuck, fast forwarding thru every episode of Silver Spoons made does not seem like a fun afternoon to me! And I love that show. There’s a LOT of stuff out there and someone else can do that. Some 15 year old kid can start on it today, so when he’s 40 he’ll go “I MADE A BOOK!!!...and now I can die…pfftt.”
TB: Brian, you’ve got a video store?
BC: I co-manage a store called Vulcan Video in Austin TX, which is a great place. We keep all our VHS if the stuff isn’t available on DVD, and we ain’t getting rid of nuthin! We make sure to try and have every movie. Every movie ever made, that’s our goal. Or my goal, at least…
TB: Are you planning on any other books?
BC: Not as of yet. Really, the only way to do another book would be to work on it for another seven years. Make it just as intense, or it’d be a letdown. There’s no reason to do something of lesser quality than what you’ve done before. I think that the next goal for me is to make the next great American movie. There hasn’t been one since Booty Call…which has punks in it! That’s the last GREAT American film, and we’re gonna’ make the next one.
ZC: Fantagraphics actually asked if we were interested in doing another book, since this one has been pretty well received by the few critics that have bothered to write about it. People have been saying nice stuff and it seems to be selling ok. I just think they’re expecting something else like this (nervous laughter). Something this intense. Ya know…there’s a Ziggy coffee mug that says “Never do your best because then it’ll be expected of you”…and them’s some wise words from Ziggy!
BC: Punks on television haven’t really been covered well, and that’s a book we do NOT want to do, because that’s just insane. But I would love to read that book…so if someone out there would like to make that happen, I will buy it!
TB: So just one last thing - since I just wrote this bit on film trailer compilations and I know Zack loves them - what’s your favorite trailer?
ZC: Punk trailer or any trailer? Oh man…my favorite trailer of all time is The Secret of Magic Island. It’s a movie where a baby duck and a puppy go on adventure to save a cat from an evil space-monkey…and it’s in live action. I still can’t find the movie in English…I found a copy in Dutch, but not in English. As for punk trailer…I’m gonna have to think.
BC: Honestly, for a punk trailer I really like Class of 1984. It shows all the best bits and makes it seem really, really intense. All the crazy punks in that trailer make it look like the most insane film ever. As for other trailers in general…I love trailers, you can tow boats and shit around on them…
ZC: Thank you, America!
Destroy All Movies!!! Book website
Interview by Rob Fletcher and Nick Kyriakides, November 2010.
Zack Carlson’s day job: Alamo Drafthouse - The Ritz, Austin, TX
Zack Carlson's blog
Brian Connolly’s day job: Vulcan Video - Austin, TX
VHS costume pic of Zack and Brian by Sandy Carson.
To read other installments of TV As Eyes please browse the archives here.
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