Reel Rockers: Come Get Crazy in the East Village, an event sponsored by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation featured the screening of the film “Get Crazy” followed by a panel discussion on its importance to the East Village cultural and music scene.
The film was directed by Alan Arkush who was a witness and participant in the rise of the East Village music scene in the late 60s and is best known for his work “Rock n’ Roll High School”. This film offers a hyperbole and satirical view about what the music scene was like during the end of the 60s. There is a heavy emphasis on the use of illicit substances that marred the decade but also served to form the very distinct archetypes of that era. It has a comedic treatment in the styling of films like “Airplane!” and Monty Python’s collection.
“Get Crazy” opens at the fictitious Saturn Theater, wherein the staff is preparing for the annual New Year’s Eve concert of 1983. The theater is under the ownership of Max Wolfe who has run the theater for over 30 years. He gets propositioned by a sly business man and greedy promoter, Colin Beverly, who wants to buy the theater to later demolish it to make room for the construction of his new commercial building. Max’s nephew Sammy is very captivated by Beverly and has his eyes on the lucrative deal and tries to convince his uncle about the benefits of the deal. He is willing to do whatever it takes to have his uncle transfer the Saturn’s lease to him before midnight, which nearly leads to a fatal bombing at midnight.
While the plot of the movie unravels around the nephew’s schemes to usurp his uncle, the audience is also introduced to the stage manager Neil Allen and the former stage manager Willy Loman. The two develop a romantic relationship throughout the film. Their characters serve to embody those who were truly passionate about the music of that era and sharing it with the masses. As the New Year’s Eve show kicks off, musicians and bands arrive parodying many artists of the 60s and 70s such as The Merry Pranksters, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, and Muddy Waters.
The film and musical performances are completely drenched with metaphors about the archetypes of the era and the indulgent habits of that generation — as the film reiterates time and time again that it was all about drugs, booze, rock n’ roll, repeat. At one point during the film the water cooler gets tampered with a hallucinogenic, LSD perhaps, and it turns Sammy into a free-loving hippie who falls under the guidance of a Jerry Garcia-type character. A marijuana joint walks around the whole night at the concert and the youth flocks to a mystical crypt keeper looking character who randomly appears throughout the film to supplies pill.
Most interesting to me about “Get Crazy” were the allusions to the Woodstock era and the Rolling Stones. Having recently watched a Rolling Stones documentary called Crossfire Hurricane, there is a part in the documentary that recounts the incident when the Hell’s Angels served as security at the Altamont Free Concert. The concert was supposed to be the Woodstock West and featured performances by the likes of Santana, Jefferson Airplane, with the final act by the Rolling Stones. With insufficient police enforcement and the Hell’s Angels heavily under the influence of drugs and alcohol, they were unable to restrain a crowd that surged out of control. Drugs and alcohol created an unheeding and violent mass who erupted as the Stones got on stage, which tragically resulted in four concert-goer casualties. In “Get Crazy”, Hell’s Angels-type bikers break into the concert creating chaos and leaving destruction in their path. This mirrored the unruly audience at the concert for the Rolling Stones, as the audience at the New Year’s Eve concert in the film are so bent on drugs and alcohol that they do not even pay attention to the stage manager’s warning of a bomb threat.
After the screening, a panel discussion moderated by culture critic Jesse Kornbluth, included two of the films actors Miles Chapin and Stacey Nelkin, who were also joined by Joshua White, director of the Joshua Light Show. The topics ranged from the reviews of the films and how it was received by the public upon its release. While the film was initially declared a “hot mess” it has grown a considerable cult following.
The film was in part a tribute to the iconic music venue, the Fillmore East. The concert hall was under the management of famed Bill Graham and located on 2nd Avenue and East 6th Street. It was only open for a few short years between 1968 and 1971, but it featured some of the biggest names in music at the time such as Jimmi Hendrix, Miles Davis, the Allman Brothers, John Lennon, Jefferson Airplane and Frank Zappa.
As a backdrop to these powerful music performances was the seminal light production of the Joshua Light Show under the direction of panelist Joshua White. Cutting edge at the time in fusing art with the music, Joshua and his team created a very abstract amplifier to the music experience at the Fillmore East by their use of liquid light projection. There were no rehearsals, meaning each light show was a one of a kind, completely spontaneous and visceral reaction to what was happening on stage.
White noted some of his most memorable performances as he recounted Jimi Hendrix’s New Year’s Eve show of 1969 and The Who, who played at the Fillmore East and played for a week upon the debut of their rock opera album “Tommy”. White went on to have a longstanding and successful career in television production as he lamented that he got out of the light show business in the early 70s since after Woodstock, there was a transition away from light shows toward a more mixed-art medium. His show left an indelible mark on the music experience of the counterculture era. This New York Times article elaborates on the role of the Fillmore East in the East Village music scene.