Monday, January 14, 2013

Cine M.I.A. #6: Roberta Findlay's BANNED (1989)

Roberta Findlay has certainly had an interesting career.  Born and raised in New York, she started her film career in the 1960s helping her husband Michael Findlay direct/produce/write/film their debut, TAKE ME NAKED (1966).  They then produced the vaunted FLESH trilogy, where she again served as the producer, cinematographer and co-writer.  The 1970s proved no less exciting as the Findlays attached themselves to one of the most controversial films of the decade, SNUFF (1976).  The rest of the decade saw Roberta abandoning the world of softcore for the fertile fields of hardcore pornography, where she produced and directed over a twenty XXX films.  Sadly, the decade ended with the death of Michael (by then her ex-husband) during the infamous Pan Am helicopter accident in New York City.

Roberta continued kicking out adult films under various pseudonyms into the 1980s before journeying into the R-rated exploitation field with an action picture (TENEMENT [1985]) and several horror pictures (THE ORACLE [1985], BLOOD SISTERS [1987], LURKERS [1988], and PRIME EVIL [1989]). She had one final cinematic trick up her sleeve though as she ended her eccentric career with something she had never done before – a flat out comedy in BANNED.  And this may have been a bad thing as the film has still not been released.

BANNED opens with a “10 years ago” scene as the band Rotting Filth is recording their latest album.  Guitarist Teddy Homicide (Neville Wells) is frustrating the hell out of everyone as he can’t hit a lick.  When a pizza delivery guy accidentally interrupts the recording session, Homicide loses it.  He lives up to his name and whips out a machine gun and mows down the pizza guy, his band mates and the engineer.  Feeling somewhat remorseful, he then heads into the bathroom and commits suicide by sticking his head in the toilet and drowning himself.  Cut to the “present day” and we see the band Banned (haha, get it?) toiling away for change down in Times Square.  Barely making enough to cover their rental fees, the band – consisting of lead singer/guitarist Kent (Dan Erickson), keyboardist Chelsea (Brent Trish Whitney), gun nut bassist Willie (Roger Coleman) and sex hound drummer Serge (Fred Cabral) – opt to spend it wisely by drowning their own sorrows at the local dive bar.  It is here that Willie reveals his uncle Rod (Glenn Mitchell) has recently purchased the studio where the massacre occurred and they can record there cheap.  “Provided Impulse studios doesn’t turn out to be the recording studio from hell,” says Kent.  Gee, can you see where this is going?

Your reviewer at this point
We then get a bunch of stuff regarding Kent and his domestic life.  He visits his girlfriend Rachel (Amy Brentano) and they talk about her crazy brother who was a “plumber who wants to be a priest.”  Jeez, I feel like I have Google Maps in my head because I know exactly where that is heading.  They go to see a one-woman stage show by Chelsea where Rachel gets pissed at Kent for yelling “Show your tits!” She dumps a plate of nachos on him, which somehow causes him to tumble out the back door, down some stairs and into an alley where a bum eats the nachos off his head.  On the way home he apologizes profusely to Rachel but falls down an open manhole.  Then we get a scene of him being berated by his rich, alcoholic father (played for laughs as alcoholism is funny).  Man, will he get possessed by the ghost of Teddy Homicide or what?  C’mon, let’s get this show on the road, Roberta!

Back in the studio, the kids get ready to record some badass jazz rock (can jazz rock be badass?).  Sid Wiesenthal, the boss of their label Broken Records (haha), shows up to make sure things are okay.  In one of the film’s odder moments, Sid offers Rod what looks to be cocaine, but he explains it is finely ground beef adrenal tissue from Austria (do what?). Sid does a couple of lines and it turns him from an old Jewish guy into a hulking black guy.  Do whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat? Seriously! Anyway, the group gets into a fight regarding time changes in Kent’s song (“People be boppin’ around trying to get into the rhythm then we hit them with these triple breaks,” says jazz rock visionary Kent) and he heads into the bathroom to cool down.  While taking a piss he hears a voice coming from the toilet and leans closer to investigate, getting sprayed in the face with demon toilet water.  Now we’re looking at ALL OF ME (1984) minus the stuff like laughs.

Kent’s Teddy Homicide side doesn’t make his first appearance until that night’s gig.  Kent screams “Fuck you, you assholes” into the mic, rips off his shirt and smashes his guitar.  Hey, it worked for Sid Vicious.  Inexplicably, this drives da kidz wild and the band Banned becomes a smashing success.  Well, a lot of people crowd into their dressing room.  Of course, Teddy Homicide wants more than just fame as he starts putting the moves on Chelsea.  He takes her to an outdoor restaurant, but his rough courtship skills are interrupted by some Libyan terrorists who shoot the place up.  Yes, really. Kent/Teddy’s response is to give the terrorists tips and tell them to go rob Tavern on the Green. Ha?  Back on the home front, Kent/Teddy shows he is a wild man by jumping on the bed and knocking picture frames off shelves.  Such insane rock ‘n roller behavior would earn him a place in the band Sorcery!  He has a wild sex session with Rachel and then they hit a disco where he hits on all the women.  Heading home, Kent tries to apologize for his unwitting actions…but falls down an open manhole.  Okay, let’s wrap this up – Kent/Teddy continues his wild ways until Willie and Serge chase him across Central Park while firing machine guns and rocket launchers at him.  Meanwhile, Rachel has her plumber/priest brother Perciville exorcize the toilet and Teddy Homicide is sent down the toilet for good.  Got to be some symbolism regarding Findlay's career there.

"Ashes to ashes, flush to flush."


So BANNED is unreleased?  Ya don’t say!  I can’t ever imagine why.  Actually, I can because it is really bad.  It is a shame Findlay capped off her three decades long career with this as it is rough, rough stuff.  Now her films have featured comedy before (both intentional and unintentional), but she’s never gone full blown comedy and I can see why. Sadly, she seems to have all the comic timing of a broken clock with Dane Cook’s picture on it.  The film’s one major running gag is that the drummer Serge is always late because he is busy having sex with girls and he always throws his clock against the wall when he finds out he is late, resulting in a pile of broken clocks on his floor.  Another example is when Serge starts going into some born again rant and doesn’t snap out of it until someone holds a surge suppressor (haha, get it?) against his chest. *slaps forehead*  It is a shame as screenwriter Jim Cirile’s screenplay does have promise.  Who doesn’t want to see a body switch movie involving a rock musician and a Sid Vicious-wannabe?  That is actually ripe for funny scenarios (at least in the late 80s it was), but not in the hands of Findlay.

So does BANNED do anything right? Well, Roberta does fill it with some nudity to keep me awake.  Also, the cast is probably one of the better assembled by Findlay.  Lead Dan Erickson – who previously worked for Findlay on BLOOD SISTERS – has a William Ragsdale sort of appeal to him and he is actually funny in some bits when he switches back and forth between his two personalities.  His British accent is a bit over-the-top (homicide is pronounced “Home-eeee-side”), but the film only benefits from going in that direction.  The film is also rife with late 80s NYC locales (look quickly for a THEY LIVE poster plastered on a street wall) and it is captured in Findlay’s trademark style.  She also inexplicably stages one bit on the deck of the U.S.S. Intrepid.  I’m guessing someone got access for that and Findlay wasn’t going to give it up no matter what the project.  And, believe it or not, this film features the only blue screen work Findlay has ever done in her career (maybe that drove her to hang it up?).  The finale with folks running all over Central Park actually echoes back to the FLESH trilogy days too, so you kind of get see Roberta’s career come full circle.  It is too bad the rest of the film couldn’t match her earlier standards.

As of today, BANNED is still unavailable anywhere.  I can’t really say the world is missing too much.  Here is the film’s trailer, which is about as close as you can get (and would ever want to get) to the film.

Moments of Clarity:

1 Reactions:

  1. Media Blasters bought this outright from Roberta, but now has no plans to do anything with it. Kinda ridiculous. I must see it to complete my book chapter on Roberta.

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