Heavy Metal Memories
San Francisco has until Feb. 23 to witness one of the finest pieces of documentary embarrassment the 20th century has seen yet. Playing Tuesdays through Sundays at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is Heavy Metal Parking Lot, a 1986 video shot in the parking lot of a Judas Priest concert at the Capital Center, just outside Washington, D.C.
In just 15 minutes the viewer is taken through America's muscle-car-dotted asphalt jungle of rock 'n' roll, turning over the ugly stone of teen-agers to expose the hideous wrigglings of truth. The audience is introduced to a variety of wasted metalhead townies -- big-hair girls and spandex guys playing air guitar, screaming obscenities and slurring the praises of their favorite band. The film has never been in circulation or distribution; word of mouth has kept it alive for over 10 years.
Co-producers John Heyn and Jeff Krulik were working at a D.C. public access channel at the time. Krulik remembers it was Heyn's idea to visit the concert, and he added the name. The two borrowed the station's 3/4-inch video camera and drove to the show, wondering exactly what they would find.
"We've all been to concerts," says Krulik from D.C. "You can visualize it would be a colorful crowd, worth documenting. We thought we might even get thrown out."
Instead, the parking lot crew embraced the two filmmakers, addressing the camera directly without provocation.
"Rob Halford!" yells one girl. "I wanna jump yer bones, dude!"
One slit-eyed kid dressed completely in zebra-patterned spandex spouts off his drunken views on popular music. Judas Priest rules, but in his humble opinion, other recording artists fare less well.
"Madonna?" he babbles. "She's a dick!"
(Years later a band in Los Angeles would actually write a song called "Zebra Man" honoring this guy.)
"It's really managed to strike a chord," says Krulik. "It still mystifies us. It's pretty jarring, for the most part. A lot of people find it funny, a lot of people find it scary. It's a cautionary documentary as much as it's entertaining."
The two returned home, watched the raw footage, and edited together the highlights, splicing in actual Priest concert shots and adding some of the band's screaming heavy metal songs like "You've Got Another Thing Comin'." They began screening the film around D.C., and the response was immediate. Since the two never bothered to get clearances from the teen-agers or Judas Priest, the video never left the underground circuit, where it was dubbed and swapped by musicians like Redd Kross and Nirvana.
Two years after Parking Lot made a local splash in D.C., Heyn and Krulik obtained backstage passes to a Judas Priest show, hoping to convince the band to screen their film inside the arena. Krulik says they showed the tape to the band's accountant and tour manager, one of whom pointed at the screen and exclaimed: "Hey, that's the guy who stole our drum kit." The two were given permission to show it before the opening band, Cinderella, but at the last minute the sound/video crew caved in. "It's just not the image that we want to be condoning," said one apologetic member, worried about parent-imposed pressure for "responsible" concertgoing.
The filmmakers nevertheless passed out copies for the band to watch on the tour bus. "Never heard from them," says Krulik.
They formally retired their film in 1990, but it has become the project that would not die. It was recently part of an exhibit at Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Bootleg copies continue to circulate, and it seems as popular as ever at underground video stores. And according to a friend of Krulik's who interviewed Judas Priest vocalist Rob Halford a few years ago, the band members have still not seen the tribute to their own fans.
The filmmakers have moved on. Heyn is a television producer with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Krulik is a free-lance director and producer, currently hoping to take a collection of his works around the country. Both still make offbeat short films on the side. In Krulik's most recent project, he followed actor Ernest Borgnine around on a nationwide tour taken in a $680,000 luxury bus with marble steps. The video will soon be available in supermarkets and Kmarts.
The two are also collaborating on a Parking Lot sequel, with the self-explanatory title of Neil Diamond Parking Lot.
"There's just as much passion and intensity there," admits Krulik, "but a different kind. It couldn't be farther from the [Judas Priest] crowd." But he promises Neil Diamond will deliver the same underground guerrilla sensibility. "You'd think we would have gotten more accomplished. We fumbled around just as much as we did 10 years ago."
Over the holidays, ESPN replayed a speech by author/astronomer/skeptic Clifford Stoll at the Commonwealth Club, here in the city. Although taped at the end of 1995, Stoll's mission as the Noam Chomsky of Silicon Valley remains just as valid today, and his manic, wild-haired presentation is never dull. At one point during the talk he was asked to name the best home page he had ever visited.
Stoll immediately replied he'd found it at a nursing home for the elderly, five blocks from his home in Berkeley. He'd brought his 1-year-old daughter, who proved very popular with the geriatrics, and ended up having an engrossing conversation with an old man who used to run a speak-easy during Prohibition. "That was more interesting than any home page I've ever seen on the Web."