Sunday, September 9, 2007
This 16 minute document of the state of a certain segment of American youth circa 1986 (the year I graduated from high school) could be subtitled: The State of American Exuberance in the Aftermath of the Sixties as Compounded by the Disappearance of Religion. But that would make the title longer than the film. However, what is so compelling about this little document, especially in conjunction with the DVD extras, which include the sequels "Monster Truck Parking Lot," "Neil Diamond Parking Lot," and "Harry Potter Parking Lot" (Sidewalk, Really), is that it documents this peculiar habit of Americans to get swept up in certain kinds of temporary enthusiasms that border on mania (clinical, that is).
"HMPL" is basically a video made for cable access television by two guys with a mic and a camera wandering around the parking lot of the Capital Centre in Largo, MD (outside DC) before a Judas Priest Concert. In their wanderings, they interview a lot of very, very stoned, and very badly dressed, teenage (and slightly older) metalheads. Equally fascinating is listening to these inarticulate hordes attempt to describe what it is that drives their enthusiasm: "Judas Priest Rocks!" and "Party!" are about as close as you get to an explanation. Not that the directors are really looking for one. Their tone is mostly one of detached amusement.
To me, this is a very interesting moment in American popular cultural history. While the stadium rock phenomenon that began with Woodstock and continued on through the 70's and 80's was still going strong, it had by this time long shed any pretensions changing the world or expanding consciousness. This is about one thing: dissolution. Everyone interviewed is so plowed you wonder if any of them even remembered the concert. And somehow that's the point, as it is with certain kinds of religious devotion: "Fade Far away, dissolve, and quite forget," as a famous poet once put it.
The DVD is filled with extras, some great, some less than great. In addition to the aforementioned sequels, it contains 3 others that are also sequels of a kind: "Heavy Metal Basement," "HMPL Annihilation" and "HMPL Alumni." What the sequels document is the same kind of devotion in different contexts. Neil Diamond's fan base is generally female, middle-aged, overweight, and sort of neutrally gendered (nun-like). But their devotion to Neil is as strong, if not stronger because so openly about sex, as the metalheads'. Seeing this same thing again among children at a JK Rowling book signing is more cute than anything else, but it gives a sense of how American's are taught to seek, find, and participate with unbridled enthusiasm in mass cultural phenomena.
The "Alumni" sequence offers a glimpse of three of the participants 15 years after the original film. One married a heavy metal guitarist, but seems to have a very normal family life. Another is still jamming with his buddies in the basement and cleaning carpets for a living. Most compelling of all, however, is Zebraman, the drunkest, mouthiest, and most outrageously dressed of anyone in the film. They find him living a very cozy suburban family existence, listening now to only country music, and humored, if somewhat embarrassed, by his presence in the film.
The segment called "Heavy Metal Basement" -- 30 minutes of listening to a heavy metal fan give a history of Judas Priest by describing each of his 100 or so albums -- is almost as annoying as the scene in the middle of Godard's Les Carabiniers where the men return from their travels and show the two women every single postcard of every one of the hundreds of places they've visited. I wanted to shoot the screen after a while.
Finally, I watched "HMPL Annihilation" with a bit of sadness. It documents the demolition of the Capital Centre, which was the Arena of my youth. I saw my first concert (Van Halen, first incarnation) there in 1985. I also saw an incredible collection of stars perform at a Vietnam Vets Concert: James Brown, Stevie Wonder, CSNY, John Fogerty and, yes, Neil Diamond! All of my early sports memories: The Washington Bullets and Capitals, not to mention the Ice Capades and the Harlem Globetrotters, take place there. A former employee watching the demolition articulated my feelings about the Capital Centre and also about the whole HMPL enterprise quite well: "I shouldn't be sad, but for some reason I am."