Some movies make rock stardom look like hell. The reason it’s so hard to see Cocksucker Blues is not that it’s such an appealing advertisement for life on the road, but that it makes the lives of the characters in Glengarry Glen Ross look like a lot of fun compared to the Rolling Stones’.
Stuff belongs on the same shelf. Directed by Johnny Depp and Gibby Haynes in 1993, the unreleased short film is a documentary about the squalid junkie crash pad in LA that John Frusciante used to call home. Cameras drift through the house soaking in the bummer ambience as Frusciante’s Portastudio recordings play on the soundtrack. There’s no dialogue.
If there’s a ghost in the movie other than Frusciante’s spectral presence, it’s River Phoenix. Depp and Haynes were bandmates in P, the group that was onstage at the Viper Room when Phoenix OD’d. According to Bob Forrest’s memoir Running with Monsters, Phoenix spent the days before his death at Frusciante’s house getting “deep into a major-league drug binge,” and even by drug-den standards, Forrest says the place was fucked up:
We all lived close to one another. Johnny only lived a couple minutes’ drive from Frusciante’s house and the apartment I kept nearby. The Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes, when he was in town, mostly stayed with Johnny. Sometimes I’d stay there or at Frusciante’s. I was hard to pin down. River usually stayed at St. James’ Club on the Strip, a flashy, high-end art-deco luxury hotel, also known variously as the Argyle or the Sunset Tower. The Viper Room was our headquarters, but Frusciante’s place saw almost as much use, although things had started to take on a dark and forbidding atmosphere there. It still didn’t stop anybody from dropping by. If any of us were working or out on tour, Frusciante’s house was the first stop as soon as we arrived back in town.
Frusciante’s place offered something the Viper Room had in short supply: privacy. But that also made it a liability. What had started out as a party place had devolved and spiraled into some dank drug den. Walls were covered with graffiti. Furniture was damaged. Walls and doors had huge, gaping holes. There was a current there—bad vibes and degeneracy. It was out of control and the kind of place that could make the hardest of hard-core junkies blanch and run in the opposite direction.
Though a bit late in the game in 1987 to achieve the same sort of classic punksploitation TV status held by the likes of the Quincy and CHiPs “punk rock episodes,” the “Mean Streets And Pastel Houses” episode of 21 Jump Street did give us Johnny Depp in a Discharge “Protest and Survive” t-shirt slam-dancing to a Flock of Seagulls-looking dude lip-syncing Agent Orange songs.
As embarrassing as this sort of thing often tends to be, credit is due to the producers for almost actually capturing a realistic punk-show vibe.
In the episode, Depp’s character goes undercover as a punk rocker to investigate a rash of vandalism being committed by rival bands/gangs “Klean Kut Kids” (KKK, get it?) and “Your Friendly Neighbors.”
A young Jason Priestly plays one of the gang members.
Jason “Wattie” Priestly
The episode contains classic “hello fellow kids” lines like “Ever done any speaker diving?”
The “band” in this episode, “Klean Kut Kids,” mimes to three classic Agent Orange songs from the Living in Darkness LP: “Too Young To Die,” “Everything Turns Grey,” and ” A Cry For Help In A World Gone Mad.” The song “Bloodstains” is also briefly heard.
This was about as “hardcore” as network TV got in 1987…
The fulcrum of John Waters’ career is Hairspray, the PG-rated 1988 crossover hit that made it possible to discuss his movies in, erm, “polite society.” Before Hairspray he was a scourge, after it he became America’s favorite dirty uncle.
This news report of the filming of Cry-Baby, Waters’ 1990 follow-up to Hairspray, is unimaginable without the success of its predecessor. Shooting for Cry-Baby took place in the spring and summer of 1989 in and around (where else?) Baltimore. The photo above was likely taken during the shoot, as Johnny Depp turned 26 in June of 1989.
The voiceover blandly calls Waters “a poor man’s Barry Levinson gone berserk,” which seems highly questionable to me. Aside from their hometowns, Levinson and Waters have little in common.
The segment features a couple of great quotes from Waters:
“It’s the same kind of movie. It’s a John Waters film. There’s puke in it, you’ll be happy to know.”
“Some older woman came up to me in the supermarket and said, ‘I love all your films!’ I said, ‘You do not!’”
According to WikipediaCry-Baby was the only movie of Waters’ career that went through a bidding war, based on the success of Hairspray. But then Cry-Baby didn’t make its $12 million budget back, and that was the end of the bidding wars for John Waters.
I’d bet anything that the Cry-Baby set was a fun place to hang around. You had Waters and Depp, of course, but also Ricki Lake, Iggy Pop, Traci Lords, Patricia Hearst, Susan Tyrrell, and Willem Dafoe, and that’s not even getting into Waters’ usual supporting players. After the video we’ve supplied some groovy pics taken while the shooting of the movie was in progress.
In the mid-1990s British television documentary producer Waldemar Januszczak nearly got a show to the approval stage at Channel 4 that sounds absolutely dynamite on paper: an inebriated rock and roll talk show with legendary Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan acting as host. Even more enticing, the pilot featured Johnny Depp and Traci Lords as guests, and Los Lobos even perform a ditty.
What could be better? The show was to be called A Drink with Shane MacGowan, also incidentally the title of his memoir.
Below you can watch the unaired pilot in full. This episode was filmed at Depp’s favored Sunset Strip hangout the Viper Room—he was part owner—where River Phoenix met his untimely demise in 1993. The show is highly reminiscent of Jon Favreau’s more successful IFC show Dinner for Five. The reasons that A Drink with Shane MacGowan was never picked up are achingly apparent. Without meaning any disrespect to the man, who is after all one of the most vital and authentic rockers of the 1970s and 1980s, but it would be difficult to imagine a person less suited to the art of TV interviewing than MacGowan.
Beyond that, how shall I say, the collective IQ in the room ain’t none too high, and the evident intake of alcohol doesn’t improve matters. The discussion of censorship and violence in movies is replete with cliché. Crime novelist Joe Gores, author of Hammett, is probably the most articulate person in the room.
Chris Penn doesn’t think much of John Woo, Traci Lords walked out of Natural Born Killers, and Shane MacGowan’s opinion of Sam Peckinpah is succinct (“He’s dead!”).
Here’s what The Star wrote about the show at the time. MacGowan’s given age in the article and a few other references from the program (Depp says he’s filming Nick of Time) situate this show at around 1995.
WILD MAN of rock, Shane MacGowan, is set to shock telly audiences with a boozy, X-rated chat show.
The former Pogues idol, who has been repeatedly hospitalised after wild drinking bouts, has recorded a pilot for the new Channel 4 series called “A Drink With Shane MacGowan”.
According to an insider: “Viewers can expect an orgy and bad taste gags, as the guests are let loose on the free-flowing alcohol.” Top stars, including actors Johnny Depp and Nicolas Cage, plus pop figureheads Bono and Sinéad O’Connor have already been invited to appear.
On the show, Shane (37) encourages his guests to misbehave for the cameras as the drink flows. And there’s a flood of four-letter words. The insider adds: “Shane goes out of his way to cause an upset. Late night TV hasn’t seen anything quite like it. The stars are invited to drink as much as they like it as the conversation flows. We’re not sure whether the bad language will be bleeped out, but it’s certainly bound to cause raised eyebrow among concerned parents.”
Bono! Nicolas Cage! Sinéad O’Connor! Four-letter words! So enticing.
Johnny Depp doesn’t float my boat. There is something too mannered, too knowing, dare I say, too cartoonish, about him. His performances seem plastic and make me think of Ken’s Barbie, or G.I. Joe, or Palitoy’s Action Man. The worrying thought that should any fan ever get Depp’s knickers down, would they be confronted by a Ken’s lack of genitals? Of course, Depp is probably hung like a horse with balls down to his knees, but his performances often seem to lack any. It’s perhaps why so many young girls like him.
His recent portrayal of Barnabas Collins may have been well meant but it left me cold, and he looked more like an updated Dr. Orlando Watt, than any cursed vampire. Indeed, the whole film was, as Kim Newman wittily noted, almost a Whitespoiltation version of Blacula.
When Jonathan Frid played Barnabas Collins he brought a depth of emotion and experience Depp is either afraid, or unable, to emote. Listening to Frid on these recordings, taken from the first Dark Shadows soundtrack album, only confirms the quality of Frid’s Barnabas.
The Rum Diary is the product of hugely talented people. It’s based on a book by Hunter Thompson and stars one of Thompson’s biggest fans and acolytes Johnny Depp who also produced the film. In Bruce Robinson it has a director and screenwriter that is responsible for one of the best comedies of the past three decades, the hilariously bleak Withnail And I. This is the coolest trio since Cream broke up.
Pulling The Rum Diary out of development hell (for years studios tried to get the film off the ground) was obviously a labor of love for Depp and that may be why it doesn’t work as well as it might have. Depp’s love for Thompson could be the problem here. Love is blind… or at the very least nearsighted. Depp’s approach to Thompson is too cautious, too safe, too reverent. I think if Thompson were alive he would have instructed Depp to loosen up, too untighten his ass and go for it…gonzo-style.
The Rum Diary wants us to enter Thompson’s deliriously intoxicated world, but it’s just too damn tidy and slick for its own good. The squalor, mayhem and debauchery lacks any genuine sense of danger and the delirium is never delirious enough. And I’m definitely not buying into the film’s depiction of Thompson as some kind of romantic saint. Spinning Thompson into hero material might make for a crowd pleasing narrative but it stretches The Rum Diary into mythic places it doesn’t belong. By trying to do right by Thompson, Depp may have done him a disservice by turning one of pop culture’s biggest bad-asses into a Mr. Goody Two Shoes.
As frustrating as The Rum Diary is, there’s much to like in the film. Which is why it’s frustrating. Robinson’s direction is filled with brilliant moments - a menacing, sexually-charged scene inside a night club choreographed to scorching blues music, a visit to a hermaphrodite Voodoo priestess/priest who dispenses some powerful reptilian mojo, and a chase scene involving a decrepit Fiat, some high octane hootch and a bunch of pissed-off Puerto Ricans. Giovanni Ribisi is wonderfully deranged in a performance that channels Richard Grant from Withnail And I and there’s some brown acid weirdness that seems to have wandered in from Terry Gilliam’s Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas which, despite being recycled, is still good for a contact high.
The weakest part of the movie is supposed to be its dramatic core: a plot involving a bunch of greedy industrialists attempting an illegal land grab. But it is so undercooked and dull that the film walks away from it way before Thompson does. As a result, his character building moment, his crisis of conscience, lacks punch because most viewers won’t give a flying fuck about the whole damned thing. I suggest you forget about the particulars of the plot and just dig the atmosphere and the film’s all too rare leaps into the unknown.
When Bruce Robinson’s vision becomes disengaged from the story, dances outside the script and elbows the actors out of the way to let something organic and real in, The Rum Diary becomes as drunken as Rimbaud’s boat. My sense is that after Robinson started shooting the film with his cinematographer, the incredible Dariusz Wolski, he became increasingly engrossed with Puerto Rico’s shadow side and the mystery of the moment took over as the screenplay receded into the background.The movie finds itself in the interstices where life slips through and the audience is allowed to simply take it all in - the lysergical light, the sway of sun-sharpened silhouette, the fetid murk and tangle of tree vine, rotted root and gnarled limbs, the bristling feathers of a cockfight, the murderous intent tattooed on faces of people done wrong, the unraveling of symmetry and beautiful decay of streets and ancient buildings that stagger under the weight of forgotten crimes and deadly secrets. Within this sweetly malodorous topography lurk the kind of dark dreams that press in on a man. This is the kind of shit that writers pull inspiration from with the fervor of mad dogs digging for a hank of flesh and bone. This is where Hunter Thompson found his fucking muse. And Robinson may have as well. In these all too brief moments, The Rum Diary reminds me of Marcel Camus’ Black Orpheus. It is at its most sublime when its characters become figures in a landscape that throbs and surges with a sexual heat and as they move into the foreground we see in their eyes bottomless desire. Had Depp lost himself as Robinson did he may have found the redemption that the film cries out for.
Should you see The Rum Diary? Absolutely. Just prepare yourself for an experience that could have used more of what Depp describes as Thompson’s “savagery.” Or some of whatever that Voodoo priestess was doling out. Ask Bruce Robinson exactly what that shit was. I bet he knows.
The Rum Diary opens in theaters on October 28.
Johnny Depp and Bruce Robinson at the Austin Film Festival screening of The Rum Diary. Film critic Elvis Mitchell is conducting the interview. October 21, 2011. This is absolutely lovely, as you will see. I think everyone in the Paramount Theater was drunk. Hunter would have loved it.
The film version of Hunter S. Thompson’s novel “The Rum Diary” is finally hitting the screen on October 28 after a long and tumultuous trip through development hell. The movie had been optioned by now-defunct production company The Shooting Gallery who never managed to get it off the ground.
On January 22, 2001, in a fit of frustration and anger, Thompson sent production executive Holly Sorensen the following letter:
Hunter S. Thompson
HOLLY SORENSON / Shooting Gallery / Hollywood / Jan 22 ‘01
Okay, you lazy bitch, I’m getting tired of this waterhead fuckaround that you’re doing with The Rum Diary.
We are not even spinning our wheels aggresivly. It’s like the whole Project got turned over to Zombies who live in cardboard boxes under the Hollywood Freeway… I seem to be the only person who’s doing anything about getting this movie Made. I have rounded up Depp, Benicio Del Toro, Brad Pitt, Nick Nolte & a fine screenwriter from England, named Michael Thomas, who is a very smart boy & has so far been a pleasure to talk to & conspire with…
So there’s yr. fucking Script & all you have to do now is act like a Professional & Pay him. What the hell do you think Making a Movie is all about? Nobody needs to hear any more of that Gibberish about yr. New Mercedes & yr. Ski Trips & how Hopelessly Broke the Shooting Gallery is…. If you’re that fucking Poor you should get out of the Movie Business. It is no place for Amateurs & Dilletants who don’t want to do anything but “take lunch” & Waste serious people’s Time.
Fuck this. We have a good writer, we have the main parts casted & we have a very marketable movie that will not even be hard to make….
And all you are is a goddamn Bystander, making stupid suggestions & jabbering now & then like some half-bright Kid with No Money & No Energy & no focus except on yr. own tits…. I’m sick of hearing about Cuba & Japs & yr. Yo-yo partners who want to change the story because the violence makes them Queasy.
Shit on them. I’d much rather deal with a Live asshole than a Dead worm with No Light in his Eyes…. If you people don’t want to Do Anything with this movie, just cough up the Option & I’ll talk to someone else. The only thing You’re going to get by quitting and curling up in a Fetal position is relentless Grief and Embarrassment. And the one thing you won’t have is Fun…
Okay, That’s my Outburst for today. Let’s hope that it gets Somebody off the dime. And if you don’t Do Something QUICK you’re going to Destroy a very good idea. I’m in the mood to chop yr. fucking hands off.
Here’s the trailer for The Rum Diary. It’s directed by Bruce Robinson based on his own screenplay. Robinson wrote and directed the fabulous Withnail And I, one of my all-time favorite movies. The Rum Diary is produced by and stars Johnny Depp who was close and very loyal to Thompson. These are good indicators that the movie may be a fine one indeed.
Robinson, a recovering alcoholic, was hit with a bad case of writer’s block while working on the screenplay for the movie. He jumped off the wagon and managed to kickstart his Muse by drinking a bottle of booze a day. I guess he needed to get into a gonzo frame of mind. Once the work was done, he immediately went back to his life of sobriety.
One of the UK’s premiere dubstep producers Shackleton this week releases a new EP called Deadman on London’s reggae and dub imprint Honest Jon’s. Dead Man is also the name of a fantastic 1995 film by Jim Jarmusch starring Johnny Depp as a man called William Blake, wandering through a black and white recreation of the old West while nursing a fatal gunshot wound.
I don’t know if the Shackleton release (sleeve pictured above) is an hommage to the film, but the enterprising folks at The 29th Nov films have made a video for the track itself using footage from the Jarmusch film. It’s great. Rivaling Neil Young’s original minimalist guitar score for haunting atmosphere, Shackleton’s signature sound of Eastern hand percussion hits, disembodied voices and washes of dub noise prove a perfect accompaniment to the gorgeous monochrome footage of Johnny Depp slowly dying:
Shackleton’s Deadman is available to buy on vinyl and download from Juno.
Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man is available to buy from Amazon.
There is a very good reason why you’ve probably never seen—or even heard of—a 1997 film titled The Brave that was both directed by, and starred, Johnny Depp: It’s one of the worst films ever made. I mean like as in one of the very fuckin’ worst movies ever made, okay? How else to explain why a feature directed by one of the most bankable movie stars in history, and that features a soundtrack by Iggy Pop and one of the final film roles of Marlon Brando, has never been released in the United States, either theatrically or even on DVD? Yes, it’s that bad.
The Brave is an appalling and horrendous piece of shit that apparently left audiences at the Cannes FIlm Festival slack-jawed and saw Depp’s “people” swoop in to make sure that it wasn’t about to ruin their cash cow’s reputation. If The Brave had an odor, it would be lethal and take a hazmat suit with a gas mask to deal with. The film has only ever seen the light of day in ex-US territories, mostly Asia, where it was immediately bootlegged. Trust me, they did Depp a major solid by trying to bury this turd as deeply as possible. (For fun, put yourself into the shoes of the manager or agent who had to put it to one of the world’s biggest movie stars that he’d made a film that was unreleasable! Depp probably looks back on it now and thinks “Thank god I listened to them.”)
Now, be aware that I say all of this as somewhat of an enthusiast, even a connoisseur of “bad films,” myself, but they have to be of the “so bad they’re good” variety, not films that are just… shitty, misguided and boring. The Brave is all that and a lot more. It’s awfulness is special. One of a kind.
The Brave is Depp’s own The Day The Clown Cried.
I first read about the film’s existence in Jane Hamsher’s book Killer Instinct, about the insanity she experienced during the of filming of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. There is just a paragraph or two describing the plot of The Brave in the book and after reading this, I just had to see it. However, this was approximately 1999 when I read it and sans bit torrent, it wasn’t going to be that easy to get my hands on it. A few days later. I figured out that a friend of someone I knew was a co-producer on the film and I got him to ask for a copy. The reply came in the form of a suspicious question: “Why does he want to see it?”
Why do you think?!?! Nevertheless, I got a copy with the extracted promise that I wouldn’t say where it had come from. Seemed fair.
So what is it that’s so freaking bad about this film, anyway? God, where do you start?
Okay, first the plot: Depp play a Native American guy named “Raphael” who lives with his wife and catatonic children in a shantytown near (in?) a garbage dump. He’s an alcoholic and sees no hope for ever being able to pull himself and his family out of their abject poverty. Raphael, who is illiterate, is told of a sinister man named McCarthy who is willing to offer $50,000 if Raphael will agree to be brutally tortured, dismembered and murdered for a snuff film. Raphael sees this as a last ditch way to lift his family from the life they are leading. After a scene of Brando acting as psychotic as you’ve ever seen him, delivering a ridiculous (obviously improvised) wheelchair-bound soliloquy about how the snuff movie will allow those who see it to face death more honestly, and how Christ-like Raphael’s sacrifice will be (it’s Island of Dr. Moreau-worthy stuff), Raphael is given a bag of cash as an advance and signs a bogus contract consisting of gibberish that he thinks will secure his family’s future after he’s gone. If Raphael skips out on MCarthy, he is told by one of his henchmen, he’ll find, fuck and eat his wife and kids
Raphael is supposed to return at the end of seven days to McCarthy’s seedy bunker to be killed in the snuff film. Most of the rest of The Brave shows him showering gifts on his wife children (such as hiring in a small fun fair) and dealing with the fate he’s signed up for. On the seventh day, Raphael returns to the fortress where McCarthy makes his films and The Brave ends (thank god!).
First off, I should say that on a technical level, the film is well-shot and edited. Clearly Johnny Depp would have access to the best “below the line talent” money could buy. It’s a technically competent film. The biggest problem with The Brave—the fatal problem, in fact, and precisely what makes it so incredibly bad—is Depp himself in the lead role. Casting himself as “Raphael” was a major, major miscalculation for several reasons, with Depp’s movie star looks being the primary culprit. As I understand it, the original novel/script called for the character to be brain-damaged from alcohol abuse or semi-retarded. Had the role been played by a Native-American actor who was dumpy and monosyllabic, it might have worked (or at least not turned out to be the atrocity it did). The audience just never buys pretty boy-Depp (looking like a SIlverlake hipster of 2011) in the role for even a single second and scenes that might (I said might) have otherwise been moving with a different actor in the part, were instead just fodder for loud guffaws, sideways glances, and mucho eye-rolling. It’s a mawkish mess. It tries to manipulate the audience’s emotions, but only elicits… boredom, disgust and pointing and laughing at the screen.
Everyone I watched it with HATED IT, just fucking hated it, and unless you’re a weirdo with shitty taste in films, you will probably hate it, too. When it’s (finally) over, you just want to take about twenty showers and try to scrub it out of your mind. Which. Is. Not. Possible.
Of course, I realize that to some of you reading this, that even this negative review sounds like an endorsement of some sort—perhaps of the “this smells like shit, take a whiff” variety. After all, when I secured my own copy of this gargantuan awfulness eleven years ago, it was certainly my firm expectation that I would be seeing a colossally bad film (and I did). This is not to say, however, that having had that experience, that I’m now recommending watching The Brave to others (to be clear, I am not). If you don’t care and want to see it anyway (it’s all over the web now, just search for it on Google) do yourself a favor and do what I didn’t do and turn it off after Marlon Brando’s scene near the beginning of the film. It’s the only, uh, “good” part of it and as I wrote above, truly one of his single most most berserk onscreen moments.
The rest of it, trust me (no really!) you really, really, really don’t want to see. Not only is it a complete waste of 90 minutes of your life that you will never, ever get back, it’ll just make you feel icky. For days.