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Todd Phillips really CAN make a good movie!
on August 11, 2003
Hated: G. G. Allin and the Murder Junkies (Todd Phillips, 1993)
What on god's green earth has happened to Todd Phillips in the ten years since he released Hated, the definitive G. G. Allin documentary? How, exactly, can one go from covering a dangerous, violent punk icon to doing a documentary about Phish and making really, really bad Tom Green/Wilson Brothers movies (Road Trip, Old School, Starsky and Hutch)? I don't know, but if you find yourself crawling under the table every time someone even mentions the name Todd Phillips, taking a look at Hated may convince you that there really are the underpinnings of a good documentary filmmaker beneath the present idiocy. Or maybe not. Much of that may depend on your view of his subject, a man on whom no one who's ever encountered his work can be without an opinion.
For the ten or twenty people who still haven't heard of him, G. G. Allin was, as Murder Junkies drummer Dino says, "God, Jesus, and Satan all rolled into one," perhaps the last American rock and roll singer who grasped what the spirit of rock was about, and aimed to bring that spirit back to music. To that effect, Allin would today be called a "performance artist" rather than a rock band frontman, probably. Allin and co.'s now-legendary gigs, three aborted tours' worth (as brother Merle Allin says, "you never plan on finishing a tour-- two reasons: the hospital or the law."), usually started out looking like punk shows, but ended (long before they should have) in fights, riots, raids by the police, overdoses, what have you. Allin's notoriety increased a thousandfold when the talk show circuit picked him up in the early nineties (some of the footage from his appearance on Geraldo is shown here), and as Phillips, who had been making Hated off and on since 1988, got ready to put the finishing touches on the film, Allin had gone from underground icon to public animal number one. The band kicked off the Terror in America tour in 1993, with much of the interview footage with the band members coming just before or just after the start of the tour. Allin was dead within days of the completion of the film, of which Phillips then halted postproduction to add another ten minutes of footage to the end.
Phillips is obviously influenced by the Errol Morris school of documentary filmmaking: just sit back with the camera and let those you're interviewing make complete fools of themselves. But there's more to Phillips than that; he fades into the background at times, but there's never the sense that the subjects of the documentary forget the filmmaker is there. (Phillips has confirmed, in interviews, that this never happened.) Not surprising when you consider that Allin's modus operandi, more often than not, was to attack the audience; the filmmaker is part of the audience, therefore...
The documentary itself is interesting enough, and refuses to paint Allin as either saint or sinner (surprising for a filmmaker who'd been in contact with Allin for five years), letting the viewer make his own judgments on that score. And viewers should, without doubt, though the pervasive language and nudity (both Allin himself and drummer Dino often performed naked or nearly so), strong sexual content, and what I can only describe as adult situations (despite the infantile nature of same) is likely to put the vast majority of viewers off ever renting this. But the real value in the DVD release, and the most ironic portion of it, is fifty minutes of extra footage recorded on the last day of Allin's life. The footage shows the soundcheck and aborted (halfway through the second song) legendary set at New York club The Gas Station, often considered the most violent set the band ever played (it has been reported numerous times that over a hundred attendees rioted after the show was shut down), and about thirty minutes of Allin's antics with Dino and a core group of fans afterwards while they went on a quest for heroin. What emerges in this footage is a picture of G. G. Allin that, while not diametrically opposed to the stage presence and the person that emerges from interviews, is certainly a different, and fascinating, side of Allin's character. In the documentary, Allin is characterized by almost everyone as a complete misanthrope, a person who would just as soon kill you as look at you. The footage of Allin wandering (naked, at the beginning of the trek) around the streets of New York City with eight to ten others and twenty or thirty following at a distance shows a smiling, affable guy who's usually got his arms draped around one or two people, haranguing police but never turning nasty about it, acknowledging fans with smiles and victory signs (yes, there are two fingers raised there), and generally being anything but dangerous-looking, as long as you look past the fact that he's covered in filth and (his own) blood. The end effect is to raise a whole lot of questions about a person for whom society assumed it already had all the answers. The documentary itself is capable; releasing the final footage with it is brilliant. ****