The return of Complex World

Film Dept.
By MARION DAVIS  |  November 4, 2010

THE HOUSE BAND Sport Fisher of the Young Adults.

Stanley Matis had no acting experience when, in 1987, Jim Wolpaw asked him to star in his movie. Matis had been opening up for bands at Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel for years, and Wolpaw was a fan.

"He suggested all I had to do was portray a mildly exaggerated version of who I am in real life," Matis recalls. So he said yes. "I was working in a gas station, and I saw it as a good excuse to get out of it."

The plot involved terrorists who sneak a beer-keg bomb into the club, aided by an antisocial folk singer. On the same night, a biker gang comes in to wreak havoc. And even as they're all about to be blown to pieces, the band rocks out on stage, and the booze and drugs flow freely.

Wolpaw, who'd roomed with Rich Lupo in college and tended bar at his club sometimes, says he wanted to capture "the wildness of a night" in that world. So he enlisted mostly local characters, including the over-the-top rockers the Young Adults (featuring our own Rudy Cheeks), and shot much of the footage in a single night at the original Lupo's on Westminster Street, which would soon close.

No one knew what to expect, but the film, Complex World (named after an Adults' song) was a surprise hit. The 1990 premiere, a private showing at the Cable Car Cinema, was a sellout, and a tighter cut released in 1992 ran for an unprecedented three-and-a- half months at the Cable Car and was also released in Boston, New York and a few other cities. The Village Voice called it "a riotous epistemological comedy."

But then success got the best of the filmmakers: Wolpaw and his partners signed a national distribution deal with Hemdale, which had handled blockbusters such as Terminator and Platoon, and the company showed the film "in just a few shopping malls," Wolpaw says, before sending it to video.

Wolpaw et al sued to block the video release and prevailed, but the movie wasn't shown again. For almost two decades, anyone who wanted to see it had to track down a rare VHS copy. Until now.

This Friday and Saturday, Complex World is returning to the Cable Car, showing at 7 and 9 pm. It's also being released on DVD, with both the original and the theatrical versions.

For Wolpaw, it's a thrill — but also a trip back to the chaos of making the movie, directing characters like the late Captain Lou Albano (who plays the leader of the biker gang), crushing vitamin B12 pills for band members to snort as "coke," and trying to cut something coherent out of all the footage.

"I haven't really watched the film for awhile," he says, "because there are parts of it that make me cringe."

Matis, for his part, who hasn't hung out in bars for 15 years and is far removed from his old scene, plans to bring his 9-year-old twins. "What's going to be special for me is that my kids will be able to see it, and see me on the big screen and get to hear my music," he says.

Not that he doesn't realize Complex World is a bit more . . . adult-oriented.

"My son suggested that he bring one of his friends, and I said, 'No, if it weren't my kids, you wouldn't be getting into the theater.' And let's just say I'm going to have a long talk with them before and after."

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