The Boston Phoenix
May 18 - 25, 2000

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Rocksploitation redux

Jeff Hudson brings back the biker flick

Cellars by Starlight by Ted Drozdowski

With actors named River, Cockroach, Oedipus, and Tattoo in its cast, Black & Chrome is clearly not a film destined for the screen of your neighborhood Sony. That plus the drugs, sex, violence, and nasty black-and-white surrealism. And director Jeff Hudson likes it that way. "Movie distributors are a ripoff, just like record companies," he says as we sit in his comfortably funky Jamaica Plain living room. "I decided to keep it underground. I looked at the '77-'78 punk-rock revolution as a model. Do it yourself, like a seven-inch single. Keep all your own rights, keep the costs low so maybe there can be a little profit margin later. It worked for me back then when I was playing in bands. Why not now?"

So Hudson's first feature film will have its premiere this Tuesday, downstairs at the Middle East in Central Square -- a rock-and-roll setting for a rock-and-roll movie. Not only does Black & Chrome have a soundtrack by local artists including Tree, Element 47, and ambient-techno wiz Colin Owens that's an important part of its fabric, but it's jammed with sleazy rock signifiers. First off, at heart it's a biker movie -- a niche Hudson is proud to fit into. "Hollywood isn't exactly cranking out biker films. It's kind of a lost art." Besides the Harleys, there's beer, blow, bars, brawls, and babes, including Women of Sodom leader Cynthia Von Buhler. In fact, the cast is stocked with members of the Boston rock scene. The male lead, Dave Hughes, plays in Wrench. River is the singer in Tree. DJ Bradley Jay has a role, and WBCN program director Oedipus and promo guy Cha Chi Loprette are the heavies.

"I wrote the script," the 50-year-old Hudson explains, "but it semi-went down the drain except for the story line: a college student falls into some drugs by accident and people go after him. And of course the motorcycles, fetish sex, and drugs stayed. But nobody remembered the dialogue, because I didn't use any actors. I wanted to cast real people in real situations. So the bikers are bike mechanics, the student is a student, the drug-lord guy is a radio programmer. It all made sense."

Hudson shot the entire film himself with a hand-held Bolex camera, an old Swiss-made precision instrument that's spring-powered -- which meant electricity wasn't an issue on locations throughout the city. "It took five months, shooting three to six hours at a time. The hardest part was logistics -- coordinating the schedules of the dozen cast members, who all have different lifestyles, with things like having a location cleared and having a certain bike available for the night."

By September, Hudson, who teaches a video- and film-production class at the Museum School, had finished shooting and was starting to edit his 72 100-foot rolls of 16mm film, each two and a half minutes long. Editing for this veteran director of 50 music videos -- including shoots for Cliffs of Dooneen, O Positive, Pat Metheny, Andy Narrell, See No Evil, Bentmen, Strangemen, and even the new aliens-and-bikers WBCN commercials shown during TV's Howard Stern Show -- is second nature. But just before shooting ended, he'd banged his head on a low pipe in his basement, and that induced swelling of his cerebellum. "There's a lot of movement in the movie, and editing literally made me nauseous. I would take five, 10, maybe 15 hours to cut a three- or four-minute scene. But with the dizziness and vertigo that came with the head injury, I wouldn't go back and look at it again. If I were healthy, I would have been a perfectionist. Instead, I had to trust my instincts."

Hudson, his visual-artist wife, Jane, and his family put up money for the project. So did Oedipus and Hearbox label owner John Horton. With promotion, posters, and VHS duplication tallied in, Hudson estimates that the entire cost of Black & Chrome now sits a bit under $9000. That's $21,000 less than was spent to make The Blair Witch Project, which doesn't look as good as Hudson's picture and moves at a decidedly un-rock-and-roll pace.

"I will say that the movie is emotionally detached," Hudson critiques. "But I have a problem with emotions in film. I find pictures that manipulate you into tears very crass. So Black & Chrome has a kind of detached voyeurism. When somebody dies, you're not gonna cry, but you're gonna watch it like you would a car crash."

Although he set out to make "a cool little B-movie," the truth is, he's made a visually provocative art film. Fortunately, that doesn't inhibit Black & Chrome's campy fun. Hudson's video experience and his nearly 25 years of performing music also pay off in the way the movie's cuts mesh with the soundtrack: he shifts scenes in perfect synch to drum hits, jumps to new angles with the arrival of a guitar solo or an ambient break, weaves entire songs -- rather than edits -- into his scheme.

In the early '80s, Jeff and Jane Hudson were among the first musicians to incorporate the use of video footage into their performances in provocative ways. It was a creative gambit that got their synth/guitar duo gigs not only at New York City art-punk meccas the Mud Club and Max's Kansas City but at Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art. By then, they were already experienced stagehounds. Their first band, the Rentals, had been signed to Beggar's Banquet and had opened for the Clash, Duran Duran, the B-52's, the Contortions, Alan Vega, Siouxsie & the Banshees, and other early punk/new-wave leaders. Later, Jeff played in outfits like his performance-art band Sushi Bar and the live electronica group Dresden Dance, who were nearly 10 years before their time.

For Hudson, making Black & Chrome was a galvanizing experience. "After so many music videos, I realized I didn't own anything, and it was depressing. You have to send all the footage you shoot to the record companies, and you never see it again. You get a copy of the final master, but that's it.

"Now, because I kept everything grass-roots, this movie is all mine. I'm responsible for what happens to my work in every way. I shot it, I cut it, if you order a copy (at, I put it in the envelope and mail it to you. I also cash the check. And I'm the one who's submitting it to Slamdance, Berlin and Chicago Underground, Telluride, and the other film festivals. It feels good to really be in control of my work."

(Black & Chrome premieres this Tuesday, May 23, downstairs at the Middle East. Adam Sherman opens the night at 10 p.m.; he's followed by the screening and a midnight set from Wrench. Tickets are $10, and it's 18-plus.)


Violinist Jonathan LaMaster has done more to keep the musical spirit of the '60s alive than all the classic-rock stations in America combined. In our market-bent culture, it's easy to forget that the soul of that decade's music ethos was innovation. From Hendrix to Coltrane, the greatest artists -- and those who left the longest-lasting impressions -- were concerned with establishing new creative frontiers. So it goes for LaMaster's group Saturnalia and his Cambridge-based Sublingual Records label.

Sublingual has two new releases strong on beauty and invention. Meditations on Unity teams the Saturnalia String Trio -- LaMaster; cellist, serangi, and electronics wrangler Vic Rawlings; and bassist Mike Bullock -- with avant-jazz horn and reed master Daniel Carter, with whom they've established a standing collaborative relationship. At times, the disc's 12 pieces seem to unify the visions of Ornette Coleman and Philip Glass. The sound is more subtle than classic free jazz, more devoted to creating utilitarian textures that can either transport or envelop the listener. Mostly the music soothes, but it menaces, too.

Same with the two pieces on Tokyo in F, a pair of quartet improvisations recorded live in Japan by Cambridge cutting-edge saxist Ken Field (a member of Birdsongs of the Mesozoic), violinist Katsui Yuji, guitarist Kido Natsuki, and pianist Shimizu Kazuto in 1998. The performances flow so naturally they seem composed. They blithely float -- sometimes dart -- from pastoral to giddy to elegantly probing. The disc makes for gorgeous and provocative listening. (It's also good for smoking dope and trancing out, but who does that these days?)

Moving away from Sublingual's domain, we find things taking a turn for the weird on Cambridge guitarist Tim Mungenast's self-released CD Birth of Monsters. Part naïf, part guitar slinger, Mungenast comes off as a blend of Daniel Johnston, Eric Idle, Robert Fripp, and John Fahey. Which is to say that the guitar playing is excellent, especially on the elegantly improvisational title track and the raga-esque "Mahatma Wheel," and the lyrics and worldview are frequently twisted. There's even a cover of Idle's Monty Python classic "Spam," but Mungenast's own odd sensibilities come through clearly enough in "Alligators" -- here considered as menacing pool pets -- and "Court Appointed Lover," which could be about a marriage or a relationship far stranger. The fun's in the guessing.

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