There are, no doubt, drugs that will enhance one’s artistic vision, but cocaine isn’t one of them, and if you need evidence of that, just take a look at Roadie, a chaotic disaster from the end of the coked up 1970s that is such a directionless mess that you half suspect that it was made as a money laundering exercise, simply because no other explanation makes any sense. This, kids, is your brain on drugs, and it isn’t pretty. How Alan Rudolph, a director more inclined to be (in his dreams, at least) the American Merchant-Ivory, ended up making this is anyone’s guess – maybe he owed someone money.
Then again, perhaps I’m being harsh. Maybe someone sat down and thought “Meat Loaf, Alice Cooper and Blondie in a good ol’ boy redneck road trip? How COULD that fail?” without chemical assistance. If so, that just makes this film all the more shocking. It suggests a level of out-of-touchness that is pretty breath-taking, and a curious willingness on the part of studio heads to allow the filmmakers a level of artistic freedom that will have you grateful that films these days are micro-managed committee productions.
It’s not that Roadie isn’t oddly fascinating. Cinematic car crashes are always intriguing, and I spent the whole of this film shaking my head in disbelief – sometimes almost admiringly, as the film meanders along, seemingly being improvised on the spot for much of the time and with a cast who mostly seem to be enjoying themselves a lot (ifyaknowwhatimean). Certainly more than the audience, anyway. The one exception to this might be Meat Loaf, who wanders through the whole film with a vaguely shell-shocked expression on his face, as if he can’t quite believe what he has gotten himself into. Cooper, meanwhile, was fresh out of rehab and hoping to launch a film career, so you have to feel sorry for him ending up in this disaster, playing a track from his new Flush the Fashion album but forced back into the old make-up that he was trying to leave behind. No wonder he ended up back on the booze and drugs within a year.
And just what is this film? It sets itself up as a rock movie, but then tries to be a redneck comedy, full of country music – Hank Williams Jr is one of the big attractions for crying out loud – with (ahem) Loaf as Travis W. Redfish, a Texas trucker who ends up as star roadie on a travelling rock ‘n’ roll circus thanks to his wizard skills at fixing electricals. He’s joined by Lola (Kaki Hunter), who is heading to LA to lose her virginity to Cooper, and who Travis falls for despite her revelation that she is sixteen years old (she looks closer to thirty, to be fair). So essentially this is a comedy love story between a middle aged man and an underage girl who wants to fuck a faded rock star. Tasteful.
Along the way, there is a story about coke deals and narcs that is built up to go nowhere, a piss-poor car chase and a lot of scenes that make no sense unless you assume that large chunks of the film were simply improvised on the spot (amazingly, the film has four credits for story, including future soft porn king Zalman King and screenwriter Big Boy Medlin – and thinking about it, a writer called Big Boy should have been an immediate warning). Blondie, probably the biggest name act in the film at the time, don’t even get to perform one of their own songs, instead doing a rotten version of Ring of Fire while dressed as cowboys, and even this track isn’t shown in its entirety (Cooper’s track too is cut off at several points, despite the music being the main selling point of the film). We do, however, get a painfully long scene where someone has given them a camera and naughty substances, stuffed them in the back of a car and got them to film the ensuing stilted, incoherent discussion. That this drug-fuelled nonsense made it into the finished film speaks volumes. On the plus side, we do get to see the band fighting with a bunch of dwarves, which is something, I guess.
Between all this, the film cuts back and forth to Redfish’s family, led by Art Carney (who gets the best lines, though that’s not saying much) and who are the source of more yeehawing slapstick. Oh, and Roy Orbison shows up as little more than an extra. None of this really helps.
Nobody involved in this film seems to like to talk about it, for obvious reasons – I’m sure a few forgot they had made it before it was even completed. It goes without saying that there are no extras on this disc. That’s a pity in a way, as I would love to know how this film came about and at what point exactly everyone sobered up long enough to realise just what they had done. Without that, we just have to let the film speak for itself, and despite all I have said so far, I would suggest that if you are into Hollywood disasters and insane follies, then this will thoroughly entertain you. It’s awful, certainly, but on such a grand and chaotic scale that you will find yourself marvelling at the whole thing. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore!