Fans of bizarre, unusual, and generally weird cinema can sometimes have a difficult time locating classic movies from these categories. As the home video market evolved from VHS to DVD to Blu-ray and continues to evolve into the next technological frontier, some films are going to be left behind. Often bizarre and esoteric classics that do make their way on to the next technological frontier go unnoticed by the general populace, which is unfortunate. Here are three of the most mind- blowing and unusual films that are either difficult to find or never even made it to DVD. Here are hard to locate, but worth the hunt to see them.
RUBIN & ED (1991)
By now most of us have seen Crispin Glover’s appearance on LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN where he nearly kicks the LATE NIGHT host in the face with a giant platform shoe. If not, here it is-
What you may not have known is that Glover was actually playing a character he created called Rubin Farr. In 1989, the character Rubin got a mention in Glover’s music video “Clowny Clown Clown”, which is his unusual ode to clown hate.
Then in 1991, the character (which most people thought was just Glover being Glover) got his own movie. Written and directed by Trent Harris, RUBIN & ED costars Howard Hesseman as Ed, a down on his luck salesman looking for a rube to drag to a pyramid scheme seminar. He meets up with Rubin Farr, an eccentric loner who has just been kicked out of his mother’s home. Farr agrees to go to Ed’s seminar, just as long as Ed helps Rubin burry his dead frozen cat in the desert. Although the film was not very well received critically, it does have a very interesting approach to the popular buddy comedies of the period. The film received a VHS release from IRS Media in 1992, but only made its way onto poorly transferred bootleg DVDs after that. It’s a shame considering that Rubin Farr may be the most carefully thought out movie character ever, probably because you really don’t know where Rubin ends and Glover begins. There’s even one moment where Rubin pokes fun at Andy Warhol, the artist he portrayed in the film THE DOORS, which was filming around the same time as RUBIN & ED.
THE BEAVER TRILOGY (2001)
Crispin Glover and Trent Harris make their second appearance on this list with a very eclectic and hard-to-find pseudo-documentary/ reality film/ reenactment/ experiment called THE BEAVER TRILOGY. Comprised of three segments shot over the course of three years, the first segment was shot in 1979 as a fortunate accident. At the time, Trent Harris was an independent filmmaker from Salt Lake City, Utah who was working for a local news affiliate. While testing a color video camera for the station, he ran into a man named Gary who was taking pictures of the station’s helicopter. Harris decided to conduct an impromptu interview to test the camera. During the interview, Gary launched into several celebrity impersonations including Barry Manilow, John Wayne and Sylvester Stallone.
Gary also mentioned another impersonation that he was well-known for in his home town of Beaver, Utah- singer Olivia Newton-John. Several weeks after the interview, Harris went to Beaver, Utah to film Gary, better known as Groovin’ Gary, performing at a talent show. It quickly became clear that Gary was obsessed with Olivia Newton-John. Harris filmed Gary as he got into character for that night’s performance. During the show, he performed the song “Please Don’t Keep Me Waiting” in full drag as his alter ego, Olivia Newton-Dawn, an homage to his idol.
In 1981, Harris filmed a second installment called THE BEAVER KID 2. This time, he decided to shoot a dramatic interpretation of the first segment using actor Sean Penn as Groovin’ Larry Huff. Shot in black and white and also color, the film is an almost shot-for-shot remake, with added glimpses of the interviewers. However, in a dark turn, Larry places a rifle in his mouth and starts to pull the trigger before being stopped by a phone call from someone who wants him to perform as Olivia at a party. The segment ends with a melancholy Larry donning a wig and singing “Please Don’t Keep Me Waiting” into a mirror with a hairbrush microphone. This second segment was shot on a $100 budget.
The final segment, entitled THE ORKLY KID, was shot in 1985 and stars Crispin Glover in the title role, preparing to take the stage as Olivia Neutron Bomb. THE ORKLY KID is a lengthier version of the previous two segments incorporating reenactments of the first two segments as well as a few more plot twists and supporting characters.
The film turned Groovin’ Gary into an underground sensation, even though no one even knew his real name. Although he remained out of the public eye rumors began to circulate about what ever became of the real-life Gary. Because of the second segment, for a time it was believed that he had indeed committed suicide. Then on February 2, 2009, Groovin’ Gary’s real identity became public. His real name was Richard LaVon Griffiths, and he had died of a heart attack at the age of 50.
The entire film was once only available on YouTube and also through the filmmaker’s personal website, however most full versions have since been pulled down, and those broken down into segments are nearly impossible to follow. In August of 2016, Harris released BEAVER TRILOGY PART IV on Netflix. This latest incarnation is a documentary of the making of all three segments and the cult legend Groovin’ Gary who made the entire film possible.
BIG TIME (1988)
There are certain concert films that stand out as unforgettable classics with a unique vision that captures the visual style of the artist and the filmmaker. Some notable contributors to this category include Jonathan Demme’s 1984 Talking Heads concert film STOP MAKING SENSE, 2006’s Beastie Boys experiment AWESOME: I FUCKIN’ SHOT THAT, and Led Zeppelin’s THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME. I’ll even include Pink Floyd’s LIVE AT POMPEII to that list, even though it was performed in an empty ancient amphitheater. Then there’s Tom Wait’s 1988 concert film BIG TIME which usually doesn’t make its way on to best concert films lists because not that many people ever got a chance to see it.
Shot during concerts in Los Angeles and San Francisco during Waits’ BIG TIME tour, the film was created without a single view of the audience and with very little audio from them. This lack of audience interaction gives the feeling that Waits is performing for an empty void in front of a German expressionistic backdrop.
For all its originality and style, the film was not well received by critics. The New York Times said, “BIG TIME squanders a rare opportunity: The chance (and budget) to film Tom Waits, one of rock’s most aberrant and meticulous character actors, in a theatrical concert tailored to his eccentricities.” It’s difficult to see where this “squandering” may have occurred, maybe somewhere between his bizarre Brechtian backstage antics or his recitation of “9th and Hennepin” under a flaming umbrella. Granted, Tom Waits had not yet become the alternative sensation he was getting ready to be reborn as. But BIG TIME encapsulated a period of change in Wait’s persona from his experimental jazz icon days to the experimental alternative icon he was about to become. In 1992, he would release his Grammy award-winning album BONE MACHINE and 1993 would see the release of THE BLACK RIDER, a German operetta co-written by William S. Burroughs. These two albums would be the official marker of Waits change from gravel-voiced street poet to an ever-evolving artist incapable of being categorized. The New York Times review later goes on to call Wait’s performance a “freak show”, a label he would later seemingly wear with pride.
Although I can’t find a definitive answer as to why BIG TIME never made it on to DVD, I can speculate that the rights are probably tied up in multiple sales and acquisitions that occurred shortly after the film’s release. BIG TIME was produced and distributed by Island Records’ film division, Island Visual Arts. Island Records had been owned and operated by Chris Blackwell ever since he founded the company in 1958. In 1989, Blackwell sold his stake in the company to PolyGram. PolyGram eventually went defunct in 1998 and all its properties sold to Seagram (the wine cooler people) who also owned MCA. MCA acquried all Polygram’s music rights while PolyGram Films went go to Universal Pictures. Seagram was then sold to Vivendi, and MCA became known as Universal Studios. So just like with many films that fans want to see a get a glossy rerelease, there are a myriad of questions about who even owns the property.
*Of course this does not include streaming or torrent service which violate copyright laws.