It's slackers, whackers, and gig-jackers in this drugged-out 12-day diary of a dude and his wasted bandmates trying to make a name for themselves in the "Live Music Capital of the World," Austin, Texas. Yep, it's a lot like that.
Upon seeing the bleed-in of the Go-Kart Films animation, expectations are rapidly wrenched downward before amateur filmmaker Bob Ray's Rock Opera ever begins. We're greeted with a black screen and a stream of audible f-bombs to let us know the main attraction has begun. Lovely.
It's sort of about Toe (Jerry Don Clark), a scruffy-looking unemployed pothead who's hoping he can rustle up his bandmates to open at the Blue Flame. Unfortunately, his guitar is in pawn down at the local hock shop because he can't pay his bills on time. Somehow, he scrapes up the 45 bucks to retrieve his Starburst and, following a loose practice session, decides he and his band, PigPoke, should go on tour. How will he bankroll the affair? Easy, just sell a bunch of weed. In no time, it's a lawless venture involving rival bands, drug deals gone bad, and some serious gunplay. In the end, will it all be worth it, and can Toe and PigPoke scratch their names in the Texas rock-and-roll Stall of Fame? Who cares?
Wow, this one is so light on material, there's hardly enough going on to constitute a plot. While it's commendable that Bob Ray would take several pages from his own life in and amongst the Texas music scene to put together what's clearly an accurate depiction of the longhorn lowlifes, his 16mm narrative just doesn't work for me. Somewhere along the way, he read an issue of American Cinematographer and determined the low-angle shot was just the greatest and should be used for 95 percent of his setups. When halfway paying attention during his screenwriting correspondence course, he figured realism and edginess was just an f-bomb away, so more would be better, right? And, when learning about film casting from a matchbook cover, he determined that it's best if you can assemble actors who are afflicted with mumbling mouths and a severe awareness of the camera that's capturing their actions. Let me tell you what, this is a harsh bowl to smoke; nuthin' but seeds and stems. There's definitely some potential in the material here but Ray and his crew just aren't up to the task today. As an outsider to the Texas rock world—I guess it's punk rock, really—it just doesn't do much for me, yet those in the lifestyle will certainly enjoy it, I suppose, as the picture features numerous struggling bands like Phantom Creeps, Tallboy, Witchbanger, Squat Thrust, and Titz. If you enjoy the antics of Texas twentysomethings who go unbathed and unshaven, and yammer on about piss, porn, and pecker-snot, then maybe you'll enjoy Rock Opera.
In typical Go-Kart Films fashion, here's a feature that you'll likely never see anywhere else and a disc that's chock full of all kind of material that convinced me I'd never want to go where I could see this film, anyway. The 16mm feature is presented in full-frame format and is as gritty and grainy as the gaps between the actors' teeth. Poor lighting and low-cost film stock cause this one to look pretty washed out from start to finish. The audio comes by way of a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track which is all Go-Kart Films ever seems to be able to muster. Much of the dialogue is inaudible, not because of a bad digital transfer but because of poor audio capture in the source material.
On this disc, there are extras all over the place like an infestation of Texas fire ants. Three audio commentaries are here, a collection of tracks that were a new experience for me. It starts off with an energetic commentary with writer/director Bob Ray who's joined by an amped-up Jerry Don Clark. The next track is the Rock Opera drinking game where cast and crew gather together to partake in drugs and drink whenever secret words and slacker situations arise on screen. The third track is an open jam session with Tia Carrera. If different is what this disc wants to be—congratulations, because different it is. There's a short making-of featurette where we get to see the guerrilla filmmaking in action (which I typically enjoy as it captures the heart of the truly impassioned indie spirit). Then Bob Ray opens up his celluloid photo album to share 14 of his prior short films, a mixed bag for sure. There are five music videos featuring some of the authentic bands seen and heard in the film, and some trailers for this and other pictures. Man, talk about a screaming hangover when it's all done.
If opera is tragedy, then Rock Opera is an overachiever. Guilty as charged but we'll let everyone involved sober up before we hand down the sentencing…and from the looks of this motley crew, we might be here a while.
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