The Story of Rock 'N' Roll Comics:
It's hard to know if this documentary is a full-blown case of First Amendment (In)Justice ala The People Versus Larry Flynt or just a fairly interesting story for a limited group of people. The subject of the story, Todd Loren - publisher of Rock and Roll and Revolution Comics - would have you believe the former, even if in action it seems like Loren himself chose to ride the truth train for convenience only. In which case, director Ilko Davidov should have been advised to take his own stand with this movie - to come out swinging either for, or against, Todd. It's advice he seems to have cautiously hedged against. This fundamental lack of mooring, combined with a super-specific, limited market of interested viewers, means that many of you who think you're interested now will wonder later if you're still as engaged.
Detroit-born Loren started his mini empire in San Diego, California, first hawking knock-off rock 'n' roll memorabilia through his company Musicade, before really ruffling the feathers of rock stars with his series of unauthorized rock biography comic books. While it's not exactly certain whether Loren courted controversy to boost sales, it's easy to assume that if the likes of Guns 'N' Roses hadn't sued Loren over his right to publish comics about the band, then we wouldn't be watching this movie. We also might not know about Loren, but for the fact that in 1992 he was stabbed to death under mysterious circumstances. Could these things be connected?
It's a question we don't spend much time on, for reasons that become obvious by the time this short film (75 minutes) comes to an end, and it's a reason why Rock 'N' Roll Comics never quite sparks that fire we'd hope, from what should be a salacious and scintillating time. With the usual raft of talking head interview segments, archival footage and photography, a fractured portrait of Loren appears. With the exception of big star Alice Cooper, (and the bittersweet presence of Loren's business partner and father) names that only serious fans of either rock music or comic books will recognize expound upon Loren's part in the world. If you recognize the names Gary Groth, Mary Fleener, or Cynthia Plaster Caster, you'll feel like one of the in-crowd. If not, you might be on your own. However, while some of these low-wattage luminaries call Loren a crusading defender of First Amendment Rights and all around great guy, others remember him as a shyster and jackass. How do these two halves reconcile one-another?
Vintage footage of Loren from some type of local infomercial and/or home movie or something reveals a shrewd and impatient individual, but one who believes in his business, at the very least. The retelling of his legal woes and creative motivations reveals his confidence in his right to publish his comics. After his big copyright infringement imbroglio, the law agreed with him, and many of his writers and artists, who contribute in large part to this doc, demonstrate their righteous belief in Loren, and in their own work for him. And again, others demonstrate the opposite opinion, viewing Loren's comics as pretty schlocky. If your taste runs towards the funny papers, you can form your own opinion. Having only seen these titles in the context of this documentary, I'll agree that they look pretty schlocky.
And, then, in 1992, somebody decided to stab Loren a bunch. To this day, no one really knows why. It could be due to a huge secret Loren had been keeping, a secret that director Davidov also keeps from us until the final minutes of the movie. Tearful friends finally reveal their confusion at how things turned out, and why. Since no answers exist, all but the heartiest of viewers will wonder why there isn't much more fire coming out of this ramshackle pile of incendiary, inconclusive material.
Coming at us in a 1.33:1 ratio for that old school, fullframe feel, Wild Eye DVD and MVD Visual present a picture that's acceptable but unimpressive. Loren's archival documents were shot on VHS, it looks like, and thus they display all of those lovely characteristics: harsh lighting, a weird, soft image, and more. Contemporary interviews look better, of course, with good colors. Compression artifacts and problems with the transfer aren't an issue. If you enjoy low-budget documentaries, you probably know what to expect.
Dolby Digital Stereo Audio in English is as lo-fi as the movie itself, but is perfectly adequate. Dialog and interviews are presented clearly and are free of damage. Music is not mixed too loudly, and sounds good as well.
I'm not sure how the DVD cover claims over two hours of extras are included. You get 15 minutes of Unauthorized Interviews - extended takes from three interviewees in the movie, as well as Unauthorized Videos, (and More Unauthorized Videos) consisting of six clips - about ten-minutes' worth - including Loren's Musicade advertisement, a news story about his death, and more. Rock 'N' Roll Comics Cover Galleries will enrapture your eyes, and a bunch of Wild Eye Trailers will make you wonder just who is acquiring movies for this company. A 7-Page Liner Notes Booklet speaks eloquently about this subject, but it doesn't seem to add up to two hours of extras - unless you read reallllly slowly.
This short documentary, at 75-minutes, delivers the story of Todd Loren, the entrepreneur who rocked the rock world with his series of unauthorized biographies of bands like Led Zeppelin, Guns 'N' Roses, and more. Was Loren a true, albeit accidental, crusader for First Amendment rights, or was he a jerk who simply, naively, wanted to make a huge wad of cash from his comic books? In his life, and, unfortunately in this documentary as well, the answer remains shrouded in unsatisfying mystery. If this documentary had come down strongly on either one side or the other of Loren's mystique, or had it done more than simply cramming Loren's mysterious death in at the end as some weird type of deus ex machina for ending the movie, it might register more forcefully with those not ensconced in the movie's peculiar niche. As it is, if you love both rock and roll and schlocky comics, you'll find interest, if not much satisfaction, with the movie. Rent It.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com