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El Duce Tapes (Special Edition), The
Eldon Wayne Hoke was born in 1958, and was killed in 1997 when, loaded out of his gourd, he ran into a fast moving train in Los Angeles. In the years between, he raised a lot of Hell as 'El Duce', mostly as the drummer/lead singer of notorious 'rape rock' pioneers, The Mentors. The band probably reached peak exposure in 1985 when, during the Tipper Gore led PMRC senate hearings, Reverend Jeff Ling read aloud the lyrics to The Mentors' track 'Golden Shower' on the floor of Congress... "Open your mouth and taste the foam, Bend up and smell my anal vapor."
El Duce was also featured on one of the more memorable episodes of The Jerry Springer Show where he trash talked the mother of one of his fans, a woman who took offence to his promotion of rape and a victim of sexual assault herself (he tells her 'you look familiar'). El Duce rose again to some notoriety when Nick Broomfield's Kurt & Courtney documentary was released, wherein he claimed Courtney Love offered him fifty grand to kill Cobain. He also appeared on a more rambunctious than usual episode of The Hot Seat With Wally George. Clips from both shows are featured throughout this documentary and are quite amusing.
Hoke was, clearly, a man with some issues. When aspiring actor Ryan Sexton found him passed out in the bushes near his apartment one day, this led to his grabbing a camcorder and spending large chunks of the nineties interviewing the man and recording The Mentors' concerts. A quarter century later and Sexton along with Rodney Ascher and David Lawrence have dusted off those old tapes and put together much of the footage into a reasonably coherent portrait of the late Mr. Hoke. Comprised of one on one interviews with the man himself as well as interviews with Hoke's sister Annetta, The Mentors' dancing girl Pallas, El Duce's girlfriend of three-weeks Missy, Hunter Jackson and Michael Bishop of GWAR (Dave Brockie also appears here, but very briefly), Mentors members, Rick Bishop, Eric Carlson (a.k.a Sickie Wifebeater) and Steve Broy (a.k.a. Dr. Heathen Scum), it does a very good job of letting Hoke explain his modus operandi in his own words, even when those words don't make a whole lot of sense.
It's interesting how Hoke's own words often contradict those who knew him. By all accounts, yes, the guy definitely had his issues but he was nice enough to those who got to know him. The Hoke would have you believe it, he took his intentionally offensive lyrics seriously and really did believe in rape and Nazism, but there doesn't really seem to be much to back up any real life actions in that regard. It would seem to have all been done mostly to get a rise out of people. The guys from GWAR speak very kindly of him, noting that he was a bit of a screw up but easy enough to get along with, while his bandmates definitely considered him a friend, not just a co-worker. Interviews with his sister are quite telling, as they corroborate Hoke's own stories about being regularly abused by his father at home, something that very clearly and very understandably left some emotional scars on the both of them.
Front and center in all of this is El Duce's rampant alcohol abuse. The man drank like a maniac and didn't care what effect it had on his life. He appears to have made no effort to get it under control, and later in his stint with The Mentors (who have carried on without him and who are still around in one form or the other) it affected their shows. Sometimes we see Hoke as a happy drunk getting a blowjob at a party from some unknown girl, other times we see him so drunk he can't move, pants around his ankles and the butt of everyone's joke. When he wasn't crashing in garages or couch surfing he was living on the street and when The Mentors weren't playing he made very little effort to find work (though oddly enough he did do some extra work in Hollywood).
Often times quite funny, frequently very offensive and all too often just plain sad, The El Duce Tapes is pretty fascinating stuff.
The El Duce Tapes arrives on Region A Blu-ray from Arrow Video taking up 31.8GBs of space on a 50GB disc and framed at 1.33.1. Presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, this is almost entirely culled from VHS tapes made on a camcorder in the nineties, so don't go into this one expecting reference quality video. Expect some noticeable fading, tape rolls both organic and digitally added and a generally soft, fuzzy look to most of the footage. It is what it is, there isn't much you can do to improve on the picture quality here, as it's always going to look like the VHS tape footage that it is. That said, it's all perfectly watchable, just keep your expectations in check.
Surprisingly enough, given the low fi nature of the production, Arrow offers up your choice of a 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track of a 24-bit LPCM 2.0 track, both in English. The dialogue is always up front in the 5.1 mix but we do get some surround usage when it come to the placement of the score. Again, limitations of the source material are hard not to notice. The tape-sourced footage shot decades ago sounds like tape-sourced footage shot decades ago. The music is nice and clean and properly balanced, however. Subtitles are provided in English only.
Extras start off with a commentary by ‘The El Duce Tapes Crew.' The crew is made up of co-directors Rodney Ascher, David Lawrence, producer Tim Kirk and Sid Barron (who did the VHs style effects for the movie). The groups talks about how it took almost three-years to get the documentary done, where the footage originally came from, how the camcorder graphics and animation were created specifically for the movie, how they teamed up with Ryan Sexton and deatils on his career, the mystery behind Sexton's original meeting with El Duce, their own experiences with El Duce and The Mentors, how the band is kind of a porn fantasy comic strip act, how differently much of The Mentors' work plays now than it did in the nineties, how open so many of the interviewees were when Sexton interviewed them, scoring the film and what the intentions were with the music for the movie, how fascinating the talk show appearances are and lots more. Around the fifty-minute mark they call up a guy named Forest who talks about what it was like being at Honey Davis's house where the time that The Mentors recorded once. Interestingly enough, he says that when he slept in the backroom he had consistent horrible nightmares about self-mutilation and murder! It's pretty interesting stuff.
The Ryan Sexton Tapes is a thirty-four-minute audio conversation between Ryan Sexton and producer Tim Kirk about the shooting of the original VHS footage that was turned into The El Duce Tapes. They talk about how they were both first exposed to The Mentors, how the song titles made a huge impact on them at the time, how they became fascinated by the band, coming up with the idea to interview El Duce and the other band members, having to lug a huge camcorder to various seedy locations to get the footage, how terrifying it was to be drawn into the world of The Mentors, how absolutely filthy the 'recording studio' was that they met them in, how El Duce always mugged for the camera when it was around, pretending they were working on a much more official project than they actually were in order to get access, the sequence that the shoots occurred in, what it was like putting El Duce up for the night now and then, how legitimately lonely he seemed at times and other projects that they've been involved with over the years..
The El Duce Sessions is four-minutes of video footage of the band Nilbog recording the score for teh movie with some interviews with the band members who talk about using a mix of a live band and electronic music to create the score. A rad cat shows up at the end, so watch this all the way through if you like rad cats.
More El Duce Tapes is "a free-standing alternate assembly of unused material, sort of a sideways sequel" that runs thirteen-minutes long. It's really just a collection of more bizarre bits and pieces taken from Sexton's original tapes showing El Duce being El Duce basically wandering around and being crass and drunk. El Duce Stories is a bizarre assemblage of the man telling stories, cut into something both amusing and confusing. It's mostly Hoke spouting off at the mouth, which he was apt to do, but it's funny and he's in good spirits here. Tape 2: Hollywood Reservoir is a sixteen-minute behind the scenes segment that shows Ryan and El Duce walking around the reservoir outside of Los Angeles having a very informal interview. We see quite a bit of footage from this shoot in the feature but this is much more laid back and you get a feel for how well the two of these guys actually got along. It's also amusing to see El Duce wandering around in public with his executioner's mask on chugging from a 40oz bottle of Old English.
Reality Check Presents The Womentors is a six-minute clip of the all-female tribute band inspired by The Mentors. It's pretty great stuff, these ladies give 110% and even replace The Mentors' female dancer used in their stage act with a scuzzy looking dude and they are every bit as crass as El Duce's group. Return to Rape Rock Mountain is a new interview with Steve Broy, a.k.a. Dr. Heathen Scum of The Mentors, that runs just over twenty-nine-minutes. Appearing here in a gold executioner's hood, in this piece he talks about his life outside of the band, his property in the California hills and what all he does up there. It's part reminiscence of the band's glory days and part tour of his reasonably crazy mountain compound full of gear and junk and merch and, well, just stuff. And more! It's oddly fascinating, just like pretty much everything else on the disc.
As far as the packaging goes, Arrow Video provide some nice reversible sleeve art featuring newly commissioned artwork by John Pearson and reverse art by Benjamin Marra and, for the first pressing only, a slipcover and a full color illustrated collectors booklet featuring new writing by Manish Agarwal as well as credits for the feature and the Blu-ray release and some technical notes on the presentation.
Worth seeing just to observe a reverend saying ‘smell my anal vapor' on the floor of the Capital Building, The El Duce Tapes is frequently very funny, always offensive and often times just plain sad. It paints a pretty intimate portrait of a troubled artist and also serves as a fascinating document of a true rock ‘n' roll enigma. Arrow's Blu-ray release looks about as good as it can and it's loaded with extras. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.