The El Duce Tapes – Blu-Ray Review

El Duce (Eldon Hoke) was the drummer and singer in metal-punk band The Mentors, a self-described “rape rock” band whose songs were openly racist, sexist and homophobic. It was presented with a sense of humour, but it can’t be said that it was exactly a “joke,” as El Duce had real issues. Ryan Sexton was previously involved with the band and had collected hours and hours of videotape, which was digitised and cleaned up to make it usable in this documentary. The result has a sort of grungy videotape quality that is fitting for the time period.

At over 100 minutes, it’s a little too long as compared with the G.G. Allin documentary Hated, which clocks in at a manageable 55 minutes: no one wants to spend more than an hour with either of these people. It will be of interest to people who are into “transgressive” art of any kind, but in the end El Duce comes off as a dumb loser. There’s a certain charm to his beer-gargling idiot antics but, while I hate to say it, G.G. Allin did it better. You can give him credit for being hardcore, while this guy was just a loser who got hit by a train. The best line in it is “if the Aryan Nation wants us, they have to pay us 150 bucks and a keg of beer”—in the context of not accepting a repeated request to play at the racist group’s compound, which even El Duce felt conflicted about, given that he did have Black friends.

In a really clumsy montage, the filmmakers try to connect El Duce and Allin to contemporary politics in the form of white supremacist groups and the Proud Boys, which while there may be some real links to be made, was not well done here. And then we get to the conspiracy theory part, as El Duce claimed that Courtney Love offered him money to kill Kurt Cobain (as seen in Nick Broomfield’s amusing but offensive documentary, Kurt and Courtney.) This was a guy who lived on the street half the time—after seeing this documentary, do you really think he could pull off the murder, and subsequent cover-up,of one of the most famous people in the world? And do you really think Courtney, who is many things but definitely a feminist, would have been friendly at all with this guy? It makes no sense that El Duce would have had any involvement with a murder plot—the only thing even slightly suspicious is that he died a few days after his interview with Broomfield was filmed, but given the way his life was going, that seemed inevitable.

There is some great footage from Jerry Springer’s “Shock Rock” episode, as one of the most notable things about the band was that El Duce and GWAR appeared on that and reached a bigger audience as a result. There’s also footage from the PMRC hearings, the absolutely ridiculous show-testimony event led by Tipper Gore where censorious liberals and conservatives combined to attack rock music. Gore’s ire was set off because her daughter had a copy of Prince’s Purple Rain LP, with its ode to masturbation, “Darling Nikki.” Frank Zappa’s testimony at the hearings is now legendary, and Dee Snider also appeared. Jello Biafra was also wrapped up in it with the poster insert for the Dead Kennedy’s album Frankenchrist. And then they somehow found The Mentors album—the PMRC must have been looking for the edgiest record they could, and dredged up their single “Golden Shower,” the lyrics of which were read in Congress. The PMRC was such a joke, but calling their record “pornographic” was a load of free publicity that actually helped The Mentors’ career. Interestingly, The Mentors were all jazz-fusion dudes before they decided to leap into their punk personas.

If you really like Todd Phillips’s Hated—a far better movie that is now hard to get and due for restoration—you may get a kick out of this. But while G.G. Allin made one great power-pop record and died in a blaze of glory (from his point of view). I think director Rodney Ascher is a bit of a hack, to be honest, although I did like his Room 237 film about all the crazy conspiracy theories about The Shining. His involvement with this film may be less than it appears to be, Ryan Sexton and producer Tim Kirk started the project, but Ascher came on board a bit later to complete it, with his name adding a bit of credibility. Still, it’s much better than his most recent film, A Glitch in the Matrix, which is one of the worst docs I have ever seen.

Extras include commentary from The El Duce Tapes crew, an audio conversation between Sexton and Kirk, an interview with Steve Broy of The Mentors, and loads of unused footage. Nilbog did the film score, and there’s video of them recording it, plus footage of all-female Mentors tribute band The Womentors, and a booklet with an essay by Manish Agarwal.

★★★

Ian Schultz

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