SUFF 2011: Heavy Metal Picnic

Heavy Metal Picnic
Heavy Metal Picnic (2010)

Heavy Metal Picnic poster

Director: Jeff Krulik

Runtime: 66 minutes

Starring: Tito Cantero, Rudy Childs, Billy Gordon

Country: US

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Before This Is Spinal Tap came along and brilliantly spoiled our view of metal in the 1980s forever, there was a time when long hair and tough men in tight pants were the ultimate bad-asses. In 1986, Jeff Krulik made a short film called Heavy Metal Parking Lot, documenting the parking lot outside of a Judas Priest concert and in doing so, captured the pulse of the metal movement at the time. The tape was traded for years, becoming the subject of legend and eventually so popular that it warranted a 20th anniversary DVD release. Heavy Metal Picnic sees Krulik dip back into the archives to his footage of the 1985 Full Moon Jamboree, and it has largely been said that this acts as a kind of prequel to his famous underground tape.

With equipment stolen from CBS from the Reagan Inauguration earlier that year, a small crew of metal fans impersonate the real media and gain unprecedented access to the punters of the Full Moon Jamboree. The farm party to end all farm parties, it was loud enough to make the evening news, and raise the backs of the residents of the McMansions that surrounded it, but became an untouchable private gig of legend. Along with the plethora of archival footage, the makers and fans revisit the site of the original Jamboree and watch the tapes with twenty-first century eyes.

There have been a stack of documentaries on the metal scene over the last few years, including the excellent Sam Dunn film Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey and the not-quite-stars of Sacha Gervasi’s Anvil! The Story of Anvil, and Jeff Krulik’s Heavy Metal Picnic sits somewhere in between. Where Dunn’s doco attempted to uncover the social anthropology of metal fans across the world, and Gervasi looked at a very particular band, Krulik’s compilation is an anthropological examination of a very particular event. Filled with the kinds of big hair, acid wash jeans, drug and alcohol fueled bare-chested buffoonery that some would rather forget, and others would love to relive, Krulik’s crew are more than just flies on the wall. Rather, they are willing participants, encouraged by and encouraging rowdy behaviour.

While the cameras used were an expensive novelty in the 1980s, especially in light of our current culture of mobile phone ubiquity, their presence at an event such as this in 1985 is nothing short of amazing. While the footage may be raw, and the long stretches of folks watching the footage is less interesting than the archives themselves, there is something blindly compelling about this singular moment in history being captured and now preserved for the ages. Mixed with discussions of gender and drug politics in the Reagan era, including a brief clip of Nancy Reagan appearing on Diff’rent Strokes, heavy Metal Picnic never scratches much beyond the surface. Even so, it completely manages to capture the spirit of an era, and may just be the forerunner to Girls Gone Wild. For that, the world will be eternally grateful.

The Reel Bits
A brief bubble in time from a moment prior to the Internet, and before any so-called reality shoes emerged on the scene. Whether you are a fan of metal or not, there is something uniquely compelling about this documentary.

Heavy Metal Picnic screens with Heavy Metal Parking Lot at the Sydney Underground Film Festival on 9 September 2011.