Jaw-dropping shots of the hard-core fan

January 31, 2004|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

Clueless, drunk and hell-bent for oblivion, the baby-faced heavy-metal fans gathered in a Landover parking lot 18 years ago unwittingly stumbled into immortality.

Partying hard before a Judas Priest concert at the now defunct Cap Centre, each kid captured on a borrowed video-cam by Jeff Krulik and John Heyn gave their best performance in the role of the reverential fan.

"It's truly an ingenious masterpiece, made complete with the vast display of bare feet, muscle shirts, bare-chested guys, bleach blond frizzy perms, Mullets From Hell, BIG hair, bad teeth, scar tissue, and by far, the largest collection of late `70s Camaros ever seen in one location," wrote a fan named Ginger James, whose comments can be found on the documentary's Web site, www. parkinglot.com.

The two filmmakers, Maryland boys in their 20s, had themselves stumbled unwittingly into the heart of rock 'n' roll idolatry in the late 20th century. Heavy Metal Parking Lot swiftly became an underground classic. In a 1987 postcard, Baltimore filmmaker John Waters paid them the ultimate compliment: "It gave me the creeps."

At the time, "We had no single vision for [Heavy Metal] beyond returning the equipment safely," says Krulik, as he shares a booth with Heyn at the Tastee Diner in Silver Spring.

Tomorrow, Trio, a digital cable television network devoted to popular culture, airs Heavy Metal Parking Lot and six episodes of Parking Lot, a series inspired by Krulik and Heyn's creation.

Available to DirecTV subscribers, Parking Lot takes the same approach as Krulik and Heyn did in the original as it explores fanatical followers of Cher, 50 Cent, Dolly Parton, Yanni, Stevie Nicks and other luminaries. The series, packaged as three segments per episode, also delves into the minds of those obsessed with professional wrestling, science fiction role playing, day-time television, cats and surfing.

As it does, Parking Lot offers jaw-dropping snapshots of hard-core fans whose admiration reaches desperate heights. One woman cries outside Washington's MCI Center as she relates a story about the time Yanni held her hand. A woman in Atlanta says of Cher, "She's everything I'm not." A young, cash-poor man breaks down in tears when given a ticket for a professional wrestling match in Richmond, Va.

"We're such big fans of so many different facets of pop culture, and this show so speaks to the notion of fandom and passion for an artist," says Andrew Cohen, Trio's vice president of original programming. "There was no better way to get into the culture of that than through [hanging out] at a parking lot."

Parking Lot was made in the spirit of Krulik and Heyn's decidedly uncynical approach. "This is meant to celebrate fandom," says Cohen, who sees a possibility for revisiting the concept in further episodes.

The series is an exciting breakthrough for Krulik, 42, and Heyn, 45, who each received a creator's fee and produced several of the new Parking Lot segments. As notorious as it was among a certain audience, Heavy Metal did not make Krulik and Heyn rich and famous. "We just gave it away," Krulik says. "It became this public domain property," best viewed, some believe, as a 10th-generation bootleg in which the images acquire a ghost-like quality.

In past years, the two directors have periodically tried to parlay their creation into greater exposure for the product and industry connections and financial gain for them. "I think it has a lot of universal appeal," Heyn says.

They've made two spin-offs, Neil Diamond Parking Lot (1986)and Harry Potter Parking Lot (2000), and traveled across the country with Heavy Metal Parking Lot: 15th Anniversary Tour. A Heavy Metal screenplay didn't go far. Krulik and Heyn are shopping a DVD that features commentary and interviews with Heavy Metal alums who survived their nihilistic period to become upstanding citizens.

"HMPL," though, has stubbornly refused to budge beyond cult classic status. "I'm amused and gratified and challenged by it," says Heyn, who makes training films for the Department of Veterans Affairs. He calls Heavy Metal "our reluctant calling card."

Krulik says, "I give up trying to predict what's going to happen."

The video is a staple on rock tour buses and underground video and film festivals. The 15-minute video has inspired knock-offs and a music video homage by the group American Hi-Fi. Featured in fanzines, the New Yorker and Penthouse, Heavy Metal has become cultural shorthand for the cult-like devotion certain bands and performers command. Screened in college classrooms, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Experience Music Project in Seattle, the video is considered an anthropological gold mine for students of modern-day tribalism.

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