Saturday, August 23, 2008

Voyage of the Rock Aliens (James Fargo, 1984)

It may seem hard to believe, but my cucumber extract-covered forehead and this movie have been on a collision course for nearly twenty-five years. Picture this, a lonely VHS tape languishing in some dusty warehouse out in the wilds of New Jersey just waiting for me to caress its slightly worn cover with my clammy hands and... Seriously, I can't believe I was able to obtain a copy of this totally spastic movie. In case you haven't figured it out yet, the petrified hunk of filmed entertainment that I am currently gushing about in a totally obnoxious manner is Voyage of the Rock Aliens (a.k.a. Attack of the Rock 'n' Roll Aliens), an unreal extravaganza about a group of new wave extraterrestrials flying through the galaxy in a guitar-shaped starship in search of the origin of rock 'n roll. Of course, their search leads them to Planet Earth, where their easily-aroused commander takes a liking to the girlfriend of a misanthropic gang leader. Bathed in the beautifully garish styles of the era (the fashions are chic to the max), the techno-friendly film, directed by James Fargo and employing an armada of makeup and hair stylists, unleashes one dazzling musical number after another in a misguided yet frenzied attempt to outdo Xanadu and The Apple in one fell swoop.

A scathing parody of science fiction cinema, beach movies, and teenage delinquency in general (the name of the local teenage hangout is called "Local Teenage Hangout"), the pro-environmental film sets out to challenge our perception of what constitutes a movie musical. Whether they take place on the shore of a polluted lake or inside pristine confines of the ladies lavatory, the irregular music and chaotic choreography in this cinematic crumpet repeatedly ignore the rules and regulations that govern mainstream filmmaking. Opening the film, for instance, with "Openhearted" by Aussie new wavers Real Life gave me the kind of bumps only a diseased goose would advocate, and solidifies its standing as a bold work of subversive art.

Speaking of bumpy, polyp-laden openings, most films put their show-stopper at the end of the production. However, Voyage of the Rock Aliens laughs in the face of such conventional thinking and stages its at the beginning. An epic musical assault featuring Jermaine Jackson and the ridiculously talented Pia Zadora (her scrumptiously petite frame sheathed in white leather), "When the Rain Begins to Fall" is a stunning example of cinematic craftsmanship; as odd camera angles and rich cinematography (Gilbert Taylor, Star Wars) combine to form something that can be easily watched whilst in the seated position. In addition, the heat Jermaine and Pia generate together as lovesick members of opposing gangs was electrifying.

The plot of "When the Rain Begins to Fall" mirrors the plot of the rest of the film, but instead of Jermaine acting as the ladybug in the motor-oil, the aforementioned aliens are the ones who end up upsetting the proverbial peach cart.

They, a new wave group called Rhema, land–via their intergalactic telephone booth–in the sleepy town of Speelburgh with, of course, their condescending robot butler 1359 (voiced by Peter "Optimus Prime" Cullen) in-tow. (In order to blend in with his new surroundings, 1359 disguises himself as a silver fire hydrant.) Anyway, the Devo lookalikes–each named after various clumps of the Roman alphabet–immediately find themselves embroiled in a battle-of-the-bands type war that pits their newfangled space rock against the rockabilly sound of The Pack (Jimmy and the Mustangs), the most rockin' cats at Heidi High. A bumbling sheriff played by Ruth Gordon (Harold and Maude) is wise to the alien visitors, but is too wacked out on her own unique brand of dementia to be an important factor.

The cutest thing to come across my face in donkey's years, the insanely adorable Pia Zadora pointed a flamethrower at my heart and pulled the trigger without a hint of remorse. Whether the new wave goddess was making goo-goo eyes with blonde alien commander, ABCD (Tom Nolan, a child actor from the 1950s), or scolding her perennially green-eyed boyfriend Frankie (cheekbone suppository Craig Sheffer) over his thuggish ways, Pia's depiction of the flighty Dee Dee will definitely go down as one of the most delightful, endearing, beguiling, and levelheaded characters I have ever witnessed prance and cavort about in a modern movie.

I mean, just the mere sight of her skipping innocently across the top of a brick wall in a frightfully orange getup rendered my jaw slack and superfluous. You'd be wise to savour the moments where Pia is dressed in all orange, because they are fleeting.

When she's not skipping in orange, Pia rocks hard during the Jack White penned songs: the beach-based "Real Love" (Pia wears a Union Jack themed cutoff t-shirt, a black studded belt, and a super tight pair of red leather pants), the cotillion number "Let's Dance Tonight" (Pia sports a futuristic silver outfit that is topped off with a radioactive scrunchie–her first-rate bum looked awesome encased in silver fabric), and, my personal favourite, the ladies washroom set ditty "You Bring Out the Lover in Me" (Pia dances in a belly-revealing white sleeveless top adorned with horizontal pink stripes, a saucy headband, and a super tight pair of black leather pants).

It should be stated that all of Miss Zadora's fabulous costumes were designed by Ret Turner (Jac McAnelly is credited on IMDb).

The strange relationship that formed between Dee Dee's best friend Diane (the alluring Alison La Placa) and a chainsaw-wielding maniac named Chainsaw (Michael Berryman) was also an unexpected treat. He was about to kill her with his instrument of choice when...well, what happens next will delight and confound audiences for years to come.

This illuminating look into the complicated world of chainsaw etiquette was the sterile cherry on top of what has to be one of the most satisfying cinematic experiences I've had in centuries. Or to put it in more modest terms: Voyage of the Rock Aliens is the greatest motion picture ever devised by humankind.

And remember kids, intergalactic love is fleeting, Earth love is eternal.


video uploaded by OurManInHavana
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12 comments:

  1. OMG... I remember seeing this movie when I was a kid, and I've never seen it since (and I always wanted to see it again). Glad someone else is familiar with it as well... I thought it was just a glossy dream.

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  2. You are lucky to have seen this masterpiece as a kid. I mean, my childhood could have definitely used more Rock Aliens. And, come to think of it, much more Pia Zadora.

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  3. If you look closely, Pia wears what looks to be some sort of space mod scrunchie during a stage performance. If I was a chick, I would be looking on Ebay for one of those.

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  4. Some sort of space mod scrunchie?!?

    Note to self: Watch VOTRA again and make sure to keep an eye out for cool scrunchies.

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  5. You can see quickly in this trailer at 1:27:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgzOl2QHk38

    I'm by no means a scrunchie expert, but that's what it looks like to me :)

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  6. Oh, that scrunchie. Yeah, you're right, it's like a scrunchie from outer space.

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  7. Hey Yumster, you MUST see The Lonely Lady (if you haven't already). It's Pia's soap opera romp through the bowels of hollywood screenwriting. Fucking genius. I recently wrote a review of Fake-Out, her Vegas actiony-thriller: http://cinemagonzo.blogspot.com/2010/07/fake-out-1982-fun-and-lunacy-in-las.html

    Maybe I'll eventually tackle Lonely Lady or Voyage. btw, re-reading your review, why do seek advise from diseased geese? Not to pry or anything, but my interactions with geese have been fruitless to say the least. Maybe they weren't diseased enough. Who the hell knows.

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  8. Man, those VORTA screencaps are kinda rough looking... Uh, yeah, hey, The Lonely Lady. I had this urge to see it some time ago, but it seems that I lost it. Thanks for getting it back for me. I'll definitely add it to my list.

    Cinema Gonzo? Nice.

    What I think I was trying say with the whole "diseased geese" passage was that bumps obtained from diseased geese are 10 times as potent as bumps obtained from healthy geese.

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  9. Yeah, I just thought the goose thing was funny. Now I imagine a skid row goose stopping you in an alleyway, going "you want to feel some REAL goosebumps?" I think that's what you were going for. Also, I initially thought VORTA was some sort of video capture thing, like a super VLC player or something. I just figured out that it was an abbreviation for the film (well, it should be VOTRA, but close enough). I guess I'm not "hip to the street jive", as it were.

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  10. I've come to the conclusion that Pia's scrunchie is radioactive, in that, it sort of looks like a cooling tower--you know, the kind you might find at your local nuclear power plant.

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  11. @Yums

    Yes, you hit the nail on the head of the scrunchie on the head. Remember, shit in the future has PURPOSE. Pia wouldn't wear a large impressively complex scrunchie that didn't have a technological purpose. The electrical power of her crotch would probably overheat her head. You can't be rocking Vegas in the future with a Neil Diamond cover, and then suddenly you're head catches fire. That shit would be EMBARRASSING.

    SCRUNCHIE POWER!

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  12. Do you mean Pia's scrunchie is keeping her crotch cool? If so, then wow on a cracker, man, that's some serious japery.

    I'm no scientist, but I think the hairs bursting out of the top of Pia's cooling tower/scrunchie funnel look like a wave of toxic sludge.

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