Monday, November 23, 2009

Rock & Rule (Clive A. Smith, 1983)

In the grand tradition of The Apple and Phantom of the Paradise, the criminally overlooked Rock & Rule presents a dystopian universe where a powerful music label governs society, inclement weather is commonplace (lightning makes for an excellent alternative power source), Faustian deals are made, and the plucky and downtrodden dream of rock and roll stardom. The only difference being it's animated and features talking animals with names like Sleazy, Stretch and Zip. Now, I'm not one to watch "cartoons" on a regular basis, as it's no secret that my main motivation for watching movies is the opportunity to wade in the tepid pool that is partially clothed humanity without getting wet. And I'm definitely not motivated by the desire to be exposed to crudely drawn renderings of raccoons who insist on telling us that littering is unethical. However, I will gladly put aside my reservations (well, aren't you special) for this film directed by Clive A. Smith (co-founder of Nelvana). And, no, not just because its Canadian (the Maple Leaf makes a sly cameo), because it, for the lack of a better term, rocks. Opening with a Café Flesh-style foreword (all that was missing was the expression "nuclear kiss"), this bleak vision of a post-apocalyptic nether region, where everything's either decaying or covered in filth, is a visual and sonic experience like no other. Part Blade Runner, part Liquid Sky (the nightclub scene, anyway), the film wows us with its impressive shots of decrepit skylines, uncompromising depiction of life on gritty streets of Nuke York City, and the wide array of colours that were utilized throughout its economical running time.

I especially liked the use of pink and blue during "My Name Is Mok," and the film's overall cyberpunk aesthetic. I mean, the world may by rundown, but parts of it do glow with a neon sheen.

While the earlier allusion I made to talking animals wasn't that far off the mark, it should be said that these aren't your everyday animals. You see, after the humans eradicate themselves, the world is gradually taken over by the mutated descendants of cats, dogs and rats. This evolved trio are able to live in harmony with one another (I didn't notice a caste system) and pretty much carry on the same way the human race did.

Anyway, a burgeoning rock band comprising of lead guitarist Omar (Paul Le Mat/Robin Zander), keyboard player Angel (Susan Roman), a rhythm section consisting of Toad (Chris Wiggins) and Dizzy (Dan Hennessey) catch the attention of the sinister Mok (Don Francks/Lou Reed), a rock star/record mogul.

Unfortunately, he's not a fan of their music. He does, however, think that Angel's voice is the sound that will finally enable him to unlock the door to a hidden dimension. Unwilling to leave her fellow band members in the lurch, Mok is basically kidnaps Angel and whisks her away to Ohmtown (the power supply in Nuke York City was insufficient) in his massive blimp.

The headstrong Omar, replete with secret feelings for the attractive songstress, is not gonna let this injustice slide. Corralling his buffoonish bandmates, the brooding rocker is willing to attempt multiple rescues if that's what it takes to save the leggy(yeah, that's right, her legs were expertly drawn) Angel and stop Mok and his morally conflicted henchmen before they can carry out their monstrous plan.

Scanning over the soundtrack beforehand, I made a mental note of every song listed. Actually, I should say, I scanned over all the songs except one. Of course, that song would end up being my favourite; that's just the way it is. Heard during the exhilarating nightclub sequence, "Hot Dogs and Sushi" by Melleny Brown percolates with a bratty new wave flair that scratched me where I itch musically. I also loved how the comically proportioned Cindy (Catherine Gallant) dances wildly to it with a suave rat.

Now you could probably understand why I skipped over it when you take a gander at the other names listed om the soundtrack, but that's no excuse; judging songs by their titles is uncool. That being said, I was deeply impressed with "Send Love Through" by Debbie Harry (who provides the voice of the Angel character when she is singing), Lou Reed's "My Name Is Mok," and Earth, Wind & Fire's groovy "Dance, Dance, Dance" (also heard during the club scene).

If you can't tell already, it's obvious that I really enjoyed watching the action at Club 666. So much so, that I even liked the weird laser gun shoot-out that takes place in club's the lobby (a rat turns into a green puddle). On top that, I was strangely jealous over the fact that Toad got to press his nose up against the pulsating largeness of Cindy's animated buttocks.

video uploaded by sipFade2Black


  1. Just got this yesterday. Planning on seeing it soon I'm just hesitant with Cheap Trick being on the soundtrack. I suspect Lou Reed will balance it out... but not every thing he's done is a winner.

  2. When we were kids, my younger brother taped this off Showtime and must have watched 15 ga-buttload-billion times. It got to the point where I could sing all the songs, just through osmosis. I'm sure he could still recite it for you, more than 20 years on.

    I do remember it being a lot of fun in a bleak post-apocalyptic way, and "My Name is Mok" is going to be stuck in my head all day now.

    Thanks a lot.

  3. It's a cool film although there is a point where I started to drop off a little bit. I think it could've been tightened up. BTW My Name is Mok is an awesome song, you're right! I have a shitty version on my iPod

  4. I actually think I saw this years ago, but I'm not quite sure. It seems so familiar. Great post.

  5. I've been reading up on Nelvana, working on my Canadian literacy. :)

    "And I'm definitely not motivated by the desire to be exposed to crudely drawn renderings of raccoons who insist on telling us that littering is unethical"

  6. John: I don't have a Cheap Trick bias, so I basically just dived in without looking. ;)

    The Vicar of VHS: Ga-buttload-billion? Is that metric?

    Getting "My Name is Mok" stuck in your head all day doesn't sound all that bad. So... you're welcome.

    Jay Amabile: Good point about it needing to be "tightened up." I thought it dragged in a few places.

    Keith: Thanks. :)

    Karim Amir: You're probably in a more advanced literacy class than I am.

    The Raccoons. You know, the Canadian animated show from the 1980s. I think was trying to make a point about... Actually, I have no idea what I was trying to do with that particular clump of words.

    To quote a random YouTube user: Synth Britannia was "pants-wettingly good." Awesome stuff. After watching docs on Heavy Metal and American Hardcore, it was a nice see the "Alienated Synthesists" get some recognition.

    Don't tell anyone, but I've watched parts of it twice. Loved the Cabaret Voltaire, John Foxx, Throbbing Gristle (Chris & Cosey in their kitchen!), and Gary Numan segments.

  7. FUCK YES! This movie rules!

  8. I knew you'd like the Throbbing Gristle part. And I had no idea John Foxx was so cool.

    So did your animated raccoons warn young Canadians not to litter?

    The manager of our indie theater and that guy from the B52s who sang "there's a monster in my pants" are teaming up for some Thanksgiving lunch. So randomly odd, you would think it's April 1st.

  9. davidfullam: It rules because it rocks, it rocks because it rules.

    Karim: I saw Chris & Cosey live back in the early 90s and recall them playing Kraftwerk's The Mix before they hit the stage. So, to see them both featured in a well-made doc was a real treat.

    I wonder what happens in part nine.

    Oh, and Giorgio Moroder getting props was cool as well.

    Yeah, raccoons taught me that littering was bad. :D

    Fred Schneider?!? Weird.

  10. Another from the teenage past that burrowed into my brain stem. You mentioned director Clive A. Smith being a co-founder of Nelvana, and it turns out ROCK & RULE was the very first film by Nelvana. An entire empire was built off this one. I could be wrong about this, but Iggy Pop sings some of the other Mok songs, and the always awesomely Canadian Catherine O'Hara voices the Aunt Edith character.