Detroit Rock City

Detroit Rock City (1999)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Lin Shaye, Eddie Furlong
Extras: 3 Commentary Tracks, Deleted Scenes, Documentaries, Multi-angle Version of “Detroit Rock City”, Music Videos and much more...

Since 1978 when Kiss released “Kiss Meets The Phantom In The Park”, fans of the band had been waiting in vain to see Gene, Paul, Peter and Ace grace the silver screen once again. After the break-up in 1983 all hope seemed lost forever, and even after the band’s reunion, no one really dared to hope for another Kiss movie. Before the original line-up broke up yet again, along came “Detroit Rock City”. The movie’s title alone will get any Kiss fan antsy, as it is also the title of one of the band’s best songs ever recorded, the opener of their phenomenal “Destroyer” album, and the opening song of a great many Kiss live shows. Interestingly enough, “Detroit Rock City” is not really a Kiss film. It is a film about Kiss fans, featuring Kiss only in the movie’s music and background scenery for the most part, until during the film’s climax we finally get to see the band perform live. Nonetheless, every fan of the band, and every member of the Kiss Army will probably cherish this love letter to the band’s golden era that was produced by Kiss axeman Gene Simmons himself.

The film tells the story of four Kiss fans who are determined to see play Kiss live the next night in Detroit’s Cabo Hall. The four teenagers are raving members of the Kiss Army, the band’s official fan club, and of course dream of their own career in the centerstage limelight of Rock’n Roll. In their small practicing room they rehearse Kiss songs like “Rock’n Roll All Nite” and can’t wait to finally get to see their heroes alive on stage.

In comes Jeremiah’s mother (Lin Shaye), a bigot churchwomen who deems Kiss not only inappropriate for her adolescent son, but who also misunderstands them as being Satan worshippers and consequently spouts every cliché the band has been associated with in the past. Completely ignoring her own shortcomings as a parent, she is projecting her own frustrations onto the image of the band and ultimately in her son. She forbids him to listen to the music and goes as far as burning the sacred Kiss tickets, before taking her son into a closed church school for supposed ‘rehabilitation’.

Before long however, his bandmates bail him out – in a great scene I must admit – and they are on the road to Detroit. After the burning of the tickets, one of the guys, Trip, was lucky enough to win four show tickets on a radio show, but once the hyperactive guys make it to the radio station for the pick-up, they find out that Trip had hung up the phone too soon and the tickets had been handed out to another contestant.

Frustrated and agonized, the four decide to each go their own ways, each of them tasked with trying to come up with tickets for the show that starts in less than 2 hours. Along the way, they come up with bizarre and entertaining ways to either make money to buy the tickets, or to cheat other people out of theirs. Invariably, they all fail and only minutes before the show they are still empty-handed. That’s when Jeremiah has a brilliant idea in one of the film’s most outrageously funny scenes.

The thing I liked the most about “Detroit Rock City” is its authenticity. Placed in 1978, during the band’s “Love Gun” tour, every Kiss fan of old will attest to the film’s sense of realism. During a time when disco was hip and fans of hard rock music were looked upon as outcasts of society, it wasn’t easy to be a fan of the world’s hottest band. I must have found myself defending the band, the music and myself countless times back then, and was nonetheless still considered a long-haired freak in dire need of a reality check. Far from it, as future should show, but that’s a different story. This story is about these four guys who go to unknown extremes to make their way into the show. It shows how their enthusiasm helps build their own personalities, how it makes them grow up, and how it teaches them real-life lessons. They are young, wild and proud of it, showing exactly the kind of freedom of spirit the band was preaching for over three decades by now. The biggest pay-off, of course, is when they finally make their way into the show and get to see their heroes.

Warner Home Video is presenting the New Line production in a glorious 1080p high definition transfer on this Blu-Ray release. The transfer is meticulously clean and does not exhibit and deficiencies or blemishes. The level of detail is staggering, leaving every bit of information from the film intact. No signs of compression are evident anywhere in the transfer, making this a sharp looking release. Colors are strong, sharply delineated and well balanced. A perfect black-level creates deep and solid blacks, while maintaining good detail in the shadows. Since significant parts of the film are playing in dark environments, this faithful reproduction is essential to the film’s overall presentation. Highlights are strong and always balanced, creating a pleasing look throughout with natural looking flesh tones.

“Detroit Rock City” features a DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio soundtrack, and believe me, you don’t want to miss this one. Not necessarily because the film makes extravagant use of the split surrounds, but because many of the rock songs that accompany the movie are also presented in roaring 5.1 mixes as a result. Here is your chance to listen to Van Halen’s “Running With The Devil”, Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla” or Kiss’ “Strutter” and “Detroit Rock City” in uncompressed high resolution audio, remastered for an explosive mix. Although some of these presentations are not full re-mixes, expanding the current mixes to the rear surround field and enlarging the spectrum to the low frequency channel adds an incredible atmosphere and punch to the songs that will put a big smile on your face!

Apart from the captivating musical soundtrack, the film also makes good use of the split surrounds for effects, creating a lively atmosphere throughout.

This Blu-Ray Disc is essentially a high definition re-release of New Line’s Platinum Edition that was released when the film first appeared. As such it contains all the bonus materials that were part of the earlier DVD release, including the Kiss-treasures it held.

The disc contains no less than three commentary tracks. The first one is with director Adam Rifkin, a professed Kiss fan, who put his heart and soul into this movie and dropped other projects to do this film. He tells many great stories how the film came about and how he and the crew went about to recreate this 70s period piece with such perfection. It is a very interesting track that caters mostly to those interested in the process how the film was developed.

The second track is by many, many cast and crew members, and chock-full of anecdotes, jokes and interesting tidbits about the film. Due to the number of people involved, this is the most entertaining of the three commentaries, that gives a good impression of the atmosphere that must have prevailed on the set.

The third track is without a doubt, the highlight of the disc and when the film first appeared, it was what many Kiss fans had been dying to hear for ages. All four original Kiss band members talk about themselves, the band, the music and the movie. Interestingly this track is not a commentary track in the traditional sense. Gene Simmons opens the track with a wealth of information about the band’s origins, the ideas and hopes, the struggle, the success, the problems, the fans and the movie. As always, Gene is very well prepared as he is going through all this information at quite a pace and he offers some incredible insight into the Kiss phenomenon – “Kisstianity”, as he calls it. The other three members are then featured in telephone interviews from their homes. Although the quality is a bit poor – after all it’s over the phone – I for one wouldn’t want to miss a second of these interviews. Starting with Peter Criss, followed by Paul and Ace, all three of them offer great insight into their personalities and their work, frequently touching upon the movie itself as well. For many Kiss fans, this is one of the rare occasions to hear the band members talk for more than a few seconds and finally not just doing their usual PR schtick. I was intrigued and excited at how personal these interviews felt, as if the viewer himself is right there on the phone talking to a friend.

The disc also contains featurettes that take you behind the scenes of the shooting of the film. The first one “Look Into The Sun” is a funny tidbit that nicely reflect the overall ‘insanity’ of the film without deeper meaning, simply giving an impression from the set in a home video style. The second one is more of a traditional “Making Of” documentary, featuring interviews with cast and crew, including Gene Simmons and scenes from a Kiss photo shoot. At the same time, even this featurette maintains the high spirit of all the materials presented on this release.

On this release of “Detroit Rock City” you will also find two music videos. One is the hideous unversion of “Strutter” from a band called “The Donnas”, and the other one is Everclear’s decent-enough take on the Thin Lizzy classic “The Boys Are Back In Town”.

The real gems of this release are hidden in a section called “The Cutting Room Floor”. It contains what used to be a multi-angle version of “Rock & Roll All Nite” from the movie. One angle contained the footage the way it appears in the film, while the second angle featured footage from the recording studio where Eddie Furlong and the boys sing their hearts out. Sadly, Warner has not reassembled a multi-angle presentation here but instead simply offers both video streams individually for viewing.

Another interesting feature in this section is the SongXpress version of “Rock & Roll All Nite”—in a VHS-quality low definition quality, one must say. All aspiring Kiss fans and career guitarists can learn how to play Kiss’ best known anthem in an 8-minute lesson. The video does not teach the exact version of the song, but is still good enough to create an “Easy Guitar” version of it that will allow people with limited guitar skills to strum the song within minutes. For a real version that includes all the chord voicings and syncopes, a real transcription is still the better choice.

A multi-angle presentation of a live performance of Kiss “Detroit Rock City”, shot in Canada, was one of the real highlights of the DVD release. The movie itself contains a condensed version of the song only, and in this segment you will be able to witness the track in its entirety, in a new recording by Kiss. However, once again, Warner has sadly butchered the multi-angle presentation and instead presents each of the original video streams individually for viewing.

I was originally expecting four separate cameras that each focus on each of the band’s members so that you can flip through them, as your heart desires. As it turns out, each angle contains a fully edited version of the song. Wouldn’t it have been great to watch Ace through the entirety of the song from only a few feet’s distance? Too bad, but still, it’s a great presentation, blasting out the song in a full 5.1 mix that will boggle your mind.

A number of deleted scenes are also part of the release, along with “Miscellaneous Shit,” as it is called, that features clips and footage snippets.

The film’s theatrical trailer, and cast & crew biographies round up this spectacular disc.

There is so much on this disc, and there is so much that could be said about this film and the band. The bottom line is, this Blu-Ray version is a decent update of the original DVD version. However, the simplistic menu without character, and the fact that the multi-angle presentations have been torn apart, gives the release a bit of a lackluster feel.

It’s still a must for every Kiss fan there can be no doubt. Although it is not really focused on the band itself, it will remind many of us how we grew up, how the enigma Kiss worked its magic on us, and how it sustains to work until this very day, even if there has been a lot of overexposure over the past years in particular. For everyone else, the appeal of this movie is certainly depending on your take on the band. If you never liked Kiss or hard rock, you may stay as far away from this film as you would from any Kiss record. If you like powerful music and you would like to experience the nostalgia of a travel back to a time when Kiss was still a rather eclectic and misunderstood phenomenon, this disc is well worth your time and money. Even if you’re not particularly hot for the movie, the extras and most importantly the interviews make this disc an instant collectible for every Kiss fan.