Detroit Rock City

Review by Guido Henkel

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Detroit Rock City  (1999)
New Line Home Video

Length:        95 mins.
Rated:          R
Languages:English
Subtitles:    English, French, Spanish
Format:       Anamorphic Widescreen
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 have 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. 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

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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 be curiously interested in this movie effort that was produced by Kiss axeman Gene Simmons himself.

The film tells the story of four Kiss fans who are hell bent 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 fanclub, 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.

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In comes Jeremiah’s mother (Lin Shaye), a bigot churchwomen who deems Kiss not only inappropriate for her adolescent son, but also misunderstands them as being Satan worshippers and foul mouths any other cliché the band has been associated with in the past. Completely ignoring her own shortcomings as a parent, she is projecting her frustration into the image of the band and ultimately in her son. She forbids him to listen to the music and goes so far as burning the sacred Kiss tickets before she takes 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, Trip has won four show tickets on a radio show, but once the hyperactive guys make it to the radio station,

they find out that Trip had hung up the phone too soon and the tickets were given away to another contestant.

Frustrated and agonized the four decide to go their own ways, each one of the trying to come up with tickets for the show that starts in less than 2 hours. With each one of them on his own, they come up with bizarre and entertaining ways to either make money to buy the tickets, or to cheat other people out of theirs. Inevitably 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.

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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

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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 mind the band was praying for over two 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.

New Line Home Video is presenting “Detroit Rock City” on this DVD in a truly glorious release. The disc contains a stunning transfer of the movie in an anamorphic widescreen transfer that does not exhibit any deficiencies. 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.

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Highlights are strong and always balanced, creating a pleasing look throughout with natural looking fleshtones.

“Detroit Rock City” features a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital 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 support the movie are also presented in roaring 5.1 mixes. For the first time you will get the chance to listen to Van Halen’s “Running With

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The Devil”, Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla” or Kiss’ “Strutter” or “Detroit Rock City” in such 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! The soundtrack has been encoded at a 448 kps bitrate, the highest one DVD allows, and the quality clearly speaks for itself. Apart from the captivating musical soundtrack, the film also makes good use of the split surrounds for effects, creating a lively atmosphere throughout.

New Line’s release of “Detroit Rock City” is a Platinum Series release that contains a number of exciting extras many of which will be especially interesting to the Kiss fans among the DVD aficionados. 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 commentary 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 jock-full of anecdotes, jokes and interesting tidbits about the movie. Due to the number of people involved, this is the most entertaining of the three commentary tracks that gives a good impression of the atmosphere that must have prevailed on the set.

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The third commentary track is without a doubt, what many Kiss fans have been dying to hear for ages. All four Kiss band members talk about themselves, the band, the music and the movie. Interestingly this track is not a commentary track in its 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. He is obviously very well prepared as he is going through all this information at quite a pace, but Gene 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,

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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.

In the “Special Features” section of the disc you will also find to 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 take on the Thin Lizzy classic “The Boys Are Back In Town”.

The real gems of this DVD are hidden in a section called “The Cutting Room Floor”. It contains a multi-angle version of “Rock & Roll All Nite” from the movie. One angle contains the footage the way it appears in the film, while the second angle features footage from the recording studio where Eddie Furlong and the boys sing their hearts out.

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Another interesting feature in this section is the SongXpress version of “Rock & Roll All Nite”. 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 inversions and syncopes, a real transcription is still the better choice.

A number of deleted scenes can also be viewed from this section, which brings us to the ultimate highlight of this release. A multi-angle presentation of a live performance of Kiss “Detroit Rock City”, shot in Canada. The movie itself contains a condensed version of the song only, and in this segment you will be able to witness the song in its entirety, in a new recording by Kiss. Five angles are available, showing four different video edits of the same song, and a fifth one that uses a split screen to bring all four feeds onto the screen at the same time. 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

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song. As a result it is hard to keep up and you always have the feeling you are missing some ‘important’ footage on one of the angles you are not currently watching. The best recipe for that is to simply watch them all, one after another. While this multi-angle presentation is great, I think a clearer separation of the content on the different angles would have made it a more satisfying experience. Wouldn’t it have been great to watch Ace through the entirety of the song from only a few feet’s distance? Nonetheless, it’s a great presentation, blasting out the song in a full 5.1 channel mix that will boggle your mind.
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 DVD is 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. For everyone else, the appeal of this movie is certainly depending on the stance you have on the band. If you never liked Kiss or hard rock, you may stay as far away from this DVD 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 esoteric 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.

Don’t miss our interview with Gene Simmons, director Adam Rifkin and associate producer Tim Sullivan

Detroit Rock City Interview
 
 
 

November 23, 1999

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