Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Slamdance ’15: 20 Years of Madness

In 1988, Mystery Science Theater 3000 debuted on Minnesota’s struggling independent KTMA with little fanfare, but it was just too funny not to go national. High school student Jerry White, Jr. assumed the same was true of his raucous suburban Detroit cable access show, 30 Minutes of Madness (30MOM). You could legitimately debate whether this was true or not, but the fact remains he never received the big league call-up he was hoping for. Twenty years later, White tries to get the gang together to take another shot at it. Jeremy Royce documents the unruly reunion in 20 Years of Madness (trailer here), which won the Jury Honorable Mention for Documentary Feature at the 2015 Slamdance Film Festival.

Based on the generous samplings of weird and wacky clips, the original 30MOM looks like a cross between the slapstick stunts of Jackass and The Kids in the Hall at their most conceptual. Although it was an analogue VHS deal, through and through, White had a facility for pulling off strange visual effects. Perhaps they could have caught on, but like every cult band that didn’t make it big, they imploded from within before they ever got that big break.

Having recently graduated from film school (where he met Royce), White is now at loose ends. Since 30MOM is still his best known calling card, he tries to revive it with his old colleagues. White will more or less admit his runaway ego was most to blame for poisoning the chemistry the first time around. Everyone seems to be willing to make another go of it, but some seem more willing to patch up old resentments than others.

One of the strange things about 20YOM is the way the various players shrink and grow in stature over time. Sometimes White seems to be reverting to his old high-handed ways, but as we listen difficult cast-members whine and play the diva card, it is hard to blame him for telling them where to get off. Happily, he seems be able to permanently repair his friendship with Joe Hornacek, who was probably the second most important 30MOM contributor after White.

It is rather fascinating to see what the motley crew does with their possible second chance. After all, no 30MOM alumnus has exactly set the world on fire. One lost about a decade to heroin addiction, while another struggled with Bi-Polar disorder. At least, White and Hornacek could reconnect for real, which is a rather hopeful development.

At times, White is rather contemptuous of youtube, explaining 30MOM had viewers who made a real time commitment to find and watch their show, rather than net surfers hitting the “like” button. Those who share his affection for the VHS tapes and cable broadcasting of the 1980s and 1990s will get his point. Even if you never saw 30MOM, 20YOM will make you nostalgic for the era that produced it. Who knows, now that Royce’s doc has at least one festival award under its belt, maybe the 30MOM show could see some kind of release on the increasingly obsolete format known as DVDs? Recommended for anyone who still feels more comfortable with old school media (and the grungier the better), 20 Years of Madness screened at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival.