Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: Detroit Rock City

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, March 31, 2001

Don’t be a fembot.

Special features

Cast Information3
Commentary Track9
DVD-ROM Enhancements2
Deleted Scenes6
Making Of5
Multiple Angles4
Music Instructions7
Music Video6

Four Cleveland high school kids ditch school in 1978 to see KISS at Cobo Hall in Detroit. Along the way they pick up Natasha Lyonne. What a trip!

DirectorAdam Rifkin
WriterCarl V. Dupré
Movie Rating6
Transfer Quality6
Overall Rating9
  • Enhanced Widescreen
Detroit Rock City (Poster): Detroit Rock City scene (Poster)

I have to confess that in 1978 when this movie takes place, I was already a huge KISS fan as well, and I still am: I saw them in concert on their latest “farewell tour” last year. And if they have another farewell tour, I’ll see them again. I’m not proud. Or tired. KISS was the first hard rock that I ever listened to, handed to me by my best friend in Catholic grade school with the words, “you gotta listen to this”. That was “Destroyer”. Before that, my mother had control of the only radio in our house, and it stayed tuned to WMUS, the local mainstream country station. After that, I knew I had to get a tape player and a radio of my own, and I did. I went out and I picked up the first KISS album I saw, “Rock and Roll Over”. From that point on, all I wanted to do was rock and roll all night.

Detroit Rock City” doesn’t have much of a plot and it doesn’t have much in the way of acting. Even Edward Furlong isn’t up to par. But the movie still won me over right from the start, with the collection of KISS paraphernalia in Trip’s basement to the montage of seventies icons through the opening credits. And if you get over the fantasy elements, the character elements were pretty realistic.

The best acting in my opinion were from the two new folks, Sam Huntington as Jeremiah “Jam” Bruce, and Melanie Lynskey as Beth Bumstein. Natasha Lyonne also did a great job as a disco queen, and Joe Flaherty had an interesting role as the evil high priest at a school for wayward boys, where Jam’s mother takes him to rid him of the Satan’s influence. To mom, KISS means “Knights in Satan’s Service”. Hell, to us kids in rural Michigan, it meant that too, and that’s part of why we liked it!

But there is symbolism in this movie. Blatant, weird symbolism. The hall monitor is an Elvis look-alike. Elvis tries to keep the kids from leaving school early to see KISS. Disco fans also try to stop them from seeing KISS. This is like the trials of Hercules for rock and roll. And while I don’t know if Rifkin supports ending prohibition on marijuana or renewing prohibition on cigarettes and alcohol, he definitely goes overboard with Jam’s mom and her own “drug habits” compared to the kid’s pot smoking.

Detroit Rock City (Cobo Hall): Detroit Rock City scene (Cobo Hall)

As fun as it is, on its own this movie would not have been enough to make it a “definite buy”. And the transfer quality isn’t that great, although part of that is Adam Rifkin’s choice of making the film look older. But these extras are incredible. Not one, not two, but three commentary tracks: not only does director Adam Rifkin give a commentary, but the cast and crew give a group commentary, and Gene Simmons hosts a commentary by KISS! Adam Rifkin talks about Sam’s bad hair day, and about how he wanted this movie to look like it could have been made in the seventies, and just “found”. Even the school they repainted in yellows, browns, oranges, because that’s what was all over the place in the seventies. “Saturday morning pop.” Rifkin does a very good commentary. And he shares my opinion of 8-track tapes. He has so much to say in the commentary that he sometimes can’t say everything he wants to. It’s a great change of pace from most commentaries with lots of blank space where the director is taking a quick nap every couple of minutes. He takes his commentary right to the end, not even stopping when the credits start like most folks do. (Question: What is the traditional material used for vomit in films? Answer: on the commentary, idiot.)

The “KISS” commentary is not actually a commentary on the specific scenes. Each KISS member is handled separately and is interviewed (by phone) in turn about the movie and KISS in general. The cast and crew commentary has a number of people and is very free-form. Not all of the cast were there, some were talked to by phone. Those who were “on set” talked while watching the movie, and do discuss the various scenes when they aren’t going off on tangents or eating sushi. All three commentary tracks are great.

Detroit Rock City (Disco): Detroit Rock City scene (Disco)

Disco was the mortal enemy of rock and roll in the seventies.

If you ever wanted to play KISS in your bedroom, learn to play “Rock ‘n Roll All Nite” from the SongXpress tutorial on the DVD. These are simple, step-by-step instructions for a basic rendition of the song that does indeed kick ass if you play it loud with lots of distortion. But then what doesn’t kick ass played loud and distorted? Even the Carpenters would kick ass played right.

Pay close attention to the instructions in the DVD case. The DVD has a voice-described menu: you don’t see the menu selections on screen, you hear them described in a voice that sounds like something from a seventies high school A-V hell. But “At any point in the textless menu, pressing the TITLE key on your DVD remote control will activate the traditional text menu”. You definitely want this, brother. Being one of those folks who rarely read the instructions, I was cursing the DVD’s designer until I figured this out.

The “direct your own video” feature is an interesting idea, but a bit lame. It uses the “multiple angle” feature of DVD to let you choose from a set of angles filming a KISS video. Basically, you take various cuts and put them together to make a video from the cuts. But the options are fairly limited, and you can’t really make much of a difference.

There are five deleted scenes, some of them very short, but they are interesting. Most of the scenes are mentioned by the director in the audio commentary, and you can see that he was right to cut them. One of them, the confessional scene, gives you the option of seeing the actor’s auditions as a second angle. It’s pretty cool. There is also an additional “deleted scene”, which is not from the movie. They had planned to make a “second secret movie” during their downtime from the real movie. These were seasoned professionals, why they thought they would have downtime I have no idea. All they got was the first scene.

Detroit Rock City (Revenge): Detroit Rock City scene (Revenge)

It looks like rock and roll won the war.

There are two interesting “behind the scenes” documentaries, one made vaguely in a music video style, mostly just the cameraman (I think it was the actor playing Trip) fooling around with the video camera. The other is an attempt by Edward Furlong to sing a KISS song. He starts out saying he can’t sing, and then proves it. It then goes on into some interviews with people like the producer—who happened to be Gene Simmons. People like Barry Levine and Adam Rifkin, and most of the people involved in the getting the movie going were all huge KISS fans. Levine started his career as a photographer for KISS.

Cast and crew information is fairly limited. It only gives the filmographies. It does give information for a larger selection of the cast and crew than normal, however.

You can choose different views during the KISS concert using the multiple angle feature. The music videos are The Donnas doing KISS’s “Strutter”, and they’re having a lot of fun doing it, and Everclear doing “The Boys are Back in Town.” Both are good songs. As videos go, the Donnas was definitely the best.

The DVD-ROM “enhancements” are laid out with the usual poor planning by PC-Friendly. Are they really the only company around that does this? I can’t imagine that studios actually pay for this crap. I recommend bypassing the control-heavy interface and going into the “newline” folder, and then the “script” folder. There you can find the script and read it with your favorite text editor or word processor. It’s interesting to see what got changed between the script and the screen. “You spilled my Sea Monkeys all over the bed” became “You spilled the bongwater all over the bed.” Squeezing Cheese became Blowing Ass.

In summary, if you are a fan of KISS, or if you are a fan of this style of movie, I definitely recommend purchasing it. This is a cool DVD.

Recommendation: Purchase

DirectorAdam Rifkin
WriterCarl V. Dupré
ActorsSam Huntington, Edward Furlong, Giuseppe Andrews, James DeBello, Melanie Lynskey, Natasha Lyonne
Spoken languageEnglish
Special FeaturesCast Information, Commentary Track, DVD-ROM Enhancements, Deleted Scenes, Making Of, Multiple Angles, Music Instructions, Music Video, Trailer
More links

If you enjoyed Detroit Rock City…

For more about Adam Rifkin, you might also be interested in Retro Review: Small Soldiers.

For more about drug, you might also be interested in Altered States, Animal House, Dazed and Confused, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Heavy Metal, and Yellow Submarine.

For more about Edward Furlong, you might also be interested in Pecker.

For more about seventies, you might also be interested in Almost Famous, Boogie Nights, Dick, North Dallas Forty, All the President’s Men, Better for being ridden: the eternal lie of the anointed, Plain & Fancy in the seventies with Hiram Walker, A Bicentennial Meal for the Sestercentennial, Hobby Computer Handbook: From 1979 to 1981, and Hesperia Class of ’82.