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Heavy Metal Parking Lot
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by Lucas Stensland

"Sweet Thunderbird of Youth"
4 stars

Time can sometimes be an enemy to films, especially those that rely too much upon thin celebrity personality, trends and fashion. Some films, however, so purely capture a moment in time that they can almost transcend artistic intention. Heavy Metal Parking Lot, a short documentary about metal fans congregating outside a Judas Priest concert in 1986, captures lower- and middle-class young adults, drug-induced behavior, and an undertone of those ephemeral friendships that produce enduring memories. All of this affords the film a sort of poetic realism essaying not so much these kidsí clothes and speech but the passage of time. Everyone who watches this film, metal fans or not, will undoubtedly be reminded of fleeting acquaintances and the fads of youth, and possibly their own personal modifications. It felt nearly impossible to not watch it twice, or three times.

Said to be a favorite on the Nirvana tour bus, Heavy Metal Parking Lot is a sixteen-minute cult classic that deserves its status and attention. However, the more it is sold as a camp classic, of that so-bad-itís-good variety, the less willing people will be to discern what Kurt Cobain and other rock stars probably found so fascinating about the short: the distance between artist and audience is often bigger (and scarier) than either recognizes. Itís hard to imagine many of these fans trying to make sense of the music they pay to hear if only because they seem preoccupied with trying to make sense of their own experience. Reconciling these two looks a long way off for these kids. Itís an affecting and funny movie.

The recent DVD release of the film (available at its official web site: is a great set, even with its uneven extras. Made for public access television by Jeff Krulik and John Heyn, the film has the rough edges and simplicity that provide a homespun tonality that personalizes it for viewers. What we are given access to in Heavy Metal Parking Lot (great title, by the way) is not merely a heavy metal parking lot. Laughing at these metal heads feels good because weíre often, in a less direct way, laughing at ourselves. That must be good therapy.

The image of a twenty-year-old guy proudly making-out on camera with his thirteen-year-old date is the gunshot that starts Heavy Metal Parking Lotís alienation competition. Needless to say, they donít win. But like this couple, most of the characters play crass because theyíre still too young to play themselves. They are neither stupid nor creepy, as John Waters referenced them. They are masked (admittedly often in mullets) with the unease of youth.

The filmís biggest star clearly elucidates the spasms of the formative years. Zebraman, a nickname bestowed upon him by the filmís fans, leans against a car and rants at top volume about his opinions on current pop music. Watching a longhaired teenage boy wearing a one-piece zebra-pattern outfit swearing about Madonna outside a 1986 Judas Priest concert in D.C. is a strange thing to witness Ė and will only grow stranger with time. Zebraman is vulgar, arrogant, loud and annoying. Watching his vociferous culture review is doubly potent not only because of his abrasiveness but because high school kids who purport to have all the answers usually are insecure that they might be missing something.

One of the DVDís extra has the original filmmakers tracking down Zebraman. We discover that the underground icon has become a middleclass hunting and fishing, country-music fan. He has a pleasant Christian dad vibe, the kind of guy who tucks his t-shirt into his shorts. Watching him as he views the film for the first time is as uncomfortable for the viewer as it is for him. Zebraman went from one extreme to another, a bizarre sore thumb to exceedingly conservative. There was no trace of Zebraman left. The outcome at first was surprising, but then you realize the end result was there all along: Zebraman was a product of youth, and you canít stay young and zebra-like forever.

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originally posted: 05/06/06 09:22:07
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User Comments

6/27/06 Adrian Timeless. 5 stars
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Directed by
  John Heyn
  Jeff Krulik

Written by
  John Heyn
  Jeff Krulik


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