The first words spoken by Eldon Hoke in director Rodney Ascher’s The El Duce Tapes are, “Shut up! Everyone that likes to rape women, say, ‘Sieg Heil!'” If you can make it past that, you should know that you’re likely able to be able to deal with what’s forthcoming. It’s not going to be an easy viewing, though.
Available on Arrow’s streaming service in November, The El Duce Tapes is rife with tape hiss and crackling audio and tracking lines. All on-screen titles use the VCR OSD Mono font, making the documentary feel like it’s been pulled straight out of a time warp.
“In the early 90s, aspiring filmmaker (and ‘General Hospital’ co-star) Ryan Sexton lugged a giant camcorder into some of the seediest clubs and filthiest apartments in Hollywood. There he filmed hour upon hour of VHS footage of the jaw-droppingly offensive Shock Rock band The Mentors, focusing on their infamous lead singer, ‘El Duce.'”
Almost 30 years later, the team behind The Nightmare and Room 237 uncover this dusty stockpile of long forgotten – and much unseen – footage. They begin to search for clues to piece together a picture of the man under the black executioner’s hood and what his willfully offensive act and controversial views might tell us about 21st Century America.”
Recorded 1990-1991, right off the bat, the film name checks other shock rock bands like Crucifucks, Meatmen, GG Allin, and Gwar. A whole host of others could readily be added, such as the whole Confederacy of Scum and acts like Antiseen, Hellstomper, and Cocknoose, but The El Duce Tapes lean hard into the most infamous musicians to hop on stage and drop their pants.
Hot Seat and Jerry Springer clips add a definitely similar vibe to Todd Phillips’ Hated: GG Allin & the Murder Junkies to the whole affair, and no doubt there’s a certain appeal to seeing someone just openly admit to horrid personal views, with seemingly not a single iota of irony. Bassist Steve Broy, who appears throughout, has the most clear-eyed take on El Duce and the music of the Mentors, in that it’s basically made to appe to 16 year old boys who want to shock their friends and appear to be the edgiest member of their circle. Edgelords, basically.
During the film, we see El Duce arguing with nearly everyone, contrasted by the fact that when it comes to the interviews with folks, most people seem to have surprisingly positive impressions of the guy. Even though they’ve had to deal with him performing such acts as spitting on them at best, and covering them in other bodily fluids at worst, Hoke’s kind of regarded as a fun guy to be around.
He’s obviously intoxicated, if not actively drinking, in nearly every single scene, and the discussion of his alcoholism receives major focus, to the point where it becomes readily apparent that he’s having to improvise songs because he can’t remember what’s going on. The drinking is so much that at one point, he’s near-catatonic from drinking, has thrown up on himself, and is then disrobed by a group of guys at a party. It’s a literal assault, and it’s maybe the worst thing I’ve seen in a film in a while.
Jonathan Snipes, who also scored Room 237, works in cyclical, thoroughly terrifying synth tones, while also switching out to ominous bass solos. It’s all performed by Nilbog, sort of famous as being a horror music cover band in the Los Angeles scene about a decade ago, and the use of them is a nice little bit of nerd shit, since it’s the first time I’ve even thought of the name in years. The end result is a sense of doom metal horror, and lends The El Duce Tapes an even greater sense of shuddering displeasure.
As it progresses, The El Duce Tapes starts to run a little repetitive. While there’s a lot of footage the filmmakers obviously want to make use of, the fact is that, had Rodney Ascher talked to Sexton now, and provided some context beyond the on-screen text, it would’ve made the sense of what was going on stronger. I’m particularly interested in why these tapes weren’t pulled back out sooner, especially given that the GG Allin doc, Hated, came out just a year or two after Sexton shot his footage, or even at the end of the ’90s, when Kurt & Courtney came out and El Duce died after being hit by a train.
Knowing how this all sorts out only makes it all the more depressing. The actual end to the film is just brutally messy, showing the singer and drummer an utter fucking wreck. Seeing the Mentors go from playing a garage to a bunch of disaffected teens to massive theaters on the strength of Senate hearings raising their profile, to El Duce standing in a backyard claiming Courtney Love offered him $50,000 to kill Kurt Cobain – man, that’s just so, so sad.
I don’t know if there’s a point to this at all, but The El Duce Tapes are a fascinating story, or at least the beginning of one.
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