American culture has had a hard time deciding how seriously to take heavy metal. On the one hand, metal's parade of big hair, Hobbit-inspired imagery and tight leather pants have made it an easy target for lampoons like This is Spinal Tap and Beavis & Butthead. At other times, notably in the mid-'80s, fundamentalists and family-values politicians have declared metal a diabolical threat to the minds and souls of the nation's youth, a corruption that could make kids murder on command.
It's in this spirit of ambivalence that John Heyn and Jeff Krulik made Heavy Metal Parking Lot, a 16-minute video shot in 1986 outside a Judas Priest concert in Andover, Md. Using equipment from the local public-access television channel, the filmmakers cruised around the lot talking to fans partying in preparation for the show. What they captured--people unself-consciously reveling in the metal moment--became the stuff of legend, bootlegged and endlessly passed around the country. "At one time I heard it described as a dorm- room staple," says Heyn in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where he's a video producer for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. "We're not sure how that happened, that's what's really neat about it," he continues. "We had no official distribution, people just hooked up a couple of VCRs and made copies for their friends."
Krulik, who is now a freelance filmmaker, says the pair have heard stories about Parking Lot's underground success for a long time. "Some people have described watching 10th-generation copies, where the people on the tape basically look like ghosts," he says by phone. "We knew we had something big when we did it, but it sprung from a time when we were doing public access, and we didn't try to take it any further than that."
Recognizing the long-term interest in their progeny, the pair have organized a 15th anniversary tour for Heavy Metal Parking Lot, which will be stopping at the Cat's Cradle next Tuesday, July 31. Along with the original video, the 90-minute show includes pieces by other filmmakers that were inspired by Heavy Metal Parking Lot, like Girl Power Parking Lot (about the L.A. premiere of the Spice Girls' movie) and Raver Bathroom, as well as two follow-ups that Krulik and Heyn made, Neil Diamond Parking Lot and Harry Potter Parking Lot. There's also some "lost" footage from the original production, and clips of some strange places where their work has shown up--including MTV News and a surreal music video for the band American Hi-Fi, which restaged Heavy Metal Parking Lot with actors and booty girls.
Why does a short, self-produced underground video about Judas Priest fans sitting on their cars getting wasted have such staying power? Credit its ability to make a viewer laugh, cringe, and want to swill a lukewarm can of Bud at the same time. The humor comes from the moments of sheer ludicrousness, like when a shirtless young man introduces himself as "Graham, like 'gram of dope,' man," or the incessant mantra of "Priest! Priest! Priest!" that seems to spontaneously erupt from any grouping of three or more guys. The humor is often at the expense of the mulletted parking lot partiers, but there's also an underlying appreciation for their dedication to the band and the moment (which becomes more apparent with Krulik and Heyn's Neil Diamond Parking Lot, made 10 years later).
The pre-concert parking lot ritual, with its unvarnished dedication to substance abuse, recalls the days when the kids could, even in Reagan's America, flagrantly just say yes. It's this capturing of a generational ritual that Krulik credits for Heavy Metal Parking Lot's longevity. "It was really kind of a rite of passage," he says. "You were either at that parking lot or you sat next to someone in homeroom who was at that parking lot. The video profiles and covers something that everyone can relate to."
Although both Heyn and Krulik have gone on to make other films, the time seemed right to try and capture some momentum from Heavy Metal Parking Lot's notoriety. Because the video was never officially released, they've didn't see a dime of revenue from it until recently, when they began selling copies on their Web site, HeavyMetalParkingLot.com. After curating a screening of videos about fandom at Seattle's Experience Music Project in February, Heyn realized it was Heavy Metal Parking Lot's 15th anniversary, and he and Krulik organized the tour. While that will help bring the video to a wider audience, they've got even bigger plans afoot. How does Heavy Metal Parking Lot: The Movie grab you?
The duo have written a treatment for a feature film based on the video, and are collaborating with New York playwright Gary Winter, who's developing a screenplay from it. Heyn says that the film will be "a really broad comedy that's epic in scope." The story takes place in 1985, at the height of the PMRC hearings that brought about the "Parental Advisory" music labeling system. "Judas Priest is coming to town to play at the Capitol Center," explains Heyn. "So all the metalheads and reactionary politicians are converging on Washington, D.C., at the same time, and strange things happen: Pyrotechnics in the halls of Congress and in the parking lot in Andover, Md." Krulik and Heyn hope to pitch the idea to Hollywood, describing it as an American Graffiti for Generation X. Through the magic of digital manipulation, there might also be a touch of Forrest Gump, as the film's characters appear in the PMRC hearings and interact with the likes of Al and Tipper Gore. "It'll all be in there," Heyn says. "What came out of the mouths of Frank Zappa, Dee Snyder of Twisted Sister, and even John Denver is verbiage that the best screenwriter in the world couldn't come up with."
Fifteen years later, the mainstream may be ready for Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Krulik and Heyn certainly wouldn't balk at the chance to make a major motion picture after eking out a living in the dicey world of independent production (and they've got plans to cut in the folks from the original parking lot who, after all, made the video memorable in the first place). Krulik's latest documentary, Hitler's Hat, was just accepted to the prestigious Independent Feature Market in New York, and underscores the idea that Heavy Metal Parking Lot may help him and Heyn pursue their long-held filmmaking dreams. "It was born out of a real underground sensibility," Krulik says of the original video, "and in that sense we just kind of shared what we did and had no qualms about it. Getting it out there was really by accident rather than design. But we've stuck with it, and we're trying to make a go of this, make a career."