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The incredible melting men
A UK region 2 DVD review of STREET TRASH by Gort
 
"Street Trash. Fuck You."
Distribution director Dave Whitten's suggestion for the film's
tagline, designed to be printed full page in Village Voice.

 

J. Michael Muro certainly likes to move his camera. Watch a few minutes of Street Trash, his one and only stint in the director's chair to date, and you won't be surprised to learn that he later became a Steadicam operator of some note. When the camera moves here it prowls like a low-flying dreamworld predator. And it moves a lot.

The opening sequence alone plays like a commercial for Muro's considerable skills in this department (yep, he's the Steadicam operator here too), as the camera scoots along with wily hobo Fred (Mike Lackey) after he steals a bottle of hooch from a local liquor store. Sorry for all the Americanisms, but it is set in an New York and "a tramp taking booze from an off-licence" just doesn't sound right. As he flees the pursuing store owner, Fred causes one man to crash his car, snatches cash from another and ends up cornered by both. The sudden appearance of fire escape ladder suggests that some kind-hearted soul has come to his rescue, but it turns out the building in question really is on fire. Fred climbs up anyway, and after robbing a young couple who run naked from their apartment, he escapes in the back of a garbage truck, in which he promptly loses his spoils. It's an energetic and amusing opening that neatly sets the tone for the action to come.

A number of interconnected narratives then unfold. The man that Fred robbed is called Wizzy (Bernard Perlman) and he was in the process of collecting money for psychotic Vietnam veteran Bronson (Vic Noto), who demands in no uncertain terms that the dosh be quickly recovered. And you don't want to mess with Bronson. He carries a knife made from a human femur, and while his fellow hobos spend their time infuriating drivers by wiping their windows at traffic lights, Bronson pulls one spectacled unfortunate from his car and rams his face through the windscreen. I mention the specs only because we're treated to a POV shot that gazes through them as their owner is dragged through the vehicle's side window. It turns out that Bronson lives in the same auto wrecking yard as Fred and his good-looking younger brother Kevin (Mark Sferrazza), who's on the run from the law. The yard is owned by sleazy and corpulent Frank Schnizer (R.L. Ryan), who has a thing for pretty Asian American employee Wendy (Jane Arakawa), who in turn only has eyes for Kevin.

Liquor store owner Eddie, meanwhile (that's a different liquor store to earlier, in case you were wondering), is clearing up his cellar when he finds a cobweb-filled crate of booze named Viper hidden behind a wall panel. Rather than throw it away, he decides to sell it to the local hobos for a dollar a bottle. Trouble is, one swig of this stuff causes its consumer to messily dissolve and in one case explode. A (probably) staged distraction allows Fred to snag the first bottle, but it's lifted from him by fellow bum Paulie, who dissolves into a rubbery Dayglow mess when he settles down for a quiet drink on a disused toilet.

Out to get Bronson for anything he can pin on him is Detective Billy James, the sort of over-muscled and persistently angry cop you only seem to find in low budget horror and action movies. As it happens he's played by real-life NYPD detective Bill Chepil, now a born-again Christian with a passion for lethal weapons. I'm sure Jesus would be delighted. Billy gets a whiff of the Viper problems when victim number two melts onto the face of a yuppie pedestrian (played by the film's producer Roy Frumkes), who stumbles screaming to the very spot where Billy is verbally abusing the general public. It's about here that all except those with a palette for the cheerfully offensive would do well to leave.

Things complicate further when the drunken moll of local Italian gangster Nick Duran (Tony Darrow) mistakes Fred for her boyfriend (seriously, how wasted do you have to be to mix these two up?) and accompanies him back to his scrapyard pad for a quick shag. As they arrive, a swarm of hitherto unseen hobos appear from nowhere like a pack of salacious zombies (complete with smoky backlight and sinister electronic music chords) and drag the unfortunate woman off for their own horrible but mercifully unspecified pleasures. Her naked body is discovered the next morning by Schnizer, who, frustrated at Wendy's furious rejection of his latest sexual advances proceeds to... well, we're left to work that one out for ourselves, but the suggestion is pretty implicit. He's interrupted midway when Bronson severs the penis of a fellow hobo who has unknowingly pissed on his head, a body part the junkyard inhabitants then play catch with. Here's a question for you: why is it that whenever a penis is amputated in a film it always remains at least partially erect? And this is not restricted to exploitation movies either – check out the one at the end of Marco Ferreri's La dernière femme. I mean, surely with the blood loss and everything it would... oh never mind.

But as it's title proudly proclaims, Street Trash is not high art but exploitation, and in this particular example excess and imagination go hand-in-hand like a young couple who've just discovered the wonders of adventurous sex. It's the nature of such things that not everything works, notably a comically half-arsed attempt to recreate Vietnam in urban America and some of the most feeble fight choreography you'll ever see. The money-saving casting of crew members in supporting roles also produces its share of small winces, but this is par for the exploitation course and something genre fans have grown to expect and even rather enjoy. And compensation aplenty is provided by David Sperling's colourful cinematography, Muro's eye-catching Steadicam work, the horror-comic consequences of drinking Viper, a climax involving messy decapitation by gas cylinder, a liberal dose of black humour, and the amusingly offensive results of running spotty teenage taboo-busting ideas through a creative adult mindset. And despite the transparent inexperience of some of the performers, there still a pair of small treasures here in the shape of Tony Darrow and James Lorinz, who as Nick Doran and the doorman he takes an intense dislike to provide three short scenes of partially improvised and sometimes hilarious tough guy bickering. A joy in themselves, these exchanges also neatly satirise the sort of Italian-American gangster-speak that was later to be popularised by the likes of Goodfellas and The Sopranos. It seems only apt that Darrow had small but memorable roles in both.

sound and vision

The documentary on disc 2 reveals that a digital restoration has taken place from the original negative, and veteran restorationist Robert A. Harris (whose other credits include Lawrence of Arabia, Spartacus, Rear Window and Vertigo) claims that it looks better now than it ever did. I have no reason to dispute this. It's certainly an attractive transfer, with punchy contrast, crisp detail and colours that pop off the screen. The occasional dust spot remains, but otherwise the picture is clean of blemishes and even film grain is minimal. There is some evidence of minor edge enhancement, but it's not pronounced enough to be in any way intrusive. As is increasingly common these days, the picture has been framed 1.78:1 to fill that nice widescreen TV (likely a slight crop from 1.85:1, but it could also have been opened out slightly at the top and bottom) and is anamorphically enhanced.

The Dolby 2.0 mono soundtrack is clear of damage, but unsurprisingly lacks the dynamic range of a bigger-budgeted studio film and there's just a trace of background hiss on the quieter scenes. Occasionally it sounds a bit like there's a sock stuffed in the speaker, but the dialogue is always clear enough. Just as well as there are no subtitles to help you out.

extra features

The Meltdown Memoirs (123:58)
No, that running time isn't a typo, this retrospective documentary on the making of the film really does run for just over two hours, a personal journey through its production and release, directed and hosted by Street Trash producer Roy Frumkes. The sheer number of interviewees and subjects covered keep things interesting when at this length they should rightly ramble: cast and crew members recall their experiences working on the film; actor Vic Noto still seems as angry as his character and describes co-star Mike Lackey as "an obnoxious little scumbag," despite rather liking him; Tony Darrow and James Lorinz talk about their backgrounds and their improvisations; Bill Chepil reveals his contempt for liberals and describes himself as "to the right of Attila the Hun"; and Dave Whitten, the former director of distribution at Lightning Pictures, compares working for Vestron to living under George Bush – "You're sold a bill of goods or a bunch of lies during the campaign, and as soon as they're in office the reality sets in and then they fuck you." It's also here that I learned that the film's young grip was Bryan Singer, the same Bryan Singer who went on to direct The Usual Suspects and X-Men. Behind-the-scenes footage, outtakes, archive interviews, production diary extracts, poster artwork, a trailer, storyboards (with screen comparisons) and deleted scenes have also been included, making it play like several featurettes rolled into one. There's even a three-minute intermission, where floating text advises you to "Eat some chocolate" and "Go to the bathroom." Great stuff, and the sort of supporting feature that all cult movies deserve.

Jane Arakawa Feature (9:12)
Conspicuously absent from the documentary, where she is described simply as "missing in action," actress Jane Arakawa recalls her time on the film, relates an anecdote about its lasting cult appeal, and fills us in on what she's been up to since.

Not on the either disc but included in the case (with its lovely reversible sleeve) is a Booklet containing an informed and enjoyable essay on the film and the background to its production by Calum Waddell, who celebrates the film's disgusting pleasures but also takes it to task for its attitude to rape and for the opportunities it misses to turn the things it exploits into social commentary. Tucked in with it is a fold-out A3 sized Poster for the film, something I personally delight in.

summary

A delirious slice deliberately offensive cult exploitation cinema that's been given the sort of DVD treatment all such films deserve but too rarely get. The absence of a commentary or a whole load of other possible extras is compensated for by Roy Frumkes' two-hour, cover-all-bases documentary, and the restored picture is a treat. Arrow and Cult Labs are really starting to rack up a reputation for themselves in their new joint venture. More please!

Street Trash

USA 1987
97 mins
director
J. Michael Muro
starring
Mike Lackey
Bill Chepil
Vic Noto
Mark Sferrazza
Jane Arakawa
Nicole Potter

DVD details
region 2
video
1.78:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 2.0 mono
languages
English
subtitles
none
extras
The Meltdown Memoirs documentary
Jane Arakawa interview
Booklet
Poster
distributor
Arrow films
release date
11 January 2010
review posted
17 January 2010

See all of Gort's reviews