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Go Kart Films presents
Rock Opera (1999)

Toe: I was like Sigmund and Freud. Man, I was just gone.
Chad: Who?
Toe: You know, those two magicians from Vegas with the tigers.

- Jerry Don Clark, Chad Holt

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: June 24, 2005

Stars: Jerry Don Clark, Chad Holt
Other Stars: Ted Jarrell, Paul Wright, Bob Ray
Director: Bob Ray

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, drug use)
Run Time: 01h:30m:16s
Release Date: April 12, 2005
UPC: 600773602199
Genre: alternative

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- C+B-B- B-

DVD Review

Austin has continued to be the hotbed for alt music for the last decade or so, and in the 1999 indie Rock Opera we're given witness to the seedy glory of its drug-addled underbelly in this quasi-comedy slathered in local underground rock, with all roads leading to the search for the perfect high. It is not really a pretty road, even if Bob Ray's film never quite commits to whether it wants to be a "drugs are funny" or "drugs are bad" story, instead the incessant drug-taking is the equivalent of drinking coffee. Everyone simply does it as part of their daily existence, with rock music as a chaser.

It takes a while for any semblance of what could be called a plot to fully kick in, and Ray spends a large amount of time slowly introducing the characters, who all bound around either buying, selling or using drugs with a casualness that will probably not be that much of a shock to the so-called younger generation, but that would probably cause grandparents everywhere to seize up and drop like a rock. Toe (Jerry Don Clark) is Ray's de facto lead of sorts, and he discovers that selling pot will get him and his band some much needed cash, but of course things escalate and by the film's end he has begun to dabble with some dangerous people. Chad (Chad Holt) was caught masturbating into a clothes dryer at a laundromat (a scene that is actually is pretty comical) and unfortunately seen doing so by a child, so he has been put under house arrest, complete with ankle bracelet. That doesn't stop him from dealing heavily, however, and his drug source is the violent Cookie Jarvis (Paul Wright), who ends up crossing paths with Toe, as well a few other unsavory types.

It took me awhile to eventually fall into line with some of Ray's characters—not that I actually cared what happened to any of them—but probably the most exciting part of Rock Opera is the steady stream of underground music (from Austin and elsewhere) that permeates nearly every frame of this film. It might be something of an inside joke if you're from Austin, though I get the feeling the underground scene (yeah, I'm up on the hip lingo) is just about the same everywhere.

The most recognizable name amidst the armada of music is Nashville Pussy, an infamous no-holds-barred Southern metal band (witness the onstage fire-breathing), but it is local acts like Fuckemos, Pigpoke, El Flaco, The Crack Pipes, Phantom Creeps or Witchbanger that make Ray's film seem like an underground postcard. The Fuckemos have to earn a special mention, led by a singer who alters his voice so it is lower than the guy from Crash Test Dummies, and their disjointed rock dirges are little gems of wonderful weirdness.

I might not be able to relate anymore to the drug-filled lifestyles of the main characters in Ray's film, most of whom I suspect are not "acting" as much as they are adapting their real-life personas. The quirky bits, such as Toe getting a rush of animal tranquilizers literally shot into him (as well as the subsequent buzz), are trippy in the slacker casual way it is all presented, and there is something to the natural flow of random dialogue that gives the whole film almost a documentary feel. It may not end up being a recruiting poster for the admirable work ethic younger generation, but that's rock and roll, baby. Somebody's got to do it.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.33:1 transfer is adequate, looking very much like an inexpensively made indie. Grain is frequent, and colorization is fair, at least during daylight sequence, but the darker club scenes have a smeary, overly hue cast to them. Not much in the way of any significant print debris or specking to be found.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided in 2,0 stereo, with dialogue generally delivered cleanly, with a fairly static soundstage. With all of the music on the soundtrack, it's a damn shame Ray's film couldn't have gotten a beefier mix, but the presentation remains acceptable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 11 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Hell On Wheels
2 Documentaries
11 Featurette(s)
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by Bob Ray, Jerry Don Clark
Packaging: Flexbox
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Music videos
Extras Review: There's a lot here, and while not all of it is necessarily "good", it perfectly fits the stoner haze of the film. Go Kart has included no less than three commentary tracks for Rock Opera, though in reality there is only one that could be considered "traditional." The main one features writer/director Bob Ray and actor Jerry Don Clark in a poorly recorded track that is big on self-deprecating humor, but serves primarily to point out who's who in the local music scene.

There is also a Drinking & Smoking Game commentary, featuring an assortment of characters, with the rules being that every time a someone in the film says "dude," "f***," or "man," you have to drink; a band name gets a bong hit; and each time Toe gets hit you need to down a shot of hard liquor. I guarantee if you try this, you will be toast in 15 minutes. A third track is all music and is called the Tia Carrera Stoner Jam Track, essentially a feature-length instrumental.

The Making of Rock Opera (10m:08s) has Bob Ray commenting on how the film is "no more absurd than reality", while the Old Stupid Shit section gathers up ten of his short films (most running just three or four minutes). If you've made it through the Drinking & Smoking commentary, I imagine these will be a lot of fun. Likewise with the long-form Hillbilly Doomsday (15m:00s) and Texans In Space (20m:56s), which at least sport somewhat more cohesive narrative. Somewhat.

There are also six music videos from Nashville Pussy (Fried Chicken and Coffee, Say Something Nasty), Fuckemos (Who Is My Shman?, Do You Wanna Dance?), The Phantom Creeps (Mad Beast Wiggles), and Golden Arm Trio (Bigwig).

The disc is cut into 11 chapters.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

I can look at Bob Ray's drug-fueled underground rock opus Rock Opera and feel a tinge of sadness for days gone by, though a tinge blurred by my now older family guy sensibilities. Those were the days when music and other substances were what each day was governed by, before reality and things likes "gainful employment" kicked in.

The good news is that Go Kart Films continues to make inroads to become the leading purveyor of consistently odd releases, as is the case with Rock Opera. It's not perfect by any means, but all that bubbling-under-the-surface music is the real hook here.


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