Midweek Memo: Chasing the White Whale — A Tale of Dangerous Men

This post is part of our weekly newsletter, the Midweek Memo. Subscribe to it here.


“Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that all was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, and make it possible.” T.E. Lawrence

What is your white whale?

I’m talking about something that becomes an inescapable vortex of time and space whenever it crosses your mind. Something that can instantly turns a five minute phone call into a two hour forum with a single off-handed comment. Something you want so bad that you’ve knowingly downloaded weird files from dark corners of the internet for the improbable chance they might actually end your long and arduous search for it.

Do you have one of those?

What are you supposed to do when you finally catch it?

I’ve been attempting to answer this question for the past week.


Nearly a decade ago I, alongside friend and frequent guest of the WSaM podcast, Jacob Graves, attended the closing selection of the 2006 Tulsa Overground Film Festival. The film was called Dangerous Men. It was projected 9-stories high on the west screen of the historic Admiral Twin Theater. We were completely unprepared for the experience.

The festival’s website billed the film as:

THE NEXT BIG CULT CLASSIC! A decades-in-the-making opus from director John S. Rad, DANGEROUS MEN is an action, adventure, comedy, drama. A woman embarks on a killing rampage, wreaking vengeance upon all men that she seductively lures into her trap. Mountains explode, people grow beards in 3 seconds, bad guys get knocked out by scalp massages, women transport knives in the cracks of their buttocks, nude men dance with cedar leaves in the desert, sex acts invariably involve massaging of knees and licking of navels. With a soundtrack that can only be described as RAD, seeing this film will make you smarter, richer and better looking!Tulsa Overground

via unicornpie – Flickr

Before the screening Ghosts (a band of three grown men dressed in masks and white jumpsuit-togas) performed. They set the atmosphere for the evening, what with the uniforms, a shiny 2.5’ tall pyramid and a dedicated fog machine operator crouched  behind the shrine in the middle of the stage.

 

When the opening credits finally began to roll on the feature presentation a motif quickly surfaced. The name of the film’s soul creative mastermind, John S. Rad, appeared on screen five times (attached to the following credits: Director, Creator and Writer, Produced By, Executive Producer & Original Lyrics and Music) before the words of the title finally collided, creating a spectacular explosion.

DangerousMen_Title-01

(SIDEBAR: It’s probably worth noting that the director, etc. also thanked himself in the closing credits.)

A confusing, directionless murder-revenge plot follows. The acting is mostly wooden, the dialogue often feels like it was pulled from the waste bin of a midday soap opera’s writers room and the 80-minute runtime could probably use a good bit of trimming. In spite of all of these things I absolutely love Dangerous Men. Not because it’s “so bad it’s good”, but because even with all the aforementioned flaws (and many unmentioned ones) it still feels like an ernest work of passion.

For over two decades John S. Rad — an architect by trade who immigrated to America from Iran on the cusp of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 — seemed to focus all his efforts in the production of this vanity project, and it shows… in an odd way. (SIDEBAR: the film first screened in 2005, but relics of its long production can be found throughout, from banners for the 1984 Olympic Games to the calendar on a wall that reads “December 1995″.) Dangerous Men exhibits Rad’s outsider-interpretation of a classic Hollywood genre flick. It’s like what Godard and Truffaut did with noir in Breathless, only this was made by a one-man army with no formal training in the cinematic arts. …Also there’s a lot more oddly specific kinky PG-13 sex stuff in Rad’s version — keep an eye out for a single frame of nudity in his original trailer for the film. Like the best outsider art, Dangerous Men defies formal convention even when producing a cock-eyed semblance of it.


Me, Rad & Jacob

Me, Rad & Jacob

After the screening Jake and I were fortunate enough to meet Mr. Rad. He was tall and slender, well dressed in a suit, tie and dark glasses (it was 11pm), and above all else extraordinarily kind. He told the small crowd that he drove all the way from California to Tulsa, OK with film reels in the trunk of his car and described the creative process behind one of his favorite scenes in which a car drives off a cliff and explodes (pretty sure this is what happened with the car… forgive me if that’s inaccurate. It’s been nine years.) He even provided a little insight into fostering a happy love life. It was wonderful.

After that we stalked the internet for more information about Rad and future screenings of the film. We’d corner anyone who would listen to us incoherently describe our favorite scenes. And of course we’d show off the film’s website, it’s mid-90s design (fitting for the aesthetic of the movie), the infections promotional song written and performed by Rad himself (of course) and the homemade poster that looked as if it would be better rendered in black and white on the cover of a zine.  Then tragedy struck. One day while scouring the world wide web for more on the mysteries of accidental auteur we stumbled across a eulogy for Rad on LA Weekly’s website. The film stopped screening, and the madness began.

We’ve spent countless hours looking for reviews or interviews we may have missed, reminiscing about all aspects of the film as it slowly began to fade from our memories, and collecting every bit of information available for a documentary we hoped to maybe make one day. I even purchased the film’s original domain when it expired, and turned it into a modest shrine to Rad. Hope of ever seeing the film again seemed to not exactly be lost, but rather completely out of reach (the occasional screening hosted by Cinefamily would pop up just often enough to prevent total annihilation of our dreams…)

(cue fanfare)

 

 

Then last Tuesday THIS HAPPENED.

In my mind the odds of ever seeing Dangerous Men mentioned a blog I frequent were worse than those successfully navigating an asteroid field. Yet there it was. I absolutely lost it.

Despite initially languishing at the box office during its limited theatrical release, and never finding a likeminded audience before Rad’s untimely death in 2007, Dangerous Men developed a devoted following before vanishing as mysteriously as it appeared. Chief among them was Hadrian Belove, of the independent Los Angeles theater The Cinefamily, who saw the film multiple times during its brief theatrical run, and alerted Drafthouse Films and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema programming teams to the existence of the film. Working with the late artist’s family, the team worked tirelessly alongside the American Genre Film Institute to locate and restore the original film.

“It took us almost three and a half years of continuous begging, pleading and debasement before John Rad’s family agreed to license us the film,” said Drafthouse COO James Emanuel Shapiro. “It was well worth it! We are immensely proud that we’ve carved out our own niche of mind-shredding repertory releases and beyond thrilled to unleash what should very much be considered the Holy Grail of Holy F*cking Sh#t on audiences worldwide!”

Dangerous Men will storm screens nationwide starting Friday, November 13th, and will hit multiple video on demand platforms in December. A home video release on Blu-ray, DVD and VHS is planned for early 2016.Drafthouse FIlms (via Birth Movies Death)

The past week has been a blend of pure elation and sheer panic. It’s strange to say, but I’ve been overcome by an odd sense of loss. The mystery is largely solved, and I’m not sure what to do now. So I did something I’ve intended for years. I restored the Dangerous Men website to its original form. Seriously, take a look! Explore it. Enjoy it. You’ll find publicity photos, the original press kit, even that infectious promotional song! There are a couple elements I could not dig up, most notably an interview with John S. Rad on Queer Edge TV (the only video interview o the director to my knowledge).

Much like Rad,  I don’t have a great conclusion to this convoluted tale, so I’ll leave you the way he would, with some of the film’s funky, funky original music.

You should probably also watch the shiny new trailer Drafthouse Films put togetherd


Are you excited for Dangerous Men, or do you just hate fun? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter.

Also, if you’ve seen Dangerous Men (especially if it was years ago) e-mail me. I’d love to hear your own stories.