Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"Kiss In Australia" - The 1980 Movie That Never Was

You can file this under “Movies I’m Glad They Never Made”.

I’ve always been a huge Kiss fan. From the moment that I first heard Destroyer in 1977 through to when Ace left, I was always a fan, and I remained a big booster of the band throughout the 1980s. I still consider their second three studio albums – Destroyer, Rock ‘N Roll Over and Love Gun - to be masterpieces and I adore Dynasty and Unmasked. Hell, how can one not adore Unmasked, containing, as it does, some of Ace Frehley’s best tunes, in the form of Torpedo Girl, Two Sides Of The Coin and the brilliant Talk To Me. Ace never got better really. I couldn’t care when I discovered, later in life, that the audience noise on Alive and Alive II was overdubbed, or that Peter didn’t play drums on the latter two albums, or that Gene rarely played bass. Hell, only Paul played on Shandi, but it didn't matter.  It just proved to me that the heart of the band was always Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley. Once they split that really was it, as the band lost their original spark and became yet another Bon Jovi clone light-metal band. Sad really.  And trust me, the four guys running around in drag these days aren't Kiss.  Ace is the Spaceman, Peter is the Catman and that's the end of the debate.

When the 1980 Kiss Australian tour was announced I stated my intentions on going. However as I was twelve at the time I didn’t fancy my chances and it got worse when my older brother went out to buy tickets but came back empty handed claiming the show had sold out. Bastards! Come my 13th birthday and what did I find in my birthday card? A Kiss ticket! Yes! Life was complete. My oldest brother took me to see it and we had a blast. I’ve always said that it’s the fondest memory that I have of my oldest brother as he was on his best behaviour all night and had me on his shoulders so I could see over the crowd. I suspect that he was kind of happy, in his own way, at my own excitement. The day was a dreary, cold, windy and wet one, but that didn’t dampen anyone’s enthusiasm. I recall my brother talking to a guy in the line who had three thongs, one on each foot and another in his hand. When asked what the third thong was for the answer was simple, “Darryl Cotton's head mate.” At the time we believed that Cotton, formerly of Zoot, was the support act, a horrid thought indeed. Imagine out surprise when the support band came out and we discovered it was none other than…The Eyes, a band you’ve never heard of before and never heard of since. Four songs in it happened. POW! Right on the forehead, a thong went bouncing. “Fuck yas all ya pack of cunts!” came the cry from the stage and off went The Eyes. Brilliant! I remember seeing dozens of programmes on the floor, all being trampled after being discarded. I should have gathered them up, considering what they sell for today. Kiss in 1980, at Adelaide Oval, remains my first ever concert. I could have done worse. A-Ha popped by a few years later.

The tour here was a massive success, partly fueled by the incredible amount of shit that was made, sold and passed off as 'official' merchandise.  It seemed that you could buy anything with a Kiss logo on it, from iceblocks through to cereal and beyond.  Underwear, shirts, bags - the bands logo was on everything this side of toilet paper and condoms (if only Gene had been given the thought earlier).  Despite the influx of cash the writing was on the wall for Kiss. Original drummer Peter Criss had departed to be replaced by Eric Carr, who I always thought was the better drummer, but something was missing. That didn’t stop the shows from being great though, and thanks to a close pal of mine, who taped the Adelaide show, I have the tapes to relive it through. The show was so good that I can almost forgive Stanley for screaming, in a voice that sounded like Mickey Mouse on speed, “We love you! We’ll be back next year! Goodnight!” Yeah, right. I had to wait until 1995 before they came back.  

Kiss nearly toured here in 1989, but, depending on who you speak to, the concerts were either poorly planned or Kiss themselves bailed out leaving the promoters broke. Either way when this show was announced a promoter began to explore the possibility of the band doing a full scale tour but couldn’t get the venues booked. Kiss kept the deposit and the World Rock ’89 concert, headlined by Kiss and Joe Cocker, never went ahead. They did return in 1995 and did a full tour and also a convention. I attended the latter, but not the former, mainly because, as far as I was concerned, Ace made Kiss, no disrespect to Bruce Kulick, who I met in 1995 and who was a damned good guy, but some things can never be replaced. In 1997 they returned, this time the original foursome, in make-up. Naturally I went and also made the trip to catch their last show in Melbourne. It was on that trip that I finally met Bruce Springsteen, of all people. For an icon he was very humble and a bloody decent indeed. Good memories indeed.

Now, down to the movie. By 1980 Gene Simmons was busily trying to make as much money for himself and Kiss as he possibly could. This meant less focus on the music (how else do you explain You’re All That I Want?) and more focus on the business side of things. By 1978 the band had managed to release nine albums and four individual solo albums, along with a plethora of merchandise including two comic books, published by Marvel and featuring the talents of Steve Gerber, Alan Weiss, Gray Morrow, John Buscema and other talented artists and writers. They also released a movie.

Or so they said. Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park is one of those films that makes Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space look like Citizen Kane. About the only redeeming feature of the movie is the music and even some of that was canned generic elevator music. The best version of the movie was actually released here, in Australia. Unlike America, where the flick was a Movie Of The Week on the idiot box, it was re-edited, more of Kiss’s actual music (some from the solo albums) included and suddenly it made sense to watch. Renamed Kiss In Attack Of The Phantoms, the movie was released in cinemas and played for a fairly decent season, aided by a cross promotion with the frozen Coke drink Icee (remember those?) The movie eventually saw a full blown release on the second volume of the Kissology DVD series. Seek it out and watch it. You’ll regret it, but if you’ve seen the original version then you’ll enjoy it, even if Peter Criss sounds like Barney Rubble and some of Ace Frehley’s scenes feature a black man instead of the Main Man.   

By 1980 nothing had been learnt. The Kiss company was still haemorrhaging money at a rapid rate of knots, so in order to rectify this an Australian tour was planned and executed. Along with the tour plans were made for a movie to be shot. The movie was fully realised and ready to be shot, local camera crews were hired and the production was set. The band duly arrived in the country to tour and film but the movie never went ahead. If you want to know then just read the synopsis – it’s crap. Plus the movie called for the band and production company to split the net profits 50/50. Net profits have a name in Hollywood – ‘Monkey Points’. If you get offered net profits then you might as well just walk away. There’s people who invested in movies like Star Wars and Titanic, were promised net profits and have yet to see a cent. With net profits the movie is always in the red, no matter how many times you audit it. Being offered net points is an insult, kind of like being offered an Associate Producer credit.

The budget for the movie was set at just over $650,000 which was pretty cheap for a film at the time. Clearly the idea was that as Kiss were touring a lot of the footage could be shot without having to resort to sets and other little things, like production values. In effect Kiss In Australia was using Abba The Movie as a template. But where Abba The Movie had an amusing plot line, that being the efforts of a reporter trying to get an interview with the band, Kiss In Australia was all over the place. The opening scene would have drained a bit of the budget on it’s own, and it would have been highly doubtful that Ace Frehley, who’s name is conveniently misspelled ‘Ace Freshley’ in the official credits, would have stayed still long enough to be filmed on the top of Uluru, and it’s also doubtful that the band would have gotten permission from the traditional owners to be filmed standing there after being dropped off by a helicopter. For some reason such a desecration is generally frowned upon. The rest of the script is downhill from there and loaded with clichés that only someone who has zero knowledge of Australia would insert. At one point the band meet a ‘Chips Rafferty’ type character, such a character hadn’t existed since the Smiley movies of the 1950s, starring, you guessed it, Chips Rafferty. The movie has deathless scenes such as Scene 14: ‘Sequence: Ancient rights and rituals of the Australian Aboriginals’, whatever that means. Luckily Adelaide got off light, just a billboard. But in Sydney and Brisbane the idea was to film a load of bunnies running on the beach in slow motion, ala the movie ‘10’. Jesus! No wonder this thing was canned.

Apathy and dwindling finances also took their toll. By the time the band reached Australia their career was all but over in the USA and other parts of the world. Such were the levels of apathy that Gene Simmons was filmed drinking coffee, sans make-up, and the footage broadcast all over the country on various news networks. By that stage nobody really cared what they looked like, either with or without make-up. I remember seeing a magazine from the USA with a headline about a year later, “Kiss: Unmasked – Who Cares?” Also the band weren’t about to invest anything into this project, they just didn’t have the money on hand.  

What did come out of the Australian tour of 1980 were two artefacts. The first was the television special Kiss: The Inner Sanctum. This brilliant and long deleted (although it can be easily found on bootleg) television special was a Godsend for Kiss fans. The special followed the band around Australia, offered live footage and behind the scenes material and, in the best move ever, had Norman Gunston doing comedy pieces that included his efforts to convince Bill Aucoin, Kiss’s then manager, to adopt his idea of merchandising, a squashed Chiko Roll that he named ‘Genes Tounge’. If you get a chance to see it then do so. The other film from the tour was the almost complete Sydney show, which finally saw the light of day, officially, on the second volume of the Kissology DVD series. Get it, it’s worth seeing if only to see the band playing better than they had in ages, mainly due to the presence of a non-stoned drummer.

When Kiss toured in 1995 and did the convention circuit I made it a point of asking Gene during the Q&A session in Adelaide about the movie. He denied all knowledge of it and asked to see the document that you can now see on this page. I handed it to him, he read it, chuckled handed it to Paul Stanley who then handed it to Bruce Kulick and then drummer Eric Singer, both of whom began to roar with laughter. Gene didn’t look overly happy and insisted that he knew nothing of the proposed movie and that a lot of such things had been floating around the band at the time. I tend to think he fibbed just a little bit, but then I’d not want to be associated with that lump of crap either.

Ahhhh, Kiss In Australia. What might have been, and thankfully, wasn’t.

One theory that dogged the band at the time was the involvement and harassment of the FBI. However if you ever get the chance to examine the FBI files on Kiss you’ll soon discover a fairly boring read. Most of the material revolves around reports of anti-police riots at previous Kiss concerts, all of which is soon debunked as scurrilous rumour. One selection of the FBI files that really interested me was a report stating that a religious group had protested the band for playing on a Sunday and had begun the rumour that the word KISS stood for Knights In Search of Satan, a rumour that soon spread all over the world, although nobody ever knew who actually started it.

Thanks to the FBI we now know where that rumour started. These are the reasons why I love history and popular culture.  And thanks to my alter ego for this post.

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