Music Video of the Day: Madhouse by Anthrax (1986, dir. Amos Poe)

Madhouse was banned from MTV because of its’ portrayal of the mentally ill. I didn’t think I was going to get to a music video that was actually banned from MTV till I got around to doing Smack My Bitch Up by The Prodigy.

I’m bipolar, major depressive, get migraines, have been on more psychiatric meds than I can count, have been a cutter, and have been a patient in a mental hospital (inpatient and outpatient) to only name a few things in this area that I have had some experience with in my life. The person holding a fake baby makes me think of a woman I knew while in a mental hospital that had postpartum depression so bad that they gave her shock treatment (it helped her significantly). The people that appear mentally handicapped bother me because one of my lifelong friends has a younger sister who is mentally handicapped. I grew up around her, and have known others in my life who are in the same situation, but for different reasons. The nurse at the beginning reminds me of what we nicknamed “vampires” at the mental hospital that would come to take blood samples from us early in the morning in our beds. The person who accidentally lets one of the patients fall out of the wheelchair and the doctors smoking reminds me of people I’ve dealt with that treat the mentally and physically ill like they are nothing but a burden to them and/or even as if they are criminals. The whole music video and song reminds me of late 2014 and early 2015 when my brain completely turned against me, leaving me actually thinking I was trapped inside of something like The Matrix. To quote the song:

“Trapped, in this nightmare
I wish I’d wake
As my whole life begins to shake
Four walls surround me
An empty gaze
I can’t find my way out of this maze”

There were other things that accompanied that experience, and no doctor can tell me why it happened. I was just lucky I came out of it eventually.

The point is that I completely understand why some people would find this offensive. However, what I see when I watch this music video is a controversial short film that is drawing a parallel between the internal state of the mind of the mentally ill–we all are to some degree–with the apparent chaos of heavy metal and the actual chaotic relief of a mosh pit. I think Ben Kingsley in Shutter Island (2010) said it best when he described a migraine like having razor blades being shaken around in your head. Personally, I don’t find this offensive, but frighteningly accurate.

All that said, I can see why this would get banned from MTV, and probably should have been. It’s one thing for me to stupidly seek out Still Alice (2014) when I clearly should have known it would remind me of my brain turning to tapioca, but I did, and couldn’t finish it even with several anti-anxiety pills in my system. It’s another thing to be simply watching one of the most popular networks of the era, then have this music video suddenly show up on your TV. Despite being banned, it was still very successful and pushed the boundaries of what could and couldn’t be done in music videos.

This is one of those music videos where we apparently only know the director. That would be Amos Poe who only appears to have directed five music videos, including the one for Animotion’s Obsession. He has done other work in film that includes the documentary The Blank Generation (1976) that was filmed at CBGB during the birth of punk rock.

Film Review: Smithereens (1982, directed by Susan Seidelman)

SmithereensShot guerilla-style during the waning days of New York City’s original punk scene, Smithereens tells the story of Wren (Susan Berman).  Wren is a Jersey girl who, after being cut off by her family, comes to New York City.  She moves into a run-down apartment, get a job making photocopies at a xerox store, and tries to break into the New York punk scene, despite having no talent or connections.  The only thing that Wren does have is a lot of determination. When we first meet Wren, she is stealing another woman’s sunglasses and posting flyers of herself around New York City.  Written under Wren’s picture: “Do you know me?”

Throughout the film, Wren bounces back and forth between two men.  Paul (Brad Rinn) is a naive artist who has just arrived from Montana.  He lives in a psychedelic-painted van that he parks in an abandoned lot.  Paul first spots Wren while she is covering a subway car with her pictures and he is immediately infatuated with her.  Wren hangs out with Paul until she meets Eric (played by punk icon Richard Hell), a sleazy musician who has recorded one semi-successful album and who is trying to come up with enough money to leave New York for Los Angeles.  After Wren gets kicked out of her apartment, she moves in with Paul while continuing to sleep with Eric until she is finally forced to choose between the two men.

Susan Berman and Richard Hell

Susan Berman and Richard Hell

When Susan Berman was cast in the role of Wren, director Susan Seidelman told her to research her role by watching Nights of Cabiria and Smithereens does feel like a New York punk version of the Fellini classic.  Like Cabiria, Wren remains hopeful despite the ugliness around her.  Unlike Cabiria, Wren is not a very likable character.  She uses everyone that she meets and is then shocked when people hold it against her.  Despite that, she is so determined that it is hard not to root for her.  What is interesting is that Wren is not a malicious character.  She feels that she is destined to be famous and lacks the self-awareness to understand why other people are not as into her as she is.  If Smithereens were made today, Wren would be trying to get on American Idol or The Voice.  Sadly, Wren was just born too early to win a spot in the Jersey Shore house.

Susan Seidelman filmed on the streets of city and much of Smithereens is a documentary of life in New York City before the Giuliani/Bloomberg administrations cleaned everything up and turned Times Square into an urban Disney World.  Along with being one of the first independent American films to ever compete at the Cannes Film Festival, Smithereens was also the scriptwriting debut for future Oscar-nominated screenwriter Ron Nyswaner.  Keep an eye out for actor Chris Noth, making his film debut as a cross-dressing prostitute.

Susan Berman in Smithereens

Susan Berman in Smithereens

Insomnia File No. 6: Frogs For Snakes (dir by Amos Poe)

What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!


If you were suffering from insomnia last night, at around two a.m., you could have turned over to Flix and watched the 1998 film Frogs For Snakes.

And if you were suffering from insomnia, watching Frogs For Snakes would probably have been a good idea because this film is amazingly dull.  In fact, I am not sure that I have the words to express to you just how tedious Frogs For Snakes truly was.  It may be necessary for me to go back to school and learn how to speak in a dead language in order for me to express the boredom that I felt while watching Frogs For Snakes.

And yes, I realize that I’m talking about an obscure film that was released nearly 20 years ago and it might seem kind of petty to, at this late date, make a big deal about how terrible this film was.

But seriously, Frogs For Snakes was really, really bad.  In fact, it was disturbing to think that a film this bad could have actually been made.  It was even more disturbing to consider that this film was apparently given a theatrical release and, all these years later, still pops up on cable so that it can proudly display its overwhelming mediocrity.

Now, I’m going to tell you what Frogs For Snakes is about and you’re going to think, “That actually sounds like it might be kind of interesting.”  Don’t be fooled!  The film may sound interesting but it’s not.

Frogs for Snakes takes place in a stylized, neo-noir version of New York City.  Eva Santana (Barbara Hershey) is an aging actress who claims to have quit the business, though it’s clear that it’s more a case of the business quitting her.  She talks about leaving New York and raising her son in a better environment.  However, until she gets around to leaving, she’s making ends meet by working as a waitress at a diner owned by the kind-hearted Quint (Ian Hart).  And, of course, when she’s not waitressing, she’s working as a debt collector for her ex-husband, a loan shark named Al Santana (Robbie Coltrane).

That’s right, this actress has a gun and she uses it frequently.  However, because Eva is good at heart, she rarely kills anyone.  Instead, she just shoots them in the foot and tells them to pay back their loans while they lay on the floor and scream in agony.  (All that agonized screaming got pretty old after a while.)

As for Al, he’s not just a loan shark.  He’s a theatrical impressario.  He’s planning on putting on a production of David Mamet’s American Buffalo.  He promises his driver a role in American Buffalo on the condition that the driver assassinate Eva’s new boyfriend (John Leguizamo, of course).

Soon, actors all over New York are literally killing to get a role in Al’s play.  Meanwhile, Eva just wants to retire and get out of New York but first, she has to do one last job for Al…

In between all the killing, the characters frequently launch into monologues that have been lifted from other films.  John Leguizamo does a Brando imitation.  Lisa Marie (Tim Burton’s ex, not yours truly) delivers the cuckoo clock speech from The Third Man.  A suggestion for aspiring filmmakers: if you’re going to make a bad film, don’t remind your audience that they could be watching The Third Man instead.

Anyway, the plot sounds interesting but none of the potentially intriguing ideas are explored.  I imagine that the film was meant to be a satire of Off-Broadway ruthlessness but ultimately, the film is just another tediously violent indie film from the 90s.  This is one of those movies where nobody can do anything without spending an excessive amount of time talking about it beforehand and, when things do turn violent, it’s the worst type of quirky, sadistic, drawn-out, “look how crazy we are” violence.

There’s a scene towards the end of the film where Al shoots a group of people in a bar.  This is intercut with clips from the Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin.  As Al leave, he shoots the TV showing Battleship Potemkin and, I have to say, that really annoyed me.  Seriously, just as a bad filmmaker should not remind people that they could be watching The Third Man, he shouldn’t invite them to compare his film to Battleship Potemkin unless he’s willing to back up the comparison.  When Al shot the TV, I found myself hoping that Sergei Eisenstein would pop up and shoot him.

Frogs for Snakes is one of the worst films that I’ve ever seen.  It may, in fact, be the worst but I would need to rewatch Ted 2 before I said that for sure.  But, if you have insomnia, Frogs For Snakes will at least put you to sleep.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice