Sunday, November 8, 2009

Guest Post: Jonathan Lyons — The Strange Case of Alice Cooper

[post 030]

A Guest Post by Jonathan Lyons

Back in 1979, while I was stationed at a Navy training center in San Diego, I attended an Alice Cooper concert. For those who don’t know, Alice was known for putting on an elaborate stage show, including simulated hanging and beheading. He’s been called the Godfather of Shock Rock. This show had an electric chair.

To open the show, a full size movie screen hung center stage, and a film of a vodka bottling plant plays to the live warm up music of Alice’s band. In the last shot of the film, a bottle falls over toward camera, with the tip very close. At this point, as though coming out of the bottle, Alice Cooper jumps through the screen. Not tearing it. The screen had slits cut vertically across the entire area. I think the screen material was also elastic, to make it easier to pass through. I have learned that was referred to as the “magic screen.”

Later on the magic screen was an integral part of a remarkable bit of physical comedy. On the screen, they projected something that I remember as a chase film, very Keystone Kops, with Alice escaping from a mental institution, being pursued by men in white coats. But it was the magic screen that made this so special. The performers on the stage synchronized to the movie, so they could literally jump through the screen, and magically appear in the movie! It was like watching “Sherlock Jr.” performed live. I recall there being a bomb, as in a cannonball, with a lit fuse, and the word “BOMB” in block lettering on it, that was tossed into and out of the movie. The effect was fantastic. There was music composed specifically for this event. This song was called “All Strapped Up.”

While looking for references for this blog post, I discovered a concert film was recorded and released on VHS. The tape is no longer available, but it is fully viewable on Youtube, in 8 parts. On youtube I discover, it was the very show I attended! I am somewhere in the front, pressed up against the boards, with only glowering security guards between myself and Alice. Though I’m never visible, it’s a treat to see the show again.
Unfortunately, the magic screen segments were not included in the video. Since it would have been a video of a projected film, it may not have looked good. The opening of the film, the vodka bottling plant, was original footage, not the projected film. When Alice jumped through, they just cut to the live shot In this video, when the cut to the stage happens, you can see the screen recovering from his entrance.

In researching this piece, I have come to the conclusion that Alice Cooper has a little bit of clown in him.

EXHIBIT A. The opening to the concert film “The Strange Case of Alice Cooper.” Alice personally introduces the film, and he says: “In any disastrous situation there’s something funny. I mean, somebody must have slipped on a banana peel right before the bomb hit in Hiroshima.”

EXHIBIT B. During an earlier live show, Alice had a pineapple upside down cake thrown into his face, and he handled it very professionally. Most rockers would have gotten angry at the crowd.

EXHIBIT C. Although the video of the magic screen isn’t available, the music for “All Strapped Up” is available. After about 1 minute it unmistakably develops into silent comedy music.
[NOTE: Unfortunately this link has been removed by YouTube. —jt]

EXHIBIT D: DVD reviewer Dan MacIntosh had this to say:
“Alice Cooper almost ruins a perfectly good concert film with his lowbrow comedy”

Alice Cooper’s show, in addition to the “shock” and “death” effects, were also a bit silly at times. The “All Strapped Up” magic screen comedy was the most lighthearted of all. I think Alice knew he couldn’t be too serious, or the show would be a total downer. I have not seen a Marilyn Manson show, but I don’t believe he has learned that lesson.

No comments: