Movie Review: I Was A Teenage Beatnik
Andre Perkowski just may have been born a couple decades too late.
Although I Was a Teenage Beatnik isn’t a direct adaptation of the work of Edward D. Wood Jr., like Perkowski’s other film Devil Girls was, one can still smell the influence. But, even stronger is the influence of fellow Z-grade exploitationist Ray Dennis Steckler, who actually makes a cameo in Beatnik. Perkowski’s films may be post-modern odes to the golden days of exploitation, but he would have fit right in had he been making movies right alongside his idols.
Beatnik is the story of fictional band the Farmingdale Sound Machine. Or, maybe they were a real band. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where reality stops and fiction starts in Perkowski’s work. Either way, I really dug the band’s sound, which is reminiscent of early Beck and Ween, with a little Residents thrown in for good measure. Had Farmingdale had any CDs out during my indie rock buying heyday (early to mid-’90s), one of theirs definitely would have ended up in my collection.
The band is fronted by Pete Berkowitz (sorry, I don’t have a cast list), who is the eponymous character. Pete comes from a broken home and is raised by an abusive father, i.e. the typical “dad” in teenage rebellion movies who charges into the garage shaking his fist and screaming at the kids to “turn that racket down.” They don’t and ultimately get tied up with an unscrupulous record company. (Is there any other kind?)
Meanwhile, after getting into an argument with his biology teacher of mitosis, Pete has an itty-bitty monster cloned from him by an evil guidance counselor. Or, maybe Pete actually becomes the monster himself during moments of rage. It’s hard to tell, but when a film is as fun as this one, it hardly matters. Like the Z-grade films its mimicking, Beatnik eventually throws all logic right out the window and kicks coherency’s ass right to the curb.
The only thing missing from Perkowski’s latest opus is the sex appeal of Wood’s and Steckler’s work. With pretty much the exception of a female replacement drummer, there are no chicks in the film at all. Perkowski’s heroes knew the value of throwing in a couple of sexy broads when the action comes to a screeching halt, which in their films is just about every other scene.
However, what Perkowski totally scores on over Wood and Steckler is his rapid-fire editing. Old exploitation films typically drag on at a snail’s pace since scenes are usually shot in one long take, with the occasional cutting back-and-forth between talking heads. Directors were forced to film in that style so as not to waste too much film stock. But I’m pretty sure (but also terrible at identifying this sort of thing) Beatnik is mostly shot on video and Perkowski takes advantage of the freedom of wider shooting ratios than the old guard. Beatnik zips along at a frenetic pace, almost afraid that if it slows down the audience is going to start demanding the story to make sense.
Perkowski also makes much better use of humor than in the exploitation films of yore. While he’s clearly a respectful fan of this style of filmmaking, he also knows enough how to gently poke fun at many of the genre’s conventions without out-and-out making fun of them. This also makes Beatnik very lively and while there aren’t many clear “jokes” in the film, Perkowski knows how to milk humor out of the situation, with a couple of the funniest scenes being one character’s constant be-bop riffing that only escalates further when the other actors in the scene can’t contain their own laughter.
I Was a Teenage Beatnik does exploitation proud and, even though that style of filmmaking is practically dead and buried, it’s nice that there’s someone like Perkowski to give it another fun rise from the grave.