Film Book Review: Shade Rupe’s Dark Stars Rising: Conversations from the Outer Realms

No one would argue with calling this massive, invaluable tome “exhaustive,” though there might be a few who would squawk with using the word “definitive.” Yet even a casual reader will note how close Shade Rupe’s instant classic comes close to such praise. Dark Stars Rising: Conversations from the Outer Realms (2011, Headpress) features interviews with some of, if not most of the greatest underground filmmakers, actors and musicians of the past forty years. Many actors and directors are profiled in what would be among their last interviews, or certainly one of their most definitive conversations. For example, having one more peek into the minds of Divine, or to get an in depth peek at the struggles of Jim Van Bebber to get his work to the public, are invaluable in and of themselves. Toss in some recent conversations with Tura Satana, Chas. Balun, Richard Kern and the eternally important Alejandro Jodorowsky, and you could put Dark Stars Rising in a category of stand-alone classics like Hollywood Babylon, Apocalypse Culture, or the old RESearch series.

Shade Rupe, as journalist, promoter and author of the Funeral Party series, has chronicled the world of underground film and art since he was in high school. The dates of the twenty seven interviews range over twenty four years, starting when Rupe was a teenager. Most of these have appeared in print in the past, but these are the complete pieces, as some were edited. This may not be his final testament, but it will certainly be his main legacy. The hope, however, is that this 500 page tome will rouse some curiosity, and thereby begin the descent into the labyrinth of exploration into a dark but creatively daring world that has been going on right under the noses of the mainstream since time immemorial.
It is hard to tell if any of these pieces will generate controversy; the converted will love them, and the uninitiated will probably only recognize Teller and Crispin Glover, and if even them. I’d heard of most of the artists interviewed, but a few are new to me (thanks, Shade, for the heads up on Dame Darcy and Floria Sigismondi!). As with any collection this size, there are bound to be included some subjects that turn off even the most jaded. For me, that means creepy guy/lame writer Peter Sotos; the aforementioned Glover is also someone for whom taking seriously is questionable, but he was brilliant in River’s Edge and Wild at Heart, and that alone is enough for a sort of immortality. His paintings seem deliberately odd, though, filtered through Marilyn Manson’s deliberately odd art and the myriad folks from whom MM “was inspired by.”

Rupe’s interviews, while clearly juiced by a fan’s mojo, are not puff pieces by any stretch, and surely other readers will find other reasons to blanch at certain choices. That is what makes this such a treasure; so much history is included, each reader’s angels and demons both are bound to be evoked by these 27 interviews.

Dark Stars Rising is as much a visual feast as well as intellectual fuel. There are many a rare, welcome and disturbing photo to be had among the rarities, thus ensuring that after you’ve read this a few times you’ll return to it again and again to flip around for reminders of your favorite artists and nightmares. There is a sense of nostalgia as well as setting the record straight here, as the interviews and chronologies send us back to a time that may not come back again, when transgression was a viable alternative to the mainstream, came with real risk, and was there for the finding in small bookstores, independent record and video stores, on late night cable. Though these movies and records were obscure, they were common ground for those who sought them out, who then found comfort not only in the art but in the fact that they weren’t alone in liking it. Today, put 20 people in a room and you’ll get 20 different programs or records listened to last night. The price we pay for having all our Grails available RIGHT NOW is that shared experience; how many artists have been inspired by imagining what a long out of print record sounded like, or by looking at stills of out-of-print films? These arcane tastes were the foundations for countless scenes in countless cities, where likeminded souls got together and created art that in turn inspired others. These interviews remind us of those times. DIY still lives on, of course, but many of the artists interviewed here were at ground zero of that mindset.

Dark Stars Rising: Conversations from the Outer Realms is a collection that celebrates both the fan’s love for a genre and the encyclopedic obsession of that fan. Shade Rupe had the writing and gabbing chops to take his obsession to another level, in which he met, challenged and documented the thoughts of his heroes. It is brilliant, obscure, maddening and compassionate. It is as much an ode to the depth of the fan’s interest as it is to the artist’s stories that are plucked from obscurity and given their time back in the sun.

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