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    Ian Jane
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  • Population: 1

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    Released by: Cult Epics
    Released on: 10/28/2008
    Director: Rene Daalder

    Cast: Tomata Du Plenty, Sheela Edwards, Vampira, Beck, Penelope Huston, El Duce
    Year: 1985
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    The Movie:

    The story behind Population: 1 is an interesting one. In 1977 Rene Daalder was to help Russ Meyer shoot a film with the Sex Pistols. When that blew up and Meyer and the Pistols parted ways, the footage that was shot was edited into what would become The Great Rock N Roll Swindle. Shortly after, Daalder would meet Tomata Du Plenty, who would go on to front an LA punk band called The Screamers. Daalder and Du Plenty would experiment with video equipment and performance art over the years and eventually decided that they would make a long form music film entitled Mensch, named after The Screamers track of the same name. The financier pulled out, and the footage that was shot was edited into what would become Population: 1, a post apocalyptic film in which Tomata Du Plenty basically plays the last man on Earth.

    Stuck in a bunker deep underground, one man basically gives his own personal send off to the entire planet through his music and through his own skewed revisionist history of America. Through this simple premise, Daalder uses mixed media, film and video to create a swirling, angry and anarchic take on history and what were at the time current events.

    While Du Plenty, who died of cancer in the year 2000, is the singular 'star' of the film, there are some interesting supporting players who pop up in the film. Eagle eyed viewers will have no trouble spotting El Duce, Vampira, Penelope Houston (who fronted The Avengers), former Warhol chum Al Hansen and his young grandson Beck (yes, the same Beck who went on to win Grammy Awards). That said, this is more or less Du Plenty's show all the way around. He rants and rages at an unseen audience existing only in what's left of his shattered mind while Daalder mixes in music and uses strange videography to enhance and/or the mood. Sheela Edwards supporting work does lend some welcome sex appeal to the film, however, and while she can't quite steal the show from Du Plenty, she earns points for trying her damnedest.

    The film was shot in chunks, really. Daalder and Du Plenty used some of the footage that they'd shot for Mensch as a starting point and then from there turned Du Plenty's small Los Angeles apartment into the underground bunker seen in the film. From there, Daalder and others would show up every weekend and shoot what they could and eventually, a year or so later, the odd little film that is Population: 1 would be edited into a semi-cohesive whole at Todd Rundgren's studio in New York. The film eventually debuted in 1986 but it wasn't until recently that Daalder restored his own director's cut of the film which is the version seen on this DVD release. Even in this restored version, however, Population: 1 remains a raw, unpolished and seedy affair. It was made on the cheap and it shows but the film still carries some welcome impact thanks to some interesting ideas, great performances and a killer soundtrack.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Population: 1 is presented in its original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio on this DVD. The interlaced image looks far from perfect but this newly restored director's cut of the film is absolutely watchable enough when you consider the low budget origins of this obscure film. Expect a fair amount of grain and some minor print damage here and there but the colors have faired reasonably well over the years even if some scenes are a little smeary looking. Detail varies from scene to scene and some parts look softer than others and the tracking lines at the bottom of the picture are a little distracting but this is probably as good as the picture has ever looked.


    The sole sound mix on this release is an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. There are a few scenes that are a bit on the flat side but the dialogue is usually pretty clear and easy to understand and the levels are properly balanced. The music in the film sounds nice and punchy as do the sound effects and any hiss or distortion that creeps into the mix is minor enough that it's easily overlooked.


    Cult Epics has truly gone the extra mile with the supplements on this release. On the first disc, look for some live footage of Tomata Du Plenty's band The Screamers in concert (2:15). Shot at the Whiskey in Los Angeles in 1979, this material is in terrible shape and taken from a VHS tape that was obviously beaten up pretty bad, but these guys definitely delivered live. If that weren't enough, there are some unreleased tracks from both The Screamers (America and Way Of The World) and Sheela Edwards (Armies Of The Night and Jazz Vampire) included here. Original theatrical (1:59) and re-release (2:05) trailers are included for Population: 1 and some scenes from a film called Mensch (5:56) that Daalder made as a prequel to Population: 1 that has since been lost. A trailer for Palace Of Variety (3:02) is included as is a gallery of stills from Population:1, some animated menus and chapter selection.

    Disc two starts off with Je Maintiendrai In Hollywood (26:07, in English, I Will Survive In Hollywood) which is a genuinely odd spoof that follows around a few guerilla filmmakers as they go about trying to make a film. Rene Daalder (who also directed) more or less plays himself in the film, hammering out a script on an old type writer atop a California hotel rooftop and rambling off some ridiculous dialogue while his partner tells the cameraman to leave him alone and let him write. From there it just gets nuttier as we're introduced by way of some fly on the wall footage to a strange cast of characters all of whom have a small part in making this production happen - or not happen. A highlight is a one man band by the name of Don Davis, who manages to play piano, drums, harmonica and banjo all at the same time. Made in 1978, aspects of it are a little dated, like the digs at Andy Warhol and John Cage, but the material is still funny and many of the points that it makes still entirely valid.

    The Screamers Live (39:32) is a nine song set that captures Tomata Du Plenty's band on stage at the Whiskey in 1979. The tracks performed here are Why The World, Nervous, Mensch, She Frightens, I Wanna Hurt, Vertigo, Punish Or Be Damned, Give The Future A Break, and Encore. The same insane energy and boiling pot manic stage presence that you saw in the Target Video DVD that came out a couple of years ago is here as well, though this is an entirely different show making it a nice item for fans of a band that are criminally under documented. Though it was taken from a tape, for some reason it's presented here in anamorphic 1.78.1 widescreen.

    Up next is an Interview With Rene Daalder (35:34) conducted by author David Jones who quizzes the director about his involvement with the American punk rock scene of the late seventies and early eighties and how that lead to his making Massacre At Central High and how he wound up having the Sex Pistols hang out with him and what it was like having them around. He talks about how he got involved with The Screamers before talking specifically about some of the projects he worked on with them including Population: 1 and Mensch. There are some great clips from his filmography used throughout this extensive career spanning interview as well as some rare behind the scenes clips and photographs that do a very nice job of complimenting the stories that Daalder tells here. Very interesting stuff!

    The Tomata Du Plenty Tribute (7:03) is a strange montage of clips from his time on stage and off that celebrates the life of the late vocalist. Directed and edited by Kevin Kierer, it's a bit of a hodge podge of different clips but it's interesting to see it and it does do a good job of showcasing his personality and quirkiness. We also get a look at some of his paintings.

    Rounding out the extra features are an Al Hansen: Documentary Preview (9:52), a collection of Vampira: Documentary Outtakes (6:08) that are taken from her last major interview, a video for Penelope Houston's Girls (3:34) from 1982, some menus, and some DVD credits.

    Inside the keepcase that houses this two-disc collection is an insert containing three pages of liner notes that give some very welcome background information on the film and on its cast members.

    The Final Word:

    While Population: 1 might look and sound like a product of the early 1980s scene, that's okay because that's exactly what it is and exactly why it's interesting. As a movie, it's less than perfect but as a time capsule, it's great and all of the supplemental material that Cult Epics has provided here really does a great job of cementing what it was like and what this odd group of filmmakers and musicians were out to do.
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