Thirty years ago, Jeff Krulik and John Heyn, two fledgling documentary filmmakers on a lark, took borrowed video equipment to the Capital Centre parking lot in Largo.
They had no idea lighting would strike and the mini-documentary they shot became a cult classic.
“John had this idea to document heavy metal fans at a concert,” Krulik recalled last week over burgers at a Wheaton diner. “It was his idea. I said, ‘Sure.’ We zeroed in on a spring night: May 31, 1986. The band was Judas Priest. We weren’t fans, but we were curious and we also recognized that it would probably be good material.”
Boy was it. But it took a decade for them to learn that the 16-minute film capturing heavy metal fans before a Judas Priest concert was an underground hit. Nirvana reportedly played it on its tour bus. Sofia Coppola, the actor and director, rented it from a video store in ’96 and was so taken by it that she picked up a landline and called Heyn, wanting to air it on a never-produced compilation show.
In recent years, Heavy Metal Parking Lot, has traveled the country’s film and video festival circuit, often with Krulik abuzz about the haphazard but exciting cultural history it encapsulates. Baltimore brewery Union Craft recently created Heavy Metal Parking Lot Beer, a Belgian-style strong golden ale.
It debuts at the film’s 30th anniversary this Friday at 6 p.m. at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. There both Krulik and Heyn will reminisce about their youthful days as documentary filmmakers, they’ll screen the movie for fans and newcomers, scholars will speak and an exhibit tracing the history and influence of the film debuts in the Clarice gallery space.
Krulik, who has made a career as a film researcher and documentarian, recently had his archives taken into the University of Maryland library’s Mass Media and Culture Collections. What makes HMPL so notable is this: Out of nowhere, it became one of the earliest viral videos, as bootleg copies of VHS tapes were traded and passed around in the pre-Internet, pre-DVD era.
It’s still a bit of a mystery how the VHS tape made it across the country. But Krulik said a friend who was moving to Los Angeles to work in the music business took a few tapes. He was the Johnny Appleseed who turned a lark into a cult classic.
“It took nearly 10 years to find out it had a cult following,” Heyn noted last week. “It’s pretty interesting that it stood the test of time and today it stands up pretty well as a time capsule, really capturing the particular era of American youth and a particular music era and a particular culture and styles, fashion and hair styles from a particular time and place that really doesn’t exist anymore.”
The movie features the outlandish fan behavior of high school and college kids waiting for that Judas Priest concert to start. They’re rowdy and sometimes downright profane, grasping their open cans of beer, some very likely drunk or high. Sporting long rocker hair — men and women — they wore their band loyalty on their sleeves. And, Heyn pointed out, no one was tattooed.
How did two Jewish boys — Heyn from Pikesville and Krulik from Bowie — find themselves cruising the Cap Centre parking lot in Krulik’s 1978 Bonneville hanging a large Super 8 video camera out the
Krulik, 55, a graduate of the English department at University of Maryland, was always fascinated with storytelling and found film to be the perfect medium to tell truths that he found were stranger than fiction with colorful and outlandish characters. His other works include Hitler’s Hat, I Created
Lancelot Link and The Legend of Merv Conn, the long-time local accordionist.
After graduation, Krulik worked at a public access cable company, first as a door-to-door salesman, later as a manager.
His buddy Heyn, 58, a graduate of Northwestern University’s radio, television and film department, is now a documentary film producer at the National Archives, but he cut his teeth making independent films like Heavy Metal Parking Lot.
They were both big fans of alternative music, mostly punk and new wave, and hung out in the local music scene in the early 1980s.
Their parking lot fluke started a mini franchise. A decade after, their sequel, Neil Diamond Parking Lot, looked at a different generation of fans — mainly middle-aged women — with equally spontaneous, but less profane results. And they repeated the parking lot expose when the Harry Potter fad was at its peak, then staged a reunion of their first parking lot foray: Heavy Metal Picnic.
While Krulik or Heyn never made much money from their cult hit, they are both pleased that the documentary captures a certain type of music fan and a specific cultural era.
Krulik thinks he and Heyn may have been the first to feature the parking lot as a public space, like a town square, where people gathered. The phenomenon is akin to tailgating at a sports game. But he doesn’t think it could happen today; most people are too wrapped up in their social media connections and cell phones to interact personally in a public space.
“People have done fan films and video,” he said. “We didn’t create the fan film. We just happened to do it all in a parking lot near the concert. I’ll never in a million years be able to deconstruct why … this became an underground hit. We knew it was a gathering spot, a partying spot. It’s that tribal notion.”
Heyn said that the brief film works as a historical document. “Some have called it an anthropological study and it holds up pretty well as that. And it seems to entertain in a shockingly amusing manner to this day. Thirty years later, it still packs a punch and that’s what is remarkable about it.”
Heavy Metal Parking Lot: The 30-Year Journey of a Cult Film Sensation, Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library Gallery, Clarice Smith Center, University of Maryland, College Park. Opening reception and film screening May 27, 6 p.m. For information, visit theclarice.umd.edu/events.