Skateboarding and punk rock and mythological tales should go together like spaghetti and meatballs. Skating personifies the idea of the journey (even though there may be no destination; the path itself and what the skateboarder does during it [read: tricks] are enough), something to which every Greek myth adheres. Punk (or even music in general) celebrates freedom of expression and (ideally) individuality, another trait shared by some myths. While myths tend to rely on a certain rigid framework of parables to get their point across, skating and music, on their surfaces, go in the opposite direction. They follow in the belief that there are no limits, anything goes. Yet, there are basics that have to be followed in order for either enterprise to succeed. Music, even and especially punk, uses verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure in most cases. For skating, one must know the rudiments of the functionality of the board; how to set your feet, push, transfer weight, and so forth. In both, however, it’s the style of the performer that counts most. Musicians know the basic chords. It’s the attitude and coarseness that distinguishes, say, The Ramones from The Germs. Likewise, a skateboarder like Rodney Mullen does totally different things on his deck than does someone like Tony Hawk, but the rudiments remain the same. To combine music and skateboarding and myths is an intriguing aspect, but there has to be a line drawn between servicing the fans of the former two with honoring the narrative of the latter. Otherwise, you get something like Robert McGinley’s Shredder Orpheus, which gives us all three but doesn’t know how to combine its component into a coherent whole.
After the Big War, the poor have been shuffled into the Grey Zone, a housing project consisting of shipping containers. There, Orpheus (McGinley) and his band, The Shredders, are the most popular act (I’m guessing because they’re the only one). Hades (Gian-Carlo Scandiuzzi), the owner of the villainous Euthanasia Broadcast Network, wants Orpheus’ stage dancer/girlfriend/wife Eurydice (Megan Murphy) for his show, so he has her killed and absconds with her soul. Orpheus decides to go after his love, armed with a lyre-guitar prototype, supposedly designed by Jimi Hendrix.
The EBN starts off as a sinister device that pulls the souls from people. On air, Hades and Persephone (Vera McCaughan) drone on about praising the Cathode Ray. The idea is that this thing is killing people slowly, without their knowledge, from the inside out. Immediately, this brings to mind memories of Videodrome and Halloween 3 (and even They Live). In those movies, television is bad (ain’t it always?). It draws its victims to it, like junkies to a dealer, then it takes them over and/or kills them. What you see is not what you get. The complacent act of watching, of being narcotized by the banality on the boob tube, is like the lame gazelle at the watering hole. The New Flesh of Videodrome is a cancer that causes hallucinations and likely warps reality. The signal sent by Silver Shamrock to the wearers of their masks draws forth a supernaturally apocalyptic scenario in Halloween 3. But the power of television to enthrall and enslave is the primary point. In Shredder Orpheus, the programming on the EBN is as soulless as it can be. For example, Hades does a muzak version of “Up a Lazy River.” Eurydice dances for the network, but she’s a shadow of her former self. On stage with Orpheus, the music unlocked her inner spirit, and she gave herself over to it, because that’s who she is at her core. Hades and Persephone stare blankly out at the viewer, hypnotizing the audience with the siren call of the television screen. Television becomes God. Outside of this basic premise associated with the EBN and its application as a modern device for worship, it doesn’t mean much of anything in the overall narrative of this film. It’s simply a way to show the corporatization of pantheon figures and provide the bad guys with a lair. Its signal doesn’t present a threat throughout the film, because we only see one example of its deleterious effect. It never comes up again.
In visual media, specifically film and video, skateboarding falls into one of two categories (you can argue the same about any sport, from volleyball to broom ball to chess). Either it’s a gimmick (think: Gleaming the Cube or Thrashin’) or it’s a spectacle (think: Public Domain or any of the scads of skateboarding promo videos from the Eighties on). Its focus is meant to draw in viewers inherently predisposed to skateboarding and those who find it appealing enough as a curiosity but still want what they expect from any other movie. To integrate it into a film is difficult, because it’s not a sport with sides that an audience can root for (though it almost works in this regard with the jousting and racing scenes in Thrashin’). Any scene in which it is featured prominently is bound to be a showcase, stopping the pacing dead, like the superfluous race sequence in The Phantom Menace. McGinley attempts to make skateboarding relevant here. Everyone in The Grey Zone is a skater, so everywhere they go, they can do a couple of simple moves along the way. Orpheus and his pals “shred” the EBN parking garage, a structure which terminates in an elevator to Hell. Thus, we get an extensive sequence of the skaters rolling down the entirety of the spiral ramp. The story halts. A smoking skateboard shows up to valet Orpheus back to EBN/Hell. I don’t know how a filmmaker could make something like this and not have the skateboarding hook feel like a contrivance. I do know that McGinley fails at this intermingling, though not as egregiously as Gleaming the Cube does.
Shredder Orpheus is a valiant effort, but it’s also proof that you can’t simply “adapt” a story. It gets the large picture mostly right, and it supplies enough details to be recognizable as the legend of Orpheus. But it also tries to serve two masters, and it doesn’t devote enough attention to either for their fusion to be satisfactory. Further, and perhaps worst of all, McGinley managed to rob this myth of any momentum and/or urgency. It relies on angst over tension (the dream scenes with McGinley in a loincloth are just…c’mon), yet even this doesn’t solve the main problem of doing something like this in the first place. Myths are traditionally told in general, sweeping motions. We know who the heroes and villains are, because they are the heroes and villains. Films need to flesh out the characters, to breathe some life into their interpretations, and to give these people something to do when they’re not out Questing. McGinley doesn’t outside of skating, which tells us nothing about these guys other than that they skate. His characters meander around, or play music, or talk a lot while saying nothing. There is no invigoration or development of the archetypes. Like skateboarding, Shredder Orpheus’ characters are on screen only for show.
MVT: The underlying idea behind the project is noteworthy.
Make or Break: Orpheus’ first story-cancelling song is enough to let you know that the filmmakers didn’t quite know what to do with what they had but still had to get it to feature length.