30 Years Later, Viral Music Documentary Lives On At UMDby Liam Farrell | photo illustration by Steffanie Espat '15
Jeff Krulik ’83 and his friend, John Heyn, had no grand designs when they rolled up to the Capital Centre with bulky camera equipment on May 31, 1986. The aspiring filmmakers simply thought it would be fun to capture the scene before a Judas Priest concert.
The pair’s ensuing film—a 16-minute reel of drinking, shouting, bad hair and fashion crimes called “Heavy Metal Parking Lot”—went on to become an underground classic and one of the most heralded music documentaries of all time.
“It was kind of magic,” says Krulik. “We just got great stuff.”
On Friday, a grand opening will be held at UMD’s Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library for a yearlong exhibition, “Heavy Metal Parking Lot: The 30-year Journey of a Cult Film Sensation.” The event will feature a screening and Q&A with the filmmakers, as well as the release of a limited-edition beer in honor of the movie made by Baltimore’s Union Craft Brewing (co-founded by two Terps, Adam Benesch ’99 and Kevin Blodger ’99).
Krulik always had an interest in music and entertainment, working for WMUC and helping to promote shows at the Stamp. After graduating, he started selling cable door-to-door and eventually worked his way up to public access director at a MetroVision Cable studio in Capitol Heights.
“The one great thing,” he says, “is no matter what, I had access to the equipment.”
After meeting Heyn while researching old movie theaters in D.C., the pair started collaborating and got together for the spring night that would unknowingly define their careers. They didn’t even bother licensing the Judas Priest music they used, and the fact that it was on video rather than film limited the documentary’s showing potential to small art venues.
But the dawn of the videotape era made its success possible, as copies were passed around the D.C. area and taken to the West Coast by a friend.
“It’s this viral video before the term even existed,” Krulik says.
By the 1990s, “Heavy Metal Parking Lot” had wound up in Mondo Video a Go Go in Los Angeles, an influential rental store, and Hollywood royalty like budding director Sofia Coppola was singing its praises. It also became a mainstay on Nirvana’s tour bus.
Besides donating material related to “Heavy Metal Parking Lot,” Krulik gave a career’s worth of files, tapes, posters, magazines and other ephemera to UMD last year. He has spent a lifetime capturing the strange but true, from the story of a Jewish World War II veteran who wound up with one of Hitler’s top hats to the people behind “Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp,” a Saturday morning kids show spoofing spy tales with real chimpanzees.
“Heavy Metal Parking Lot,” however, is undoubtedly the jewel. Laura Schnitker, a UMD archivist working on the collection, says it provides insight into music fandom, car enthusiasts and how a place like the Capital Centre, a since-demolished indoor arena in nearby Landover, operated as a subculture’s gathering place before there were chat rooms and message boards.
“These people aren’t all that strange,” she says. “They follow their bliss and passions, and they do it unapologetically.”
In 2014, Rolling Stone named it one of the 40 Greatest Rock Documentaries, along with legendary films like “Gimme Shelter,” “The Last Waltz” and “Woodstock.”
“These kids may occasionally be inarticulate, sexist and obnoxious, but their innocent quest for rock and roll kicks is unfiltered youth personified,” the magazine wrote.
Krulik believes that is the key to the documentary’s longevity.
“You were either at that concert or you sat next to someone in homeroom who was at that concert,” he says.
For more information on the exhibit and opening event, visit http://go.umd.edu/wip.
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