You may not have heard of El Duce also known as Eldon Hoke, the lead singer of Shock Rock band The Mentors, but its safe to say that even if you had, he wouldn’t give a flying fuck.
In fact most of the world was unaware of the controversial bands existence until they were propelled into the limelight by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) who cited them in their 1985 Congressional hearings as one of the reasons music at that time should be censored.
With songs like “Free Fix for a Fuck”, “Heterosexuals Have the Right to Rock”, “Golden Shower”, “My Erection is Over”, “Fag Basher” and “Service Me or Be Smacked” The Mentors made music that was meant to shock with El Duce positioning himself to epitomise everything offensive.
Between 1990 and 1991 aspiring filmmaker and actor Ryan Sexton followed El Duce and The Mentors around, documenting their gigs, tours, lives and story recording hours of footage which was subsequently left in a lockup unwatched and unedited until very recently.
Taking this mountain of uncut video tapes featuring live performances, behind the scenes moments and extensive interviews, master documentary maker Rodney Ascher and David Lawrence the editor of Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist, created The El Duce Tapes, a fascinating and tragic tale of fame, art, celebrity and controversy.
Being a huge fan of Rodney Ascher and his amazing documentaries I was immediately intrigued by The El Duce Tapes and anyone familiar with his wonderful work such as Room 237, The Nightmare and the stunning A Glitch in the Matrix will be aware of his talent and story telling ability.
Expertly crafted Asher and Lawrence shape Ryan Sexton’s epic collection into a coherent and compelling narrative in an attempt to expose and uncover why someone would not only make the music The Mentors did but also choose to adopt the putrid and puerile persona of El Duce.
Made up of drummer and lead singer El Duce as well as guitarist Sickie Wifebeater (Steve Carlson) Dr. Heathen Scum (Steve Broy) and Poppa Sneaky Spermshooter (Ed Danky) amongst others the band dubbed their music Rape Rock, performing at the worst dive bar’s and gig venues around with set’s often ending in fights or huge fall outs between band members.
After the PMRC ironically made them more famous and popular they accompanied other menacing metal bands such as GWAR on tour and El Duce found himself invited on programmes such as The Jerry Springer Show where his sexist and facist beliefs and public image were criticised as a terrible influence on the youth of today.
Through the multitude of personal moments and engaging interviews we learn not only about the band’s past and their musical intensions but also all about the man behind the black executioner’s hood himself whose wilfully offensive act and controversial views seem at odds with the placid, peaceful and excepting picture those most close to him paint.
It seems the songs which contain homophobic and deeply chauvinistic lyrics as well as support for Nazi’s and extremely pornographic imagery, were part of a gimmick that overtook the band becoming their entire identity.
With some of the members stating they are in fact creating art and that the songs are not to be taken seriously it is hard to balance these arguments with the obsessive young male fans whose excitement and enjoyment we see at The Mentors gigs or the fact that they are invited to play at an Aryan rally, proving at least some people are taking their message entirely seriously.
At times difficult to watch The El Duce Tapes pays off in the end as Asher and Lawrence weave together a chaotic compilation of modern day clips proving that in some senses offensive imagery has become mainstream and music, film and TV today is filled with things even more shocking then El Duce ever did.
They also take us to the tragic conclusion of the singer’s story revealing the devastating effects not only of his alcoholism but in adopting such a hideous and hateful persona. Having played the role of the most revolting guy in the room for so long Eldon Hoke started to believe everything bad about himself and his obsession with death drew El Duce to a dark and terrible end.
Packed with amazing extras Arrow Video’s release includes 34-minute illustrated audio conversation between Ryan Sexton and producer Tim Kirk about the shooting of the original VHS footage, brand new interviews, the all-female El Duce tribute band The Womentors and a free-standing alternate assembly of unused material that serves as sort of a sideways sequel to the movie.
Perhaps a little niche for many and nowhere near as mind blowing or innovative as Rodney Ascher’s other documentaries The El Duce Tapes is still an interesting watch especially if you have an interest in heavy metal, censorship or controversy.
Most importantly of all it shines a light on modern media today asking is all to question our own opinions on what is and isn’t acceptable and how far freedom of speech should extend.