Richmond Responds to “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel”

Submitted by Dale Brumfield, the man who unearthed Richmond’s “lost” movie, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel” for the recent August 30 screening at the Byrd. For more back story, check out Dale’s 8/17/2010 Style Weekly cover story.

The Richmond crowd filling up the Byrd for the Aug. 30 screening of "Rock 'n' Roll Hotel." Photo by Russ Dvonch.

The setting is Hollywood’s WROC radio studio. Rock ‘n’ roll DJ Colin Quinn (later of MTV’s Remote Control and Saturday Night Live) spouts on-air inanities like “Fantabulacious” while he spins platters by local rock and roll bands. A female station manager sporting a 1981 helmet-head perm and a shoe fetish eager to convert the station to easy listening bursts into the studio and picks a fight with Quinn over playlists before beating him with an Ed Ames album and tossing him out the back door into an alley. Waking up outside, Quinn is confronted by magical bag lady “Mommy Dumpster”, and he drives off on a vintage Indian Motorcycle with a sidecar she summoned. Later, he picks up a stranded 3-person band called “The Third Dimension” and carries them to Richmond’s Hotel Jefferson – the “Rock and Roll Hotel.”

And the password is zit.

The unexpected 2010 discovery of a movie filmed partly in Richmond’s Jefferson Hotel 28 years ago in 1982 fueled speculation among the few of us working on the story about how the city would respond to a film that had been written off as lost, but like a wandering prodigal son was now back and was frankly, a terrible production. The plot was contrived and almost nonsensical; characters walked into scenes and walked out; hastily-added narration was stilted and amateurish and the special effects seemed to be lifted from a Tom and Jerry cartoon, but no matter: Following the premiere of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel” at the Byrd Theatre August 30, Richmond has embraced what had been dubbed “The best worst movie you never saw.”

“Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel” was originally completed in March, 1983 in the middle of a bubble of 3-D films released in response to the VHS revolution keeping people at home watching rented movies instead of in the theaters. Several of these forgettable efforts, including “Amityville 3-D”, “Comin’ at Ya!”, “Friday the 13th 3-D” and “Jaws 3-D” experienced moderate success but none enjoyed the blockbuster success envisioned by the hard-working filmmakers who perhaps entertained visions (or delusions) of grandeur by their “in your face” film vehicles.

The 3-D technology utilized by ‘Rock and Roll Hotel” included the Arrivision “over and under” 3-D “Stereovision” camera, which had just been used for “Friday the 13th Part 3” earlier that year. The Arrivision 3-D technique used a special twin-lens adapter fitted to the Leonetti “Ultracam” camera that divided the film frame in half horizontally along the middle, capturing the left-eye image in the upper half of the frame and the right-eye image in the lower half – hence “over and under.”

“Arrivision” allowed filming to proceed as for any standard 2-D movie, without the additional expense of doubling up on cameras and film stock for every shot – an acceptable solution for a rock and roll film on an extremely tight budget. The final film is then projected through a normal projector fitted with a special lens, producing a true polarized 3-D image, allowing those films to be shown in almost any theater since it does not require two projectors running simultaneously.

Cinematographer John Rupkolvis, a true innovator in the 3-D process and cinematographer on the unintentionally hilarious 3-D version of Charles Band’s 1983 turkey “Metalstorm: the Destruction of Jared-Syn,” drew on over 25 years of his own stereoscopic innovations for “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel.” In fact, Rupkolvis was also supervising the 3-D filming of “Jaws 3-D” at the same time as “Rock ‘N’ Roll Hotel,” divided his time bouncing between locations in Richmond and Florida to supervise both films.

Arrivison’s results were not impressive by a few who saw it: The “over/under” concept apparently reduced the brightness of the screen dramatically, and the result was a shadowy picture difficult to see, further dimmed by the density of the 3D glass lenses. The resulting image was muddy and vague.

Only a handful of Hollywood types saw the original 3-D version at an industry screening at Movie Lab in Hollywood March 8 and 9, 1983, and an unknown number of people may have seen a 3-D version at the former Waverly (now the IFC) Theatre in New York City a few days later on March 11.

“There was only one sequence where the 3-D effect worked,” claims Hotel’s original scriptwriter Russell Dvonch, “a scene with a lot of bubbles floating out over the audience” – a scene that was cut from the final version of the film.

The version of the film shown to the Richmond audience was a 2-D dub made from a 26-year-old VHS tape stored in a closet since 1986. Studio Center Productions remastered and digitized the tape onto a DVD, taking out the pops and scratches and enhancing the color and sound to make it playable on the Byrd Theatre screen.

“Studio Center made it a better-looking movie,” said one anonymous viewer at the Byrd premiere, “but certainly not a better movie.”

Still, the film seemed to be enjoyed by everyone who saw it, since they had ample warning of its cheesy qualities and substandard production values. Russell Dvonch even went so far as to reflect that “it may be the worst movie ever made,” and its “charming ineptness” may well enhance its fate as a future cult classic, on par with any Ed Wood production.

Dvonch said also he was “relieved” that his original script had almost been 100% re-written. “All these years I was afraid I was the screenwriter for this movie,” he said in an interview to be posted by Style Weekly magazine on YouTube, “but I see now I am not.”

Copyright permission from Producer Richard Sweet extended to only one viewing for non-profit fundraising purposes, but as the search continues for the original 3-D 35mm print, so will the search for an ultimate permission to strike DVDs to satisfy Richmond film buffs’ clamoring for their own personal copies of “The best worst movie they never saw.”

The Jefferson rocks again during the Aug. 30 "Rock 'n' Roll Hotel" festivities. Photo by Russ Dvonch.

Doswell, Virginia writer Dale Brumfield researched the story of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel” for 10 months – longer than it took the make the 1983 movie. He is a frequent contributor to Style Weekly magazine and Richmond.com. His first book, a collection of essays titled “Three Buck Naked Commodes” was released in March, 2009. His first fiction novel, “Remnants: a Novel about God, Insurance and Quality Floorcoverings” is due for an October 2010 release. Dale blogs at News from Doswell.

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