Sunday 20 October 2019

THE EL DUCE TAPES - London Film Festival review

From hours of VHS footage filmed by a friend, The El Duce Tapes follows the lead singer/drummer of hardcore band The Mentors, El Duce, known for his shocking on-stage persona where he wore a black executioners hood, and as the poster boy for the sub genre of music he dubbed "rape rock". Spliced together with vintage recordings of other examples of early 1990s debauchery (Roseanne singing the Stars and Stripes at a ball game, Milli Vanilli, and appearances by a hooded El Duce on the Jerry Springer show), this shock doc tries to uncover more about the man underneath the mask.

Early on the film shows us how El Duce, AKA Eldon Hoke,  was able to provoke the audience with raucous appearances on talk shows like Hot Seat with Wally George and Jerry Springer, where, on an episode about the effect his music might have on young minds, he tells the rape victim on stage with him that she "look(s) kinda familiar". After this shocking introduction to the persona of El Duce, directors Rodney Ascher (Room 237) and David Lawrence (also serving as editor) use the assembled footage recorded by Ryan Sexton (in the early 90s an up and coming actor and fan of El Duce's band) to soften our view of El Duce. Described by his The Mentors bandmate as a comedian, Eldon, via on camera interviews recorded by Sexton, is clearly a troubled soul battling a serious drink problem, but not quite the monstrous, misogynistic provocateur his on stage alter ego would suggest.

Although the film may successfully show Eldon to be more than an obnoxious caricature designed for shock value, it also shows the increasingly blurred line between the monster and its creator, as Eldon is confronted by Sexton to justify his band's misogynistic and anti-gay lyrics (the doc helpfully displays the lyrics on screen for songs such as 'Suck, Fuck, Cook and Clean") and conflict on whether or not to play at a concert promoting the white power movement, something Eldon states on camera he does not believe in.

There's a sense that although Eldon knows his songs are hurtful to some, his desire to entertain and provoke a reaction, for want of a better word, trumps that. El Duce may only be a familiar figure to fans of 90s hardcore music and his outrage-baiting act well worn territory by now (at one point he states he should become America's first dictator and build a wall at the Mexican border), but it's surprising to find out how far his influence and infamy reaches, not least towards the end of this film when we discover El Duce's involvement in one of the most talked about conspiracy theories in rock and an appearance in a certain documentary by Nick Broomfield.

Presented in an attractively lo-fi way with on screen fonts ripped straight from a VHS tape, it's almost like this doc is designed to be one of the videos El Duce appeared in during the 90s; mail ordered from an ad in the back of a music mag, to be passed around between friends and put on at parties to shock and disgust people. Directors Asher and Lawrence give shock rock the shock doc treatment and do ultimately paint El Duce as a tragic figure, but a compelling one to uncover.


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