Color, 1995, 78 mins. 48 secs.
Directed by John Michael McCarthy
Starring D'Lana Tunnell, Hugh Brooks, Wanda Wilson, Cindy Blair, Kristen Hobbs, Sophie Couch, Dawn Ashcroft, Phillip Tubb
GuerrillaMonster (BD-R) (US R0 HD)

Mississippi-born comic Teenage Tupelobook artist and filmmaker Teenage TupeloJohn Michael McCarthy went on quite a wild tear in the mid-'90s, starting off with the ambitious homegrown production Damselvis, Daughter of Helvis in 1994 and letting his exploitation influences run wild across Mississippi and Tennessee in 1995's The Sore Losers. Sandwiched in between is Teenage Tupelo, his music-packed, Super 8 spin on "girl in trouble" exploitation films with a swaggering counterculture attitude all its own.

One of the few modern films issued on VHS by Something Weird back in the day thanks to the involvement of executive producer and showman extraordinaire David F. Friedman (who provided footage from Because of Eve for the birth-of-a-baby segment), Teenage Tupelo follows the early '60s misadventures of D'Lana Fargo (Tunell), a waitress whose pregnancy courtesy of her boyfriend, washed-up rockabilly performer Johnny Tu-Note (Brooks), won't exactly endear her to her conservative mom (Wilson) and half-brother (Tubb). With the aggressive Johnny at her heels, D'Lana finds a possible escape courtesy of a no-nonsense lesbian girl gang who are fixated on a glamorous sexploitation star, Topsy Turvey (also Tunnell). That plotline is very loose given how little actual dialogue there is in the film, but it's easy enough to stick with our heroine's perilous, scuzzy quest thanks to the rip-roaring soundtrack and deliberately retro visual vibe.

Teenage TupeloKind of a cinematic message in a bottle, Teenage Tupelo was largely based on what Teenage Tupeloinfo McCarthy could glean about his parents who gave him up for adoption and whom he'd never met by the time of filming. In fact, the entire film is a collage of personal details from his childhood, family history, current friends at the time, local musicians, and various '60s exploitation films he'd discovered since a fortuitous reading of RE/Search's Incredibly Strange Films. In keeping with the sources, there's a fair amount of nudity and mayhem here but it doesn't really feel like a classic nudie film; perhaps it's the personal nature of the project or the very mid-'90s soundtrack that makes it more of a time capsule of the era in which it was made rather than the one it's trying to evoke, which isn't a bad thing at all.

Trailing after the other two McCarthy films mentioned above on Blu-ray, Teenage Tupelo fares very well on the director-produced BD-R edition (on a BD-50 disc given the hefty amount of extras here). The new scan from the original Super 8 materials looks great, or as great as the limitations of the production will allow (with even the director bemoaning some of the softness in the dark opening sequence). New digital credits have been added since the old ones were generated on SD video, and the Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix sounds nice with a lot of active separation throughout. Optional subtitles are provided in English, French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, and Japanese, and McCarthy contributes a packed audio commentary pointing out pretty much every production detail and personal factor he worked into this film. Also included on the video extras side are some 16mm test footage (13m52s) sourced from VHS before Super 8 was the way to go, "Zanone Zanude" (2m53s) test footage, a 5m58 making-of featurette for the 16mm test, a 6m26s Philips Recording Studio session with Impala for the soundtrack, a Barristers Party session with Impala (3m30s), a massive photo gallery divided into subsections ("Kristen's Party Polaroids," "Dan Ball," "Jim Cole," "Baxter Buck," "David Thompson," "Summer Drive-In," "JMM & Friends," "Manhaters," "Personals," "Locations," and "Art"), a "Heepalo" (5m28s) experiment by Thompson meant to be synced to Uriah Heep's Demons & Wizards, a Johnny Tu-Note and the Scopitones (96x radio interview (17m11s) and four-track song EP, a Chuck Moonchow Super 8 snippet (39s) and 4m52s audio recording about a colorful associate who participated in the film, and a 1m8s gallery and trailer. There's also a fun 1994 excerpt from the local TV show Booba (3m26s) features McCarthy Teenage Tupelotalking about his Teenage Tupelosexploitation influences.

A separate "Sequelvis" section is pretty much an entire day's viewing unto itself including three bonus movies. 2102's Native Son (63m32s) is a fascinating dual narrative of sorts about McCarthy proposing an Elvis statue in Tupelo at the same time he connected with his biological mother for the first time, leading to a cool intersection at the end. Destroy Memphis: See It While You Can! (90m36s) is a McCarthy doc shot in 2016 capturing an attempt to save the vintage, '20s-built rollercoaster Zippin Pippin (one of Elvis' favorites) just as Memphis itself and a band inspired by the ride are going through some dramatic changes. Finally, 2013's Beatnik Manor (48m35s) features music by some of Impala's personnel and a slew of Memphis music artists for a collage of Memphis Board of Education footage, all tied to students from a1972-3 class held by sculptor John McIntire. Be sure to hop around for some Easter egg fun, too. Also included are ten McCarthy shorts: "Waif / Hanna Star" (2012-2016) (23m46s), 2014's "A Day at the Drive-In" (3m53s), 2014's "Midnight Movie" (7m19s), 2012's "Tupelove" (15m17s), 2012's "Goddamn Godard" (25m5s), 2010's "Horror Host" (8m10s), "Tupelowie" (2008-23) (3m53s), the five-segment "Super Tupelo & Super Teenage" (2002-05), 2000's "Elvis Meets The Beatles" (22m54s), and "Super 8 Oddity" (2m4s), a.k.a. "Dracula Reads Playboy." There's a little something for everybody here including creepy robots, drive-in arcana, a Jodorowsky homage, some Bowie love, and a McCarthy cameo as Richard Nixon.

Reviewed on March 7, 2024