Wolpaw’s the Reel Deal

Published in Senior Digest on September 2015

When planning the 2nd Annual S.A.M. Fest, in conjunction with the Pawtucket Arts Festival, Slater Mill’s Executive Director, Lori Urso scheduled a showing of Jim Wolpaw’s “Complex World.” Urso, also a professional musician, knew featuring the film at her event last month was a great way to promote a local Providence filmmaker and give homage to The Young Adults, a popular rock band playing at the nonprofit’s weekend festival.

 Rediscovering a Classic Film at S.A.M. Fest

On Aug. 30, more than 80 people gathered early evening under the large white tent at Hodgson Rotary Park to watch on a big outdoor screen the 81-minute offbeat cult rock ‘n’ roll comedy filmed at Providence’s Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel. While the film attracted the curious, many adoring fans of The Young Adults came to check out the flick, too, says Urso.

The story captures one night at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, with its zany plot involving terrorists, political conspiracy, 100 pounds of explosives in the bar’s basement and drugs, with music from iconic Providence bands such as the Young Adults, NRBQ and Roomful of Blues. The “Complex World’ had a two-month run in a Boston and one week in New York City, and it garnered good reviews. However, a distribution deal with Hemdale, a major film distributor that released “The Terminator” and the “Last Emperor,” fell through, ending up in a lawsuit. Even though Wolpaw won his case and a small settlement, the legal suit sealed the fate of the film. The filmmaker’s DVDs are sold on a website, and the last public showing was in 2010, for two days at the Cable Car in Providence to raise money for a charity.

Urso, 51, remembered being an extra during the 1987 film shoot, “a biker chick hanging out in the bar’s parking lot” at 79 Washington St.  “Quite a few people that I knew showed up to be extras that night. I’m glad I was able to be part of it,” she said.

Rudy Cheeks one of the founders of Young Adults and co-writer of the Phillip & Jorge column published in “Motiff Magazine,” was in attendance during the S.A.M. Fest screening, and he observed people of all ages in attendance, many of whom watched the film for the first time.

Even though the film was produced about 25 years ago, “it’s held up pretty well over the years,” says Cheeks. “The strongest part of the film was its ‘mise en scène,’ the capturing of the inside atmosphere of the bar.”

 The Making of a Classic Film

While it took about two-and-a-half months to shoot the film in 1987, it took more than two years to bring “Complex World” to the screen of the Cable Car Theatre in 1990, says Wolpaw, noting that it ran for a record four months. The veteran filmmaker, who was nominated for an Academy Award for a 1985 documentary, was brought into this film project by Rich Lupo, the owner of Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, who just happened to be his roommate at Brown University and later a bartender and manager at the Providence bar.

According to Wolpaw, the efforts to create and fund a film began a year before the bar was going to be torn down to make way for condos. The film was to use Lupo’s as a basis for the movie to “explain the spirit of the bar,” he said, noting that it would be shot like a documentary film.

Lupo invested the most to produce the film, but with increased costs, other friends chipped in, said Wolpaw. The unique film stood out among films that were produced in Hollywood, he said, “noting it was not the typical movie.”

Two years of editing and reshoots would later result in the final film, says Wolpaw, noting that over the years and even at the Slater Mill screening he “had trouble watching it.” Shooting the film like a documentary just did not work for the plot, he said, but it captured an early era of the Providence music scene.

Even after more than two decades since being released, orders for “Complex World” keep trickling in, says Wolpaw, who has worked as an adjunct film professor at Emerson College in Boston, the University of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island School of Design. He is pleasantly surprised that orders come in from such faraway places as British Columbia and France.

 A Prolific Filmmaker  

Besides his Classic “Complex World,” Wolpaw is known for innovative approaches in considering artists and issues in the arts, and he has an impressive number of films under his belt:  “Cobra Snake for a Necktie” (Showtime 1980), a portrait of rock ‘n’ roll legend Bo Diddley; “Loaded Gun: Life, and Death, and Dickinson” (PBS 2003, INPUT 2004), a quirky look at poet Emily Dickinson that was chosen by “The Library Journal” for its list of Best Poetry Films; and “First Face: The Buck Starts Here” (PBS 2011), an accounting of the dollar bill portrait of George Washington

Even at 60, Wolpaw, who has won awards at more than a dozen film festivals worldwide, has not slowed down. He is still working on three projects, a film about Cleveland poet and activist Daniel Thomson, one detailing the history of Rhode Island’s Ladd Center and a fictional narrative film about poet Dickinson. Hopefully, they will have a long shelf life and audience like “Complex World.”

“Complex Word” can capture viewers who wish to relive their experiences at Lupo’s, and purchases of the DVD benefit the Gloria Gemma Foundation and Advocates in Action. For details, go to www.complexworldthemovie.com.

Rhode Island PBS at Its Best:

Published in Pawtucket Times, March 1, 2013

            Television viewers can expect to experience magical music moments when the past, present, and future converge, on Monday, March 4, 2013, starting at 7:30 p.m., when WSBE Rhode Island PBS kicks off a jam packed evening that showcases legendary and local stars orbiting the rock, rhythm & blues music scene. The night also officially announces the debut of a Pawtucket produced music series, “Meet Me at THE MET.”

A Gathering of Live Local Bands

            According to Lucie Raposo, public information manager at WSBE Rhode Island PBS, local musicians, performing live right in their studio that evening during program breaks, will most certainly bring amazing energy and edge to Rhode Island’s public television’s fundraising effort. During the four hours of evening programs, viewers can sit back and listen to their favorite local bands from around the Ocean State and southern Massachusetts: Kevin Williams and The Invisible Orphans; Providence’s The Jess Lewis Band; award-winning singer/songwriter Mark Cutler of Providence; alternative folk artist Allysen Callery of Bristol; and 10-year old guitar prodigy Nolan Leite of Pawtucket.

            Raposo notes that this evening opens with Albert King with Stevie Ray VaughnIn Session. In 1983, when legendary blues guitarist Albert King, age 60, was joined by his disciple Stevie Ray Vaughan, age 29, on a Canadian soundstage for the live music TV series “In Session,” magic took place. Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan – In Session is not simply a television program: it’s a summit of two master musicians. The only known recording of King and Vaughan performing together, this is the concert that blues fans in general, and Stevie Ray Vaughan fans in particular, have waited years for, she says.

The Legendary Rolling Stones

            Adds Raposo, then at 9 p.m., it’s musical mayhem in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. The concert extravaganza marked the last performance of the original line-up of “The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band”: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts. The Rolling Stones are joined by an all-star musical cast: Jethro Tull, The Who, Marianne Faithfull, Taj Mahal, Yoko Ono, and the ad-hoc, one-time only supergroup “The Dirty Mac” featuring John Lennon (guitar/vocals), Keith Richards (bass), Eric Clapton (guitar), fresh from his break-up with Cream, and Mitch Mitchell (drums) of The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

           The program was originally planned and staged by the Rolling Stones in December 1968 as a BBC TV special to promote the newly released Beggars Banquet, however, it never aired. Finally, in 1989, it was discovered in a trash bin at The Who’s vault in London. It has been restored to preserve this historic once-on-a-kind event and was first broadcast in 2007. The public television broadcast includes a 2004 interview with The Who’s Pete Townshend about the historical gathering.

Introducing…“Meet Me at THE MET”

            At Rhode Island PBS’s fundraiser, Bruce McCrae (a.k.a. Rudy Cheeks) and Nate Flynn will introduce their new musical performance series, “Meet Me at THE MET,” which will air on WSBE Rhode Island PBS.  Board Members of the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame will staff the phones during the Monday fundraiser.

            Opening up a music venue at Pawtucket’s Hope ArtisteVillage in 2010, owner Rich Lupo saw an opportunity to bring the old Met Café  back, once located underneath I-195 in the CapitolCity’s Jewelry District, before it fell to the wreaking ball. Luckily, the spirit of the music venue lived on. Lupo brought it back to life downtown in the ‘90s and early 2000s with a new incarnation appended to the middle era Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel.

            Flynn remembers the original Met Café  – “not much bigger than a McMansion’s living room – was a hangout where the beer was almost cold and the music was always hot.” According to Flynn, if you didn’t know where it was, you could follow any one of the cars downtown whose bumpers sported a sticker imploring one to “Meet Me at The Met.”  It was a great music scene and, soon after opening, national acts with Rhode Island pedigrees like Roomful of Blues and the Fabulous Thunderbirds became regulars, he said.

            This latest re-incarnation of THE MET, in a 650,000 square-foot historic mill in Pawtucket, has prompted the production of a new Rhode Island PBS program, “Meet Me at THE MET,” to be filmed there, says Cheeks. With the airing of each of their hour-long  programs, Cheeks and Flynn hope to bring back what made the original Met café, Lupo’s or the Living Room so special to many Rhode Islanders: an intimate-sized performance space that would nurture local musicals and expose audiences to emerging superstars.

            The new WSBE Rhode Island PBS program is the brainchild of Pawtucket-born Cheeks and Flynn, a native of North Smithfield.  Cheeks, inducted into the Pawtucket Hall of Fame in 2007, needs no introduction as a member of legendary local bands the “Fabulous Motels,” “Young Adults,” and Jackiebeat Orchestra. His 40-year career also spanned occasional acting in films and serving as narrator in documentaries that appeared on national PBS, and teaching at local Universities. Over the years, he hosted radio talk shows on WALE, WPRO and WHJJ.  His cable television show, the Club Genius, won a Rhode Island State Film award.

            Cheeks is a highly regarded columnist, writing for alternative press in the Ocean State since 1979 for the Providence Eagle, The NewPaper and now the Providence Phoenix, writing the Phillipe & Jorge’s Cool Cool World with long-time side kick Chip Young for 33 years.  He even created a nightclub act called Comediac’s Bad Film Festival where the worst movies ever made were screened (appearing 4 or 5 years) before the nationally syndicated Mystery Theater.  In 1997, he the former Pawtucket resident served as Grand Marshal of Pawtucket’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

            Flynn is an internationally award-winning communications professional. While a student at BrownUniversity, he studied electronic music composition at the McColl Studio of Electronic Music. During his time on College Hill, he was a key member of the Brown Student Concert Agency, Billboard Magazine’s then top-rated college concert agency and stage crew, working stage crew for internationally-recognized bands, including Bob Marley, Blondie, U2, Dire Straits, the Kinks, Emmylou Harris, The Ramones, Dave Brubeck, Carley Simon, Pat Metheny, Bonnie Raitt, and Little Feat, among many others.

A Chance Encounter

            By chance, in 2011, Cheeks and Flynn became part of a group of individuals who banded together to found the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame.  Having known each other for years, their work on the Hall triggered the idea for them to produce a live music show for WSBE Rhode Island PBS.  Based out of Pawtucket’s THE MET, the program will document the great Rhode Island music scene of the last 35 years.  Like the club itself – this is the third MET – the Providence music scene has now moved to Pawtucket, just a stone’s throw from the Providence line. From the ‘70s bands like Roomful of Blues, the Young Adults, Rizz, Beaver Brown, and Wild Turkey, to ‘80s new wave outfits such as the Schemers, Rubber Rodeo, and the Mundanes, up to today’s nationally-recognized Americana groups like Deer Tick, Brown Bird, Joe Fletcher and the Low Anthem, the Providence and now the Pawtucket music scene becomes vibrant.  

            Flynn notes that advances in video technology have made it possible to take advantage of THE MET’s great sight-lines and line-ups  to capture live music in a powerful new way, getting closer to the music than ever before.  “Meet Me at THE MET” is the perfect vehicle to record Rhode Island’s finest groups and music where it’s at its best, in a club setting where musicians are no more than 40 or 50 feet from the audience, he says, noting that many of the older bands they hope to reunite on the show were never properly recorded in their heyday.  “Just as important as the venue, is the support of THE MET’s owners, Rich and Sarah Lupo, and the crew that works there. 

            All this comes together to create a very special opportunity to showcase some great music,” says Flynn, who recognized the efforts of Dave Marseglia, David W. Piccerelli and Jodi Mesolella, of WSBE Rhode Island PBS, for making the new musical programming happen.  

            Cheeks will host the show, do interviews, and provide context for the musical performances, relying on his decades of experience as a great musician, columnist, and bon vivant. Flynn will handle video production, edit the videos, and mix the audio. They’ve teamed up with IMAJ Associates, a Rhode Island-based, award-winning design firm, to help with the look of the show, and they have lined up an audio company to record the multi-track during the performances (that is to tape each performer’s instruments and microphones individually to get a proper mix of sound.)

            For more information about “Meet Me at THE MET “or to learn more about sponsorship opportunities, contact Rudy Cheeks at  rudycheeks@live.com.  Or call (401) 580-2265.

            Watch WSBE Rhode Island PBS over the air on digital 36.1, on Cox Cable 08 / 1008HD, Verizon FiOS 08 / 508HD, Comcast 819HD, DirecTV 36, and Dish 7776.  Be very generous in supporting WSBE Rhode Island PBS to keep quality local programming on Rhode Island’s only public television station.

            Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a freelance writer who covers health care, aging and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.