I first heard about the documentary as an urban legend, because it was circulating as a bootleg on VHS.
Once I finally saw Heavy Metal Parking Lot, I couldn’t stop laughing because being a card carrying metal-head since I was 12, I’ve been in many heavy metal parking lots in my life, and it brought back a lot of hilarious memories. Very few rock movies really get it, but this one, as short as it is, really did capture what it was like when you’re young, dumb, and ready to rock.
For those unfamiliar with the magic of this great 17 minute documentary, it was made by two filmmakers in training from Maryland, Jeff Krulik and John Heyn. The duo just went around the parking lot of a Judas Priest concert on May 5, 1986 at the Captial Centre, and just filmed the kids hanging out, blasting music from their Camaros, signing their favorite Priest tunes badly, playing air guitar, enjoying a damn good buzz, and generally making doofuses of themselves, much like I did, and many other millions of kids going to concerts back in the day.
Reportedly Sofia Coppola and Cameron Crowe are just two well known fans of this gem, and for Coppola, it must have been like watching a documentary about Mars, because I can’t picture her in a metal parking lot in a million years. (Metal gigs were usually pretty lacking in chicks in those days, and the chicks that did come to the gigs didn’t look that much different than the dudes).
The Wiki page for Parking Lot also mentions that it played often on Nirvana’s tour bus, and that American Hi-Fi, The Backstreet Boys, and Less Than Jake have all parodied it in videos. There was also a Neil Diamond Parking Lot, as well as a Parking Lot series on Trio.
But of course, there’s always going be a spoil-sport coming along with some contrarian, revisionist criticism, and for Parking Lot it comes from bloated rock critic Jim DeRogatis, who listed it as one of the worst rock movies ever on The Onion.
Metal heads often love to complain about movies that make fun of them, like the second Decline and Fall film, the Metal Years, and as DeRogatis claimed, “I think there’s a condescension to the heavy metal audience. It’s like, ‘We’re gonna show these people as boneheads…’ There’s a kind of meanness; I’m smarter than the people I’m capturing with my camera. And I don’t like that…Metal fans might have silly haircuts and might like some bad music, but they’re also salt of the earth blue collar people.” (And a rock critic would never think he’s smarter or a bigger know it all than the people reading their reviews in a million years…)
The problem is DeRogatis’s attack on Parking Lot is far more condescending than the documentary ever was. Come on Jimbo, metal heads aren’t idiots being taken advantage of by unscrupulous documentarians. These people knew they were being filmed, and no one put a gun to their heads and forced them to act silly.
Many of us acted just as doofy, if not doofier, in the heavy metal parking lots of our youth, just like we played with our lightsabers in our bedrooms like the infamous Star Wars Kid. And if you were among us in those days, you’d have been just as doofy, drunk, and high, and you’d probably give anything to be right back there now.