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Rodney Ascher, David Lawrence, Ryan Sexton
Eldon Hoke, Steve Broy, Ryan Sexton
David Lawrence Synopsis:
Between appearing in supporting roles in General Hospital and local TV commercials, Ryan Sexton spent the early 90s documenting the life and art of El Duce, lead singer of the notorious shock rock band The Mentors.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English PCM 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 104 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 2/9/2021

• Audio Commentary with Co-Director Rodney Ascher, Co-Director/Editor David Lawrence, Producer Tim Kirk, and Graphic Artist Syd Garon.
• Audio Interview with Filmmaker Ryan Sexton
• “El Duce Sessions” Featurette
• Alternate Footage
• “El Duce Stories” Featurette
• “Tape 2” Featurette
• “Reality Check Presents the Womentors” Featurette
• “Return to Rape Rock Mountain” Featurette


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The El Duce Tapes [Blu-Ray] (2019)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 26, 2021)

Formed in the 1970s, the Mentors became a cult hard rock band known mostly for their overtly graphic lyrics. With 2019’s The El Duce Tapes, we get a look at the Mentors in the 1990s.

During the early 90s, TV actor Ryan Sexton followed the Mentors and shot hours of VHS footage that featured the band on and off the stage. In particular, Sexton focused on drummer/lead singer Eldon “El Duce” Hoke, an advocate of “Rape Rock” who seemed to live the over the top lifestyle.

Collated from all that VHS material, Tapes gives us a look at the band via concerts and in more candid moments. These add up to a picture of El Duce and the rest.

The closest I came to the 80s/90s Shock Rock scene came from a vague awareness of GWAR, a flamboyant band that veered more toward a cartoony feel than the violent extremes of the Mentors. This knowledge was largely geographic, as GWAR formed in Virginia, and leader Dave Brockie went to my high school, albeit a few years ahead of me.

This means I never heard of the Mentors until this Blu-ray arrived. Honestly, when I read the movie synopsis, I thought it was a joke.

Footage shot 30 years ago by a supporting actor from General Hospital that focused on a guy who called himself “El Duce”? That just sounded made up to me, so I figured this would become a “mockumentary” with an emphasis on the “found footage” genre.

Obviously I believed incorrectly, as the Mentors clearly existed and Tapes does come from material recorded in the early 1990s. As a piece of history, this turns into an intriguing but erratic and somewhat frustrating program.

Some of the issues stem from a lack of focus, as the filmmakers tend to let Tapes ramble a bit. While Duce remains the main topic, the documentary doesn’t progress in the most fluid manner, and it occasionally fails to really put matters in historical perspective.

Oh, it tries to do so, but Tapes tends to rely on pop culture references and the occasional TV news clip. The movie never presents a particularly strong thesis, as it seems to feel inclined to let the footage speak for itself.

Which can be fine to a degree, but Duce’s tale feels like it begs for deeper investigation. For most viewers, the primary question becomes how much of an act “Duce” was and how much that role truly represented the actual Eldon Hoke.

Tapes hints and teases around the edges, but it doesn’t allow the viewer a terribly clear picture. In some ways, I appreciate that, as it can be nice to encounter a documentary that doesn’t tell us exactly what to think and how to feel.

However, Tapes offers so few clues as to the “truth” here that it frustrates. I think the main issue stems from the choice to stick with circa 1990s footage, as Tapes desperately could use some modern perspective.

It appears most – and maybe all – of Duce’s peers remain alive and kicking, so why not add some 21st century discussions with them? Back in the 1990s, it was in their best interest to go along with whatever obscene shtick Duce pursued, but with him dead after more than two decades, there would now seem to be more freedom to sort out fact from myth.

I don’t want to claim that we get no perspective at all, as Tapes does feature Duce and others as they discuss historical elements. However, I still think they feel like unreliable narrators due to their self-interest in a promotion of a myth.

Face it: with a band as outrageous as the Mentors, it would’ve hurt the bottom line if Duce and the others made it clear they’re intelligent and not the awful bigots they appear to be. The shock was the appeal, so a “just kidding, folks” would’ve harmed their financial status.

Does this mean the interview comments from the 1990s are false? No – they might well be accurate. I just think we can’t trust them due to their proximity to the band’s “heyday”.

Whatever the case, Tapes does paint Duce as a troubled figure. An alcoholic who looked 32 going on 52, he sporadically comes across as intelligent and insightful, but more often, he just seems like a mix of offensive pig and self-destructive sad sack.

As noted, we never really get a great grasp on the “real Eldon” – and it also never becomes all that clear why we should invest in his story. Tapes works overtime to make Duce look like a prophet – one who predicted and maybe even helped cause various forms of societal degradation – but it doesn’t create a convincing case, as it seems tough to swallow that an obscure Shock Rock band had that much of an impact.

Tapes really needs more of a psychological investigation of its subject than it brings. This absence of great insight leaves it an a watchable view of a man intent on his own downfall, but it doesn’t achieve higher goals.

The Disc Grades: Picture C/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

The El Duce Tapes appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Should you expect 30-year-old VHS tapes to look good? Nope.

Unsurprisingly, Duce demonstrated the limitations of the source, so objectively, the film offered awful visuals. Sharpness was passable at best and usually worse, with mushy, fuzzy delineation as the norm.

Jagged edges and moiré effects cropped up often, and edge haloes resulted from the nature of the source. VHS artifacts also abounded, and the image came with plenty of interference and issues.

Colors were natural in intention, but due to the limitations of VHS, the hues looked runny, heavy and ugly. Blacks were dull and flat, and low-light shots seemed dim and thick.

Objectively, this would be an “F”, as it couldn’t look much uglier than it did. However, it wouldn’t seem fair to throw that grade at the Blu-ray, as it represented the source accurately.

At least the movie’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 track worked better, entirely due to the use of score. Throughout the film, we got music composed for the film, and these elements used the five channels in a broad, satisfactory manner.

For the score, audio quality worked fine. That music sounded warm and full.

Outside of the score, almost all the material came straight from the old VHS tapes, and that obviously limited the potential. Speech actually worked fine, as most of the interviews seemed easily intelligible and without issues.

Music and effects taken from the old tapes fared less well, but they remained acceptable given the nature of the recordings. All of this added up to a perfectly satisfactory mix for a documentary of this sort.

We get an array of extras here, and we start with an audio commentary from co-director Rodney Ascher, co-director/editor David Lawrence, producer Tim Kirk, and graphic artist Syd Garon. All four sit together for this running, screen-specific chat that also includes two brief interludes that features a chat with composer Jonathan Snipes. In addition, the main participants call to “Forrest” of a band called the Nightmares at one point for a short discussion of a location.

The commentary looks at the nature of the original footage and its adaptation into a feature documentary as well as other aspects of the program’s creation and thoughts about the various subjects/participants. This becomes a fairly engaging look at Tapes with a good number of insights.

Another audio feature, The Ryan Sexton Tapes fills 34 minutes, 37 seconds with a chat between Kirk and Sexton, the man who shot the circa 1990s footage in the film. They discuss the creation of the original 1990s footage and related elements in this mostly informative piece.

The El Duce Sessions goes for four minutes, 17 seconds and brings comments from musician Jonathan Snipes. He gives us a take on the movie’s score in this short but reasonably informative chat.

With More El Duce Tapes, we find a 12-minutes, 54-second “free-standing alternate assembly of unused material”. Despite the title, these don’t focus solely – or mostly – on Duce himself, as we hear from the other participants found in the main documentary as well. I can’t claim anything especially interesting results, though some decent extensions of the primary topics emerge.

El Duce Stories occupies three minutes, 45 seconds and compiles various Duce stories. This becomes an incoherent package but it boasts some bizarre charm.

Next comes Tape 2: Hollywood Reservoir, a 16-minute, 45-second piece that follows the walk-and-talk footage between Duce and Ryan Sexton. It’s raw material and that makes it more compelling, though we don’t really see anything especially different from the clips in the final film – and “Reservoir” repeats some of the shots in Tapes.

Reality Check Presents the Womentors offers a six-minute, 17-second view of an all-female Mentors tribute band. We hear from bandmembers “La Cuce”, “Clam Dip”, and “Dr. Lorena Chop-It”.

The featurette mixes live footage of the band with the musicians’ obnoxious comments. It boasts curiosity value but it’s more annoying than interesting.

Finally, Return to Rape Rock Mountain delivers a new 29-minute, four-second interview with musician Steve “Dr. Heathen Scum” Broy, though we get a few remarks from musician Allen Wrench as well. Broy takes us on a tour of the band’s former home base and then relates some memories.

The tour sounds intriguing in theory, but the reality proves less effective. Broy has aged terribly – he seems to be 62 going on 90 – and it feels a little pathetic to watch him try to act outrageous as he shuffles from spot to spot. The simple interview works fine, but the tour is a waste.

With The El Duce Tapes, we get an intermittently interesting view of a controversial and self-destructive musician. While aspects of the documentary work, the whole package doesn’t come together as well as I’d like. The Blu-ray brings ugly but acceptable visuals with decent audio and a good set of supplements. Tapes delivers an intriguing but semi-frustrating program.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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