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‘The El Duce Tapes’ review: An intimate look at a chaotic life

Shock rock doc doesn’t stop there.

The El Duce Tapes seems like an odd entry from the director of Room 237. The story of the lead singer of a so-called rape rock band does not seem to align with a documentary about one of the most iconic horror movies of all time. Director Rodney Ascher uses a completely different style this type around and the scares are of a different type. Though the subjects may be different, the subject is just as interesting.

The documentary will immediately conjure up images of GG Allin. In the opening moments of The El Duce Tapes, there is even footage of similar bands like the Murder Junkies. Unlike the film about Allin, this movie is less about the sensational aspects of the subject. Instead, Ascher’s film goes a more personal route and tries to find out what is real and if not, why would someone go to such lengths to entertain.

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To this end, The El Duce Tapes is more interesting than similar films. There is constantly the question of what is real and what is an act. Duce says every inflammatory thing a person possibly can. From talking about building a wall to keep out Mexicans to condoning rape, Duce had hateful views. The things he says are so radical, it is hard to take what he says serious.

His views are contradicted by former band members and family who say Duce was just promoting a gimmick. This can easily be dismissed as those close to him defending something they love. But then Duce states in an interview how he turned down a white power gig because he does not want to play in front of people with “limited thinking”.

The truth seems to lie somewhere in the middle. The El Duce Tapes is the portrait of a hateful man. But it is also clear that he intentionally used his exaggerated views to develop a persona. The white power gig is a great example. He says he does not want to play in front of them because he does not agree with their views, but he will play if they pay $150 and a keg of beer. Chances are, if he did play, he would have said some awful things that his audience would love to hear.

Duce was also a troubled man with a professed alcohol problem. Through no fault of the documentary, it is obvious the audience is never getting a clear picture of the man. Credit Ryan Sexton for being able to get as much as he did from Duce. The two are able to speak candidly and while the interviews do give some insight into the musician, he is also clearly impaired by alcohol during the talks.

The El Duce Tapes is mainly comprised of VHS footage shot by actor Sexton in the 1990s on Camcorder. The raw footage shows the Mentors performing, but the highlight of the documentary are the interviews. It is not just Duce who is willing to speak freely. Everyone interviewed is willing to paint as clear a picture of the man as possible. It is chilling to hear people talk about how Duce seems destined to live a short life. It is even worse when he talks about how he would want to die.

The end of the documentary is incredibly sad. The El Duce Tapes shows a man that is little more than a sideshow. His supposed friends take advantage of his drinking problem and his joke is treated as a death. (In all fairness, that may be the type of tribute he would have wanted.) Towards the end of his life, Duce appeared in the documentary Kurt and Courtney and claimed Courtney Love had offered him $50,000 to kill the Nirvana front man. It was not true and is a sad footnote in the man born Eldon Hoke’s life.

Rom com focuses on laughs and love

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