from the Providence Phoenix:

Providence PhoenixThe return of
Complex World

By MARION DAVIS  |  November 4, 2010

THE HOUSE BAND Sport Fisher of the Young Adults.

Stanley Matis had no acting experience when, in 1987, Jim Wolpaw asked him to star in his movie. Matis had been opening up for bands at Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel for years, and Wolpaw was a fan.

"He suggested all I had to do was portray a mildly exaggerated version of who I am in real life," Matis recalls. So he said yes. "I was working in a gas station, and I saw it as a good excuse to get out of it."

The plot involved terrorists who sneak a beer-keg bomb into the club, aided by an antisocial folk singer. On the same night, a biker gang comes in to wreak havoc. And even as they're all about to be blown to pieces, the band rocks out on stage, and the booze and drugs flow freely.

Wolpaw, who'd roomed with Rich Lupo in college and tended bar at his club sometimes, says he wanted to capture "the wildness of a night" in that world. So he enlisted mostly local characters, including the over-the-top rockers the Young Adults (featuring our own Rudy Cheeks), and shot much of the footage in a single night at the original Lupo's on Westminster Street, which would soon close.

No one knew what to expect, but the film, Complex World (named after an Adults' song) was a surprise hit. The 1990 premiere, a private showing at the Cable Car Cinema, was a sellout, and a tighter cut released in 1992 ran for an unprecedented three-and-a- half months at the Cable Car and was also released in Boston, New York and a few other cities. The Village Voice called it "a riotous epistemological comedy."

But then success got the best of the filmmakers: Wolpaw and his partners signed a national distribution deal with Hemdale, which had handled blockbusters such asTerminator and Platoon, and the company showed the film "in just a few shopping malls," Wolpaw says, before sending it to video.

Wolpaw et al sued to block the video release and prevailed, but the movie wasn't shown again. For almost two decades, anyone who wanted to see it had to track down a rare VHS copy. Until now.

This Friday and Saturday, Complex World is returning to the Cable Car, showing at 7 and 9 pm. It's also being released on DVD, with both the original and the theatrical versions.

For Wolpaw, it's a thrill — but also a trip back to the chaos of making the movie, directing characters like the late Captain Lou Albano (who plays the leader of the biker gang), crushing vitamin B12 pills for band members to snort as "coke," and trying to cut something coherent out of all the footage.

"I haven't really watched the film for awhile," he says, "because there are parts of it that make me cringe."

Matis, for his part, who hasn't hung out in bars for 15 years and is far removed from his old scene, plans to bring his 9-year-old twins. "What's going to be special for me is that my kids will be able to see it, and see me on the big screen and get to hear my music," he says.

Not that he doesn't realize Complex World is a bit more . . . adult-oriented.

"My son suggested that he bring one of his friends, and I said, 'No, if it weren't my kids, you wouldn't be getting into the theater.' And let's just say I'm going to have a long talk with them before and after."


from the Providence Journal:

the Providence Journal‘Complex World’
recalls downtown
back in the day
by Bob Kerr  |  Tuesday, November 2, 2010

It was 20 years ago that I walked out of the Cable Car Cinema in Providence after seeing a movie that celebrated rock ’n’ roll and the wonderful things it inspires.

The time was the ’80s. The place was Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel. The movie was about a terrorist plot involving a bomb in a beer keg. That’s sort of what it was about anyway. It was mostly about just being there …

Actually, plot wasn’t vital. It was feeling that mattered in “Complex World.” The movie was, and is, a rough cut of Providence. It draws heavily on the mix at the barroom door — the music spilling out, the street spilling in. If you roamed downtown at all in those years, you can watch this movie and remember.

And you can watch it. It will be shown in a 20th anniversary revival at the Cable Car on Friday and Saturday at 7 and 9 p.m. It will benefit the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation and a scholarship program at Advocates in Action.

If you weren’t around to enjoy the original Lupo’s and the damp, seedy allure of downtown, you should see this movie. It can connect you with pre-Renaissance Providence, where things seemed to happen more naturally.

Sport Fisher (Dave Hanson), of the band The Young Adults, performs at Lupo’s.“At the time, because I thought the bar was going to close, I wanted to do something as a legacy for the place,” said Rich Lupo, who created Heartbreak Hotel and put a bundle into the movie.

Fortunately, as we know, the bar did not close. It moved. But the original on Westminster Street was a place to get your feet wet. It was a place to have a cocktail or six, listen to some absolutely great musician like Richard Thompson, then walk out into streets that often provided an eerily quiet contrast. Sometimes, you could hear Tilman Gandy Jr. preach on a street corner to his internal congregation. Gandy was a street preacher — on the street and in “Complex World.” The movie was flexible in its casting. It embraced the neighborhood.

And it had great music. Music drives “Complex World.”

“Lupo called me and said, ‘I want to make this movie but I can’t make it without you guys,’ ” said Rudy Cheeks, the singer, songwriter and spiritual leader of The Young Adults.

Cheeks told Lupo he was out of his mind, then said yes. The problem was The Young Adults hadn’t been together for a few years. Cheeks had to make some calls. The band, which has musically explored such topics as the dangers of power tools, the appeal of beer, and, yes, the complexities of a complex world, got back together, did some gigs and then became the stars of a movie.

“There was a certain amount of improvisation,” said Cheeks. “It was fun. There were a lot of good people.”

NRBQ and Roomful of Blues are also part of the musical mix.

The late Captain Lou Albano, a one-time professional wrestler, plays the leader of a motorcycle gang who keeps his beard in place with a rubber band. Trinity Rep’s Dan Welch and Daniel Von Bargen came in from just around the corner to claim roles different from what they were used to. Welch plays the club owner who tells the terrorist, played by Von Bargen, that he doesn’t take bomb threats over the phone, only in person. And Stanley Matis, a unique kind of performer, plays the geek terrorist who funnels his frustrations into a bomb. Matis will be in Providence for the screenings.

“Complex World” had a brief run in a few cities. It got some good reviews. Steve Morse in the Boston Globe said it “lands like an electric shock to the funny bone.” Lupo did sign a distribution deal with Hemdale, a major distributor at the time, but Hemdale didn’t do much promoting. There was a lawsuit.

Jim Wolpaw, the filmmaker who wrote and directed the movie and goes back a lot of years with Lupo, said the benefit showings this weekend will also mark the release of the “Complex World” on DVD.

“Complex World” is your best movie option this weekend. It is a piece of Providence that you can’t find anywhere else. You might recognize someone on the screen.

And you might watch the movie and be reminded that a great rock ’n’ roll bar is a civic treasure.


from the New York Times:

New York Times logoComplex World (1990)
A Terrorist Rock Farce Set in a Rhode Island Club

Published: April 10, 1992

Morris Brock (Stanley Matis), the narrator of James Wolpaw's ma niacally zany comedy "Complex World," is a sad-sack folk singer who looks a lot like the young Woody Allen and sings his own ludicrous protest songs in a rock club in Providence, R.I., the Heartbreak Hotel. Morris does not go in for political correctness. One of the numbers he performs asks, "Why do we feed the broads when we could feed the whole damn world?" Another is a series of ranting epithets directed at the state of New Jersey. His performances invariably inspire hails of abuse and garbage.

For reasons too silly to go into, Morris also belongs to a group of political terrorists who have planted 100 pounds of plastique in the club's cellar. It is set to explode if a ransom is not paid by 1 A.M. on a certain night. Coincidentally that's the same night the mayor has paid a motorcycle gang to tear up the place.

"Complex World," which opens today at the Loews 7, unfolds as a farcical countdown toward possible catastrophe. Among the more prominent characters are Jeff Burgess (Dan Welch), the club's goofy owner, who has a metal plate in his head and refuses to take bomb threats over the phone, and Jeff's ominous father, Robert (Bob Owczarek). A former C.I.A. chief who is running for President, Robert would be only too happy to see his politically embarrassing son blown to smithereens.

Some of the other oddballs who pop up are a motorcycle gang leader (Captain Lou Albano) with a fixation on Stonewall Jackson, a crazy street preacher who raves about people being "fricasseed" in hell, and the members of two rock groups, the Young Adults and the Beat Legends. The Young Adults, a defunct real-life post-punk band that reunited for the movie, perform a number of amusing rock spoofs, the most hilarious of which are a funky dance number, "Do the Heimlich," and a love song, "I Married a Tree."

The Beat Legends, an imitation (and fictional) Beatles band, hang out in the cellar of the Heartbreak Hotel, stoking themselves with marijuana, alcohol and cocaine. In the middle of their party, the phone rings and the caller identifies himself as Elvis Presley. The awestruck musicians pelt him with questions about life in heaven. Is he the fat Elvis or the thin Elvis? Where is John Lennon? Has Janis Joplin learned how to sing?

Mr. Wolpaw, who wrote and directed "Complex World," doesn't attempt to impose logic on his story. What he has created is an amiable rock-and-roll farce that has the antic spirit of a Marx Brothers comedy, spiced with enough observations of the rock life in the style of "This Is Spinal Tap" to give the movie a mild satirical bite.

As much fun as it is, the film, which was completed three years ago, already seems a little out of date. Its heart belongs to a rock-club ambiance that feels more early 80's than early 90's, and the evil candidate's warnings about a Communist conspiracy place the film's paranoid comedy in a time well before the era of Boris Yeltsin.

"Complex World" is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It includes sex scenes and strong language. Complex World Written and directed by James Wolpaw; director of photography, Denis Maloney; edited by Steven Gentile; music by Steven Snyder; produced by Geoff Adams, Rich Lupo and Mr. Maloney; released by Hemdale Releasing Corporation. At the Loews 7, 11th Street at Third Avenue, Manhattan. Running time: 82 minutes. This film is rated R. Morris Brock . . . Stanley Matis Gilda . . . Margot Dionne Harpo . . . Allen Oliver Malcolm . . . Daniel Von Bargen Alex the Janitor . . . Joe Klimek Klem . . . Jay Charbonneau Jeff Burgess . . . Dan Welch Hotel Waiter . . . Ernesto Luna Robert Burgess . . . Bob Owczarek Miriam . . . Dorothy Gallagher Larry Newman . . . David P. B. Stevens The Mayor . . . Rich Lupo Boris Lee . . . Captain Lou Albano


from the Austin Chronicle: (10/18/1991)

the Austin ChronicleComplex World
  Marjorie Baumgarten

How do you cinematically eulogize a near legendary rock 'n' roll club set in the downtown decay of Providence, Rhode Island? If you're writer/director James Wolpaw, it's by bringing international terrorists, a red-baiting presidential aspirant, political conspiracy, a sidewalk preacher and 100 pounds of plastic explosive into the picture, along with bands, barflies and bikers who might actually frequent such a place. 

Yes, Complex World is indeed a complex world. Yet Wolpaw keeps such seemingly disparate, possibly corny and even absurd elements juggled with a deft, fast-paced touch that makes the film undeniably engaging.

This independently produced comedic thriller (of sorts) has a spirited zaniness that ultimately qualifies it -- as much as its energetic performances by groups like Providence cult heroes the Young Adults as well as NRBQ and Roomful of Blues, and canny takes on music club culture -- as a rock 'n' roll movie. Yet Complex World is also something more, something broader. Its dramatic elements may read like pure Hollywood high concept -- terrorists plant a time bomb in the bar owned by the son of an ex-CIA director who is running for president -- yet the plot unfolds with a campy charm that elicits an ever-increasing volley of chuckles and guffaws, all the while providing a strong spine for some winning performances by its largely unknown cast.

Though its main protagonist is a disillusioned singer of negative folk songs (played with geeky charm by Matis, a geeky folksinger in real life), the film's real heart is Welch's portrayal of bar owner Jeff Burgess, whose streetwise existentialism of a man who's seen it all over the counter of the bar gives this quirky story its believability, which comes to a head in one telling line: “Sorry, we don't take bomb threats over the phone.”

The story rolls out during one night at the Heartbreak Hotel (an actual music club in Providence, now gone), and while the camera constantly hops outside to follow the loopy plot twists, it also succinctly captures the vibe of the down 'n' dirty club scene. 

Complex World is a both fun and funny slice of cinematic entertainment, as well as a realistic visit to the wild world of the Heartbreak Hotel. All it might take to make this winning little film complete would be for the theater to serve some beer.