20 Years of Madness (2015)
Editor’s Note: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2015 Boston Underground Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit bostonunderground.org and follow BUFF on Twitter @.
We all have our own thing. That singular hobby or obsession that is ours. There is a deep love that accompanies the time spent with that outlet. Be it music, movies, cars, food, or whatever else you have that allows you to open, it is the one place where you are fully you. There are those that are lucky or smart enough to translate this object of adoration into a career, while others accept it as an offshoot, an avenue of weekend exploration. The thought of losing that avenue is akin to losing a loved one. As it leaves it would take with it a part of you. This idea of loss of self is what makes 20 Years of Madness so emotionally relevant.
Despite its juvenile origins, 20 Years of Madness is frequently a very sober film on the difficulty of growing up.
On the surface this is a documentary about 30 Minutes of Madness and leader Jerry White Jr.’s attempt to make a new episode roughly twenty years after a falling out. However, as most members of the audience won’t be familiar with some obscure Michigan public access show from the 90s that aired just over a dozen episodes, a familiarity with the source material is thankfully unnecessary. Director Jeremy Royce spends just enough time setting the table, making the audience aware of the show and its many moving pieces. Sure, you could go back and watch roughly seven hours of adolescent buffoonery, but that very act may actual undercut the film itself. Despite its juvenile origins, 20 Years of Madness is frequently a very sober film on the difficulty of growing up.
There are a lot of side roads that the film takes to finally getting to the point. In the buildup to actually getting the episode off of the ground, Royce does his best to give us glimpses of every member of the group. The trouble is that the group is just so large, so while the attempt to give everyone his due is respectable, it often makes whole sections feel disjointed and unfocused. Additionally, as it continues on and those with emotionally deep backstories just aren’t as interesting in the making of the show, they drift away. Eventually, it becomes a story about Jerry, Joe, John, and Jesus, and once we get to this core group, the film is far more successful.
One of its successes arises from an assessment and discussion on what makes up family and the importance of friendship. These four, with Jerry and Joe especially, were once great friends, but egos and disagreements have driven them apart. As teenagers, the thought of angrily pushing a friend away isn’t nearly as caustic, however the time apart and alone has allowed many of them to understand just how important it is to have that support system. For a group of outcasts and misfits, to find a group of like-minded individuals excitedly pursuing similar dreams, there are few highs higher. Jerry and Joe had found family in one another and having since been deserted, both have suffered. Watching the two come back together at first is awkward, but as the film begins to roll and the creative juices flow, they both come alive.
…when it finds its way it is sweet, messy, and full of a lot of love and understanding.
Joe Hornacek’s story is perhaps the most captivating. A driving force in 30 Minutes of Madness, he has remained largely stagnant since the show’s demise. The crazy-eyed and excitable child has faded away to a subdued and troubled adult. In some especially tender and vulnerable moments, Joe is able to confess just how difficult it has gotten. Moments like these often get buried in the efforts to actually make a new episode, but it is here that the film shows its greatest strength. While Joe becomes less talkative over the course of the film, putting his life and energy into the episode itself, you yearn for more time of contemplation. Jerry and Joe have a clearly deep love and respect for one another and you ache for them to just share more. It speaks to the frustrating difficulty that many have with confronting honesty. The easy road would have been to have Royce spill the beans to Jerry, but he is smart not too, allowing the film to continue on much more authentically.
A prevailing nostalgic crave runs strong throughout 20 Years of Madness. In ways, it is reminiscent of Best Worst Movie, exploring the thought of failed expectations and the destruction of a creative outlet. While it can occasionally spin its wheels as it goes through the paces of actually making a new episode of 30 Minutes of Madness, when it finds its way it is sweet, messy, and full of a lot of love and understanding. It meddles in many themes, but is most effective when exploring the close proximity of friends and family and the inherent need for creativity. As its subjects reflect back on the dissolution of friendships, it further speaks to the necessity of it, revealing a veiled discussion of loss that is often truly heartbreaking. 20 Years of Madness is frequently as funny as it is touching. While it has the tendency to get somewhat lost in its own mundanity and the plethora of stories at hand, as it finds its focus it is wonderfully thought provoking.
Now if you’ll give me a second, I have some friends I need to call.
20 Years of Madness is frequently as funny as it is touching. While it has the tendency to get somewhat lost in its own mundanity and the plethora of stories at hand, as it finds its focus it is wonderfully thought provoking.