The band fell out over the concept album and the fans hated it, so why is Seb Hunter trying to make a film about it with no budget?
It was meant to be the mother-of-all concept albums – a record conceived in the image of such bombastic predecessors as Tommy and The Wall that would take Kiss back to the top of the Hard Rock pile. It would tell the story of a young boy raised by a council of elders from an ancient order and mentored by an old sage called Morpheus who would teach him how to fight evil. It was to be an odyssey played out in songs with portentous titles such as ‘Fanfare’, ‘Dark Light’, ‘The Oath’ and ‘I’. Most important of all, its’ release would shore up Kiss’s failing record sales and once and for all place them on a critical par with Pink Floyd, whose grand ideas the project mimicked.
But when Music From The Elder was released in 1981 things didn’t go quite as Kiss planned: the band fell out over it, the band and their record company fell out over it, the band and their business manager fell out over it (he asked for his business name to be removed from the credits), and the band and their fans fell out over it, refusing to voice their approval through the cash registers. In fact, the project suffered such a blight that even Kiss themselves quickly renounced it, heavily curtailing a promo tour and claiming they had acted under ‘delusion’. Bob Ezrin, the album’s producer and concept motivator (he had co-produced The Wall with Pink Floyd) later admitted that his judgment over The Elder might have been impaired, largely due to a cocaine addiction. No wonder the imaginary film to which the album was soundtrack never got made. Until now, that is.
In a move more outrageous than a Kiss Kondom, more shocking than Gene Simmons’ make-up after a gig under hot lights, more audacious than a Kiss Kasket, life-long Kiss fan and writer Seb Hunter has announced his intention to bring to the silver screen his individual realisation of the non-existent film. Earlier this week, he launched a website (www.elderthemovie.com) outlining his plans, explaining his complete lack of funds and cinematic experience and calling on the public to help. Since then the site has been flooded with thousands of offers of support, money, talent and equipment from an army of Kiss fans and others, including a number of film companies. A production company is already touting a making-of documentary to the BBC, Sky and other channels. $100 gets you a mention in the credits, $50 will see a piece of equipment named after you. Actors, film crew and support staff all have pledged their time free and all funds received will be ploughed into the making of the thing.
The project is likely to test Hunter’s creative powers to the limit. Although no stranger to the world of Hard Rock – metal bands he once played in include the wonderfully-named Amaggedon’s Ring, Rag ‘n’ Bones and Trash Can Junkies, experiences he detailed in his heavy metal memoir Hell Bent For Leather: Confessions Of A Heavy Metal Addict (4th Estate, 2004) – the original plot of The Elder bequeathed to the world by Gene Simmons via the album cover is somewhat thin and Hunter will have his work cut out.
The project is likely to test Hunter’s creative powers to the limit.
It has been claimed that the record sleeve’s gnomic outline was ‘borrowed’ by the makers of the movie The Matrix, with the Lawrence Fishburn character said to be based on the proposed Gene Simmons one in ‘The Elder’. Hunter is determined to coax Simmons into appearing in his film, possibly playing Blackwell, the villain and Morpheus’s nemesis. ‘When I meet him, I shall ask him,’ says Hunter, adding: ‘I shall also request that he remove his hands from around my throat.’
Indeed, what will Simmons’s reaction to this proposed film be? He has been visiting the UK giving business lectures and Hunter, via pals in the murky world of HM journalism, has contacted him and awaits the great man’s response. The Elder website has visitors asking questions along a similar line, such as Is this film authorised? Will music from the Kiss album appear in it? In answer to the first question, let’s hope so, but don’t bank on it. Simmons is not a man shy of litigation (or ill-equipped for it in terms of funds). He once sued the makers of the board game Monopoly and won, having niftily copyrighted the image of a dollar sign on a money bag (the logo on his record label) after the game makers, who had used it forever, overlooked to copyright it. On the other hand, he is also a man famously keen on exploiting his brand to almost any length.
As for the use of the original music, Hunter’s website says: “shoehorning a 30yr-old record into a cutting-edge, contemporary, high-concept, low-budget road movie would be clunky”, though it goes on to voice a hope some of the music from the album might find its way into the finished version of the film. Spinning the bare threads of the plot into a credible yarn suitable for a modern audience is also something that Hunter is not concerned about, intending to update the original concept ‘into a kind of The Road meets 28 Days Later meets Excalibur’. Let’s hope it doesn’t prove to be as difficult making the film as pulling a sword out of stone.
If all goes to plan, shooting will begin as early as Spring next year, and however great the funds (or lawsuits) the project will still go ahead, cutting its budget accordingly and presenting itself as fully unauthorised if the band take umbrage.
So, a plan to make a non-existent film existent and an existent soundtrack almost non-existent, based on a story that barely exists recast for a modern audience. Why? The answer of course lies in the love that Hunter and every other Kiss fanatic has for the music.
He believes that the music deserves the film that never was, that the album itself is a neglected gem in the Kiss canon. In fact, upon its release, the album received a far better critical than commercial reception, and contains some believe a number of Kiss’s finest songs. But it was ‘too radical’ and ‘didn’t sound like the Kiss the fans were expecting’, although as Hunter points out, Music From The Elder is, to this day, revered by true hard core Kiss fans.
Unlike the fans, however, almost since the day of its release, Kiss have been in no mood for a revisionist reappraisal of a work that still appears to embarrass them. It is a truism that at the heart of every ‘concept’ album nest egos completely out of control, but unlike some of their peers ( Roger Waters with Radio KAOS, Pete Townsend with Psychoderelict, for instance) Kiss didn’t make the same mistake a second time.
They came back quick and brutal with the balls-to-the-wall, full-on Heavy Metal that was Creatures Of The Night. And their fans returned to them in droves. They loved them for it….
(The Elder begins shooting in Spring 2012. If you would like to be part of it, why not go to their website. )
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