In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Before Jackass, before The Tom Green Show, before CKY, there was 30 Minutes of Madness, a guerrilla sketch/variety show on Detroit public access television. Shot entirely on VHS and edited together with the grungy enthusiasm that could only come from a gaggle of 90s teenagers, the program gained a local notoriety for being an antidote to the stuffy, square programming surrounding it.
At the center of it all was Jerry White Jr., an aspiring filmmaker with big dreams. He knew that his work as the auteur behind 30 Minutes of Madness would spawn a successful Hollywood career. He and his ragtag group of friends were destined to be big stars and, more importantly, respected artists. Yet, in the 20 years since the show’s end, the cast and crew have all gone their separate ways. Some have found success in other endeavors, some haven’t. Some are happy, some aren’t. There have been struggles with mental illness, homelessness, unemployment. Some of them even have teenagers of their own. Twenty years ago, the kids of Madness had stars in their eyes, but life, as it often does, got in the way.
20 Years of Madness follows Jerry, now in his 40s, as he visits his hometown in an effort the get the old gang back together for one more project. What comes next is a story of passion, frustration, growth, and ultimately love, as Jerry attempts to mend the wounds of his youth and capture the creative energy that he and his friends once possessed. Director Jeremy Royce gives us a look into what 30 Minutes of Madness was in its heyday through a variety of clips and segments. This footage is intercut with biographical peeks into the lives of many of the cast members, often juxtaposed against footage of their younger selves. In one case, we even see a young Jerry and the gang making predictions of what their future will bring, while in present day they watch the tapes in awe.
The documentary’s strengths lie in its study of the cruelest of all nature’s forces: time. As time passes, our bodies and personalities change, resulting in a const ant shift of interests, capabilities, and friendships. It’s amazing to watch the Madness crew easily fall back into creative step, as well as into the destructive attitudes that lead to the show’s demise. Anybody who sought creative endeavors in their youth are sure to see a reflection of themselves in 20 Years of Madness, and even in areas where the film becomes repetitive, the meditation it forces upon the viewer is potent.
Thematically, 20 Years of Madness would make a great companion piece to Sam Klemke’s Time Machine (also featured at the festival) in that it explores the ability of film to capture a moment in time – to afford immortality to those courageous enough to wield its power. With 20 Years of Madness we get a celebration of the creative spirit and how a collaboration between a roster of diverse minds can create something that can only be described as magical, as well as a swift kick in the pants reminding us to go create something now because life isn’t going to wait.