“Any ordinary man would have given it up by now!”
In my treasure trove of favorite movie experiences, few match the wit, mirth and profound charm that is baked into the 1988 classic: Tapeheads. Directed by Bill Fishman, a music video director who would go on to direct other excellent films based in the music biz such as “Reckless & Wild” and “My Dinner with Jimi”, Tapeheads is a wonderfully creative and humorous story of 2 best friends and their pursuit of their dreams. Josh (Tim Robbins) wants to make high quality professional music videos, and Ivan (John Cusack) wants to make money, lots of it. After striking out in the private sector, Josh and Ivan hatch a scheme to start a video production company named “Video Aces” with the hopes of becoming respected (and well payed) music video directors. Here is a sample of their first professional job:
What really works in this film is the way Tim Robbins and John Cusack riff off each other. Their characters, Josh and Ivan respectively, interact in a way that only best friends who’ve known each other forever act. It’s hard to say whether it was genius casting, genius acting, genius direction, or somehow a hat trick of all 3 combined, regardless the end result is satisfying and hilarious. They know absurdly complex dance moves, they are able to anticipate each other’s needs and they always work together no matter how dire the situation. They are the glue that binds all of the wacky and weird elements together, which in turn makes this movie such a delight to watch.
On top of the dynamic duo, it’s worth mentioning that the soundtrack for Tapeheads is phenomenal. With a score by Fishbone, as well as an appearance in the film for a rendition of “Slow Bus Movin'”, you know that the sound will be fresh and energetic. Their style, ska-punk, fits very well with the vibe of the film. Also on tap are songs by the Swanky Modes, a fictional soul group fronted by actual R&B legends Sam Moore and Junior Walker. The Modes give a nice classic feel to the soundtrack, and it’s hard not to sing along whenever “Ordinary Man” comes on. Rounding out the LP are tracks by Devo, Stiv Bators, Bo Diddley, King Cotton and Tim Robbins (under the pseudonym Bob Roberts). Just a fun and eclectic mix of awesome tracks.
The other fun thing you might notice, especially if you are from a certain generation (or before even that), are all of the cameos made by some fairly cool, if in some cases, obscure celebrities. Of note, you can see: Michael Nesmith from the Monkees (he also produced the film), Lyle Alzado – a famous football legend, the Human Beatbox – Doug E. Fresh, Jello Biafra from the Dead Kennedys, Don Cornelius – the host of Soul Train, Mary Crosby from the TV series Dallas, the TV and film actress Connie Stevens, King Cotton – blues musician, comedy musician Weird Al Yankovic, Sam Moore from Sam & Dave, Junior Walker – a Motown legend, Bobcat Goldthwait – actor/comedian, rock icon Ted Nugent, Martha Quinn – one of the original VJs from MTV, and a very young Courtney Love – the musician/actress. There’s a veritable cornucopia of celebrity guest stars, and the aforementioned list is not complete, there’s quite a few more you will be able to find. It’s fun to look for them, which essentially becomes a drinking game unto itself as you and your friends have to figure out where they are from/why they are famous first. You’ll be drunk before the first 30 minutes, guaranteed.
Ultimately, the real reason to fall in love with this movie is simply because it is a tale of success during adversity, of chasing your dreams no matter the cost. Our dreams are what keep us going, they give us hope for the future and goals to strive for. They are not usually easy to achieve, and in many cases they require a level of sacrifice that most people are not comfortable with. But this is not a tale of ordinary men, this is one of 2 extraordinary men who rise to the occasion in such a way that not only do they get to live their dreams, they get to fulfill a lifelong fantasy as well. Magic happens for Josh and Ivan, and it doesn’t come easy, but as the Swanky Modes say, “any ordinary man would have given it up by now!”