Minor cultural icon Rockets Redglare describes himself as a person with identities within identities. His most famous identity is a toothless, seedy bit player in films such as Desperately Seeking Susan, Drugstore Cowboy, Animal Factory and many Jim Jarmusch pictures.
In the beginning he was Michael Morra, born (addicted to heroin) to a 15-year-old dope-shooting mother and a gangster father. After a harrowing Brooklyn childhood that ended with his mother’s death, Morra became Rockets Redglare, an all-around New York badass, bouncer at a gritty after-hours club, and finally drug dealer and bodyguard to Sid Vicious. His next incarnation was as a raunchy standup comic working through his troubled past in Alphabet City nightclubs. He began an uneven movie career as his successful friends gave him work as a character actor — when he wasn’t drowning in dissipation.
This film captures some of the energy of Redglare’s old performances, but the documentary that was intended to help Redglare pull it together instead illustrated three years of slow descent, as Redglare rode a disastrous train — a methadone program, cirrhosis and Hep C — to the end of the line. It can be depressing to watch his labored breathing, continuous alcohol consumption and semi-articulate methadone nodding. At the end, barely able to speak, he sits in a hospital bed with frightened uncertainty in his eyes as he faces oblivion.
Through amusing and disturbing interviews with people like Jarmusch, Steve Buscemi and Matt Dillon, this film explores Redglare’s multifaceted life, especially the charismatic sponging, the astonishing excess, the zonked out highs and dangerous lows. And Rockets lets the voluble raconteur himself spin vivid, pornographic and disgusting stories of his exploits. His hilarious and unsettling storytelling is both a way to engage the world and a front to protect against it.
The videotaping is raw, the pacing is sometimes slow and many will find Redglare to be offensive and obnoxious. But it’s a very personal documentary about an authentic character, from unfortunate beginning to unfortunate end, and it could provide the sort of vindication Redglare was hoping for.
E-mail Michael Jackman at [email protected].