Review: ‘Unauthorized and Proud of It: Todd Loren’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics’

Unauthorized and Proud of It" chronicles the brief life of Todd Loren, whose San Diego-based Revolutionary Comics made a feisty early 1990s low-end cultural contribution while infuriating those mainstream comics and music industryites it thumbed its nose at. A clever if unscrupulous businessman, self-righteous First Amendment crusader, die-hard fanboy and oft-obnoxious personality, Loren is a problematic subject.

Unauthorized and Proud of It” chronicles the brief life of Todd Loren, whose San Diego-based Revolutionary Comics made a feisty early 1990s low-end cultural contribution while infuriating those mainstream comics and music industryites it thumbed its nose at. A clever if unscrupulous businessman, self-righteous First Amendment crusader, die-hard fanboy and oft-obnoxious personality, Loren is a problematic subject. Details of the private life he kept well-hidden seem to have died with him, and, since they likely factored in his (still unsolved) 1992 murder, docu suffers from their lack. Rep-house theatrical exposure is possible, boutique cable and DVD likelier.

In love with rock music and comics from an early age, Loren, nee Stuart Shapiro, the driven entrepreneur had bought a house from his profits in the comics convention trade by age 19. He later built up a successful storefront and mail-order biz hawking “import” (i.e. bootleg) rock memorabilia, then abandoned it to start the comics publishing label whose primary focus on rock star “biocomics” flaunted their “unauthorized” nature.

Recording companies, agents, managers and sometimes musicians themselves were not at all happy about these unaffiliated products; Revolutionary was hit with myriad lawsuits.

The often shrilly combative Loren cried censorship, but settled out of court — until he decided to fight one case filed on behalf of boy-band New Kids on the Block. Surprising many, a federal judge ruled in his favor, basically saying that commenting on acts who’d permeated the greater public consciousness fell within freedom-of-speech guidelines.

While media corporations took exception to Loren’s run-around merchandizing of their properties, musicians were often delighted at becoming “comic book heroes” –most notably KISS’ Gene Simmons.

At the same time, Loren remained widely despised by the established comics industry. Many considered his artistic standards shoddy. Others saw his low-balling payments and hardball contracts for graphic artists and writers as exploitive. Opinions from former confreres run a very wide gamut.Old video clips where he jokingly plays the bad-boy bizman reveal less than the interviews with past collaborators both loyal and bitter. After an hour, the pic suddenly springs the fact that Todd was gay — something he evidently kept from everyone, save “other friends” pointedly not interviewed here. Docu doesn’t even address the irony of an attention-thirsty man who cashed in on the scandalous lives of celebrities while keeping his own life deep in the closet.

Sense of rich psychological veins passed up is furthered when it’s noted that Loren’s 1992 murder from 15 stab wounds — which many feel was under-investigated as “just another homosexual murder” by San Diego police — might well have been committed by free-traveling party boy Andrew Cunanan, who’d later notoriously killed Gianni Versace and other well-connected gay men.

As a result of these dangling threads, “Unauthorized” doesn’t justify its feature length in terms of emotional and intellectual depth. Still, its plentiful visual energy is well-exploited in (occasionally animated) comic book imagery, and interviewees are a colorful lot.

Editing and use of music is a little too in-your-face snarky at times, but the approach undoubtedly echoes the subject’s sensibility. A stronger directorial stamp would have been welcome.

Unauthorized and Proud of It: Todd Loren's Rock 'N' Roll Comics

Production

A Bulletproof Film production. Produced by Carmine Cervi, Chris Swider, Ilko Davidov. Directed by Ilko Davidov.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Eric Burton, Carmine Cervi, Davidov; editor, Vedran Residbegovic; original music, Maxton Koc, Warren Leming; sound, Robert Aguilar, Chad Miner, James Williams; animation and graphics, Burton. Reviewed at San Francisco Documentary Film Festival, May 13, 2006. Running time: 76 MIN.

With

Todd Loren, Herb Shapiro, Alice Cooper, Mojo Nixon, Denis Kitchen, Gary Groth, Mary Fleener, Dennis Worden, Robert Williams, Steve Crompton, Ian Shirley.
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