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The History of ‘Heavy Metal Parking Lot’

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Before May 31, 1986, Jeff Krulik and John Heyn were simply two dudes from Maryland who had an itch to be documentary filmmakers. With equipment borrowed from Krulik’s day job at a local public access station, the duo decided to realize their dream that fateful night by descending onto the parking lot of a Judas Priest concert at the Capital Centre in Landover, Md., to interview the group’s fans.

The footage they walked away with was whittled down into a 17-minute film that would be given the very obvious title of Heavy Metal Parking Lot, a fast-paced and hilarious montage of shirtless, drunken bros and spandex sporting, poodle-do’d girls who are all too happy to extol the virtues of Priest and heavy metal towards the general direction of the camera.

In an exclusive interview with Ultimate Classic Rock, co-director Jeff Krulik remembered, “John Heyn had the idea to tape heavy metal fans at an upcoming Judas Priest concert, and I had access to all the professional cameras and gear. This was the era of Headbanger’s Ball on MTV and heavy metal could fill concert arenas without hit radio airplay, so the scene was ubiquitous even if we weren’t metal heads; which we weren’t.”

Metal fans or not, Krulik and Heyn captured something truly unique on that night. Although the film has its share of burnouts making cringe-worthy statements — such as the gentleman who introduced himself by saying, “My name is Graham…you know? Like a gram of dope” — the film as a whole comes off as a strangely endearing salute to these tailgaters.

“Goofing on anyone was not what we planned for,” attests Krulik. “In fact, we had no plan; no agenda. We just paid our five dollars or whatever it cost to park our car like any concertgoer, but instead of partying or hanging out, we got a video camera out and wandered around talking to anyone we bumped into. We quickly realized our camera was a novelty and people were more than willing to share their thoughts – inebriated or not – on camera.”

One such drunken standout is a young man in a full zebra print jumpsuit that goes on such a fervent diatribe against Madonna and punk rock, that he bashes himself in the mouth with the microphone by mistake.

Jeff and John showed ‘Heavy Metal Parking Lot’ around some local record conventions and film festivals, but then went about their normal lives once the ’90s kicked in. Then, Heyn received an unsolicited and enthusiastic phone call from Sofia Coppola telling him how much she loved the film and how copies were being duplicated and passed around among actors and musicians. Sometime after that, the two heard the film was a favorite on the tour bus of Nirvana. In the pre-internet world of the early-’90s, ‘Heavy Metal Parking Lot’ became something of a secret handshake in underground circles.

“There is no way it would have the same appeal if it were made today,” declares Jeff. “When viral videos come and go in a flash and replaced by more viral videos in an endless repeat cycle. People would be over it in a week, if not days.” All of a sudden, a film made 10 years ago by two friends started screening at festivals again and was exposed to a whole new group of people outside of its celebrity/hipster fan base.

Jeff and John have continued on as collaborators and stuck with the parking lot theme for the documentaries Neil Diamond Parking Lot in 1998 and Harry Potter Parking Lot in 2000. Their most recent film, Led Zeppelin Played Here chases a thread of folklore regarding the band playing their first show in the Washington D.C area at a youth recreation hall to 50 people during the dead of winter.

But for now, Heavy Metal Parking Lot is the jewel in Jeff and John’s film-making crown. Much like other genre-defining rock documentaries like Woodstock or The Grateful Dead Movie, it captures a moment in American youth culture that’s lost in time; something that could never be duplicated. “There was something universal going on there; maybe almost tribal at its core,” Jeff opines. “I’ve always said this about Heavy Metal Parking Lot: You were either at that concert, or sat next to someone in homeroom who was at that concert.”

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