Watch Heavy Metal Parking Lot, the Cult Classic Film That Ranks as One of the “Great Rock Documentaries” of All Time

Grow­ing up in the Wash­ing­ton, DC sub­urbs in the 80s and 90s among a cer­tain sub­cul­ture of dis­af­fect­ed youth meant that the short cult doc­u­men­tary Heavy Met­al Park­ing Lot had an espe­cial­ly leg­endary sta­tus. Every­body seemed to know a friend of a friend’s old­er broth­er or sis­ter who had been caught on cam­era by film­mak­ers John Heyn and Jeff Kru­lik out­side that 1986 Judas Priest con­cert at Largo, Mary­land’s Cap­i­tal Cen­tre (RIP). But geo­graph­i­cal prox­im­i­ty alone to the tit­u­lar park­ing lot does not explain the 17-minute video’s pop­u­lar­i­ty.

Since its first screen­ing at a club called DC Space, Heavy Met­al Park­ing Lot has become one of the most beloved of rock films world­wide, a “soci­o­log­i­cal study of head­bangers,” writes Rolling Stone, who rank the short at num­ber 33 in their list of the 40 Great­est Rock Doc­u­men­taries. “Decades before the inter­net made shar­ing video clips as sim­ple as post­ing to Twit­ter or Face­book,” writes The Verge, “Heavy Met­al Park­ing Lot caught on, not through offi­cial dis­tri­b­u­tion chan­nels, but through an under­ground net­work of fans that would dub VHS copies and pass them along.” (The movie got a big boost when the film­mak­ers gave a copy to DC-area native Dave Grohl, who kept it on reg­u­lar rota­tion on the Nir­vana tour bus.)

What makes this exposé of met­al fans so spe­cial? Although there’s undoubt­ed­ly a seg­ment of its view­ers who laugh at the film’s col­lec­tion of most­ly anony­mous mid-eight­ies met­al fans, for the most part, Heavy Met­al Park­ing Lot’s appeal has not been that of so much viral inter­net content—mean-spirited com­e­dy at the expense of naïve ama­teurs. Thought it’s tempt­ing, as Rolling Stone remarks, “to mock these mul­let-afflict­ed met­al­heads… there’s an unde­ni­able sweet­ness that per­me­ates” the mini-doc and its sub­jects’ “inno­cent quest for rock & roll kicks.”

The sheer goofi­ness and joy­ous aban­don that is 80s heavy met­al con­tributes to the film’s char­ac­ter. And much of the love of Heavy Met­al Park­ing Lot comes from the same nos­tal­gic place as that for Dazed and Con­fused except that its char­ac­ters are the real deal. The doc­u­men­tary presents an authen­tic record of mid-80s sub­ur­ban youth in Amer­i­ca. It’s like­ly cos­tume design­ers of Richard Lin­klater’s fol­low-up peri­od piece Every­body Wants Some!! stud­ied Heavy Met­al Park­ing Lot in detail.

Like Lin­klater’s testos­terone-heavy films, Heavy Met­al Park­ing Lot is large­ly dom­i­nat­ed by dudes—metal bros who “may occa­sion­al­ly be inar­tic­u­late, sex­ist and obnox­ious.” And yet, even fans of the film who grew up in more enlight­ened times and places—and who may not have had friends who looked just like these guys—have found much to love in the movie. The slice-of-life char­ac­ter stud­ies and inter­views cre­ate “a time cap­sule,” Kru­lik told the Verge on the doc­u­men­tary’s 30th anniver­sary screen­ing, one sur­pris­ing­ly still “a lit­tle bit shock­ing.”

On the oth­er hand, Heavy Met­al Park­ing Lot remains a vital, time­less record of fandom—of the unvar­nished, uncrit­i­cal devo­tion young lovers of any pop cul­ture phe­nom­e­non bestow upon their object. And like cer­tain oth­er doc­u­men­taries about fandom—such as 1997’s TrekkiesHeavy Met­al Park­ing Lot allows its sub­jects to ful­ly be them­selves, with­out judg­ment or con­de­scen­sion. Even as ordi­nary, most­ly name­less, most­ly stoned and shirt­less kids in the sub­urbs, those selves prove to be as at least as enter­tain­ing as the flam­boy­ant band they came to see.

Heavy Met­al Park­ing Lot will be added to our list of Free Doc­u­men­taries, a sub­set of our col­lec­tion 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More. Above you can also watch, “Heavy Met­al Park­ing Lot Alum­ni: Where Are They Now,” the sequel to our fea­tured film. 

via The Verge/Dead Spin

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1980s Met­al­head Kids Are All Right: New Study Sug­gests They Became Well-Adjust­ed Adults

Punk & Heavy Met­al Music Makes Lis­ten­ers Hap­py and Calm, Not Aggres­sive, Accord­ing to New Aus­tralian Study

Heavy Met­al: BBC Film Explores the Music, Per­son­al­i­ties & Great Cloth­ing That Hit the Stage in the 1980s

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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