Shredder Orpheus (Robert McGinley, 1989) | Poster
29 February 2024
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Sitting in a stylistic genre somewhere roughly between films like Repo Man (1984), Liquid Sky (1982) and Forbidden Zone (1980) — the first two listed covered already in Film KlubShredder Orpheus is one incredibly rare and hard to find film that features gritty, dystopian sets; bizarre arthouse new-wave fashion; a wild supernatural guitar and lots of old school “fast and furious” skateboard action. A number of random friends of mine, who happen to be into underground cinema themselves and with a same general taste as myself, have waxed on about this one at points over the years. However, although I had it noted down on a “one to watch” list, as mentioned it’s incredibly hard one to find and watch. It’s not on streaming services and DVD or VHS copies of the film are very rare.

I managed to dig it up from a UK-based cult cinema site that specialises in DVDs of rare films, and even at that the copy I received in the post was obviously a DVD rip of the film on what looked like a high-end DVD-R. About 10 years ago the US indie label Light In The Attic Records re-issued the soundtrack on an LP, which included a DVD of the film, but this release seems to be pretty much out of print now.

Note: If you’re in the US there’s still copies available on websites such as this one.

The DVD releases that do exist, however rare they are, have a mysterious grainy quality as even the official versions of this film on DVD are a 35mm print taken from the original video camera footage. In many cases this would detract from the full experience of the film but in the case of Shredder Orpheus, it adds a gritty aesthetic to its strange storyline and visuals. At least I now had it in my hands and could finally let it roll and find out what it was all about myself.

The film itself was the brainchild of underground American filmmaker Robert McGinley, who had expanded what was originally a short film into a full-length feature, mostly shot around Seattle, Washington. And as hinted in the title, the premise of the film is based on the Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice, which the framework of the film’s underlying plot is based around. For those unfamiliar with this old story, and without giving too much of the plot away, it’s a tragedy of two lovers and the steps that Orpheus (also the main character of this film played by Robert McGinley as well) had to do to try and get his love back from the grips of Hades — who is portrayed in this film, along with his wife Persephone, as highly stylised directors of a TV channel with hidden, ominous intentions.

In the original Greek story there’s also Apollo, who gives Orpheus a lyre — an old, ancient stringed instrument. As it happens, this film has Orpheus as the lead singer and guitarist of a band called “The Shredders” and gets gifted a magical guitar worthy of a low-budget Star Wars set piece. The guitar, called the “Gibsonian Lyre-Axe Guitar”, purportedly built by Jimi Hendrix, gets some action in the film, including during one of the several “live performance” segments of the film featuring Orpheus and his band in a rather rambuncious punk/new-wave club that’s set in the middle of the shipping container city that the protagonists of this story live in. The film also features some other interesting musical segments, including industrial trash percussion sessions that probably took cue from the early work of German musical innovators Einstürzende Neubauten.

Many of the diegetic (when Orpheus’s band plays) and non-diegetic music pieces in the film were composed by Roland Barker, who had affiliations with the popular Chicago industrial/EBM label Wax Trax label, with his brother, Paul Barker, being a member of Ministry. Barker’s compositions are performed by musicians including Barker himself, Dennis Rea, Amy Denio (Tiptons, Tone Dogs, KMFDM) and another Ministry member, drummer Bill Rieflin.

This film is obviously a work of love for art, being an independent brainchild of director McGinley, with an interesting weave of various plot elements: industrial rock, future dystopias, Greek mythology, corporate mind control, punk/new wave culture, outsider art and some classic, fast 80s skateboarding. Anyone familiar with the story of Orpheus and Eurydice will know that that it doesn’t end well, and the film ends with tragedy that sees the various other protagonists fortify their bonds of friendship in the end.

From the late 1970s and into the 1980s, there was a sub-genre of film emerging that a film like Shredder Orpheus sort of fit into — where new, young directors came onto the scene and took on the new wave and punk movements and mixed it up varying degrees of dystopian, speculative fiction. In America you had films like the aforementioned 1984’s Repo Man (Directed by Alex Cox) and 1982’s Liquid Sky (Directed by Slava Tsukerman), along with other films in the same canon such as 1983’s Suburbia (Directed by Penelope Spheeris)  and 1982’s Smithereens (Directed by Susan Seidelman) — all films came before Shredder Orpheus arrived on the scene, and this small list is just the tip of the iceberg — there’s many more weirder and “B-movie” specimens out there if you look hard enough (how about 1986’s Vicious Lips?)

There were films like Australia’s Dead End Drive-In (1986, directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith) and Dogs In Space (1986, directed by Richard Lowenstein) with the latter carrying this overall aesthetic, but less of a dystopian/speculative fiction piece and more of a conventional drama/music film about Melbourne’s “Little Band” scene of the late 1970s, starring Michael Hutchence of INXS fame amongst others. It’s a great film, but doesn’t end well!

And of course in Britain there were films like Derek Jarman’s Jubilee (1978, directed by Derek Jarman), The Comic (1985, directed by Richard Driscoll), Breaking Glass (1980, directed by Brian Gibson), or even 1984’s Decoder — a German entry in the dystopian, cyberpunk cannon, directed by “Muscha” and starting one FM Einheit of Einstürzende Neubauten.

One great feature that binds all of these films together is usually that their soundtracks are packed full of great, underground music from the time or opted for experimental, synthesizer-driven soundtracks. All of the above are totally worth checking out (and most linked to the full films on YouTube for you to enjoy).

DVD by Twisted Danger.

After 26 years, ‘Shredder Orpheus’ Shreds On

Shredder Orpheus (Robert McGinley, 1989) | Featured Image


Official Trailer

Roland Barker Soundtrack


Shredder Orpheus (Robert McGinley, 1989) | Hades and Persephone
Shredder Orpheus (Robert McGinley, 1989) | Backlit baddies
Shredder Orpheus (Robert McGinley, 1989) | Skate gang
Shredder Orpheus (Robert McGinley, 1989) | PTR Soundstage