Onward, Crispin Soldiers

Six years ago, Ryan Page and Mike Pallagi were high school kids who idolized eccentric actor Crispin Glover. Now they're producing films with him.

"I was in Denver watching the film there, and most of the crowd really enjoyed it, it was one of the better shows," Page says. "But there was a group of maybe five middle-40s women who walked out, saying, 'It's not George McFly anymore.' And it's not George McFly. If you're coming to see George McFly, save your money."

If Glover is the auteur of What Is It?, then Page is unquestionably the mastermind of American Royalty. The film is rooted in a gig that Page attended at Spaceland, a rock club in Silverlake, California.

For a while, Page had been hearing from old friends about the Les Payne Product, a smart, campy guitar-drums duo with a decidedly twisted sense of humor. They also may be the only guys on the planet able to look stylish in mechanics' jumpsuits.

"They intrigued me because I'd heard that they were a two-piece and that they were financed by the Illuminati," Page says. "And that could be true, or could not be true, but that really intrigued me."

Page was suitably impressed by the Les Payne gig, and approached the band after the show. "He was actually kind of pulled back from it," Pomerenke says. "He was just being himself and kind of conservative and removed and calm. He's Hollywood scum, and that's how they behave. He didn't gush or anything.

"I just thought to myself, that he was a devil in sheep's clothing. With the blond hair and everything, he was this golden boy. And James started calling him the 'golden boy antichrist.' It pretty much fit. He has this really odd charisma. It's really soothing yet disturbing."

"He's definitely the dark overlord type," Karnes chimes in.
Page was so taken with Les Payne's music and aesthetic that he asked them to write and star in a film he was planning about the end of the world. With the help of local singer/songwriter Dominic Salerno (who performs as Vic Masters, and writes for New Times under the name Serene Dominic), Page, Pomerenke and Karnes bashed away at a script. Often, all four writers would be at a computer at the same time, in a higher-tech version of what happened in 1968 when Jack Nicholson and the Monkees quickly hammered out the screenplay for the cult classic Head.

As the film began to take shape, Page talked of having actor/director Vincent Gallo (Buffalo 66) as one of the stars, and promised that a prominent actress would be cast as the female lead. But he quickly cooled on the scripted film.

"The problem was that there were too many cooks in the kitchen," he says. "Plus, I kind of phased out on my whole interest in the whole end-of-the-world kind of talk. No one could agree on the script, and we had these financiers that were like, 'What's going on?' and that's when it became interesting.

"And Les Payne Product were kind of concerned with how they were going to be in the film. They didn't want to speak, so that became kind of a problem," he says with a laugh, "since they were the main characters in the film."

So Page took the end-of-the-world theme and mutated it into a documentary that would look at how celebrity has overtaken our culture: If not a literal Armageddon, the film would capture a spiritual one.

"At first, it was more about wrapping up the century," Pomerenke says. "And one part of that was celebrity, Jesus Christ being one of the primary celebrities and watching 2000--his birthday--coming around the corner and watching how in America, this is American royalty. If you can be in front of the flash bulbs, anything that you say goes. That whole phenomenon is revolting and seductive at the same time."

Part of Page's reasoning behind making the film a documentary is his belief that the conventions of scripted, narrative material have become so familiar, that the entire form has lost its power to affect us.

"Documentary is the wave of the future," he says. "You see it on television. Stories are kind of boring, almost, now to people. People want to turn on their television and watch Cops, and that intrigues me, too. I'm not a fan of Cops, but people want to turn on and see these white-trash people being arrested for an hour.

"What is real now has become more interesting than what is fake or what is staged. This film is so neat because it's about all of that. We're dealing with celebrities of all kinds, from the biggest rock stars in the world and movie stars down the line, but even that whole thing of watching people on the Internet brush their teeth or something will be part of it."

Because he's a writer at heart, Pallagi doesn't share Page's fascination with documentary, and besides, his studies have drawn his attention away from film. After taking academic sabbaticals to work for One Tree, he's now nearing a degree in English, and working on his seventh novel. He thinks his writing has finally ripened to the point that he's ready to talk seriously with book publishers.

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