It is a smoggy evening at the Burbank Airport, and Carlos Gonzales of Mesa is explaining his documentary film, the one he is making by himself with his own money.
"There's chicks showing their tits, dudes smoking weed and some guy who got jumped really bad and they fucked him up. There was everything, bro, and I got it all on tape."
The guy next to Gonzales has a form like a steroid-fortified strip-bar doorman. He waits until Gonzales finishes, then offers up some unsolicited personal information; he's someone who thinks any chance meeting is a press conference testimonial to his all-encompassing prowess. We soon learn that Muscle Man deals in commodities, owns a chain of kung fu instructional gyms, has a hot car and gets many babes.
Nobody cares. A long, awkward moment passes.
Gonzales finally picks up where he left off.
"We just said fuck it and went in and got what we got," he says. "Nobody saw us with the cameras."
Around Gonzales' neck is a large silver crucifix that just touches the neckband of his Oakland Raiders jersey, and his nearly waist-length hair is pulled back into a horse-tail mane. Every so often, some nearby passenger on the crowded plane will stare at him like he's some kind of weirdo, which -- aside from being unshaven and having unusually dark eyes -- he's really not.
If anything, the 28-year-old looks vaguely like some stickup man from a Sergio Leone movie.
Gonzales had spent the day before at the Devore Blockbuster Pavilion, capturing all the head-banging splendor of Ozzfest '99 with two handheld digital cameras. The day and night festival featured, among other riff-addled naysayers, Black Sabbath, Rob Zombie and Godsmack. Not exactly the stuff of Kevin Smith or Todd Solondz. Gonzales says he spent many weeks planning his trip to Ozz, and saving up from his two crap jobs -- one as a freezer attendant at a discount store and the other manning hot ovens at a pizza chain in a Mesa shopping mall.
Inside the freezer, Gonzales says, the temperature stays at a good 15 to 20 degrees below, and his job is to pack and unpack frozen meats, vegetables and other arctic goods. He also hangs out in there, often times removing his shirt in an insane effort to train himself for his next project: shooting a documentary of the Oakland Raiders in the NFL playoffs.
"They had a job opening for the freezer that nobody wanted to work," he says. "But I want to go film the Raiders on the road in the playoffs, and they'll be in Buffalo or Cleveland or Kansas City, and I'll be ready, bro. So I thought I'll go in this freezer and take my shirt off and see if I can hang. And I figured out I can hang."
Born and raised in Guadalajara, Gonzales was exposed to his four older brothers' and uncles' mix of streets and rock 'n' roll. He was introduced to street fighting, drugs, naked women and homelessness by the age of 6. He also was singing along to his elders' late Sixties and early Seventies rock records.
"I would wake up to go to school and there would be some naked chick right there on the floor and my brother is all fucked up on something," he says. "My brothers and my uncles were the only grown-up men I knew around the house, and they were all riffraff fuckers. And so they were always fighting and beating up people and smoking dope. But they would go up to the States and come back with instruments and something like Zeppelin's new record. So as a kid I would see all these guys come back with the cool fucking clothes and the long hair and the records.
"And around then I saw 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and I always loved monsters. All the other kids were into Batman and all the cool heroes. I always liked the evil bad guys. I saw the giant squid grab a submarine in the darkness of the ocean and I thought, 'Yeah, I'm gonna make a film like this one day.' But you forget about your dream for a while. I did all the crazy shit and now I know I am back to that dream where I wanna make films."
When Gonzales was 9, his mother beat up her husband's girlfriend and then took Carlos to a poverty-stricken 'burb in Southern California. Before long Gonzales had friends, attended school and learned to speak English.
Years later, Gonzales' mother tosses him out of the house for intolerable behavior. He winds up living on the streets of Los Angeles, doing and selling drugs, getting busted and starting various short-lived speed-metal bands. But, as he proudly attests, he miraculously managed to drag himself to school, which, for a while, was just a short drop from the roof.
"I used to sleep on top of my school. I would party all fucking night and go to sleep on the roof and wake up, get off the roof and walk into my classroom stinking like a brewery. Once a friend of mine inherited $10,000, so we went to all these gigs. We had beer, we had chicks, we had everything. At one point we bought amps and instruments because we wanted to play in a band. But we had instruments but nowhere to live. And since we knew all of L.A., we would stash the instruments in a bush somewhere in Santa Monica and come back three days later and pick 'em up."
Eventually, he found himself living in a friend's abandoned car and playing bass in a SoCal speed-metal band called Demolition. The band forged a sizable following, did some touring -- even opening shows for speedy mainstays like Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel, among others.
After patching things up with mom, Gonzales moved home. By the early Nineties, drugs, violence and booze had Demolition by the throat, squeezing out its last gasp of hope. But, at age 22, after seven years, Gonzales did receive his high school diploma. He spent a year in college and decided to start doing documentaries.
"Our singer was a great singer and guitar player and he had this great fucking sound. He kind of lost it. He got real suicidal. He wanted to blow people's brains away and his chick and his kids. So he saw no other solution but to turn on to the Lord, so he is a full-on Christian now. He is a pastor of a church now. When he was singing in Demolition, he says he believes a demon was speaking through him. The Lord was his only way out, bro."
He resisted as long as he could. But on the boot-into-the-ass advice of his mother, Gonzales got a 9-to-5 job.
"She said, 'Look, the band is done, you're getting older, get your head out of your ass. . . .'"
Then on Christmas Day '98, he packed up and moved to Mesa, where his sister and mother had been living. Scottsdale Community College has a decent film school for half of what it would soak him in L.A., so Gonzales starts there later this month.
"I jumped on the Greyhound, my friends gave me a couple hundred bucks, helped me out, and I came to Arizona. I came here [to Mesa] from L.A. to try to get away from anything and everything and the last thing I wanted to do was be social."
To finance his first camera, he sold $700 worth of Black Sabbath posters.
He says he returned to the "bad roots" and unloaded some hashish. He is borrowing editing gear until he gets into school.
Gonzales took his mother along to Ozzfest, and, like any loving mother, she snuck in her son's two digi-cams in her purse. Gonzales' footage itself includes gritty vérité-ish conversations and interviews with a bevy of street urchins, metal heads and Satan-worshiping types. He queries his subjects about God, Satan, sex and money. And there is no deficit of grim looks into hollow faces of meth freaks, acid heads and basic human casualties.
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Gonzales shows insight into a milieu where few can go, because these people speak his language. Most of the faces show an eerie trust. And, according to those around him, HBO just rang, looking for Gonzales and his documentary as well.
I ask him how it came to be that HBO would call.
"You roll around, you meet people, you connect," he replies. "I need to know how to manipulate the machine that makes this all visible. Movies and stories you feed through the eyes and heart of all humanity. And that is how you get a good one.
"I just wanna tell some stories. And tuition for school is expensive, bro. I'm fucking broke, that is why I am working all these jobs and hours, man. My sole motivation for wanting to be a filmmaker is that there is a million fucking stories left untold. There is so many stories that I know about living on the streets. Real-life shit, ya know? Strippers, pimps, whores, drug dealers, killers, grave robbers, whatever. I know all these fucking people and I would like to tell at least one or two of these stories the way they should be told, bro. They are gonna be left untold if I don't fucking tell these stories. That is what it is all about, bro."