Actor Steve Buscemi was born and raised in Brooklyn, and the former firefighter's snide, skinny New York-style oddness has become almost a brand name since he broke into films from the East Village comedy and art scene of the early '80s. Now Buscemi wants to introduce a wider audience to one of the late, great New York characters from that era. In "Rockets Redglare!," a documentary opening Friday at the Village East Cinema, director Luis Fernandez de la Reguera chronicles the late Michael Morra , aka Rockets Redglare whose "Taxicabaret" at the now-defunct Club 57 and shows at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut were must-see events among the bohemian vanguard. "In a lot of ways, Rockets was the center for me," says Buscemi. "He exposed me to all of the people I ended up working with. He was one of the first to break out of that 'East Village thing.' "He and Willem Dafoe demonstrated that someone could go from experimental theater to something bigger." But as the documentary shows, Morra's life was a struggle from the beginning. Born in 1949 to a 15-year-old heroin addict later murdered by her junkie lover, addictions to alcohol, heroin and methadone would trail him all his life. "Rockets was really born behind the eight ball," says de la Reguera, who first met him in the mid-1980s at the Wah Wah Hut. "But he used his hard life for his humor. He did have a self-destructive streak, and whenever he made money, it was party time. But everyone knew him. He was a real man of the streets." Redglare was like a punk-era Zelig, turning up everywhere. He was friends with Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, and was the one who discovered the scene of Spungen's murder at the Chelsea Hotel in 1978. He was a bodyguard for artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. He modeled for artist Julian Schnabel. As an actor, he appeared in most of director Jim Jarmusch's films, as well as mainstream fare like "Desperately Seeking Susan," "Big" and "Oz." When Redglare fell on hard times, Buscemi says he'd help his troubled friend out with money for rent and food, and casting him in films he directed (including "Trees Lounge"). In 2001, at age 52, Redglare died of liver failure in Bellevue, where he was born. "The 1980s were a special time in the East Village, and Rockets represented that," says de la Reguera. "There are plenty of tattoos and nose rings now, but it's not the same. Rebellion is in your head, and that's what Rockets had." "He typified the kind of person you can only find in New York," says Buscemi. "There wasn't, and isn't, anyone like him."

—Joe Neumaier NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

 

A PORTRAIT OF EXCESS, PAINTED IN MANY MOODS


When Rockets, born Michael Morra, says "Everything I ever liked I did to excess, " he's definitely not exaggerating. Emerging as a stand-up comic in the Lower Manhattan club scene of the 1980s, he became an actor and appeared in numberous indepnedent features and the occasional mainstream movie. He had no trouble winnin admirers and friends, such as Willem Dafoe, Steve Buscemi and Matt Dillon, director Jim Jarmusch and artist-director Julian Scnabel, or pursuing countless women, but was plagued with an epic eating disorder and equally monumnetal substance abuse problems.
Rockets comes across as brillian, funny and outrageous as he is self-destructive. Born to a 15-year-old heroin addict who was murdered by a lover, a brutal junkie ex-boxer, Morra grew up in an abusive atmosphere surrounded by criminals. In his early 20s, Morra was handsome and at normal weight, but soon his passion for wretched excess took over. But as documentarian Luis Fernandez de la Reguera explored Morra's life, it becomes as obvious to Rockets as to the viewer that he can't last forever on his seesaw existence. He longs for either peace or oblivion and doesn't kid himself that oblivion will be the likely winner. 

—Kevin Thomas LOS ANGELES TIMES


The husky-voiced, elephantine Redglare proves an amusing raconteur and fitting icon for the East Village's 'edgy,' outlaw aesthetic.

—Ed Halter VILLAGE VOICE

 

Michael Morra, aka Rockets Redglare, had a tragic birth that resulted in an equally tortured life. He was born addicted to heroin to a junkie mother and was weaned from the drug by an opiate derivative in his formula. His mother was later murdered by an abusive ex-boxer who didn't hesitate to use her son for a punching bag as well. Morra survived, changed his name to Rockets Redglare and eventually became a somewhat successful actor. Sadly, he also mimicked the self-destructive tendencies of his mother, something that's made all too painful in Luis Fernandez de la Regueras' fine documentary Rockets Redglare!. Quite frankly, Redglare comes across as someone you would go a thousand miles out of your way to avoid. He's crafty, cunning, selfish and deceptive, the type of person who would think nothing of lying to and exploiting everyone who tried to help him. His talent as an actor was so impressive that he appeared in more than 30 films and worked with such great directors as Gus Van Sant and Jim Jarmusch. Jarmusch joins Redglare's longtime friend Steve Buscemi, Willem Dafoe, Matt Dillon, Nick Zedd and others in offering unsentimental but moving reflections about Rockets Redglare. Though hardly a feel-good story, Rockets Redglare! is a compelling one.        

—Ron Wynn NASHVILLE CITY PAPER

 

His jokes will make you want to cry out of what informed them, his outrageous misfortunes will make you laugh at their slapstick enormity...You feel a huge sorrow for this man's his passing.            

—Travis Hooper FILM FREAK CENTRAL

 

In the late '70s and early '80s, Manhattan became the site of one of the country's most memorable cultural and artistic awakenings, where new forms of music and artistic expression were continually being introduced to the world. It was here that music genres from punk rock to hip-hop first gained prominence in America, and where now esteemed artists such as Jean Michel Basquiat and Julian Schnabel struggled to get their work seen. At the same time, burgeoning directors like Jim Jarmusch and Alexandre Rockwell and neophyte performers like Steve Buscemi and Mark Boone, Jr. were finding their voice. Though each of these art forms ¯and individuals ¯eventually veered in separate directions, they would always have one thing in common: Rockets Redglare.

Best known as a character actor with more than 20 parts to his credit, Rockets Redglare (born Michael Morra) lived a life few could fathom. Addicted to heroin at birth (his 15-year old mother was an addict), an opiate was added to his formula to help with withdrawals as an infant. But this would be a precursor to only one of many addictions: drugs, alcohol and life in general. The earliest lesson Rockets recalls learning is that when he found something he liked, he did it to excess.

Rockets' father wasn't any more of a positive influence than his mother. A career criminal, he was not afraid to conduct "business" (including murder) in front of his young son, and was eventually deported back to Italy after robbing a local post office. Left to support her family and a drug addiction, Rockets' mother turned to prostitution for income. Rockets eventually left home when his mother took up with an abusive ex-boxer, who eventually beat her to death.

Perhaps in an attempt to forget these early tragedies, Michael christened himself "Rockets Redglare," and became a staple of the early '80s downtown NYC arts scene, jumpstarting the careers of Steve Buscemi and Mark Boone Jr. with his regular Taxi Cabaret show. Though he turned to comedy for a living, Rockets' material was fueled by the early misfortunes he had endured.

In his new documentary, Rockets Redglare, Luis Fernandez de la Reguera probes the identity of a man who was, by turn, a brilliant actor, seasoned con artist, best friend and bad influence. Though he never held a day job, Rockets counted actor, author, model (for Julian Schnabel), bodyguard (to Jean Michel Basquiat) and drug dealer (to Sid Vicious) among his crowning achievements, resulting in a life that even the highest-paid Hollywood screenwriter could unlikely concoct.

Through interviews with those who knew Rockets best, including Steve Buscemi, Willem Dafoe, Jim Jarmusch, Matt Dillon, Alexandre Rockwell and Julian Schnabel, de la Reguera crafts a touching portrait of an afflicted individual who was a slave to his addictions. Though it could easily be construed as story of wasted potential, the message is a more positive one: in spite of the many barriers that were put in front of him, Rockets Redglare accomplished more as a performer than others would dare dream. In the process, he lived a life that few will ever forget.

—Jennifer Wood MOVIEMAKER MAGAZINE

 

 

 

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