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40 Bands in 80 Minutes: from former Hustler Sean Carney

Cleveland- Cleveland just wasn’t doing it for him anymore. Indie-rock provocateur and filmmaker Sean Carney wanted something different, a new kind of energy, a new scene.

Hello palm trees. Hello porn stars. Hello Larry Flynt?

“My first job when I got to Los Angeles was working at Hustler,” says Carney, who bolted for California in 2002. “It was, well, a different experience.”

And not because Carney had never before served under a porn peddler.

“I learned about making movies,” he says. “The adult-film world is really no different than the mainstream.”

Maybe not when it comes to stamina. Carney, who became Flynt’s go-to guy in Hustler’s adult video division, had to oversee the release of eight porn flicks a week.

“The actors don’t have clothes, but everything else is the same,” he says. “You have to organize a crew, do a budget, edit, market the thing – everything.”

Carney put the experience to good use.

He has just released “40 Bands in 80 Minutes,” a high-speed rockumentary that features 40 bands each playing two minutes of music. Carney will screen it Thursday at Parish Hall in Cleveland – one of a dozen or so stops on a cross-country tour.

It isn’t just a screening, of course. After all, Carney is a flamboyant showman with a knack for orchestrating multimedia parties.

For the screening of “40 Bands in 80 Minutes,” he’s persuaded defunct art-punk outfit Proletarian Art Threat to re-form for the bash. The band will be joined by Clan of the Cave Bear and musician Tony Erba, who will do a spoken-word performance.

“I’ve always liked to make things happen,” says Carney. “That’s the underground DIY aesthetic.”

Call Carney the ultimate DIY aesthete.

In the mid-1990s, Carney dropped out of Case Western Reserve University after less than three years to follow his artistic muse.

“I came to Case to study art history,” he says. “But then I started hanging out at the Euclid Tavern on Monday nights and realized that the underground is where it’s at: It’s a more powerful and efficient way to art ideas than going to class.”

So Carney pursued a degree in artistic experience, on the ground.

He produced U.S. Rocker, a music ‘zine extolling the virtues of underground bands like the Jesus Lizard. He played in bands such as Sean & Ian. And he organized events at venues like Speak in Tongues and Invisible City.

By 2002, he realized that he’d graduated from the scene.

I’d rather embrace a lot of styles, especially when music is so disorganized,” he said in an interview with the Plain Dealer before his departure. “It’s more interesting when you’re all over the map.”

He landed 2,300 miles away, in Los Angeles.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” says Carney. “And I had no idea what working at Hustler would be like.”

Well, it was a little like “Art School Sluts,” which proved to be a very different kind of education for Carney – even if he wasn’t directly involved in the action. The porn flick was one of a number of titles he oversaw while at Hustler.

“It became a cult hit because it wasn’t your typical adult film,” says Carney. “It appealed to women and men alike and started a new genre known as ‘indie porn.’ ”

“Art School” exposed Carney to indie auteurs Eon McKai and porn star Joanna Angel.

“Joanna, in particular, is a very shoot-from-the-hip rock ‘n’ roller,” says Carney. “Most porn stars lead boring lives, living in some normal house in the Valley, but she’s into music and going out and part of the music scene.”

Working with both gave Carney a new take: “I saw how music and movies could come together and I was to become part of both scenes.”

Carney decided to create his own scene, booking a weekly series at a club called Il Corral on Mondays, as an homage to the Euclid Tavern Monday punk series that inspired him.

He also quit Hustler to work for Queer Television. Queer Television, the gay cable network?

“Exactly,” says Carney. “It was promoted as this rising cable network that never went anywhere.”

The “network” was nothing more than what is known on Wall Street as a “pump and dump” scheme – the shell of a company that floods the market with shares to stay afloat. Its stock traded at 0.0001 cents a share last week.

“I was hired to produce music shows; I did 60 in three months,” says Carney. “Except that the company was a scam and the network never got distribution.”

He knew something was fishy when paychecks never arrived. He knew the whole thing smelled when the entire staff was let go.

But where others would see ruin, Carney saw an opportunity.

“I had this whole film crew with nothing to do,” he says. “So I put them to work.”

Rather than craft a script for his rockumentary, Carney adhered to a strict strategy.

“I’ve always hated rock movies that try to take you backstage, into the lives of the musicians,” he says. “There’s nothing more banal than the life of a musician – I mean, look at Pink Floyd. They’re these boring guys who happened to make interesting music.”

Carney went so far as to avoid leaving his own personal fingerprints on “40 Bands in 80 Minutes.”

“I’m not really a director, per se,” says Carney. “I’m just capturing talent on film; I want to be transparent, not visible.”

Kind of like a porn flick, where the script and direction are, well, let’s just say a bit minimalist?

“Actually, I’ve never been a fan of porn,” says Carney. “But I guess I appreciate the process – because I’ve learned a lot from being around it.”

And from being around, as Carney calls him, Mr. Flynt?

“He never really gave me any advice,” says Carney. “He’s like a sphinx who gives you answers to questions you haven’t even asked – except his answers are always misleading.”

In those twisted words, Carney sees words of wisdom.

“His constant irreverence is inspiring,” he adds. “He’s a hell-raiser’s champion who proves that, no matter what, you should do what you want to the maximum of your abilities.”


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