Rock of Ages

catalystCatalyst movie uncorks 40 years of local rock ‘n’ roll history
One Santa Cruz Film Festival film sure to be dear to the hearts of anyone who’s lived in Santa Cruz for longer than about four minutes is The Catalyst. This feature-length documentary devoted to the life and times—and, of course, the music—of that most venerated and enduring local nightclub is put together by two local folks who probably know the subject better than anyone. Producer Dean Newbury was The Catalyst booking agent for years, during the proprietorship of the late Randall Kane (whom Newbury refers to as his “father figure”). Director Michèle Benson is herself something of a Santa Cruz institution as longtime court photographer/historian/archivist at the Cat, as well as music photographer at Good Times for many years. 

Ten years in the making, this lively and irresistible film is dedicated to preserving the funky/hip spirit of the Cat, as envisioned by Kane, who shepherded the place from bohemian ’60s coffeehouse/hangout to A-list music venue. Interviews with the always-quotable Kane and various staff alumnae (house managers, tech crew, and the legendary Catalyst bartenders) are combined with rare, painstakingly unearthed concert footage of such headliners as Neil Young, Patti Smith, Nirvana, The Doobie Brothers, Greg Kihn, Tina Turner, Ry Cooder, The Tubes, James Brown, Todd Rundgren, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Broken English, The Call, Green Day—well, the list goes on and on. Special props are paid to three groups who rose to virtual house band status at the Cat over the years, fan favorites The Humans, The Chokes, and Snail.

Benson and Newbury pay homage to the original Old Cat on Front Street, and conduct an extensive tour of the “New” Cat in its current location, the nightclub Kane built and stuffed with his own eccentric collection of artwork. But it’s the stories from 40 years of local rock ‘n’ roll history that give the film its kick. Kihn recalls doing a gig on mushrooms and watching in fascination as his guitar spontaneously began playing “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” by The Clash. “There are a lot of brain cells in this carpet; I’ve lost a lot,” muses another local favorite, David Lindley. He calls the Cat “a power spot,” and praises the local scene as a place to try out new music. “The weird stuff they think is normal here,” he notes.

The Catalyst will have its World Premiere at (where else?) the Catalyst on Friday, May 6, followed by a live performance by the reconstituted Snail, featuring Bob O’Neill, Ken Kraft, Bret Bloomfield, and Don Baldwin. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. The film screens at 8:30 p.m., after which, Snail will commence to rock all night. Advance tickets are $30 ($35 at the door) and can be purchased online from the Catalyst website (catalystclub.com), or the SCFF website (santacruzfilmfestival.org/), or at The Catalyst box office. The first 50 SCFF Passholders will receive a $10 discount off the event ticket price at the Catalyst box office, with proof of 2011 SCFF Festival Pass.

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