Elvis did everything in his movies: he went into the army, found employment with a struggling carnival and sang in a rodeo. Though he never starred in a Hollywood epic like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad or Hercules in the Haunted World—what a tragedy—it’s easy to imagine his homespun southern charm and rockabilly swagger as he fights off gigantic mythical beasts or discusses political coups of the Roman Empire.
Santa Cruz native Joel Goulet spent more than 10 years making a feature-length film that shows what could’ve been if Elvis had starred in an action-adventure-fantasy of the ’50s and ’60s.
Showing at the Rio on Sept. 2, The Golden Bouzouki stars the Elvis-esque Johnny Diamonds as Johnny Orpheus, who sets out on a heroic, rock n’ roll filled quest through ancient Greece. The weird melding of worlds comes naturally for Goulet. The result is gloriously campy, bizarre, low-budget fun; it’s humorous and has a surprisingly good soundtrack.
“I watched every Hercules movie and every Sinbad movie,” Goulet says. “Elvis and
Hercules movies were happening at the same time. I wanted to see them cross over. Part of what I like to do is make movies that I would want to watch.”
The film was shot primarily in the Santa Cruz area at various beaches up Highway 1, and the green screen shots, which make up a lot of the movie, were filmed in local musician Hod Hulphers’ backyard. Hulphers plays Machiste in the movie—he’s also a member of the Golden Bouzouki Band, which provides an eclectic musical backdrop with often hilarious lyrics.
“We swam deep into the tradition of the unintentionally campy stylings of Elvis Presley
and his movie career,” Hulphers says. “Vivid and sometimes insensitive and selfish lyrics with straightforward alterations that hopefully come across as condescending to audiences as a movie voiceover might.”
The film leans into its low-budget constraints, using green-screen technology, monsters—obviously homemade puppets—and overdubbed dialogue. It’s silly at times, and a tribute to multiple film genres mashed together.
Even with the film’s blatant reference to Elvis, the soundtrack offers more diversity than classic Elvis might. A majority of the cast are lifelong musicians. Goulet plays in the Sacramento-based garage rock group The Four Eyes; Hulphers is a well-known Santa Cruz-based musician with influences in folk, lounge and indie rock. Additionally, many other cast members are from the Golden Bouzouki Band.
“Ninety percent of the people in the movie, I know from playing music,” Goulet explains.
Before The Golden Bouzouki, Goulet made two short films that starred Johnny
Diamonds, Bachelor Blues and Snow Buddies. The second was shot in the snow in Grass Valley, which made for a miserable experience. So, Goulet carefully considered the location for The Golden Bouzouki shoot; the Santa Cruz beaches were the obvious choice. He and some friends conceived and wrote the script and shot the principal photography in 2011. A lot of film takes place in a boat, which they built themselves.
Meanwhile, Goulet took on editing, special effects, sound design and music editing. The most challenging part was the puppets and costumes. But Goulet enlisted the talent of his wife and friends to assist.
“I think I put six thousand hours into it,” he says. “It took a long time. Normally, you’d have
a lot of people. I just kind of did it all as far as the post-production stuff.”
Even if the film is tongue-in-cheek and campy, it comes with a dark message that becomes clear by the end of the movie. Without spoiling it, let’s just say that it is unexpected and not the ending Goulet’s kid wanted it to have.
“We wanted to make a statement about the end of the age of myth,” Goulet says. “And the beginning of the age of history. I have a son now; I didn’t when I started this movie. He’s like, ‘I don’t want to see this ending ever again! You have to change the ending for me.’”
The Golden Bouzouki plays one night only at 7:30pm on Thursday, Sept. 2 at Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, $12. 831-423-8209.