The Prince Charles Cinema

The Napa State Tapes: The Cramps and the Mutants

The Napa State Tapes: The Cramps and the Mutants

  • 2023
  • 72mins
  • (18)
  • Documentary
Directed by Joe Rees|Mike Plante|Jason Willis

“Somebody told me you people are crazy, but I'm not so sure about that.... you seem to be all right to me." So says lead singer Lux Interior of The Cramps, challenging the mainstream stereotype of the crowd assembled before him at the Napa State Hospital.

On June 13, 1978, the soon-to-be legendary rock band went to play Napa State, a psychiatric hospital in the small town of Napa in Northern California. Opening for them was The Mutants, an eclectic septet of art school punks from nearby San Francisco. Also in the van was seminal Bay Area art collective Target Video, there to capture the show using one of the first video cameras available to the public, democratizing a medium controlled by mainstream media outlets.

What resulted may be the most unique punk show ever, as the two bands played for the residents at the hospital, a rehabilitation facility that was skimming the danger of being shut down by former California Governor Ronald Reagan.

Later, in the early 1980s, Target Video released the footage of the show as “The Cramps at Napa State” worldwide on the brand new VHS home video format. It became one of the most seen rock videos ever, The Cramps in an incredible performance for a crowd of hospital residents and visiting punk rockers, too similar to tell apart.

The grainy black-and-white video footage also provided a vision of humanity to this world of mental health. The punks, also dismissed as outsiders to society, felt a camaraderie to the Napa State residents. The DIY release is still a cult movie in its own right, providing as many questions to who was at the show and how it happened.

This release presents for the first time the entire Cramps performance tape unedited with an additional song, remastered from the original 1⁄2” open reel video tape used in the video recording deck at the show.

Also presented for the first time: the previously lost footage of The Mutants playing at Napa State, unedited and remastered from the original source tape.

Both Napa performances have been remastered by Dino Everett at the Punk Media Research Collection, University of Southern California, HMH Foundation Moving Image Archive.

Screening in between the Napa performances is the short documentary We Were There to Be There (2021, 27 minutes, directed by Mike Plante and Jason Willis) which goes into the background of Target Video and how the Napa State show happened, with interviews from people who were at the show and rare photos. The doc also explores the deep history of Napa State and how Governor Reagan’s tactics with mental health facilities are still affecting us today.

Founded in the mid-1970s, Target Video are a collective of artists working with film and video that captured the exciting California scene of artists and punk bands in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. Target filmed hundreds of live art and music performances along with events in their Bay Area warehouse. In the 1980s, they released full shows and various music videos on VHS and went on tours of screenings across America and Europe. Many of their video releases became instant cult movies, particularly The Cramps playing at Napa State Hospital.

The Cramps were a garage rock band inspired by 50s and 60s rockabilly music and monster movies, inspiring countless more bands that came after them. Led by real-life couple Lux Interior (vocals) and Poison Ivy Rorschach (lead guitar), they garnered a huge cult following in the 1970s while living in New York City and continued playing and blowing people away into the 2000s.

In late 70’s San Francisco, the Mutants emerged as one of the great art school punk bands of the era. Boasting a unique seven member lineup, they treated each performance as a special visual event; pairing high concept theatrics with an eclectic multi-vocalist, melodic assault that bridged any gaps between Rock-n-Roll, New Wave and Punk Rock whilst simultaneously taking side trips to all points in-between.

Wednesday 21st August