John Rad: Filmmaker, Composer, Visionary, Dangerous Man
In 1936, Jahangir Salehi Yeganehrad was born in Iran, the son of an army physician. He studied at Cambridge, and later became a massively successful architect at home in Tehran. In his rare moments of relaxation, he composed over a thousand poems and songs. Eventually he succumbed to the siren call of cinema, and directed 11 features in Farsi before he narrowly escaped his home country in the midst of political upheaval, leaving behind his fortune and extensive body of work.
Yeganehrad arrived in Los Angeles in the late ’70s and found himself wildly inspired by endless creative possibilities. In this new milieu, he availed himself to return to the work that he left behind in Tehran, and within a decade had rechristened himself as the artist John Rad. Rad was consumed with a burning, unquenchable need to write, direct, edit, produce, and score his own explosive, independent action epic: Dangerous Men.
While Rad was a lifelong and demonstratively fearless creative force, he had never before tackled anything like this. Though he had no funding or connections, he powered forward, casting local hopefuls and finding a way to triumph despite every conceivable limitation.
The feature took him two full decades to complete, and audiences can divine his efforts and tenacity as they glow blindingly in every scene, as does his unique worldview. Characters interact like desperate androids, emotions flare and vanish within a breath, sexuality is brandished in ways unconsidered in cinema since Bunue, and the plot and tone of the film churn and shift with mercurial lawlessness. When watching Dangerous Men, everything you experience through your eyes and ears is distinctly, purely, impossibly Rad.
2005: The Year of Living Dangerously
In the summer of 2005, with his finished feature in hand, Rad embarked on his single greatest challenge to date: the journey to find its audience. Festival bookings and traditional distribution were a dead end, so he brashly chose the route of “four-walling,” an industry term for a theater rental, simply to allow the film an exhibition at any possible public venue. Rad coordinated screening times with a half dozen independent cinema owners, placed miniscule, affordable ads in neighborhood newspapers, and even took to the airwaves on local access television and radio (in both English and Farsi), then waited for the people of Los Angeles to discover his masterwork.
Then a strange thing happened… they did.
Not many, at the outset. Supposedly, box office revenue from the first week totaled $70 despite a glowing review in LA Weekly at the time that aligned the film amid some of the greatest auteurs in the canon of cinema: “Not dissimilar to David Lynch’s funicular emotionalism, Buñuel’s epistemological sight gags, Godard’s formalistic intrusions or the conceptual hysteria of something like Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession. It’s as if somehow, miraculously, our own present-day Ed Wood suddenly walked among us.”
But a few enterprising theatergoers had fallen under the magnetic pull of Dangerous Men, including Cinefile Video partner Hadrian Belove. In the week of the film’s release, Belove traveled to a neighborhood fourplex to watch it three separate times. He continued to sing its praise for years, including as he co-founded the Los Angeles theater The Cinefamily, which quickly became one of the country’s most revered destinations for film lovers.
“Seeing Dangerous Men on its first, fly-by-night, fractional release I thought maybe it was some insane hoax, a prank played on the tiniest of audiences,” recalls Belove. “From its first explosive title card to catchy-kitsch simple-synth music to John S. Rad’s too-perfect name, it seemed too wild, too weird, too good to be true. Once it disappeared back into the ether, those few of us who’d seen it were stricken with an obsession to see it again, and failing that, it became some kind of campfire legend that we could recount to each other, savoring every perverse and insane detail of its blissful madness.”
Sadly, John Rad passed away in 2007. But by that time, Belove and others had made their appreciation of his work known. Later, Dangerous Men played at The Cinefamily, annihilating the crowd and planting the seed of genuine obsession in everyone who experienced it. Among them were Drafthouse Films, the Alamo Drafthouse programming team and the writers from Bleeding Skull, who themselves became infatuated with Rad’s singular expression of street violence and creative daring. After years of tracking down rights and elements, Rad’s daughter Samira agreed to work with Drafthouse Films to present her father’s incomparable feature to the world again for the first time.
“The Alamo Drafthouse has made many great contributions to the world of cinema,” says Belove, “But saving Dangerous Men may be the single most important thing they ever do.”
It doesn’t seem possible that a film so indisputably bizarre could be so relentlessly rewarding, or that a production built on decades of struggle would end up a fully realized triumph.
But, in the words of John Rad himself, “The impossible is possible.”
We’re pleased to present to you… Dangerous Men.
Rock Hard \m/