Home Movie Meat Loaf and Lookalike Return in Lost Allan Nicholls Film ‘Dead Ringer’ | Cinema | Seven days

Meat Loaf and Lookalike Return in Lost Allan Nicholls Film ‘Dead Ringer’ | Cinema | Seven days

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  • Luc Awtry
  • Allan Nichols

Allan Nicholls still vividly remembers when he was asked by one of his friends and collaborators, rock star Meat Loaf, to direct “music videos”. Nicholls had little experience behind the camera, but he had plenty of acting credits, having starred in the hit musical Hair and the 1977 sports comedy Slap shot. Protected by Robert Altman, he observed the author’s techniques on the sets of Nashville, popeye, A marriage and more.

So he decided to try directing.

“Once Meat Loaf and I started conceptualizing the videos, I realized they could easily become a movie,” Nicholls said over the phone. He stopped laughing before continuing. “Things got a bit complicated after that.”

The result was Dopplegangera 1982 film that became one of the great lost rock and roll films, vanishing in a fog of lawsuits and controversy, rarely screened and never properly released.

The film shows Meat Loaf feeling the cost of his recent success and under pressure from all sides as he prepares to launch a new album and tour. Meanwhile, there’s an identical twin to the rock star, a man named Marvin who likes to sing Meat Loaf songs. From there, things only get stranger.

When Nicholls presents Doppleganger at the closing night of the Vermont International Film Festival this Sunday, October 30, at the Main Street Landing Film House in Burlington, the occasion marks a rare chance to see a film that has gone down in history.

Nicholls would go on to earn associate producer credits on a host of 80s and 90s films, including the Oscar-winning film walking dead man. Seven days spoke with the former Vermont resident about the long and strange history of Doppleganger and bring back Meat Loaf’s lost record from the dead.

SEVEN DAYS: When you were shooting the movie, Meat Loaf was having huge success with Bat out of hell. So how did such an anticipated project featuring a global rock star fall through the cracks?

ALLAN NICHOLLS: Ah! Good question. Well, I remember preparing to screen the film for the cast and crew. My agents were there, my mentor Bob Altman, my friends and family, everyone. But there were a lot of rumors going around at the time. Meat Loaf was being chased by [songwriter] James Steinman; CBS was suing the direction of Meat Loaf; Meatloaf continued its direction – even the record company was involved.

So about 15 minutes after the screening started, the bailiffs walked from the court to stop the screening. They said the film was an asset in ongoing litigation. I was totally devastated. Bob Altman said, “Hey, Allan, they’re worse in the music business than they are in the movie business!”

SD: They confiscated the film?

AN: Fortunately, no. They could not. My lawyer said that was good/bad news. The bad news is that my screening was cancelled. But I owned the impression; it was in my contract. So I took the copy and showed it in Montreal in 1982, but that was it. After that, I returned it to storage at the Anthology Film Archives for safekeeping.

SD: What made you come back to it so many years later? Has the recent death of Steinman and Meat Loaf changed the situation around the film?

AN: Well, after Meat Loaf died [in January], I thought about the movie. I knew I couldn’t make money or distribute it; there is simply no way to untangle the mess. But I thought, Maybe I’ll put it together and see what comes of it. I called my editor, Norm Smith. He created a very nice digital print. We screened it in Maine in July, and it was amazing – I still relish it a bit now.

It has nothing to do with ego. My ego was satisfied with a long there is time. This is the reward for interacting with the audience. It’s the same reward I got when I joined a band when I was 13, in the late 50s, beating drums and hearing applause. Carrying this throughout my career has helped me say yes to all the challenges I have faced.

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Meatloaf in a scene from Dead Ringer - COURTESY

  • Courtesy
  • Meatloaf in a scene from Dead Ringer

SD: What were your thoughts watching the film after so long?

AN: It’s such a cool story. The film is a period piece of its kind, but it has this big beating heart at its center. I wanted a story that was about Meat Loaf’s personality, and I think it worked. He was always this larger than life performer, but he was also a really good actor. And he really shows his stuff in this movie. It is good.

SD: He also does double duty, playing himself and the titular look-alike, Marvin. Were you and Meat Loaf trying to make a statement about his mental state at the time with the lookalike? Was there something more to the character with Meat Loaf’s birth name?

AN: Touring and success can be brutal on their own, and Meat Loaf dealt with both. We created the Marvin character to be that lookalike. It wasn’t really him, but maybe it was? I like to leave it up to the viewer.

Marvin was that overweight, possibly autistic guy who only became himself when he heard Meat Loaf songs and sang them. There’s something about it, maybe a version of Meat Loaf when he was more innocent, but it’s really up to you when you see it.

SD: Will the screening at VTIFF be like that? Or is there a future for Doppleganger?

AN: I hope so! I introduced it to festivals, with the caveat that this thing could never be distributed. I submitted it to SXSW [Film & TV Festival], which would be perfect for a movie like this that has such a long and crazy history. I would love for this to get national attention. Everyone I talk to in Europe is dying to screen the film. Which is logical, since the album Doppleganger was huge there; only in the United States and Canada did the label botch the release.

In the meantime, I’m just focusing on VTIFF screening. We have a new poster for the movie I love, and we’ll have Meat Loaf baseball jerseys as collectibles. He loved baseball, so they’re sort of a tribute to him. I’m so interested to see what happens. I really, really hope people tune into it. Revisiting the film after over 40 years has been great for me, honestly. I’ve been doing this for a long time, so the fact that I’m still able to do these things, I feel like, What the hell, why not, right?

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.