To filmmaker and Greenport resident Jim Morrison, his longtime friend Harry Biechele is still as amazingly talented as ever — even though Morrison has watched Biechele’s life deteriorate from would-be rock star guitarist in the mid-1980s to a resident of a tent next to a Greenport cemetery today.
Morrison’s continued appreciation for Biechele’s musical brilliance prompted him to work on a documentary about his friend’s life called “Harry Hellfire,” a project that started about six years ago and something that Morrison has been thinking about since high school, when he met Harry — who locals call “Guy” — in the mid-1980s.
The filmmaker will get to show his first full-length documentary at the Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival on Dec. 2, when “Harry Hellfire” will debut at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor.
“People my age grew up with him and still know him as a character you don’t forget,” said Morrison, who is 42 — the same age as Harry. “I still think he’s amazing. He has such a talent — I really think he could have made it in the music business in the ‘80s.”
But it’s not the teased-out ‘80s hair bands like Poison, Motley Crue and Bon Jovi the film documents — it’s the masculine, arms crossed under denim cutoff shirts world of thrash metal, a style of rock infused into the world through early Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and other angry down-to-earth long-haired rebels with Ibanez guitars and double-kick bass drums.
Harry Biechele is a self-taught guitarist, one who sought refuge in the mid-80s metal scene, away from the constant torment and bullying he experienced in school — an institution he left at an early age, according to the film.
“He was constantly getting picked on in school,” said James Schott, a drummer and former bandmate of Biechele’s, during one interview in the film. “Either he felt like he couldn’t fight back or he just didn’t want to fight back.”
Biechele admits in the film that he was “always bombed” while playing with his band, Tezex, which included Schott and other Greenporters in the mid-'80s, emulating Metallica and other thrash metal heroes of the day with their own original songs. They made a mark across Long Island and certainly influenced Morrison to buy a guitar.
“But I quit trying to play after a while — I’m definitely more of an appreciator than a player,” Morrison said.
At an hour and 36 minutes, “Harry Hellfire” is Morrison’s first full-length film after a career making short films and working in network operations for Showtime (which he still does). He grew up with a mechanic father who was also an amateur filmmaker, influencing Morrison to pick up a camera at an early age. And, following around his favorite band, he was always the one to document what was going on.
The film features a lot of pictures and footage of Tezex’s party days from the '80s interspersed with recent shots of days in the life of Biechele: trying to get comfortable in his tent, riding his bike around Greenport, working odd jobs like house painting — and starting to play guitar again.
“It was something I was born with,” Biechele says in the film during one of the more recent interviews. “You can’t really explain something you’re born with — I still don’t know how to read music or nothing like that. But I can duplicate anything that anybody plays, anytime, anywhere.”
Morrison, who was educated at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, explained why the film took so long to finish.
“I bought a professional-grade camera six years ago, thinking this would be easy,” he said. “But unfortunately these types of projects take a lot of money, for one, and I found out that interviewing people you know — especially friends you grew up with — is very difficult to do.”
Morrison said that once the film was ready to go, he found the Take 2 festival online, but it was two days late to submit. With one phone call he got an extension and hand-delivered the film to the judges in the Hamptons. And three weeks ago, he found out he was accepted.
“I wanted to do a back-flip,” he said.
With elements of a little bit of docudrama and “a little reality TV in there,” Morrison said he can only hope for a good reception for “Harry Hellfire" — an ode to that brilliantly talented drop-out of a guy who could have made it if only, a character most people have probably befriended or identified with in their lives.
“It’s the tale of Harry’s existence, one shaped by bullying, inner demons, and defeat,” Morrison said. “Harry continues to seek refuge through his playing. It’s about a real person with real issues. All I can hope for is that if someone is still thinking about Harry two days after seeing this movie, then that’s a good thing.”
Tickets for "Harry Hellfire" go on sale on Nov. 1 and can be purchased at www.ht2ff.com. The film makes it debut on Dec. 2 at 3:30 p.m. at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor as part of the Hamptons Take 2 Film Festival.