Even if you've never heard of Larry "Wild Man" Fischer, a onetime Frank Zappa protg in the late '60s, Josh Rubin's disquieting tribute to the paranoid-schizophrenic performer may turn you into a bona fide fan. Sent to a mental institution at age 16, Fischer spent the following years on the streets of Los Angeles, performing his antic, lovably lunatic originals (e.g., "My Name Is Larry") in a hoarse, high-pitched yelp. In time, Fischer elicited the friendship and encouragement of music pros like Zappa, Barnes & Barnes, Dr. Demento, Solomon Burke and "Weird Al" Yankovic. He recorded the very first single for Rhino Records, and even made a memorably unhinged appearance on TV's Laugh-In, but periodic bouts with manic depression and his unpredictable volatility alienated family and friends.
Joining a string of recent rock docs about outsider musicians (The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Jandek on Corwood), Rubin's film manages to convey the idiosyncratic brilliance of Fischer's spastic shrieking and id-revealing music, while underscoring the tragedy of someone who believes Steven Spielberg may be trying to murder him. In 2001, Rubin caught up with the fame-obsessed Wild Man living at his elderly aunt's home, and captured Fischer in various moods—hostile, melancholic, frighteningly delusional—as he talked and fretted about his troubled life and career.
Built around old concert footage, animated stills, and insightful interviews with rock historian Irwin Chusid, Gail Zappa and the subject's older brother David Fischer, Derailroaded is a fascinating glimpse at how art can grow from psychic torment.—Damon Smith