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Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013

Time Trek

No-budget film stars Milwaukee musical legend

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Richard LaValliere was a remarkable figure from Milwaukee’s ’70s punk scene. As bassist and songwriter, he brought unusual wit to The Haskels and redrew boundaries with his no-guitar follow-up, The Oil Tasters. LaValliere left for New York in the ’80s and continued to make cliché-busting music. Shortly before his death in 2012, he acted in and composed music for Time Trek, a film that began way back in 1976 in the adolescent amateur camera antics of aspiring director Paul McComas.

McComas was part of a generation of kids who got the gift of filmmaking through inexpensive Super 8 or Regular 8 cameras. He shot dozens of shorts around his Whitefish Bay home with family and friends as cast and crew. McComas went on to bigger things. A published novelist, he has a screenplay rattling around Hollywood and teaches film out of Northwestern University. But McComas never forgot his youthful explorations of cinema, airing many of them on a culty Chicago cable TV series, “No-Budget Theatre.”

At 45 minutes, Time Trek represents young McComas’ magnum opus. Inspired by his love for “Star Trek,” the contrast between big-budget Hollywood and his no-budget basement movie is both amusing and revealing of the ways of filmmaking. The original movie had no sound and all dialogue had to be created fresh, sometimes spoken by the original cast from the ’70s (long since grown up) and often by new recruits. (Full disclosure: I am the voice of a Romulan lieutenant.) The scenes featuring LaValliere as leader of the Cave People were added in the ’00s, shot at his niece’s home in Wauwatosa. Her pets were pressed into service as “cave dogs.”

“Working with what you have—DIY was a huge element in Richard’s aesthetic,” McComas says. “There was such an overlap in our sensibilities, which isn’t surprising—I got a lot of my sensibility from seeing him in the Oil Tasters back in the ’80s.”

Time Trek will be screened at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 17, at Shank Hall, followed by a performance of the Oil Tasters’ tribute band, The Taste Oilers. Admission is $10 with all proceeds going to the Wisconsin Humane Society.