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Born to Be Rad

Dangerous man: Rad, photographed in 2006 (Photo by Kevin Scanlon)

{mosimage} John S. Rad, née Yeghanerad, the accidental auteur of the cult film Dangerous Men, has died.

Rad was propelled into a late-in-life celebrity, with articles in this paper and others, when his genre opus was discovered showing in five local theaters in September 2005 without benefit of TV or print advertising, or even the slightest bit of promotional material available. Further investigation revealed that the producer/director/etc. had paid for the screenings out of his own pocket.

The film itself defied description: Ostensibly a generic revenge drama begun in 1985, then modified with new characters and plot elements in 1995, the final product — released 20 years after its inception — was governed by a supremely eccentric vision and an aesthetic sensibility somewhere between David Lynch and Ed Wood. Aficionados of cinematic oddities quickly rose to champion it.

But if Dangerous Men bespoke a unique perspective in the annals of cinema, Rad himself was an original and then some. A dignified Persian gentleman, Rad was tall and gaunt, with piercing eyes that he often shielded behind dark sunglasses, and jet-black hair that swept back from his face. In addition, he wore a trimmed goatee and mustache that curled up at the ends like Picasso’s Don Quixote. He had studied at an adjunct of Cambridge, worked as an architect in his native Iran, amassed a fortune of several million dollars, turned to filmmaking, and fled for the West at the dawn of the Islamic Revolution.

Learned and soft-spoken, Rad was deferential to a fault, while remaining resolute in his personal vision. Despite empirical evidence to the contrary, his confidence in his work and himself as an artist was unwavering.

As quoted in the L.A. Weekly, Rad said, “I have been an architect, which I consider myself one of the best. I’ve done a lot of different buildings in different places in the world. And too, I’m a filmmaker. I create differently. If it is bad, it’s a bad different. If it’s good, it’s a good different. I walk alone, as I have been walking alone all my life.”

Following its initial release, Dangerous Men screened in midnight showings at the Laemmle Sunset 5 theater in West Hollywood, as well as at the New York Underground Film Festival and the Alamo Draughthouse in Austin, Texas. So enigmatic was Rad’s life and death that Neil Young, a programmer for the Bradford International Film Festival in northern England, where Dangerous Men had its U.K. premiere last month, reports that his prescreening announcement of Rad’s passing was met with immediate skepticism.

“There was talk that this was just another part of an elaborate hoax,” says Young. “People didn’t believe it, basically.”

Rad, 70, died of a heart attack on March 3 and was discovered at his Chatsworth office by a neighbor. A daughter, Samira Wenzel, of Fort Worth, Texas, claims the death came as a complete surprise.

“He was an educated, gentle man, a quiet man, but he also had much pride,” says Wenzel. “We had no idea he was sick. He never told us. He had a heart condition, prostate cancer, encroaching osteoporosis. The doctors had recommended a bypass operation, but he was waiting on a second opinion. I think he didn’t want us to be burdened. But he was very happy and upbeat — even up to the day before he died. It was just his time.”

Rad’s eldest child (there are also two sons, ages 39 and 35, and many grandchildren), Wenzel attended the Austin screening of Dangerous Men with her 16-year-old daughter and reports that it was very well attended and received. Rad was somewhat mystified at the appeal of his film, which provoked enthusiastic laughter more often than perhaps intended, but he seemed to appreciate the attention and was actively planning his next film. According to Wenzel, Rad was dubbing an earlier film, Under the Cover of the Night, into English from its original Farsi, although she needs to screen it to determine if it is finished. He had also written a song about his creative resurrection, which appears on his Web site, www.dangerousmenthemovie.com.

In his 2005 interview with the L.A. Weekly, Rad made a cryptic comment about his age that, in retrospect, might serve as a fitting epitaph: “I know some who seem like a 180-year-old person, and they are not even 20,” he said. “That’s not the issue. The issue is what you feel about life. Life is so beautiful; it’s the moment. Yesterday is gone. I don’t believe in the future. Nobody sees their future. So life is now. If you can be of help, you must be a nice person, you must understand what is humanity. That’s what my life is all about.”


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