Jeff Krulik and I stood in one of the sunbaked parking lots of the Boulevard at the Capital Centre trying to orient ourselves. On the other side of a scrim of trees was the Beltway, which meant that the Cap Centre — the Largo, Md., concert and sports arena that gave the shopping center its name and helped give Jeff his fame — must have been where exactly? Behind us?
We scanned the landscape but could detect no trace of the Capital Centre, no discolored asphalt or slight ovoid-shaped ripple in the ground. There was just a collection of stores and restaurants: Beauty Land, Sports Authority, a Japanese steakhouse, a TGI Fridays . . .
Perhaps, we mused, the bones of Cap Centre are only visible from high above, like the outlines of a vanished Mayan city reclaimed by the jungle.
But it’s not as if there’s no record of the arena, demolished in 2002, a few years after what we today call Verizon Center, in the District, replaced it as the home of Washington’s professional basketball and hockey teams. Planted on a little plaza in the Boulevard at Capital Centre is a collection of pylons labeled “CAP CTR MOMENTS.” They recount the arena’s history: rock concerts, NBA games, inaugural balls . . .
In some places in the text, the arena is called Capital Centre, in others Capital Center.
This irritated Jeff Krulik. “I can’t be the first person to notice this,” Jeff said.
Maybe, I said, you’re just the first person to care.
“Guilty,” he said.
On May 31, 1986, Jeff and another local filmmaker, John Heyn, armed themselves with bulky video equipment and drove around the Capital Centre parking lot as heavy metal fans pre-gamed before a Judas Priest concert. The result was “Heavy Metal Parking Lot,” a 17-minute film rightly hailed as a classic for its exuberant depiction of a certain stratum of American youth in all its mullet-headed, beer-chugging, pinhole-pupiled, devil-horn-flashing glory.
“Heavy Metal Parking Lot” went viral when going viral involved spiriting bootlegged VHS tapes across the country. The movie has become an obsession for some, including a man who painstakingly freeze-framed his way through the entire video as if it were the Zapruder film so he could catalogue every T-shirt that appears, ranging from most common — Judas Priest, Harley-Davidson and Dokken (18, 12 and 8, respectively) — to least: one each Foreigner, Slayer and Twisted Sister.
The film is also a showcase for that wonderful Maryland accent, as when an inebriated girl from Glen Burnie explains what she’d do if she do if she encountered Priest lead singer Rob Halford. “I’d jump his bohwnz,” she says.
To mark the 30th anniversary of “Heavy Metal Parking Lot,” the University of Maryland has mounted a charming exhibit in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. Jeff has donated his moviemaking archive to his alma mater, including source tapes and research material from the more than a dozen documentaries he’s made.
We were on our way to the campus, but first we needed lunch. We’d hoped to eat at the S&J Restaurant, a venerable greasy-spoon in Riverdale, but found it shuttered, gone out of business apparently. Disconcertingly, there was a bikram yoga studio across the street.
We settled on the Alamo, a Mexican restaurant on Kenilworth Avenue that Jeff remembers going to with his junior high Spanish class. (To travel Prince George’s County with Jeff, 55, is to hear how the past sits with the present.)
The exhibit at U-Md. is as much a paean to Abe Pollin’s arena as to the cult movie shot there. Jeff said: “It was important to me to honor the Capital Centre, to celebrate that and commemorate that building and what it meant to me and so many other people.”
A huge photo of the Cap Centre dominates the small space and reminds visitors of the overwhelming Pringleness of the arena’s roofline. There’s a red satin Cap Centre jacket and a T-shirt from Judas Priest’s 1986 “Turbo” tour. Wide yellow tape on the floor recreates parking spaces.
There’s also a chunk of the actual Capital Centre parking lot, salvaged by Heyn when the property was about to be transformed into a shopping center. It rests on a pillow of blue velvet in a Lucite vitrine.
“I said I want it to be like the moon rock,” Jeff explained, “like some sacred object.”
The “Heavy Metal Parking Lot” exhibit is on display through May 2017 at the Clarice Smith center’s Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library, 8115 Alumni Dr., College Park. The exhibit is free and open during library hours, which this summer are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. For more information, visit www.lib.umd.edu/mspal or call 301-405-9217.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.