It’s ironic that Kiss, the most visuals-conscious hard rock act of their era, had taken off their famous makeup by the time MTV really got rolling. During the rise of MTV, Kiss found themselves in a rebuilding phase, attempting to discard the kiddie image they acquired as the ’70s gave way to the ’80s by crafting an up-to-date style in tune with the most commercial hard rock of the era. They prolifically made music videos during this time and utilized the then-popular medium of VHS cassettes in their bid to reposition themselves for the ’80s music marketplace.
Kiss Exposed was their third VHS release, following the original video release of Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park and a concert video for their Animalize tour. Their label had proposed simply releasing a tape of their music videos but Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, the surviving members of the original lineup, had something different in mind. What they created combined three things: the music video compilation the label wanted, an eye-catching look back at their makeup era that burnishes their legacy and a mock-doc wraparound that adds humor while simultaneously allowing Stanley and Simmons to create their own personally-sanctioned mythology of the band.
Let’s break it down by elements: first, the present-day music videos. You get a selection of music videos from the Lick It Up, Animalize and Asylum albums, everything produced during this era with the exception of “Thrills In The Night.” If you’re a student of music videos, these are fascinating in how they reflect the trends of the time. For example, the videos from Lick It Up have a pseudo-Max Max post-apocalyptic vibe. “Heaven’s On Fire,” the entry from Animalize, mixes a concert stage lip-synch performance with footage of band members canoodling with models (including one-album-only member Mark St. John).
The Asylum stuff covers the remaining bases: “Tears Are Falling” mixes a stylized soundstage performance with loose conceptual stuff involving a model and “Who Wants To Be Lonely” mixes fire and boiler room imagery with models in showers and pools, including a few who get hosed down. “Uh! All Night” is the most endearingly ludicrous, complimenting the song’s horny lyric with an army of pelvic-thrusting blondes in nighties who push around their own beds, periodically stopping to mime sexual intercourse on them. It’s glorious.
Simmons and Stanley were also smart enough to recognize that a segment of their fanbase – and the general public itself – were still curious about the band’s makeup years. At the time of Kiss Exposed‘s release in 1987, there were no official concert documents of the makeup era available on video so this compilation made a gesture towards filling that niche with a fistful of live clips from their makeup era. For example, there’s a killer performance of “I Love It Loud” captured before a huge, roaring audience that was taken from the final 1983 concert of the original makeup era in Brazil.
There’s also a black-and-white clip of the young and hungry 1975-era Kiss performing “Deuce” in San Francisco and a 1980 clip of the band performing “Detroit Rock City” in Australia, the latter being unique for showing Peter Criss’ replacement Eric Carr in his “fox” makeup. Beyond full music clips, you also get quick snips of Ace Frehley performing a borderline avant-garde solo on a guitar with flashing lights that spews smoke and Gene doing a blood-spitting bass solo that throws in a quick montage of him spitting fire. It’s worth noting there is a music video from the makeup era included, a fun clip for “I Love It Loud” that shows a band performance on t.v. laying waste to a suburban home and hypnotizing a teenage boy into joining an army of glowing-eye Kiss maniacs outside (perhaps a nod to the old “Knights In Satan’s Service” rumor?).
The wraparound part of the video is often dismissed as schtick to pad the running time, offering a mock-rockumentary scenario in which a persistent if fumbling interviewer played by Mark Blankfield of Fridays fame attempts to interview Stanley and Simmons at the home of Stanley (actually a rented mansion in Beverly Hills). Then-members Eric Carr and Bruce Kulick make brief cameos, both involving them chasing girls around the mansion.
In fairness to the critics of these segments, it does contain a lot of scripted goofing around where the two rock stars portray themselves as fabulously wealthy playboys being attended to by a variety of bikini-clad sex kittens, including porn stars Candie Evans and Blondi Bee. Both stars and interview do a lot of mugging for the camera and delivery of wisecracks: Simmons’ fluffed attempt at telling a joke about a guy with a frog on his head is particularly memorable in this regard. There’s even an of-the-moment gag where Stanley pretends to promote a workout tape, an excuse for rolling around on the floor with girls.
However, these segments serve a stealth purpose: rebuilding the image of Kiss as rock gods after a period where they had become passé. If you know your Kiss history, the ’80s were a time when Kiss were trying to revive their finances as well as their prestige so it served them well to project an appearance of rock royalty, even if it was presented in a lighthearted style. Kiss Exposed also allowed Stanley and Simmons to downplay the importance of Criss and Frehley to the band’s history and rebuild the idea of Kiss as a franchise dominated by the two surviving members alone. The latter is a theme that the two would build out in subsequent video releases, inspiring no small amount of controversy amongst the band’s old-school fanbase.
Thus, Kiss Exposed offers many things in the guise of a simple clip tape: it connected the band’s current work to their legacy and allowed the their ruling members to reshape that legacy in a way that suited their business needs. Not bad for a VHS release commonly dismissed as a melange of riffs, posturing and jiggling rock chicks.