spatch: (Fleshy Headed Mutant)
In spite of some pretty serious pain recently, I did have the good fortune to watch a hilariously awful science-fiction film from 1967 called THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE and the title right there should be your first clue as to the quality of the film. Oh, it's presented in all seriousness, mind you, with none of that pesky irony to deal with, and that's what makes it all the funnier.

I mean, seriously: THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE. It's a classic B-movie title if ever there was one. Now nobody in the film actually takes the opportunity to dramatically declare "These invaders, Jim... they're not from space... they're from BEYOND space!" but you can pretty much tell that's the feeling they were going for. So when it's finally revealed that the aliens involved in this film's invasion are coming from the moon, it's a bit of a letdown. The moon isn't beyond space! It's not even beyond Mars! Sheesh!

Golly, I hope I'm not spoiling this cinematic masterpiece for anyone who's just itching to see it but haven't found the DVD in the $1.00 bin just yet. Anyway.

The story of the film involves mind-controlling moon meteorites which get into the heads of a group of scientists and then most of a small town, who then build an impressive mod bunker around the crashed stones complete with a rocket ship which we eventually learn makes round trip visits to the moon once every few days. Then we have a small but dedicated group of scientists who eventually learn to thwart the mind-control rays by, and I swear I'm not making this up, wearing colanders on their heads. (Okay, they're custom-made colanders made out of silver, which is the only metal which can apparently block these mind-control rays, but HELLO, IT'S A COLANDER.) They can also spot the aliens by wearing special goggles that make the Archie McPhee X-Ray Specs look like high-end sunglasses. As you can probably guess, the end result here is absolutely ludicrous, even moreso since it's not tongue in cheek. The scientists look like they're trying out for DEVO. If this video ever got out, these costumes would be a hit at cons.

But even better was the ending to the film. Oh, my! What an ending! What a deep climax of incredible emotion and pathos, and who am I kidding? It's a stinker. I'll summarize like so. If you really don't want spoilers, turn to page 74, where we'll determine which Brady Bunch character our true love would be. For the rest of you, here goes:

SCIENTIST HERO: I've chased you and your mind-controlled minions all the way back to the moon. Now tell me why you've been turning humans into slaves.

MASTER OF THE MOON (swear to god this is his name, honest): We are an advanced race, more highly evolved than you primitive savages on Earth. However, we evolved so much we lost our corporeal bodies and now exist as pure thought. We are also far far away from our home planet. We needed actual bodies to perform physical work on a rocket ship of our very own, so that we can blast off and return home to die. We would never have slaves. These human bodies would be returned to their rightful owners once work is complete.

SCIENTIST HERO: You just want to fix your rocket and go home. If that's all you wanted, why didn't you just ask?

MASTER OF THE MOON: Why... didn't... we just ask...

(It's so crazy it JUST MIGHT WORK!)

SCIENTIST HERO: We'd be happy to help you build your rocket... but by our own free will.

(The MASTER OF THE MOON takes a few moments to mull this over, and then approaches the SCIENTIST HERO. He suddenly RELINQUISHES CONTROL of the HUMAN BODY he was in. This NEW GUY and the SCIENTIST HERO then SHAKE HANDS while the music swells to a dramatic climax. "THE END" is superimposed over the shot of the handshake. SPATCH howls so much the CAT jumps off the bed and makes a beeline for the door.)

My god! Why didn't they just ask?! No science-fiction alien ever just plain asks! Except for like John Valentine, and look where it got him. No, if heroes were to try this tactic in other stories, it'd go like this:

SCIENTIST HERO: If all you want is to gather up Plutonium to feed to your offspring, why didn't you just ask us for it?
ALIEN GUY: Silence!! (disintegrates SCIENTIST HERO's head with his ray gun)

or maybe

SCIENTIST HERO: If all you robots want is freedom and the right to exist autonomously and not as mechanical slaves, why haven't you just asked?
ROBOT GUY: Beep boop bop borp boop (explodes SCIENTIST HERO's head with his atomoblaster)

or even

SCIENTIST HERO: If all you Martians want is some of our women for your breeding purposes, why don't you just ask? I'm sure we have some with loose enough morals around here who'd join you just for kicks.
MARTIAN GUY: WAK WAK WAAK (vaporizes SCIENTIST HERO's head with eye lasers)

Nobody ever asks. They just take. On the other hand, if ever I see a film where a giant irradiated termite walks up to the likes of John Agar and says "Terribly sorry, old chap, but my colony and I are simply famished and we sure could use a good nosh; might you know of any large collection of wooden structures which you don't need?" then by golly I'll totally keep that one close to my heart forever.
spatch: (Admit One)
I'm tapping out, I'm totally tapping out at 3:00 am. I never did quite get over the nausea from Cloverfield and all the food I ate, which of course consisted of several helpings from the junk food group, really didn't help much. After the TO INFINITY AND BEYOND segment of 2001 I realized I'd had it. R Jo was considering making a gracious exit as well, so we bade the Marathon farewell and headed to the safety of our respective beds.

After Mimzy was IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON which is an absolutely riveting documentary on the Apollo missions where the participants themselves tell you the stories behind the moon shots. You should see it when you have the chance; it's that good. I'll also have to see it at some point because I missed it while trying to get some dinner down.

Then there was AFTER THE WORLD ENDED, which is a fictitious documentary about a devastating planet-wide plague, and the 186 survivors in the Bay Area. It played out amazingly real, and presented interesting, complex characters and their answers to many of the questions we'd have when considering a plague which left so few of the population standing. There's a woman who is looking for a surrogate father. There's a scavenger who has no qualms about breaking into homes of the dead and taking only the best stuff. There's a disturbed arsonist who's been run out of town once already and is still considered by most to be a true menace...

This is where we had one of those Marathon Moments, and while I'm loath to mention it involves an injoke, I'll just give you a quick history: We've watched PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES several times now, an Italian-made science-fiction flick dubbed into English. However, the translation makes sure that every character who addresses another uses that character's name in every sentence. Spatch, you can easily see how annoying that be. Don't you see how annoying it can be, Spatch? Hey, Spatch, hasn't it gotten annoying?

Well, the captain of the mission in this movie was named Mark. And in the movie people talked to Mark a lot. So much so, in fact, that the insouciant audience during the first Marathon screening began to echo every utterance. Every time Mark's name is mentioned, a cheerful MARK!! would go up from the crowd. One year there's an attempt to count the number of times "Mark" is said in the film (I think the figure ended up just under 300.) And now, whenever there's a chance in another film, someone might just curiously wonder if Mark is hanging out as well.

So it was with AFTER THE WORLD ENDED. We come across a scene where two characters have entered an inhabited home and hesitantly search for whoever's there. It turns out to be the arsonist. There's a tense moment when they discover him, and both sides regard each other warily. It is at this moment that several of us in the audience let fly with a well-placed "Mark?!"

To which the two searchers immediately ask the same thing. "Mark?!" And what do you know, it turns out to be Mark.

Marathon Moment. You Had To Be There. I'm Sure.

After after the world ended, we saw a short called EDEN which was this planet colonization mission-turned-Mexican standoff, and several people shoot several other people for no real reason, and then there's a twist ending and we all went "Uh, okay."

We were supposed to see A BOY AND HIS DOG next but owing to a UPS mixup the print (which the writer/director/producer L.Q. Jones actually struck just for us) is currently languishing in a UPS facility in Allston. Our esteemed and fearless leader Garen is set to call UPS first thing this morning to raise holy hell on a holiday and somehow get the print delivered in time to close the Marathon out, or at least procure a DVD. In the meantime we watched was supposed to be the Marathon closer, the George Pal WAR OF THE WORLDS. Such a compelling version! Alternates between moments of pure human reaction (the little kid and his dog happily noshing away at the contents of an overturned ice cream cart during evacuation) and somewhat cheesy dialogue. Of course the beautiful creepy color effects win out over all, and the now-terribly-familiar sound effects were fun to hear again.

Finally we got to 2001 and it is beautiful and ponderous and detailed and sharp and slow-moving and rotating and creepy and then trippy all at once, but it got the better of me. I realized I'd be much better off lying down in my nice warm bed than in one of the Somerville's side theatres. The movies in between aren't very happy films and no 5:30 am TOHO, so one of my favorite pastimes is shot. I might be up in time tomorrow to get to watch A BOY AND HIS DOG (one of the perks of living two blocks from the theater) but I'm not going to count on it. As far as I'm concerned, I had my Marathon and I enjoyed it greatly, and eagerly look forward to next year already.
spatch: (Admit One)
So last night I saw THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and not the groovy one from 1959, I'm talking the remake from 1999 with Taye Diggs and Geoffrey Rush of all people and I really am all going, like, what? about it and stuff. Okay I am going to tell you the story of the House on Haunted Hill okay so sit down and listen.

Written in CAFFEINE-O-RAMA )

Still, I had more fun watching FROM DUSK TIL DAWN a few nights earlier. But I would totally ride a roller coaster with Lisa Loeb any day. Over and over and over and over again. You know how to reach me. Let's make this happen.
spatch: (RKO Radio Pictures)
"Be careful, Roxy, [the] Shuberts will want to build a theater there."
Producer and playwright Arthur Hopkins, upon viewing the cavernous orchestra pit at the Roxy

MOTION PICTURES WERE FIRST EXHIBITED IN THE UNITED STATES as acts on a vaudeville bill, in the midst of acrobats, balladeers, and ethnic comedians. The first theater devoted entirely to movies opened on Canal Street in New Orleans in 1896. Rothafel enjoyed a mixture of both, and in his first theater outside Scranton, Pennsylvania, incorporated both moving pictures and live entertainment into a full show. Along with other showmen, he elevated the movies beyond mere vaudeville novelty status, giving them equal billing with live acts or sometimes even better. While he was a stage showman first and foremost, with grand visions of orchestras, dance corps and elaborate production numbers filling his head, he was also a shameless sentimentalist, and knew that while his bally could bring the audience in, what really counted was the human connection. These melodramatic films, fraught with human emotion and displayed on a giant screen, could tell a story to those in the balcony in a far more intimate fashion than a hundred dancers or actors could ever hope to accomplish onstage -- but still, those dancers and all their hoopla couldn't hurt.

So it was with the Roxy Theatre. Cathedral of the Motion Picture it may be, its main attraction would always be heralded by spectacle. Take, for example, the opening night on March 11, 1927. The house lights were already down; Roxy's ushers had led the audience to their seats in almost total darkness.

Those filling the house that night included Charlie Chaplin, Irving Berlin, Harold Lloyd, Will Hays (whose notorious code of morality would dictate Hollywood's content from 1930 until the adoption of the MPAA Ratings system in 1965) and New York's favorite speakeasy owner and hostess extraordinare, Texas Guinan. The program began with a single spot focused on a lone figure center stage. It was not Roxy, it was not Gloria Swanson, it was not a tuxedoed emcee. It was a robed monk with a scroll, who intoned a florid, extravagant benediction:

Ye portals bright, high and majestic,
open to our gaze the path to Wonderland,
and show us the realm
where fantasy reigns,
where romance and adventure flourish.

Let every day's toil be forgotten
under thy sheltering roof:
O glorious, mighty hall,
thy magic and thy charm unite us all
To worship at Beauty's throne.

Then, after an undoubtedly dramatic pause, one final phrase: "Let there be light."

And there was light, and the audience saw it, and it was good. )

Next: The Boys and the Girls of the Roxy
spatch: (RKO Radio Pictures)
Picture 'bout a Minnesota man so in love with a Mississippi girl that he sacrifices everything and moves to Biloxi...
IN THE EARLY WINTER OF 1927, silent film star Gloria Swanson travelled to West 50th and 7th Avenue in New York City to visit Samuel L. Rothafel, powerhouse showman, tireless promoter, and theater manager since "the days when pianists trebled 'Hearts and Flowers' whenever a Sousa march didn't fit."

It was there that Roxy, as he was known to his friends ("...and you may call me that, too, when you write," he would later advise his radio audience) eagerly gave Swanson a tour of his nearly-completed prize: an enormous, outlandishly rococo movie palace capable of seating almost 6000 people. The actual auditorium number was around 5900, but in Roxy's inimitable fashion, he upped it to 6200 in the press by counting all the chairs in the offices, lounges, and even the maintenance rooms.

Gloria walked with Roxy up to the upper balcony, where workmen were busy plastering the ceiling. Impetuously, she grabbed a trowel and inscribed "ROXY - I LOVE YOU - GLORIA" in one corner. Roxy ordered that it stay on the ceiling forever. The Roxy Theater opened on March 11, 1927 with Gloria Swanson's latest film, "The Love of Sunya", as one of the features and Swanson herself in attendance. The Cathedral of the Motion Picture had arrived.

In 1961, after years of declining attendance, failed revitalization attempts and numerous protests, the Roxy was closed and demolished. Roxy himself was long gone, but Gloria Swanson paid one last visit to W. 50th and 7th, accompanied by a Life Magazine photographer. There, in evening gown and boa, she posed amidst the ruins. Swanson was photographed in several poses -- one echoed the glamour and beauty of the old palace in stark contrast to its reality. But the most enduring image is her pose to the left, arms outstretched in one final gesture of exaltation and praise to the treasure that was; Gloria triumphant.

The corner of W. 50th and 7th in Manhattan is now home to The World's Largest T.G.I. Friday's.

Next: Let There Be Light
spatch: (Programmer)
There appear to be some in this world of ours who seem to have forgotten that there's two components to the term "science-fiction." The first component is, of course, "science." The second component is "fiction." Both components are often up for debate, granted, but "fiction" usually means "something that didn't really happen." When it comes to writing fiction that mirrors current or almost-current events, artistic liberties are often taken in the name of a good story.

When it comes to fiction in movies, liberties are often taken so as to make the film as accessible to as wide an audience as possible. For there are two components to the term "show business" as well; the first being "show" and the second being "business." To ensure Butts In Seats and box office revenue, you must make sure the film can appeal to a wide range of your target demographic. This is not always a good thing, as you run the risk of alienating those to whom the subject matter is relevant. But this is not always a bad thing, either, for you wish to engage as many people as possible (who will also hopefully tell their friends!) It's a terribly fine line to walk, but when a nice balance is achieved, you have a hit on your hands.

This partly explains why I was pretty darn chagrined when I saw this listing in the program events for Arisia 2007:
SATURDAY 11:30 PM or whenever masquerade ends

Teenage cracker uses his IMSAI to start the atomic destruction of the world. The Legion of Doom describes this film as "Puerile and offensive to hackers." Richard Stallman says, "I don't get my kicks from that sort of movie." Absolutely devoid of any redeeming content or even a tiny vestige of technical accuracy, this film provides a little nostalgic glimpse of a more naive world. This movie is presented in conjunction with the Institute for Very Bad Cinema.
Hold up there. Extra-Bad Movie? Very Bad Cinema? You have a treasure trove of poorly-made, poorly-shot, low-budget boredomfests just ripe for the picking and you select this as your crowning glory?

I'm sorry, but you rubes wouldn't know a bad film if it sat up and bored you for 3 hours. )

I wonder what they'd think of COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT, by the by. That film is one of my favorites, and anyone who disparages it should get a sock in the eye.
spatch: (bewitched)
"You know what I think, Mr. President?"
"What's that, Elvis?"
"I think it's time we killed ourselves a mummy."
  - Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis

"Oh holy shit, that was the best exchange ever."
  - the guy sitting behind me in the theater
Bubba Ho-Tep gives you that Being John Malkovich feeling at the end -- you've just seen something incredibly fucked up, and you may not fully understand what you just saw right then and there, but you do know that you ain't gonna see a film like it ever again. One part creepy to one part bizarre to one part profound to one part monster movie. Add a gigantic scarab-like cockroach and stir. )


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