Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I Love New York in June (and May and July and August) – How ‘bout you? Part 1

I enjoy New York City. Probably because I don’t live there. But I love visiting. Yes, it’s crowded and hectic and often smells like the inside of my own colon, but it’s New York City. The more we visit, the more familiar I become with this Mecca and the more I can pretend I’m a native. I’m particularly fond of smacking cab hoods and shouting “I’m walking heah!” then diving for the sidewalk as the cabbies gun the engine and chase me into the nearest Tim Horton’s.

This year we’ve made multiple trips to NY for a variety of reasons. One of the summer’s first was to celebrate Justin (Skin Crawl’s) Cthulu-themed birthday party, which also afforded us the opportunity to join Scooter McCrae and Alex Kuciw for lunch at a tiny little Irish pub during one of the key World Cup games. They were on their way to see Eastern Condors, hosted by Sammo Hung. It’s difficult to discuss classics of New Wave Hong Kong cinema while drunken hooligans cheer a never-ending pass.

(And if I may be snarky here, having witnessed “football frenzy” in London during an Arsenal-Manchester U. game, I have to say American “soccer” hooligans just look nerdy. Not a Vinnie Jones among the group nearest our table in NY. The butchest among them would have been hard-pressed to pull off a Casey Siemaszko.)

A few weeks later, we were back in the Big Apple for the premiere of the Diggerfilms documentary Under the Scares. This was a special event for us for a number of reasons. It marked the first time we visited Brooklyn by ourselves and it was the first time that I realized “Tribecca” used to be called “Hell’s Kitchen”, and that they are not separate places.

While we had visited Brooklyn once before, in the company of Alan Rowe Kelly, Scooter McCrae and Mike Gingold, that had been a particularly lovely part of the Borough. A place where trees were not only reported to grow, but could be witnessed growing. For the Under the Scares weekend, we stayed in the “auto body repair shop” district of Brooklyn, making it a considerably different experience. This section, a multi-cultural area, boasted a vehicle garage approximately every twenty-six feet, run by dangerous-looking men of every nationality. Further along, we discovered a heavenly-smelling bakery from which emanated the shrieking calls of many exotic birds. Unable to locate either the birds or the entrance, we could only draw the logical conclusion that flamingos were making fresh bread somewhere within the depth of that pre-war brick bunker. And if they weren’t making the bread, certainly the self-same flamingos were being slaughtered in the horrific Asian poultry garage further down the block. Suffice to say, the smell from that location was far from heavenly. Further south, if you get my meaning.

We wiled away many a tense hour waiting for the Diggerfilms guys to arrive. We were sharing a hotel room with them and were unable to check in. Parked outside the Comfort Inn, Amy and I read, listened to the radio and daydreamed about bygone days when we were not parked outside of a Brooklyn-area Comfort Inn, waiting for our Canadian compadres. (Amigos? Hommes-boys?)
Fretting not, once Steve Villeneuve, Nancy Tellier and Dave Aubin (with Simon Geraghty making an appearance later) arrived, we whisked ourselves away to midtown Manhattan via the reliable underground, aka, “The Subway”. Possibly the “F”; I forget now.

For the unwashed masses among you who may be unaware of Under the Scares, it’s a documentary about the world of independent filmmaking, produced by the fine folks at Diggerfilms, aka “The Guys Who Shot Demon Divas and the Lanes of Damnation who speak mainly French to freak me out”. That’s how I know them, anyway. They’re very talented, stylish filmmakers in their own right, but I like to give everyone I know a “me” frame of reference. Speaking of me, Under the Scares doesn’t have enough me in it.

It does, however, have a lot of Amy, Debbie Rochon, Frank Hennenlotter, Rod Gudino, Herschel Gordon Lewis, Robert Kurtzman, Gary Jones and a ton of Happy Cloud Pictures movie clips. Some of the latter were used ironically, however. (Narrator: “Sometimes low budget filmmakers can only hire their family and friends.” Cut to basement scene from The Resurrection Game.) Still, there’s a lot of HCP love, despite the near-dearth of me time, so I can forgive.

The Diggerfilms consortium was working on Under the Scares when we first met them, years ago at Robyn Griggs’ second Twisted Nightmare Weekend in Ohio. It was at this show that Amy, Debbie and I (among others) were interviewed for the doc. Having been previously solicited via email, we walked into the reserved conference room fully expecting to find a group of reprobates, broken-down DV camera in hand, asking us the usual questions like “How did you get started in filmmaking?” and “Can I borrow some money for food?”

Instead, we found a group of very professional reprobates (from the French meaning “reprobates”), a three-point lighting set up, lavaliere microphones and a snazzy prosumer HD camera. The questions were very well-thought out and prepared specifically for each subject, which I thought was classy, even though they were delivered in accents so thick I needed them to repeat themselves several times. (Actually, I didn’t need them too, but since camera operator Hugo Bissonnet was, while neatly dressed and purple-y coiffed, obviously hung over, asking him to repeat himself—“louder, please!”—was vastly entertaining. To me.)

Over the next couple of years, the group (sometimes a quartet, sometimes a quintet, sometimes a sextet, if you can believe it) worked diligently on the doc, intercutting the interviews with footage from their first film, Stories of a Gravedigger, as well as behind-the-scenes from that very project. Also taking clips from the films of their subjects, the finished project, Under the Scares, is a very informative and insightful look at the independent horror film scene. Not afraid to poke fun at themselves, the doc puts their pitfalls up on screen alongside their successes, making it clear to the viewer that filmmaking is not only hard work, but far from an exact science, and any notion of “magic” is dispelled almost immediately. Not discouraging by any means, the message of the movie is clear: before you attempt your own project, try and have a clear idea of what you want it to be, what you expect to happen, what you have to do, and what you will do should any of those things above not come together. It’s funny and it’s realistic.

There still isn’t enough of my interview, but that’s really neither here nor there. They keep telling me that the second disc of the DVD release will be nothing but me. When have they ever lied to me?

Seeing Under the Scares for the first time in the swanky Tribeca theater with a lot of friends and plenty of colleagues was just the frosting. Prior to the showing were a number of trailers—Suzi Lorraine’s upcoming Won Ton Baby and their own nourish dark comedy short Dead Pussy—and immediately following was a trip to a local indoor/outdoor bar/restaurant where we wiled away the rest of the night, discussing film and future ambitions.

As the night wore on the attendees from both ends of North America began to hear the call of the mild. Amy, Steve, Nancy, Dave and I were among the last to leave, staggering back to the subway to whisk us back to the comfort that Brooklyn was sure to provide. It was about three AM when we reached the aromatic platform and bought our tickets, wondering who these grade-school kids were and why they were loitering in midtown Manhattan so late, or if they knew if the crackhead giggling to himself by the change machine was likely to attack and eat us.

The highlight of the evening, indeed the cherry on the sundae, was seeing the toll a night on the town can take on caution-free adults. None of us were suffering, but earlier in the day, we’d been made aware that quite a bit of our nation’s finest navy men were on leave. We witnessed many a sailor wandering through the city with arms draped over the shoulders of very decidedly non-movie hookers. These were fresh-faced men on their way to and from exotic locales, spending time with women whose normal locales were obviously less-than exotic. On the platform opposite us, two officers in their finest dress blues awaiting a train to take them to the last exit to Brooklyn. To the astonishment of our Neighbors from the North, one of the officers was heaving mightily into a horrid trash can, making appalling noises heard even above the squeal of the passing non-stop express trains. I refrained from leading them in a round of “O Canada”, as I sensed things had already reached maximum-awkward.

Dragging ourselves back to beloved Brooklyn, assuring ourselves that our car not only remained we’d left it, but was still in one piece, we collapsed into our reserved beds and allowed the highs and lows of the day to wash us away to slumber.

(Hit the official Under the Scares site to see when this awesome doc with too little of me might be playing by you.)

(All photos swiped from Steve Villeneuve's Facebook page. Go there. Friend him. Speak French. See if I care.)