Friday, September 10, 2010

Tomorrow: Think, Don't React.

Hi, I’d like to take a moment to talk to everyone, if you don’t mind.

We all know what tomorrow is. It’s a day of mourning for some. Others will use it as an opportunity to espouse whatever point of view they have. Others will treat it like any other day. I hope that everyone takes even just a moment to reflect about 9/11/2001.

9/11 is not about politics, ideology, religion, left, right, wrong, or whose god can beat up someone else’s. If we strip it to its essence 9/11, as an anniversary, should be about remembering that nine years ago, 2,000 people woke up, got dressed and went to work. And then a handful of evil creeps killed them.

I don’t care what flag you wave. I don’t care what religion you follow or what your politics are. Taken to its essence, more than two thousand people were murdered on what was shaping up to be a beautiful day.

And we’re all complicit. We are all accessories.

Not “Americans”. Not “Muslims”. All of us.

The human race committed this crime against itself and we, as members of the human race, allowed it to happen.

Not politically because of who we did or did not vote for. Not geographically. Not ideologically. We humans, we hateful, jealous, petty creatures, have been unable to treat each other with basic decency and respect for hundreds of thousands of years.

Going further, for the past nine years, have used this horrible tragedy as an excuse to enact more hatred, fear-mongering, jealousy and pettiness against everyone else. We’ve gone out of our way to demonize each other for the most minor of reasons. Skin color, who we love, what we worship—it all boils down to “I am better than you. And if you dare to think you’re better than me, I hope you die.”

“Can’t we all just get along?” has been a punch line for decades. But if we’re all complicit in the tragedy, we are all, equally to a person, responsible for putting things right. All we have to do is put the idiocy aside. All of these ideologies are ultimately pointless, meaningless to anyone but ourselves. So all we have to do is stop occasionally and ask ourselves, “How does what that person is doing hurt me? How does it affect me in any way?” Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the answer will be: it doesn’t.

I have to believe that we’re all, at base, decent, loving people. And just as in high school, what clique you’re part of does – not – matter. Put it aside.

Let’s all try to start fresh tomorrow. Leave the garbage at home. All your identifiers: Democrat, Republican, Christian, white, black, brown, gay, straight, short, tall, Aquarius, pianist—set that stuff aside.

Tomorrow, think about those people who looked up from their desks and saw the planes coming right at them. Think about the people who leapt from the windows rather than die burning. The legions of people who trudged through the dust, the debris, shell shocked and devastated. Let’s give ourselves a moment to remember how we all felt. How all of us knew that the world had changed. Forget the politics and the arguments. Think about the people.

And then, if you’re out, hold the door for someone. Let someone merge in front of you on the road. Smile at your cashier. Say “please” and “thank you” and try to remember all those manners that you learned as a toddler.

It’s so simplistic it’s almost insulting. If someone offends you in any way tomorrow, let it go. Don’t get angry; just stop and think, “This person is another human being.” Let’s honor the memories of the people who died by being worthy of life.

Or else, we’ve learned nothing in the last nine years. And Ground Zero is simply a giant hole in the ground.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The ALL ABOUT EVIL Precision Screenings - Part 1

Originally, this was meant to be the second part of the “I Love New York in June (July and August) – How ‘bout you?” article, but this past weekend changed my mindset. Last Friday, Amy and I both left work early to get on the road to Maryland in order to catch our second showing of Joshua Grannell’s All About Evil! The Peaches Christ Experience in 4-D. Having caught the premiere in NY at the beginning of the month, we were excited to catch it again with a new variety of friends and venues. The movie is that good and, plus, it has come to symbolize what we’ve started to think of as our summer of “Hell no! We’re not old!”

For those out of the know, Joshua Grannell is better known as the supremely fabulous Peaches Christ, host of the San Francisco horror show, Midnight Mass. Peaches isn’t another Elvira horror host follow-up, though, don’t make that mistake. Peaches Christ is part showgirl, part lounge singer, and all spectacular. Think a glamorous Dame Edna taking over Bette Midler’s Vegas show to show B-movies. A rabid horror fanatic, particularly of the H.G. Lewis and Ted V. Mikels oeuvre, Grannell wrote and directed All About Evil as an homage not only to those gleefully gory movies, but to the phenomenon of cult filmmaking itself. (You can read my review of All About Evil HERE for a plot synopsis.) And the “4-D Experience” is not only an offshoot of Midnight Mass, but a tribute to the lost art of showmanship, ala William Castle or the Ray Dennis Steckler spook shows. All of this is coated with ample coats of glittery fabulousity.

I had first heard of the film around the time of its completion, via an anecdote by Alan Rowe Kelly. Alan’s film, The Blood Shed, was in post-production and while we were discussing its virtues, he mentioned casually that he’d recently spoken to an LA filmmaker who had completed a completely different project under the same title. Alan had dropped Mr. Grannell a line and the two discussed whose film should undergo title surgery for the sake of audience, distributors and over-all artistic piece-of-mind. Ultimately, Josh stepped back and found the much more appropriate Betty Davis-esque play on words and the two artists remained friends to this very writing.

All About Evil proved to be a far more fitting title as the movies created by its main character, Deborah Tennis (Deb-or-ah Te-nees) have fantastic punned titles as well—The Diary of Anne Frankenstein, Gore and Peace, The Maiming of the Shrew, The Slasher in the Rye—serving the camp of the entire film. (Alan’s The Blood Shed isn’t campy so much as it is deliriously deranged and if you haven’t seen that one yet either, your priorities are obviously in need of reordering.) As Josh’s movie began to gain steam, I remained peripherally aware of it until it was thrust right beneath my nose when one of our best friends, Ultra-Violent Magazine journalist Michael Varrati, signed on as All About Evil’s “Tour de Fierce” co-ordinator (or similar such title; as in all things indie, it’s hard to tell from the multiplying hats who is doing what job). All About Evil was set to have a year-long nationwide tour followed by a similar jaunt to the U.K. Through sheer chutzpah and the contributions from a few very loyal followers, this little independent slasher comedy riding the modest recognition wave of its creator’s drag diva alter-ego was going global.

When a low-budget movie gets a legitimate DVD release, that alone is cause for confetti and parades. Something like this was just one small step down from a full-on geekgasm. I don’t want to give the impression that something like this is unprecedented, but the likes sure as hell haven’t been witnessed in my neck of the woods in recent memory!

Following very successful screenings in Los Angeles, Seattle and Austin, Texas, the first sorta-close premiere came our way via the Landmark’s Sunshine Theater in Tribeca, NY, at the end of July.

Now, long trips are not on our list of phobias, but having already driven from Waynesburg to NY twice this summer, we sought alternative modes of transportation. Flying was out for obvious reasons. Amtrak wasn’t particularly attractive since the trip would take five or so hour longer than driving. Finally, we came upon the Megabus—round trip tickets from Pittsburgh to NY for less than we would spend in gas and hotel. Deal! And to make things more challenging on ourselves, we would make the trip there and back in just 24 hours. Okay, that part wasn’t as well thought-out, but we just didn’t care to spend extra on a hotel and we weren’t about to infringe again on the couches or floors of our many hospitable friends. We could sleep on the bus, read, work (Megabus offers Wi-Fi!), whatever, and not have to worry about crazed morning drivers trying to kill us across three states.

Oddly enough, the plan worked just as well in practice as it did in theory. For a big fat change. The only drawbacks were the other people. Amy couldn’t get comfortable in the narrow seats to sleep for any great length and add to that the aforementioned hell of the human race, the trip was a bit more trying than we’d anticipated. The first group of hellions were comprised of a small number of giggly high-schoolers on their way to Penn State for a campus visit and/or orientation. Very loud they were at six in the morning. They were replaced by a pair of what can only be described as “Mexican Yentas”. Two tias who spoke Spanish in an unmistakable Jewish whine—I swear it was like listening to a Telamundo coffee klatch.

The second thing we hadn’t anticipated—or, rather, under-anticipated—was the length of time we’d have to kill once we arrived. All About Evil was a midnight premiere. The Megabus dropped us off at Penn Station a little after 2:30 in the afternoon. Most of go-to New York friends were otherwise occupied so we had a good eight hours or so to travel approximately ten blocks. Even at the peak of rush hour, it doesn’t take eight hours to travel ten city blocks on foot.

After meeting Mr. Varrati and Ryan Neill for lunch in Brooklyn (in the much nicer coffee-house-and-deli section than our previous trip to the auto-parts district), we still faced a good stint of time before us. Oh, if only there was something to do in New York City! (Lament! Woe!)

No matter what part of that magnificent city of millions we happen to find ourselves in, invariably, miracles occur. Call it synchronicity, call it luck, call it fate, lucky shit happens to us in New York. After a lengthy side-trip to Kim’s Video—our first, despite many years of NY visits!—to giggle like nerds at the sight of A Feast of Flesh in the “Sexploitation” section (and to buy a used copy of Samurai Zombie), Amy and I made our way back towards Tribecca for the screening. Lugging around an overnight bag packed with Amy’s own stash of fab, we sought a place to chill and for her to change.

So, of course, we settled on a midtown McDonalds. Not wanting to Morgan Spurlock so late in the evening, we split a single Coke like the big spenders we are, and I chilled and watched Amy transform herself into a goth diva. Not ten minutes into our repose, we were startled by a loud knock on the “restaurant’s” window. There before us were two muscular, shaved-headed gentlemen gesturing at us in excitement. Seeing this, I steeled myself for a righteous mugging by a pair of goth-phobic skinheads right there beneath the Golden Arches.

But the forthcoming ass-kicking never arrived. Instead of vicious nogoodniks, we realized our non-hirsute suitors were none other but Bart Mastronardi and David Marancik (both of the exceptional Vindication—another title to add to your list). We had been set to meet the pair with Alan Rowe Kelly at the theater, but the gods were gracious that evening. Bart and David generously allowed us to invite ourselves to dinner with them. Dinner was held at the extremely posh and lovely Three of Cups, where the owner Santo Fazio, a friend to Bart and David and a co-star of The Sadist (aka Jeremiah Kipp’s Swine) (as well as Abel Ferrara’s The Funeral), treated us like stars. Once Alan arrived, I was briefly overwhelmed by a sense of… what’s the word? Opposite of depression and rage? Happiness! That’s it. And not chemically-induced for a change. Sitting at the table with people I consider not only friends but artists that I respect and admire and, at times, am in complete awe of, I felt like I was part of the independent film community for the first time in years. 

Over the years, the “indie film” world has changed drastically. Some of the filmmakers we started with are no longer working in film, for a variety of reasons. Others are no longer friends. Still others are out-and-out enemies of (who we consider) our people. The disease of ego infected a great deal of us in the mid-2000s. For the better part of five years, many of us teetered on the delusion that we were all on the cusp of breaking through, of leaving “indie” behind to be embraced by the mainstream for our magnificent and unique visions. Little did we know that we weren’t on Hollywood’s radar at all. And lacking this knowledge, we allowed the beast to devour us from inside out. For many, many of us, it wasn’t enough for one to win—the rest had to lose. And the “community” crumbled upon itself. That reality haunted me during my tenure at Sirens of Cinema, particularly during the final issues where fewer of the “staples” of indie cinema appeared. Moving on is fine; forced death march away from the core is devastating.

So toasting to All About Evil with some of the most talented men and women I’ve had the fortune to meet, in a city home to some extraordinary talents (Scooter McCrae, Jim Mickle, Justin Wingenfeld, Lloyd Kaufman), that unfamiliar happiness was nearly impossible to process.

Then came the show. “The Peaches Christ 4-D Experience” starts the minute you receive your tickets. A quartet of velvet-uniformed ushers (including a pair of androgynous twins) hand you Dixie cups emblazoned with the Peaches Christ logo and tell you to hold on to it for a “special toast” later. Mr. Varrati, also encased in the red crushed-velvet suit, manned the merchandise table. Peaches was near the back of the lobby, surrounded by real paparazzi, the camera flashes almost strobing. 

The excited and generously-numbered crowd filled the auditorium and electricity filled the air. Before long, out came Alan in his resplendence to introduce Peaches, referring to her as “The Queen of the Barbary Coast” and “The Most Important Person in the World”. If you think those are large shoes to fill, you should see Peaches’ actual shoes! Suddenly, the lights dimmed, music poured from the speakers and there was Peaches in all her glory. Accompanied by the usherette twins, an alien girl with a green Mohawk, a Yeti-esque werewolf and a bizarre little woman in a Troll mask, Peaches sang “I’m a Gore-Gore Girl” with her monsters mashing beside her in choreographed madness.

After introducing her back-up slashers, Peaches then intro’d the one and only Deborah Tennis (played in the film by Natasha Lyonne, but on stage before us by Trixxie Carr), who performed the film’s closing song, “Star Quality”, and invited us to join her in the toast. The usherette twins hauled out a Gatorade cooler, only to be interrupted by Peaches who felt the toast would be in “bad taste”. Deborah rushed behind stage as Peaches introduced Martiny, her Midnight Mass co-host, but Miss Teeny did not emerge. Suddenly the screen lit up with security footage: there was Miss Teeny, tied to a chair, about to be slaughtered by Deborah! Deb raised a butcher knife, Peaches screamed, the lights went out!

And that served as the transition into the third part of the show, wherein Peaches “brought things down” and did a Dick Cavettesque intro with special guest Natasha Lyonne (an interview complete with an edited highlight reel of the actress’ career). It’s as if each section of the show was merely a warm-up for what was to come and it built beautifully. Extravagant dance number leading to outrageous meta-fiction followed by a brief Q&A with a cult star familiar to even the most “out of it” attendee. The audience was so hyped that each and every title card (each a tribute to an infamous B (or Z) movie of the past) of All About Evil received applause.

The simplistically-brilliant structure of the “4-D” event struck me as the movie unfolded. All movies, of any budget, are hit or miss according to taste. You can’t say that an independent movie is more of a gamble than a blockbuster any more because crap is crap and gold is gold. You can’t cover one with the other and make it less than what it is. Transformers will always be empty spectacle. Night of the Living Dead will always be effective, low-key chiller. All you can do prior to any screening is hope and pray that the movie will be enjoyable.

What the “4-D Experience” does is amp up the audience. Like any warm-up gig, the songs and dances and clever video all worked to get the audience excited. And an excited audience is always more receptive to the main event. Even if the movie fails to live up to the amping, the amping itself staves off disappointment for that much longer. But Joshua Grannell loves the movies he’s celebrating in All About Evil and loves the spectacle that Peaches Christ brings to screenings of these movies. None of this showmanship is phony. There’s none of that disinterested attitude you receive at radio station press screenings. Peaches Christ opened with a pow and gave you zazz. All those nonsensical vaudeville words took on meaning again. There’s nothing insincere or misdirected about the 4-D experience or All About Evil itself. Josh and the theater already had our money. They could have simply shut off the lights, abused us with ads for Coca-Cola and previews for forthcoming dumb and then big farewell to us with a swift kick in the ass following the end credits. But that’s not what we got. We got a movie and we got a show.

We hung out for a bit afterwards, mercilessly annoying the theater employees who just wanted to go home. Both Peaches and Mike were gracious enough to introduce us to Lyonne, who was as gracious as possible while being extremely exhausted. Finally, it was time for everyone to go their separate ways. Alan intro’d us to a pair of documentarians—Paul and Julie Hunt—who allowed us to join them at a Greek Diner for… what’s the meal between “Midnight Snack” and “Breakfast”? “Mid-Snackfast”? Whatever. I got a milkshake, Amy got something entirely too healthy made predominantly of fruit. Anyway…

Eventually, we made our way back to Penn Station as the sun rose. I do not, under any circumstances, recommend this experience for anyone over the age of “going out into the world, searching for adventure”. Penn Station is a bit of a cesspool at the best of times, but at 4:30 in the morning, it’s a stew of bacteria and human refuse swarming over, around and from displaced travelers and those descended from The Crazies in Escape from New York (no, the appropriatety is not lost on me). Desperate for a slash, as they once said in New Zealand (according to old movies I’ve seen), I used my elbows to nudge open the inexplicably sticky men’s room door. Immediately inside, I was greeted with a sight I’ll never forget. Ever. It trumped even the sparkliest of drag showgirl showmanship.

In the stall immediately facing the door, with the stall door wide open, a man sat on the commode, pants around his ankles and belt around his bicep, shooting the contents of a milky syringe into his black-marked brown arm. In my nearly-forty years of life, this was the closest I’ve ever come to having a Herbert Selby, Jr., moment. The image was but a millisecond on my retinas (as I immediately one-eightied back into the waiting area), but it was a scene that will haunt me forever. This man, dear friends, by simultaneously ingesting and excreting, was the Ultimate Multitasker. And I bow to the wisdom behind his yellow-glazed eyes.

Getting back on the Megabus was less efficient than boarding from PA largely due to the fact that the NY side of Megabus seems to employ a higher degree of crackheads who simply shout: “Everyone to the left!” when what they mean is “Please form an orderly line for the bus to Pittsburgh.” All the “Everyone to the left!” succeeded in doing was encouraging synchronized shuffling, as eighty or so exhausted and miserable people bound for the Land of Sports and Zombies shifted their weight in a unified clump from one ten-foot of sidewalk space to the other.

With another seven-or-so hour trip ahead of us, we settled down in more-or-less comfort and willed ourselves to drift off to sleep. We’d survived our 24-hour military-grade entertainment excursion with Myrmidon proficiency. Take that, rapidly-aging body!

Next up: ALL ABOUT EVIL, PART II: SILVER SPRINGS, MD! (Or, “I love New York in June (July and August) Even Though I’m Not in New York and It’s Almost September… part III