Alrighty folks, here's the dear Professor's coverage of what I've written so far about the Tarantino Film Festival from his own point of view. This is the first time that the venerable Moriarty and I have experienced the same events and the same time in the same location. He with his AA battery powered henchmen, and me with mine (mine are superior.... Tom Joad- able to ignite the masses... Johnny Wad- with his enormous cock.... Copernicus- with his astrophysic wunderpowers... Quint- with the ability to be bitten in half.... Annette Kellerman- able to swim the English Channel (though it is unknown of what use this can be in Texas) His Henchmen seemed to drool alot and want food. More food. Plenty more food. Especially THE SECOND BRAIN who's hunger stopped only upon consumption of our table at Stubbs. Anyway... On to the old man...
Hey, Head Geek...
Let’s be honest. When you’ve got a compound as well-stocked and as impregnable as The Moriarty Labs, there’s really no reason to spend much time out and about. However, as Phase III of my Evil Master Plan To Rule The World was getting underway, it came to my attention that there was certain crucial geographical information I was missing. Yes, I could have just sent my henchmen on the task, but I consider the southwest to be a crucial cornerstone to the EMPTRTW. Because of this, it was decided that a road trip was in order, a fact-finding mission as it were.
Now, henchmen are, for the most part, sad and misshapen creatures, allergic to sunlight, hairless, with strange extra appendages. This is my fault. I got a little carried away during the design process -- too much coffee, I suppose. There are three particular henchmen I did get right, though. There’s The Second Brain, a sort of backup hard drive in which I store all my amassed knowledge. Free Ride is a particularly nimble thief on those rare occasions I can stir him from his slumber. Finally, there’s Salma Stalker, although the lovely Miss Hayek need not worry. I keep him firmly leashed in public and he’s been chemically neutered. Except for his complete lack of genitalia, the three of them could pass for normal.
Because of the nature of the data we needed, we had to travel by land. From my vast arsenal of vehicles, I selected the Moriarty Travel Wagon, three tons of heavily armored horsepower and bad attitude. After loading up roughly 22,000 AA batteries to power the electronic brains of the henchmen, we rolled out of Los Angeles midday Thursday.
For those of you who have never done any real endurance test style road trips, I recommend it. There’s something humbling and almost holy about driving this particular country. There’s a lot of it we haven’t totally screwed up yet, no matter how hard evil bastards like me have tried. Watching the sun set over the mesas of Arizona or watching it rise over the flatlands of Texas can make even the mighty Moriarty feel small.
Using the Travel Wagon’s sophisticated array of external sensors and collecting devices, we spent almost 24 straight hours on the road gathering data. On Friday afternoon, I was taking readings in the back when The Second Brain came running back. “Professor! We’re in Austin!” he yelled, momentarily startling Free Ride from his nap. I almost backhanded him for interrupting before it sunk in. Austin... home of AICN, headquarters for Harry himself. There was something else, though... something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
I tried Harry, got a busy signal. No problem. I called Geek Number Two, Coaxial’s own Glen, and got him on the second ring. Since most of my communications are sent in code by cryptic means, it took a moment for Glen to believe that it was really me. Once he believed it, we set up a rendezvous. He agreed to alert the rest of the AICN crew to join us.
One of my henchmen secured the entire top floor of the Radisson and we set up camp overlooking Austin’s warehouse district. We were less than three blocks from the fabled Alamo Drafthouse. From where I stood, I could read the marquee: “QUENTIN TARANTINO BAD ASS MOVIES.” That’s when it hit me, the other thing that had almost popped to mind before. QTIII, the Quentin fest. Using a series of adrenaline injections directly to the heart, I roused Free Ride and sent him out to obtain the proper passes for us that evening. With that taken care of, I headed downstairs to meet everyone.
“Everyone” turned out to include Harry, Father Geek, Tom Joad, Annette Kellerman, and Glen. When you add my henchmen and me to the mix, Hollywood missed quite an opportunity to thin the geek ranks a bit. With the native Austinites as our guides, we headed to Chuy’s for dinner, a Mexican place with burritos the size of our heads. I’m still not sure if this was dinner or an initiation, but it was damn fine. Sated, a bit dazed from the trip, we finally made our way to the Alamo Drafthouse for the fest’s first night.
That first night is a blur when I try to recall it now. I was exhausted and excited at the same time, and I was being introduced to so many of the AICN regulars -- Quint, Johnny Wadd, Copernicus. At the same time, silent commercials flashed by onscreen, echoes from the time I was a kid. The Pie Face commercial was insane, as was the montage of Talky Tina looking dalls that walked, talked, peed, and sneezed. I had forgotten owning a Creepy Crawlers ThingMaker until I saw the ad, and I found myself drifting back, thinking of those times. When Tim, the owner of the Alamo, finally took the stage to make his announcements, I was in a sort of a fog. Richard Linklater came up next. Although everyone seemed excited by Quentin Tarantino’s presence, I was probably just as excited to see Linklater, whose DAZED & CONFUSED is on my short list of the decade’s best. He did a wicked impression of QT, then passed him the mic.
Anyone who’s ever heard Quentin speak can imagine the introduction. Raw manic enthusiasm, wild non sequiters, and more obscure film knowledge than any 10 PSYCHOTRONIC GUIDES. It was loads of fun and he perfectly set the mood for Richard Lester’s THE THREE MUSKETEERS and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS.
Before the movies began, we saw trailers for THE GRAVY TRAIN, CANNONBAL, MARCH OR DIE, FREEBIE & THE BEAN, ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE, MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED, and a martial arts film I didn’t catch the name of. Of them all, it was ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE and THE GRAVY TRAIN that really jumped off the screen for me. Each of them was totally original, bold, and made me want to screen that film right then. Finally the trailers ended and the films kicked in.
I’ve only ever seen these two movies on TV, and not since I was very young. On this viewing, I thought they were both excellent, incredibly entertaining, with some incredible swordfighting. Michael York and Oliver Reed hit career highs in these films, and Lester’s never really pulled it together this well anywhere else. I was especially impressed by how much of a bummer the second film is compared with the first one. This is definitely a case of films that needed a final sequel to round them out to a perfect trilogy. Too bad RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS ended up blowing so profoundly.
At the intermission, my henchmen and I debated the relative merits of staying versus sleeping. Our debate lasted all the way through Quentin’s next introduction, this time for ZULU DAWN. By the time he was done, we decided to stay. Even though I drifted in and out of consciousness, I’m glad I did. To my recollection, the film was about 30 minutes long and consisted entirely of battle scenes that started with extremely loud noises. Each of those scenes was astonishing in scale and wonderfully composed, and well worth the stay.
I had my three henchmen carry me back to the hotel and tuck me in. We got a solid eight hours, then hooked up with AICN’s own Robogeek, just back in Austin from a top secret LA mission which you’ll be reading about very soon. He took pictures -- a LOT of pictures -- and spent most of lunch blowing our minds with them. We met Harry and Father Geek right after the Children’s Matinee (which I was unable to attend due to a crippling allergic reaction to Jerry Lewis) and followed them to the one and only Geek Headquarters. It’s genuinely impossible to describe what it’s like to step into Casa Del Knowles, but it’s pretty much exacly what it would be like if you were able to crawl inside Harry’s brain. There’s not a wasted inch of space. Scripts, videotapes, posters, models, toys, books, and even some furniture all fights for space. Harry spent the afternoon revealing some of the darker secrets of Geek Headquarters to us, and I have to say that there are some secrets no man should be asked to keep. Damn you, Harry Knowles, and your blood oath. I never would have signed if I’d known how hard it was to not mention the...
[ TRANSMISSION FROM THE MORIARTY LABS TEMPORARILY INTERRUPTED... STATIC... STATIC... STATIC... ]
... sorry. Turns out we didn’t see anything, and we didn’t do anything. We just went straight to dinner at Threadgill’s, the spot where Janis Joplin got her start as a singer. This was an exceptional example of southern cooking, and I noticed that my henchmen were each gaining an average of 25 pounds per meal. Since my custom-designed clothing prevents me from showing up in either a mirror or a photograph, I am going to assume that I was immune to the food’s charm and that I am still my typical svelte self. Of course, that wouldn’t explain the coma I slipped into as we drove from the restaurant back to the Drafthouse. Perhaps it was a mistake to start the Exploitation Marathon with a meal that size, but common sense be damned! Just to tempt sleep, I ordered a 40 ounce malt liquor to be served during the night’s first film.
Once again, silent images filled the screen as we waited for the film to start, a jumble of blacksploitation film trailers. BLACK BELT JONES, COTTON COMES TO HARLEM, LET’S DO IT AGAIN, WHICH WAY IS UP?, BLACK CAESAR, HELL UP IN HARLEM, COOL BREE$E, THE HUMAN TORNADO, DISCO GODFATHER, SHEBA, BABY!, and BLACK MAMA/WHITE MAMA all paraded by, and I was startled by how many of the movies I’ve seen. Not one of the trailers failed to get at least a smile from me. Most hysterically, there were segments with an older, fatter Rudy Ray Moore introducing each batch of trailers, surrounded by girls in bikinis. I was enjoying the hell out of this, and was almost irritated when QT was introduced to get things rolling until he started his intro for the first half of the night. I’m a big fan of Robert Forster’s work in JACKIE BROWN, and when Quentin started talking about how Forster’s work in ALLIGATOR is what got him the role in JACKIE, it made me laugh. I’ve seen ALLIGATOR a dozen times, and I’ve always liked the lead. I never would have thought to put him in a film now, though, and doing so proves that QT isn’t watching these films to make fun of them. He loves the movies, and he loves the people that made them. After QT sat down and we saw trailers for EMPIRE OF THE ANTS and DR. PHIBES, my 40 oz arrived in a brown paper bag, signalling the start of the evening’s first film.
COONSKIN is the kind of film that not only isn’t being made today, but which was never being made. Ralph Bakshi may not always get it right, but when he does, he occupies a genre all his own, pushing the envelope for political satire. The opening title sequence featuring Scatman Crothers is one of my favorites ever, a sepia toned shot of his face in close up, turned partly away, as he scats the main theme to the film. It’s an intense performance, and a wonderful record of one of the very finest character actors of my youth. The film itself takes some incredible shots at the icons of both white and black America at that particular point in time. There’s an astonishing sequence in an all-black church in which a heated sermon builds to a preacher being surrounded by giant posters of Elvis, Nixon, and John Wayne that he then begins to shoot out. The film takes some odd turns and sidelines to get from Point A to Point B, but that’s sort of the point. Bakshi’s made a tapestry, spilling over with life, and it’s probably his finest hour.
More trailers, and I was drawn back to my early teens by the one for LIFEFORCE. Ah, to be 13 again, staring up at the awesome Mathilda May in all her naked glory. There’s a vampire for you. One of my henchmen ordered a Bucket of Rocks (five Rolling Rocks on ice), and he and I began to race through them. After the almost absurd double entendre of THE TENANT’s trailer (“Nobody does it to you like Roman Polanski does it to you”), we watched ALLIGATOR, and it entertained just as much as it always does. John Sayles made a nice little career for a couple of years ripping of JAWS. He wrote the only two ripoffs that were any good, PIRANHA being the other one. You add THE HOWLING in there, and I’d say Sayles was born to exploitation. Makes you kind of wish he’d slum a little every now and then. He was great at it. Two more trailers, for PHANTASM II and THE PACK, and we were suddenly into our third film of the night. This, of course, required another Bucket of Rocks to be raced through, and it’s a good thing we ordered them. Without the beer, there’s no way we would have made it through NASHVILLE GIRL, the one film of the weekend that I honestly didn’t like at all. I’d say it was about the fifteenth rape scene in the movie that did me in. After a certain amount of ugly in any particular film, I shut down. Thankfully, the movie only seemed to be seven and a half hours long.
... and that was just the halfway mark. We stumbled around a little between movies, trying to wake up, and somehow found our second winds. Back inside, the alcohol was gone, it being well after 2:00 a.m. now, and QT took the stage to an increasingly sober although somewhat thinner crowd. His intro still didn’t let us in on what our final film of the night was going to be, but it sure revved us up for the next two. After the DEMON SEED trailer, we were treated to DEATH COLLECTOR, a gritty, nasty little gangster flick from the late ‘70s featuring a very young Joe Pesci. I thought the film was great, reminiscent of some of Bill Lustig’s early work or the first few films Abel Ferrara made. There was an authenticity that a lot of the great goombah movies don’t have. Overall, I think even Quentin was surprised by how good the movie was.
Our final trailers of the night were BABY NEEDS A NEW PAIR OF SHOES and the spectacular BLACK BELT JONES. We were then shown LITTLE CIGARS. My first observation was how blatantly phallic and filthy the opening credits were, and how they totally didn’t match the rest of the film in tone with a group of flesh colored cigars (including one that was obviously female) dancing around and rubbing each other. As for the movie itself, I don’t really know what to say. It doesn’t even come close to matching the brilliance of Tod Browning’s FREAKS, but it shares some of the inherent sadness of that film. Angel Tomkins is pretty damn good in the movie, and the cast of midgets does nice work. That near gang rape at the end of the film was such a powerful moment that even the suggestion worked the audience over, and that alone made it worth seeing.
Although I didn’t have breakfast after the film, it was served, and most people who were still there ate heartily. Me, I just wanted that last movie. When QT finally introduced it and said it would be MIGHTY PEKING MAN, I went nuts. I’d been hearing about this movie, and I was delighted to be able to see it in a theater, especially when Tim opened the screen to its full scope ratio. QT described how he found the film, how he rented it on a lark one day, and then they passed out fortune cookies to everyone. As we all munched them in the dark, we sat back and witnessed a true spectacle, the most expensive film ever made in Hong Kong up to that point. There’s no describing it to you. It’s a little KING KONG, it’s a little MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, it’s a little GODZILLA, and it’s a lot insane. Evelyn Kraft, the film’s Blonde Goddess lead, is a real treasure, and the special guest appearances her left nipple keeps making throughout the film are not to be missed. Between the tiger rasslin’, the sutured leopard lips, the dancing love montage, the hysterical model work, the bizarre romantic triangle, that fabulous left nipple, and the film’s thousand other eccentricities, this is one that you should definitely catch when it plays the midnight circuit this April.
We stumbled out into the early Sunday morning light and somehow found our way back to the hotel, where we fell into a fitful slumber, doing our best to rest before the afternoon’s activities. A magnificent meal at Stubb’s was our preamble to the evening’s viewing, and the last time the whole group of us was able to hang that weekend. As a longtime contributor to AICN, I’ve always thought of myself as part of the page, but it wasn’t until this weekend, over these dinners, during these films, that I really started to think of these people as friends. There’s an easy rapport that established itself over the weekend, though, and it made everything enjoyable.
The final night got underway with silent footage of various performing families of the ‘70s playing onscreen as we took our seats. The Partridge Family, The Osmonds, The Brady Bunch, The Jacksons -- they all flashed by in their live-action and their animated forms. Hats off to Tim for the way he keeps the screen interesting before the shows begin. Anyone who’s ever had to sit through one of the painful preshows at an AMC or a GCC theater can appreciate any real effort made to entertain or engage the audience. Actually, though, hats off to Tim for every aspect of the Alamo Drafthouse. By that third night, I was starting to really love the place. After being home now for almost three days, I really miss it.
QT was in high gear when he took the stage, really selling the hell out of the evening’s double feature. His enthusiasm kept him up there for almost 20 minutes, and he had the crowd at fever pitch when the lights finally went down. The lineup of trailers was as interesting as ever, with THE LORDS OF FLATBUSH and THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS being the highlights.
I would be hardpressed to pick anything that was an entertaining all weekend, though, as the first film that night, PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW. Angie Dickenson is extraordinarily sexy in the picture, Rock Hudson is great, the girls are stunning and very, very naked, and the young lead of the film, John David Carson, should have by all rights had a hell of a career after a performance this great. Roger Vadim is another of those directors who only gets it right once in a while, but this is definitely one of the times he got it right. His form of cheerful perversion really served the material, written in what must have been a fit of total dementia by Gene Rodenberry.
After another quick intro, we were treated to MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED without any preamble. All I can say about this film is what the hell happened to the Bill Cosby with the hooker on his back and a vibrator in his ear that we saw in this film? Where did he go? This was a very cool man, not a sweater or a wisecracking kid in sight.
And that was it. It almost felt anticlimactic to say goodbye to Quentin and to head out into the cool Austin evening. I felt disappointed at all the films we wouldn’t be seeing, all the meals we wouldn’t be sharing with the rest of the AICN crew, all those great audience moments we’d be missing. Still, I am an Evil Genius, and I have my responsibilities. I threw my crew back into the Travel Wagon, hit the road, and spent 24 hours chewing on everything I’d seen, everything we’d done.
Perhaps there is a reason to venture out from time to time after all. Thanks for the hospitality, Harry, Father Geek, Quentin, Tim, Robo, Glen, Tom Joad, and the rest. Next year, we’re staying for the whole damn thing. Right now, I’ve got to get cracking on a special series of seven reports for next week, Harry. Until then...