As each year winds down to its inevitable conclusion, there are many causes for celebration all over the world. The holiday season arrives, bringing with it feelings of optimism, hope and joy that tend to be lost throughout the doldrums of the rest of the year. Families come together. Friends reunite. Many gifts are given and a good time is had by all. However, for one special sect of the human race, the holidays always come a little bit early. As a chill begins to fill the air, anticipation begins to grow within the hearts and minds of film geeks everywhere. Something waits on the horizon that promises thrills and chills that cannot be contained within any packages patiently waiting beneath Christmas trees across the planet. Instead, the source of this buzz is stored snuggly within the safety of a projection booth in Austin, Texas. Film geeks are not content with the holiday that awaits the rest of the population on the twenty-fifth of December, their special day usually occurring a few weeks earlier. This is a tale about that day. This is a chronicle of the triumphs and tragedies that occurred in theater 1 of the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar between the hours of twelve noon on Saturday, December 8th, 2012 and approximately one p.m. the following day. This is a journey into the mystery and spectacle of an event that defies description. This is Geek Christmas. This is Butt-Numb-A-Thon. You are not prepared… and neither were we.
BUTT-NUMB-A-THON 14: THE LUCKY NUMBER
THE AWESOME SAUCE
Hello everyone and welcome once again to a peek behind the curtain into the elusive, mysterious, and wonderful event known as Butt-Numb-A-Thon! For the past two years, I have done my very best to describe, transcribe, review and summarize an event that is driven by EXPERIENCE and built on PASSION, two qualities that make every write-up of the event pale in comparison to the actual thrill of attending. For this reason, I have decided to take a different approach to this re-telling of the fable of BNAT14WOLF. Instead of a blow-by-blow rundown of what happened inside the sacred halls of the Alamo Drafthouse during the 26 hour odyssey, I will instead stick to a less formal recap, highlighting the stuff that really stood out to me personally and spending the bulk of the article discussing those elements. Afterward, I will do some quick and dirty thoughts on the rest of the lineup, allowing for as complete of a portrait as I am able to compose with a virtual notepad and keyboard. I hope that these simple words find their way to both veteran BNATers, as well as those who know next to nothing of the event, and that parties from each of these camps find something of value buried within my rants, raves and assorted thoughts. So, without further delay…
WHAT IS BUTT-NUMB-A-THON?!
Butt-Numb-A-Thon, or BNAT (pronounced Bee-Gnat) for short, is an annual film festival held in Austin, Texas each December. The event is usually programmed as close to December 11 as possible, as the film festival also acts as a birthday party for the host of the event and master of ceremonies, Harry Knowles, whose date of birth falls on that particular day. There are several elements that set BNAT apart from the myriad of festivals that are programmed elsewhere throughout the year. The defining characteristic of BNAT, and the reason that it is titled as such, is its structure, as the event lasts for a minimum of 24 hours straight. BNAT oftentimes stretches several hours into a proverbial overtime… hence the numbing of the nether-regions. Within the 24+ hours, those lucky enough to be in attendance are subjected to a wide assortment of films, all programmed by the giddy, slightly-deranged mastermind of the event, the head of the geeks himself, Mr. Knowles. The films shown at BNAT are a mystery until they flash onto the screen, oftentimes received with a mixture of applause, shocked gasps, and even screams of joy. Sometimes, the films are premieres, shown weeks (and sometimes even months) before they are released to the general public. In the past, films have even been shown before they are completed! Mixed in with the premieres are vintage films, which are the bread and butter of each and every Butt-Numb-A-Thon! It is during these black and white or Technicolor classics that the spirit of BNAT truly materializes.
WHAT WAS THE DEAL THIS YEAR?!
This year marked the fourteenth year of numb butts, and Harry decided to go all out with a love-letter to classic cinema! Due to 35 millimeter film being on the brink of extinction, BNAT14 was an excellent excuse to roll out several classics in their native format for possibly one of the final times. As a result, where previous years evenly split the focus between premieres and vintage, this year was nearly entirely devoted to a celebration of the history of film, giving BNAT14WOLf (Bee-Gnat Four TEEN WOLF… get it?) a very unique flavor that really hit the spot for this particular audience.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?!
Because it is amazing! Each and every year, Harry commits himself to delivering the very best show of the year utilizing the diverse lineup of films that ultimately finds its way onto the screen at BNAT. The sense of mystery surrounding the films makes for an experience that is riveting, as one can spend the length of the entire event attempting to figure out what is coming next. Even if you manage to crack the code on a single one of the films, there is basically no chance that you will not be knocked flat on your back at least once during BNAT’s overwhelming runtime. Attending Butt-Numb-A-Thon is a true honor, and it is one that is rewarded with effort from everyone in charge, ranging from the creative head of the event all the way down to the superb wait staff that keeps the audience nourished throughout their epic quest. BNAT is the crown jewel of cinematic events, and one that I impatiently fantasize about each and every year. I hope and pray for a golden ticket, and am blessed that I have been able to attend even a single one of these awe-inspiring celebrations of film past, present and future.
SO… WHAT WAS THE BEST STUFF THERE?!
This is, of course, all subjective. BNAT provides something for each and every cinematic taste with its lineup of films, catering to lovers of action, adventure, fantasy, horror, musicals and more! I am sure that each and every enthusiastic audience member of BNAT14 has a different list of things that made the event so special to them, which is another reason that it is all so exciting. But, those stories can wait for their write-ups! As for me…
1.) THE HOBBIT- This is, without question, my favorite film of BNAT14. For many, this may sound like an unforgiveable statement, due to the overwhelming amount of vintage awesomeness that graced the silver screen of Butt-Numb-A-Thon this year. And while I have many tales to tell about those classic films… this… THIS… this single-handedly made my BNAT. You see, I have a lot to thank Peter Jackson for. Due to his incredible work on the original LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, I am a life-long film geek. It was an obsession with the inner-workings of those films that led me to discover online geek communities such as AIN’T IT COOL NEWS, which has nurtured my growth as a film enthusiast for so many years. THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING is still, all of these years later, my very favorite film of all time. To me, it is a perfect masterwork, standing the test of time as a flawless introduction to a world that was considered by many to be un-filmable. Going into this new trilogy of films, I was elated. While the world around me seemed to think that Jackson dipping back into Middle Earth was a recipe for disaster, I could not help but remain optimistic. When others were bogged down by the idea of THE HOBBIT being split into 3 films, I was excited that I got THREE MORE PETER JACKSON/TOLKIEN JOINTS. Any news, trailers, stills, clips, etc… that leaked just got me more and more excited for the films, and the wait was killing me inside. I wanted this film. I needed this film. I tell you all of this for one reason and one reason only: to make it very clear that this is not a review. If you are looking for subjective criticism, I recommend that you look elsewhere. This is going to be pure gushing, because this film was EVERYTHING that I wanted it to be and more. This is Middle Earth, just as we left it in 2003. Time has done nothing to dull Jackson’s complete and total grasp of all things Tolkien, as he once again sets the standard for fantasy filmmaking. The performances, specifically from Freeman, McKellen and Serkis, are off the charts. The depiction of the dwarves is spot on. I loved every single frame of this film, and cannot wait to revisit it in a few shorts days when it has its wide release.
All gushing for this film aside, I am so excited for people to start seeing this. I do not think that people are prepared for how epic this film is. In comparison, THE HOBBIT is a much smaller and more intimate story than THE LORD OF THE RINGS, which seems to be directly responsible for people’s hesitation for the need for three HOBBIT films. Having now seen the first of these films, I want to set everyone’s mind at ease. Jackson is not simply making an adaptation of THE HOBBIT. If that were his plan, three films would certainly be overkill. Instead, Jackson is closing the loop on film adaptations of Tolkien’s universe by flipping every stone he left unturned the first time around. This is THE HOBBIT at its core, with elements from THE SILMARILLION and the appendixes from the LOTR novels filling out the rest of the run-time. In addition to finally putting THE HOBBIT on film, Peter Jackson and Co. are doing everything in their power to bridge this series with the original, creating an organic series of films that will live forever. I think this will come into play even more in the coming HOBBIT films, as evidenced by some amazing scenes in this first film (THE WHITE COUNCIL!!!!). When THE HOBBIT concluded, I felt the exact same way as I did back in 2001. This is an exceptional first chapter in a series of films that I cannot wait to experience over and over again. I loved this. Loved it.
Some housecleaning notes: The version of this film that played at BNAT was in 3D and shown at 48 Frames per Second. After all of the hubbub surrounding this faster frame rate, I expected to have a very strong opinion on it one way or the other. Instead, I simply fall somewhere in the middle of this particular debate. The first few minutes of the film were a bit jarring, as it initially appeared that everyone was moving in fast forward. However, after about fifteen minutes, I did not even really notice it anymore. The clarity of the film was stunning and the 3D popped like nothing I have seen before, so I certainly see the appeal, but I did not notice any of the changes as much as I expected. I know that a lot of people have expressed that the faster frame rate destroys the illusion of the films, and makes everyone look like they are running around in costumes from a cheap medieval faire, but I did not experience this phenomenon at all. So, in a debate that has both sides bickering back and forth like school children, I must say that my opinion on 48 FPS is… Eh, whatever.
2.) VINTAGE- Prior to BNAT14, I had been lucky enough to attend two BNAT events. After having a bit of time to marinate on each of them, I came away with one thought; it sure was awesome, but I think I could have done with a bit more vintage. Don’t get me wrong, folks… the premieres are very cool! The thrill of seeing something early is a feeling that cannot be adequately put into words. In fact, it is the mix of unreleased works and vintage films that gives BNAT such a unique atmosphere, making it an essential part of my year as a film geek. Having said all of that, there are few joys in the world that equate to the discovery of a classic that you have missed up until that very moment. That ecstasy, coupled with the inherent beauty of classic films when projected from 35mm prints, usually makes the vintage offerings among my very favorite moments from each and every Butt-Numb-A-Thon (coughExceptForTHEHOBBITcough). Imagine the smile on my face when Harry announced that this year, he would be celebrating the history of film with an event very much slanted toward the classics. Eleven films played BNAT this year, with seven of them falling into the category of vintage. As a result, the event had a very different feel than years past. There was a reverence that fell over the audience for much of the twenty-four hours, as a large assortment of geeks took some time to look back at the roots of an art form that they cannot help but love. Just to name a few… WHITE HEAT. THE BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940. LIBELED LADY. NIGHTMARE ALLEY. … Whew. Collectively, we went to school, soaking up as much history as we could from the classic prints Harry was so lucky to discover. This shift from premieres to vintage films also gave this particular Butt-Numb-A-Thon a more relaxed feeling than some of the previous iterations. Without the need to schedule the event around the demands of so many studios and filmmakers, it really gave the lineup room to breathe… as well as the audience some much-appreciated bathroom breaks!
I have gathered that some people have issues with the amount of vintage stuff that played this year, and that is just fine. Maybe BNAT is not for you. But for me… for this audience… for those of us who THRIVE on the pure joy of seeing a BEAUTIFUL print of a classic film projected in front of a packed house… we just ate it up and will keep coming back for more!
3.) THE Q&As- Every year, it seems that there are a few special guests who decide to pop in and spend a few minutes with the BNATers. In my experiences, this has always been a super cool buffer between films, as the guests usually partake in a quick Q&A before going about their business. While always a nice addition to the entire BNAT package, the special guests have never been a standout feature of the event, usually outshined by the excellent films that make up the majority of the event. This was NOT the case this year, as the personal appearances and ensuing hijinks were among the very best moments of BNAT14! The first special guest to pop in for a bit was none other than Sir Peter Jackson, esteemed director of both THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT. I literally almost passed out. As detailed previously, there are very few filmmakers that hold such a special place in my heart as Jackson. I hung on every single one of his words with such intensity that I believe he probably felt my eyes boring a hole through him. Yeah. It was like that. My favorite nugget: Extended Editions of THE HOBBIT are confirmed, with about 25 extra minutes of material expected for the first release. Since the Extended Editions of the original LOTR film have long since COMPLETELY replaced the theatrical cuts, this excites me to no end. I actually just saw that this Q&A is available via AICN’s YouTube channel, and recommend that all fans of his work check it out. I have endless respect and admiration for this man and his work. Clearly.
A little bit later, Guillermo del Toro strolled into the room… and nearly stole BNAT. Having never seen this man speak for any extended amount of time, I can tell you that I had no idea what I was in for. A force of nature, del Toro captivated the BNAT audience with a swear-laden series of answers and parables that had me rolling. Prior to introducing a trailer for PACIFIC RIM (ME WANT THIS NOW!!!), del Toro implored the audience to shut up and listen to the forthcoming trailer. He then turned to the Drafthouse wait-staff and told them that if anyone had ordered nachos that they needed to wait on the nachos. He then exclaimed, “F#%$ the nachos!”. Yep. I love this man. In all seriousness, I would have loved to have had an even bigger slice of time with del Toro, as his love for film and the discussion of film was palpable from eighteen rows back. Brilliant stuff!
And finally, at around six a.m. Sunday, Paul Feig walked into theater 1 of the Alamo Drafthouse and shamed every single one of us slobs with his slick appearance, suit and tie, quick-wit, and doughnuts. Lots and lots of doughnuts. As a lover of his work on stuff like FREAKS AND GEEKS and BRIDESMAIDS, I was excited to see that the man behind such great work is just as entertaining as the stuff he produces.
In years past, Q&As with notable creative forces behind the films playing BNAT have been a very cool distraction that acted as garnish for the main course that was the film feast surrounding it. This year was different, as I felt that the guest appearances throughout the event were true highlights that made for an even more special night than I could have predicted.
4.) BRAIN DAMAGE- This. This. THIS!!! I am not allowed to talk about this film. I am not even allowed to tell you what it is actually called. Just know that it will change you. Forever. While THE HOBBIT was my favorite film that played this year’s BNAT, this may have been the greatest series of moments that I have experienced at this, or any, BNAT. I wish that I could tell you all about it. I wish that I could at least give you a hint. Instead, I am simply left to remember that late-night stretch when an audience was floored, confounded, and perplexed by what had just happened to them. I… I am still speechless. This is the stuff of legend… a BNAT folktale that will be told to new attendees for years to come. Once again, I will simply say: You are not ready… and neither were we.
5.) ROLLERBALL- This movie is SO awesome. This did not change my life or anything, as I have seen ROLLERBALL more times than I can count, but never… EVER… like this. This print was flawless. James Caan is something else in this film. I forgot how SMART this film is. This is a super violent film that made you THINK, while also being just incredibly cool. I mention this film here because, despite how many times I have seen it in the past, it still gripped me. I love ROLLERBALL. I love that it has now played BNAT. If you have not seen it, you probably need to find a copy… ya know… NOWish. I was shocked to see how many people in the audience had never seen this, and was immensely jealous that this was their first exposure to it. As I type, I struggle to keep going when I know that I could just as easily pop this film in and re-live it. It is THAT kind of a movie. Brilliant.
I hear you. With my little bit of ranting about my favorite moments out of the way, I would like to also give a quick and dirty rundown of all of the happenings of the event, as well as a few little nuggets of thought to go along with it all. So, here is my best attempt to condense twenty-six hours into as few words as humanly possible. Aaaand… GO!
1.) TEEN WOLF (99.8% of it, anyway)- Poor Jeff Mahler. With its storied history at BNAT, it was only a matter of time before TEEN WOLF played the event… or so Harry led us all to believe. There was something about the anticipation of the eventual sleight of hand that made me watch this movie more intently than it probably deserved. And, well… man, this is kind of a dumb movie. It made me laugh and was harmless enough, but it is certainly no classic. However, it was all worth it for the final punch line, when the film cut out mere seconds before the happy ending. As it turns out, ending TEEN WOLF early was the happiest outcome for all involved. Over the cheers and laughter, light sniffles could be heard, followed by the nearly silent falling of a single tear drop. Maybe next year, Jeff.
2.) THE HOBBIT- See above. Just fantastic stuff all around.
3.) THE BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940- Musical? Check. Black and white? Check. Gorgeous 35mm print? Check. FRED ASTAIRE BEING AMAZING?! Double check. Anytime one gets a chance to see a master at his peak, it is a worthwhile experience. This was certainly no exception. The way Astaire moves is just simply stunning, a callback to an entirely different age of filmmaking. Here, he has a female counterpoint in Eleanor Powell who is just as spectacular. When the two share screen time, it is amongst the most impressive dance I have ever been privileged enough to bear witness to. The assortment of oddities and strange talents in this film is a sight to behold, including a spectacular juggling act toward the middle of the film. Mention must be made of the bizarre woman with the strange voice and the wacky eyes. I would take an entire spinoff film telling her tale. That would be a doozy. Musicals are always a hit at BNAT, and this was no exception. A fun film!
4.) THE GANG’S ALL HERE- Technicolor pops so good in this film. It is simply dazzling. Though I know that I enjoyed my time with this musical for many reasons, I am left with one image upon recollection- singing, disembodied heads. ‘Nuff said. Also, spoilers…
5.) MAMA- “Don’t look at her! Mama’s angry!” And then I shot out of my seat. See the film and you will know of what I speak. Just know… this film has some truly terrifying imagery. Overall, I thought the movie was simply ok. It is a very classic horror film at its core, with some great jump-scares. Some of the bits in the middle dragged a bit, with the conclusion being a bit predictable. However, there is an element of the ending that I did not expect that gives the entirety of the film a very unsafe feeling. Someone mentioned that it was certainly not a studio ending, which is pretty much the best way to summarize it. I am glad that I saw this, but will probably not revisit it in the future.
6.) LIBELED LADY- This is the sort of classic film that I can get behind. A simple plot brought to life with a sense of fun and innocence that is missing from many modern films. This was just an excuse to kick back and enjoy a fun comedy with some great performances, and I did just that. Another fun peek into cinema’s past.
7.) BRAIN DAMAGE- YES!!!! (See above.)
8.) NIGHTMARE ALLEY- I don’t know what I expected from this film, but I did not get it. That is not a slight by any stretch of the imagination. I simply thought a film with that title would be some sort of classic piece of horror. Instead, this is more of a noir piece, with an awesome performance by TYRONE POWER as its centerpiece. This one made me think and gave me some great filmmaking to chew on during the early hours of the morning. I consider this one a very pleasant surprise!
9.) WHITE HEAT- WHOA! How had I never seen WHITE HEAT?! This thing was RIDICULOUS! I know that most of you reading this are probably shaking your heads, ashamed that I had never seen this classic, but hey… everyone has a pile of shame! I am glad that I can finally knock this one off of the top of that stack. James Cagney simply rules the screen for the ENTRIETY of this film. His character is smooth, cool, ruthless and smarter than everyone. That is just how it is. When he finally meets his match and falls victim to someone else’s plot, his rage is that of a man who is not used to being duped. Everything Cagney does in this role is SO believable. He is the prototype for each and every believable gangster that I have ever seen in cinema, and pulls it off better than the rest. He is a king, a man who certainly reached the top! I feel that trying to list the merits of a TRUE, genuine classic is kind of a waste of time, and I will just end up short changing this masterwork in the end. See this! Do not make the same mistake that I did!
10.) ROLLERBALL- See above. One of my favorite films.
11.) BULLET TO THE HEAD- That title is totally a spoiler. There are bullets. To heads. And lots of them. Sweet! This was a fine movie, but was nothing extraordinary. Stallone is pitch-perfect as the wise-cracking tough guy here, unafraid to put some bullets… ya know… in some heads. Spoiler? … Anyway, this really reminded me of when I used to get together with my friends and rent some random action flick from my local video store (remember those?) and laugh along to the over-the-top violence and hilarious one-liners. In fact, that is exactly what I did here, just with a whole heck of a lot more friends. This was a really fun way to end the event. Not exactly what I would like from a Walter Hill film, but a ton of fun nonetheless… and in the end, what is wrong with a harmless good time at the movies?
1.) STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS trailer- This looks like more of the same in the JJ Abrams Star Trek universe, and that is excellent news. Good teaser that whets the appetite for what is to come.
2.) G.I. JOE: RETALIATION footage/trailer- FINALLY, THE ROCK has come BACK to BeeeNAT! … Sorry. Old habits and all that. Anyway, this clip was really fun. We got to see a clip with a wicked fight between Snake Eyes and Stormshadow, followed by a stunning mountainside battle between some Joes and a PACK OF NINJAS! If that does not sound awesome, you should probably just stop reading this portion now. I am trying to remain optimistic about this film, as everything that I have seen so far has been really cool, but… I just don’t know. Time will tell! Adding Bruce Willis and the Rock to the mix can only be a positive as far as I am concerned. Oh, and obviously… MORE CHANNING! … … Right? … Right? … Anyone?
3.) WORLD WAR Z footage- Meh. I have yet to see anything from this that has really won me over. I like Brad Pitt. I love me some zombies. Something just seems… off. I really hope that I am wrong on this one. Anyway, this was the first 8 minutes of the film. There was a really cool scene involving a teddy bear, a countdown, and a zombie transformation. But… yeah… not feeling it thus far. Fingers crossed!
4.) PACIFIC RIM trailer- I would have given my left arm for this film to have somehow been ready to play BNAT. Giant mechs battling giant monsters? Um, yes. Yes times infinity. If this trailer is any indicator, Del Toro is making one for the ages here, folks. Pay attention!
5.) EVIL DEAD clip- This movie looks sick. I mean that in the best way possible. The majority of the clip we saw involves a girl hacking her own face off… yes, you read that right… and then attempting to stab her friend’s eye out with what I must imagine is a used injection needle of some sort. Awesome. The two cringe worthy moments of this clip were the sound effects of A FACE BEING CARVED OFF and a needle being pulled out of the flesh directly beneath a man’s eye. So, yeah… I expect this film to make me laugh, gag and cringe all at the same time. A WIN!
6.) THE HEAT red-band trailer and clips- This looks really funny. There is not a whole lot of point in trying to recap comedy in a written report, as I would fail to capture what made it all so humorous, but this looks to be the next great comedy on the horizon. Melissa McCarthy continues her rise to dominance in comedy, with a usually skip-able Sandra Bullock apparently holding her own. This looks VERY promising.
7.) PAIN & GAIN trailer- FINALLY, the ROCK has come BACK… wait… I did that already? Hm. Well, this was a pleasant surprise. Michael Bay looks to have something really special brewing here. This little look cracked me up. Mark Wahlberg is JACKED in this flick. I expect great chemistry between him and the Rock. This could be a huge surprise, especially to all of the Michael Bay haters out there. Sidenote: Michael Bay introduced this trailer with a video of him smashing someone’s brain with a hammer. Only at BNAT…
That about does it for me! Really quickly I would just like to say thank you to some very pivotal people! First and foremost, thank you to the man in charge, Harry Knowles. As the lead programmer and mastermind of all things BNAT, Harry makes this amazing event possible each and every year. In one fell swoop, he provides a gathering place for some of the most enthusiastic, crazy, and cool people from all over the world to gather together and celebrate their love for all things cinema! This event would not be possible without his tireless efforts to secure the very best lineup possible year in and year out. Thank you, Mr. Knowles, and I look forward to seeing you next year, my friend! (I hope…)
Shout outs must also be directed to Tim League and Kristen Bell for all of their work in assuring that BNAT has the very best home each and every year… The Alamo Drafthouse! The quality of the screens, food and experience are unmatched by any multiplex that I have ever visited in my years as a film connoisseur, and I do not believe that BNAT would be quite the magical event that it is without such a stunning arena!
Alright, guys, I had better call that a wrap! I hope that you all enjoyed this journey through the wondrous phenomenon that is Butt-Numb-A-Thon! Thank you to everyone that stuck with me to the end. Now, it is time to get some rest before I start talking to myself…
IT IS A LITTLE TOO LATE FOR THAT, ISN’T IT?!
… Fair enough.
Wesley “Mr. Brotatohead” Dodd