Thursday, April 24, 2008

270 Minutes

I’ve fallen behind here, but the week has been pretty crazy. To get through it quickly, Sunday night at the New Beverly for Dante’s Inferno wasn’t all that crowded but I got to sit through BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW (first viewing—a nice little discovery) and HORROR EXPRESS (second viewing and so much fun) so what do I have to complain about? The ubiquitous pairing of Edgar Wright and Diablo Cody sat behind me so at least they know a good pairing when they see it. I wish I could go see a double bill that was this much fun more often.

But the night that officially closed out Dante’s Inferno was a truly special one. I’m a little at a loss to describe THE MOVIE ORGY, but I’ll try. It began life back in the 60s with Joe Dante running a few serials but breaking them up with all sorts of stuff including clips from other movies, tv shows, commercials and other things. Eventually it turned into THE MOVIE ORGY, a seven hour event shown at colleges from the late 60s to the early 70s taking extended sequences from multiple pictures and splicing them together with all sorts of other stuff from tv shows , commercials, educational films, shorts and other things that I’m not quite sure of. It kept changing and eventually wound up as the four-and-a-half hour version which was screened (on DVD) the other night.

I got to the theater early. Ridiculously early, but I knew it would be a wise choice. By the time the doors opened the line was all the way down the block and I made a beeline for a few prime seats down near the front for me and my friends. Quentin Tarantino, Edgar Wright and Bill Hader sat in front of us. A few other faces could be spotted in the crowd as well, including producer Jon Davison who was also involved with the ORGY’s creation way back when.

Joe Dante introduced the film almost apologetically saying it was dated and seeming unsure how it would go over. He talked about how it was very much a product of the time it was made in and how some jokes wouldn’t get much of a response now. For that matter, he acknowledged that it plays to a form of nostalgia which most of this audience wasn’t around for, but he hoped we would enjoy it.

A few days after seeing it, much of THE MOVIE ORGY is a blur. A glorious blur, but due to its length it is impossible to adequately catalogue everything in there, yet I can remember the sheer emotion of constant pleasure and amazement which it gave me. It takes the rough narratives from a few films such as a western serial , ATTACK OF THE FIFTY FOOT WOMAN, THE GIANT CLAW, SPEED CRAZY (I never heard of that one before, but now I’ll never forget it—“Don’t crowd me!”) and others, cuts them down to their best parts, keeps cutting back and forth between them with other things spliced in too numerous too mention. There’s a long YOU BET YOUR LIFE clip, there’s s kids show called ANDY’S GANG starring Andy Devine which is a sight to see, brief clips from unidentified films which comment on what we’re seeing, there’s Nixon’s Checkers speech, there’s dirty footage spliced into a scene featuring kids, there’s commercials, there’s Abbott and Costello, there’s PSAs. We’ll get the opening credits for an old TV show, one scene, then the closing credits—this is the first time I’ve ever seen what has to be an intricate examination of how an end credits sequence counts as part of the intricate aesthetic of something. Fitting with the time it originated in, there’s a great amount of anti-war, anti-establishment feelings throughout as well—in his intro Dante pointed out that certain references to “dropping a bomb on Chicago” would bring the house down when it was shown soon after the ’68 Democratic Convention. There are also a few things throughout which I’m not even sure if they’re real—what the hell are those Bufferin commercials? Somehow, none of this ever becomes dull but in his introduction Dante explained that it was ok—hell, it was encouraged—to leave if we ever wished, go get food, whatever. There’s no real story, so there’s nothing we would miss. I took advantage of this twice, but the truth is that there are a few running things throughout which pay off on their repetition (“He said ‘Don’t crowd me!’”) so who would want to leave anyway? It’s too much fun to want to be anywhere else.

Much of the references and humor are of their time, but much of it plays great anyway. There may have been references to things I wasn’t familiar with, but it seemed like a very early version of how THE SIMPSONS, which is certainly a veritable storage facility for pop culture references form the past century, will manage to reference something you haven’t thought of for years and get a laugh out of it. Maybe the meta-commentary in THE MOVIE ORGY is very commonplace by now but in watching it I was constantly aware of how this was assembled on film, with all the technical limitations within that. That feeling became a part of it and something similar assembled on an Avid simply wouldn’t have the same emotional effect.

And there’s a lot in here which shows what sort of director Joe Dante would become. Yes, there are some elements which would turn up in his films especially MATINEE (there’s one long TV spot which is seen there, but also many scenes are recreated in MANT). But it’s fairly easy to see the sensibilities and preoccupations with films, TV, media, politics and many other elements that make his films so special. And it’s a thrill to see because the director Joe Dante became is definitely there. It’s like a look at the nascent origins of all the preoccupations that would turn up in his films going all the way to recent years. Or maybe it’s just a chance to see everything that was going on within his head back in the 60s. There’s a joy-of-film feeling that the ORGY gave me which is as difficult to put into words as it is to describe the experience of seeing the actual movie, but it’s a rare thing to discover.

When the film ended followed by a swarm of THE END’s which ran again and again climaxing in Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, roughly 4.5 hours after it began, there was loud applause. I found myself rising from my seat along with a few other people as we continued to applaud. Soon enough the entire New Beverly was standing giving an extended ovation to Joe Dante, who stood there in the aisle taking it in. Just a few rows away, I was close enough to see in his face a mixture of true surprise, pleasure and humility. What he had just shown us in this project he began so long ago displayed a true love of film which so many of us feel yet find difficult to put into words. And it was impossible not to show our gratitude for that. I think we also wished it could have gone on longer. Finally, he raised his hands and shouted, “Go home!” So I did. But, as busy as the past few days have been for me, my head remembers that special feeling and wishes it were still back there. It was a rare thrill. It was one of the reasons why I moved to this town in the first place. It was unforgettable. As one particularly memorable recurring element of the night stated, it was strong relief for sensitive people.


WelcometoLA said...

Nice one! Dennis has also written this up, and both of your pieces have me envious that I'm on the other side of the country!

Unknown said...

Fantastic review. I absolutely regret having missed it. Still, I had a good excuse: I was on an airplane. And not one that was showing THE MOVIE ORGY (it was showing P.S. I LOVE YOU).

The trailer for SPEED CRAZY was a favorite of mine when I was a teenager -- that theme song I still remember ("Got the wind in my face, wind in hair/If you wanna race, I'll be right there!") but I've never seen the movie. And it was Dante's quote about ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN being "a perfect film" that has made me return to it again and again. Your piece on the screening captured something so special about films: they can share the obsessions of others, from a different time, somehow managing to reach you, today. Dante was one of the people who taught us how to look at older films.

After reading your exhaustive reporting of the whole fest, I wonder if you have a key on your computer that you can hit which immediately types "Edgar Wright and Diablo Cody were sitting in front of me."

And one last question: Did Quentin get stoned every hour during the running time or only every 90 minutes?

Seriously though: great blog.

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

I'm glad I was able to give some people a small taste on just how extraordinary a night this was. It's something I'm going to remember for a long time.

Since it's not always Edgar AND Diablo, I may not need that special key but maybe there should be one for each of them. As for Quentin, I can't answer with any certainty, but I will offer for posterity one comment I overheard him say while waiting for it to start: "I love MODERN PROBLEMS!"

Thanks very much for the comments.