Thursday, September 08, 2005

Texts of Antiquity XI: "Delectation of the Über-Muse" (Creative Loafing, Atlanta, 1998)

Delectation of the Über-Muse: Blast Off's skewed, long-running reign as Atlanta's premiere video salon continues.

As you shall soon see, I borrowed a wee bit from the old Antenna intro. Sue me. I wrote the damned thing; who better to heist it than yours ungwodly? Lest you pout, 'twas for a great goddamned cause. Sam Patton was the best man at my 1993 wedding and remains one of the coolest mofos I've ever known. We're talking world-class cool, parsecs beyond the likes of (insert name of avant-rock icon/famous indie dude/undie noise doofus you know I know). His dearly departed vid boutique needed a bit of jizzness in '98, so I put stump to keypad. Creative Loafing ran the piece as their cover story (if mem swerves) in May, 1998.

Blast Off closed its gull-wing doors for good in 2001... VHS was on the wane, and Sam grew weary of the grind. His contribution was enormous, and his shop will forever be missed.

This is the complete, unexpurgated version of the text. CL ran with their own in-house edit, lopping a hundred words off the original submission...

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Blast Off Video has the best damn eye-candy in Atlanta. There is no competition; never has been. If hapless main contender Movies Worth Seeing is the Fred MacMurray of the Metro-area vid racket (imagine My Three Sons' torpid Steve Douglas shepherding a chino-clad Highland Avenue businessfrau into a Jill Clayburg festival - that's the vibe, in toto), then Blast Off is George Sanders (after 62 brandy sours), clasping Diana Dors' garter snaps about the folds of his frenum.

It has been suggested that wickedly risible proprietor Sam Patton is the reincarnated shade of Sanders, albeit with a smidge less drollery, and a slightly smarter knot in his ascot. And the physical similarity? Couldn't begin to tell 'em apart.

Whether greeting each Little Five Points conspiracy dullard and post-rock panhandler with withering invective, offering urbane, sagacious exploitation enthusiasts the skinny on no-budget auteur Will Zens, or fashioning peignoirs out of Norwegian Phantom of Soho one-sheets for the distaff inner circle, Mr. Patton has done more for the advancement of film in Atlanta than IMAGE, Quentin Tarantino's nervous coke twitch, and all the art-plex closets in North Fulton combined. Nonetheless, there is dissent.

"Certain customers come in and are openly hostile," says Patton. "Poppin' Fresh suburbanites... it irks them that we exist."

Makes you wonder. After a rough week of cotton-chopping and Movado/Raymond Weil comparison shopping with Atlanta's least and dimmest, there's nothing quite like worming one's way through a woeful, mottled narrative. Blast Off slogs through the septic vid sump for all of us, only purchasing those films deemed capable of reversing life-affirming patterns. No Spielbergian cornpone. No Tom Hanks idolatry. No copies of Liar Liar. You should be worshipping, but don't get there too early - Mr. Patton keeps "proper" hours.

Most first-time visitors walk into Blast Off's absurdly overstuffed pit area and jaws hit floors, scoliosis victims pop-lock, and saline superstructures of off-duty ecdysiasts bob in amazement... so many tease-o-matic nudie wallows, so few Julia Roberts misfires!

"We represent a permanent moratorium on middle class smugness and those crappy little Che Guevara cigarette lighters," Patton avers. "The ultimate satisfaction lies in renting Escapades in Mexico to Patsy Kensit cultists. You get some shots of drooling, toothless stevedors. One set - a shack. Stock footage cutaways of a jai alai tournament. Then back to the shack. Perfection."

Blast Off is bug-eyed with hypercritical savvy, possessed of a preternatural fondness for the stultifying effluvia which flushed through Southern grindhouses and drive-ins during the pre-vid 1960s. That knack for superior cogitation also informs Mr. Patton's appetites for contemporary cinema. He's not stuck in the past, but his tongue laps deep into history's honeyed run-off groove.

Horny for a fuckload of deviant genres? Fill up the ice bucket, grab a couple dozen dental dams, and dive feet first into the peroxide!

If you thought A Thousand Acres was an apostasy, well, Lurleen, you ain't nodded off to nuthin'! Dig real hillbilly operas and turgid country music cavalcades? Slop down the original kid-poon classic, 1940's ultra-depressing Child Bride (sorry officer, nothing explicit, only implied degradation!), or inbred director Bethel Buckalew's perplexingly seedy Country Cuzzins. Prefer ultra-low-grade Euro detective trash? Hey, me too! Suck down The Incredible Paris Incident or Secret File 614, a must-must-MUST see! Does your lack of good taste run toward deliriously moronic stock car dramas? Rev, don't hobble, and get under the hood of Speed Lovers or Fireball Jungle, a lamentable 1968 NASCAR-themed hate-spewer helmed by Blast Off favorite Joseph Mawra, and starring (in his final and, happily for us, least distinguished role) a pie-eyed Lon Chaney, Jr., "repressing his homosexuality," Patton opines, "by drinking himself to death with Vat 69 and Vitalis."

Time your ab flexes to the onset of incongruous musical inserts in Italian gym-buddy pec epics and Mexican monster-wrestling mat fiestas? Crunch to Rene Cardona's muy odd-ass 1968 suplex-stuffer Santo en el Tesoro del Dracula. Need a leprous dose of the world's most reviled (post-PC) genre? Blast Off has a very healthy selection of miscegenation-fear potboilers. That peculiar Jim Crow-era sub-cinematic species expired around the time of the implementation of the Voting Rights Act, but for a taste of the truly transgressive, rent nobrow auteur Larry Buchannan's meta-lurid High Yellow, I Spit on Your Grave (not the late '70s Camille Keaton rape/castration 42nd Street hit, but the 1962 French-filmed account of an interracial romance that was sold to segregation-happy Southern whites by sly Northern promo hucksters), or the astonishing, Klan-financed Anarchy USA. Then burn your Dickey Betts albums, and never step foot into a Moovies again.

"Hellfire! This shit SUCKS!," you counter. "What about art, production values, Meg Ryan, box office statistics, Oscar nominations?" Mr. Sammy (a handle only the most salubrious of Blast Off's parolees are allowed to employ) has heard his share of splenetic criticism: "We're a
magnet for the upper stratum of the beautiful people, that's true. We get the post-ironics, the swingin' four-layer Optifoam sockliner crowd from Emory, the odd gaggle of worsted wool GSU gals, and more than our share of Buckhead cabalists in their Fastex buckles and traditional
fisherman's stitch patterns. Unfortunately, we also seem to attract every independent bomb maker in the state."

"As for the disenchanted," Patton continues, "all they have to do is shut their lids and rhumba. Bad video stores, like unhappy video mavens, are everywhere. I'll be happy to refer any and all Dave Matthews Band fans to Blockbuster. I've heard that they stock a variety of rib-tickling family favorites!"

Anyone who's stumbled into Blast Off's charming Euclid Avenue alleyway entrance, blanched at the adjoining skate shop's appalling mural, and opened the door (the best-festooned in the city) into the climate-controlled foyer, can attest that... well, there's crap all over the counter, and hepcats and adenoidal cuties will likely be sprawled from the film noir stall up front to the partition of "big bust" compilations in the rear. It's a Floyd's Barber Shop for the "I Hate
My Half-Assed Generation" Generation.

And you're always invited to ask the inevitable dumb questions about Gregg Araki, and then rent some goddamn movies. Maybe Bill Grefe's dumbfounding 1974 William Shatner vehicle Impulse (perhaps the finest film yet produced which stars a "Star Trek" captain as a child-molesting serial murderer). Or Get Down Grand Funk, the re-titled vid version of Miami grade-Z legend Barry Mahon's 1970 docu-oddity Mondo Daytona. Or the just-arrived Jess Franco brain-boggler Vampyros Lesbos. Just leave those special order requests for Brenda Vacarro titles at home, and bring your kneepads - you've got some genuflecting to do.

-Tom Smith

Texts of Antiquity X: Quiz #1 (TS's "Cinema Depreciation" course, MDCC, 1991)

In 1991 I was engaged by Miami-Dade Community College to teach a semester of their "Cinema Appreciation" course. At the time I hadn't yet earned my BFA; a few strings had to be pulled. After the Fine Arts department head had given her approval, I renamed the class "Cinema Depreciation," and taught it my way. Although I screened mostly B-films, noirs, exploitation potboilers, and a smidgeon of early (1969-70) porn, I only got into trouble after failing a Cuban drag queen at the end of the term. (The fucker never came to class and flunked all the exams. What was I to have otherwise done? Nevertheless, he bitched loudly, and had his grade upped to a D over my objections... Singao!)

I met two fantastic students in that class: Oscar Perez (who performed in the earliest incarnation of TLASILA - he's on 30-minuten männercreme; after graduating from Bard he founded the Pink Bubblebath Film Festival in LA), and Tigra Derougemont (who earned gold records as a teen in pop-rap duo L'Trimm (remember "Cars with the Boom"?); she too appeared with early TLASILA/on 30-mm, and now cuts a serious swath as one of Manhattan's primo club coordinators). Becoming pals with those guys made the experience twice as memorable as it perhaps should have been, and reinforced nascent musings about making it in academe. Sixty-seven years later, and I'm almost there for real...

Here's the full text of the first test I administered to the class. I made it ridiculously easy, yet half the class bombed it outright... (Oscar and Lady Tigra had no such problems.) Beware: "topical" references are firmly fixed in their early '90s (SoBe) milieu...

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CINEMA DEPRECIATION
TOM SMITH
10/09/91

QUIZ #1

(TWENTY MULTIPLE CHOICE QUESTIONS/THREE BONUS QUESTIONS)

(CIRCLE THE LETTER INDICATING THE CORRECT RESPONSE TO
EACH QUESTION)

1. Orson Welles's Touch of Evil opens with an extraordinary six-minute tracking shot. What object do we first glimpse as this famous sequence begins?

a. a small stone lying to the left of a distant shadow
b. a plastic moth flung into the mouth of an industrial blast furnace
c. a giant leech in a herringbone greatcoat sucking the life out of a horrified Hooters waitress
d. a time bomb (about to be placed into the open trunk of a convertible)

2. Guest speaker William Grefé was one of the more prolific exploitation directors of the 1960's and 70's. As a maker of motion pictures his primary consideration was:

a. the furtherance of cinematographic craft
b. the spiritual elevation of the masses
c. delving into mysterious recesses of the human mind
d. completing a picture on time and within budget in order to turn a profit

3. Grefé financed his 1971 Electric Shades of Grey (aka The Jesus Freaks) in which novel manner?

a. he washed windshields at the intersection of 12th and Biscayne
b. dealt stock options for short-term infusions of cash
c. promoted trading stamps to secure small investments
d. arranged for a James Brown/El Puma concert at Pirate's World in Dania

4. In 1934 the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) put into strict effect a set of ethical principals known as the:

a. Camp David Accords
b. Warsaw Pact
c. Magna Carta
d. Production Code

5. Although depictions of sexuality were largely forbidden by the MPPDA, treatments of violence were:

a. sniffed at by Back Bay bluebloods
b. generally regarded with lenience
c. quickly manufactured by Hollywood script factory hacks
d. condemned absolutely

6. In the early 1940's cinematographer Greg Toland was instrumental in the artful incorporation of which new optical breakthrough into the filmaker's repertoire of tools?

a. undulatory bifocals
b. X-ray hunk-specs
c. deep focusing lenses
d. full-framed matte projections

7. Which Peter Lorre vehicle is generally regarded as the first film noir produced in Hollywood?

a. Der Verlone (directed by Lorre; aka The Lost One; 1951)
b. The Maltese Falcon (directed by John Huston; 1941)
c. The Conspirators (directed by Jean Negulesco; 1944)
d. Stranger on the Third Floor (directed by Boris Ingster; 1940)

8. The guiding editorial policy promulgated in 1954 by the young François Truffaut in André Bazin's Cahiers du Cinema was known as:

a. the low end theory
b. the auteur theory
c. trombipulation
d. le politique des autres temps

9. The Cahiers editorial staff favored the unpretentious works of then-forgotten American directors. The qualities most admired in the films of these obscure talents were:

a. their consistency of theme and formal style
b. their vague compositional tone and utter lack of depth
c. their vulgarity and numbing vapidity
d. all of the above, and then some

10. Montage derives meaning from the relationship between:

a. Bloodfist, its sequels and their inevitable imitations
b. devil worshipers frightened by motorized sandwiches
c. one frame of film to the next through editing
d. a random selection of images re-arranged in an imprecise order

11. Mise-en-scène, literally "the placing of a scene," emphasizes the visual content of the individual frame. Its proponents see montage as:

a. a groovy, very very groovy kind of L.A. thing
b. y'know, like uhhh, like Marky Mark kind of, but more like Vanilla Ice in a basically uhhh, Gerardo sort of way, y'know?
c. destructive to the psychotropic inertia experienced by all moviegoers
d. disruptive to the psychological unity of man to his environment

12. By employing deep focus, thus dispensing with editing or the need for obtrusive camera movements, directors may comment visually on relationships between:

a. bowlers and their concentration between frames
b. characters and cut-ups seated at opposite ends of a bar
c. chairs and ottomans, tabletops and polished marble flooring
d. characters and events situated at different planes

13. Which psychologically suggestive devices most successfully convey the film noir?

a. a dark, sombre tone and a cynical, pessimistic mood
b. shallow, distracted laughter and scenes of compulsive handwashing
c. seething frenzies followed by bouts of boozy introsepction
d. long shots of sausages and close-ups of graded cheeses

14. Joseph H. Lewis' daring 1949 crime film Gun Crazy articulated which of the following Code-prohibited themes?

a. the peculiar relationship between a cross-dressing Vatican cardinal and a 700-pound carnival organist
b. the eroticism inherent in violent crime
c. the wacky goings-on at a Stalinist political interrogation unit
d. the then-unexplored link between Color Me Badd and cervical cancer

15. John Parker's remarkable 1955 film Daughter of Horror depicted a noir-ish univerise where gross prandial gluttony, dismemberment, murder and resurrection are:

a. basic American values
b. acceptable under a variety of circumstances
c. the hallucinations of an insane mind
d. more fun than windsurfing but less intense than Scrabble

16. In Samuel Fuller's 1964 gutter-trash epic The Naked Kiss, a prostitute attempting to escape her past encounters characters inhabiting the sordid underbelly of small-town America. Just
what the hell is a "naked kiss"?

a. the ritual greeting used by Clarence Thomas and Senator John Danforth during their recent meetings with members of the Missouri Knights of the Klu Klux Klan
b. no tongue and all mouth
c. the sign of a pervert
d. recording engineers' slang for a lip-synch session

17. Stanley Kubrick's 1955 Killer's Kiss told the story of a boxer who protects a nightclub singer from an underworld thug. The film's climatic scene takes place in:

a. the cockpit of a disintegrating P-47 prop fighter
b. the uppermost rim of the mouth of the Sixth Circle of Hell
c. a miniaturized gladitorial arena secretly constructed on a pentagram-shaped mole found only on leggy supermodel Iman's left buttock
d. a warehouse containing department store mannequins

18. Robert Aldrich's brutal noir masterwork Kiss Me Deadly presents a sub-universe of greed, violence and Cold War paranoia. In that 1955 film, detective Mike Hammer's secretary Velda makes a reference to the "Great Whatsit". What is the "great whatsit" sought by the film's peripheral characters?

a. Frank Gorshin's Riddler costume from the mid-'60's Batman show
b. a box containing a dangerous radioactive isotope
c. a box containing a dangerous chili recipe
d. the Willets list

19. Salvadore Dali and Luis Buñuel collaborated on 1927's rabidly anti-clerical Un Chien Andalou. This infamous short is filled with startling imagery; which of the following images is not found in the film?

a. ants pouring through a man's pierced palm
b. a razor slicing through a beautiful woman's eyeball
c. a priest playing cards with a suggestively garbed floozy
d. a gentleman harnessed to two dead mules, two pianos, and two somnambulant clerics

20. Russ Meyer's groundbreaking 1959 nudie The Immoral Mr. Teas opened the floodgates for both softcore and hardcore films. Which object was the film's titular protagonist seen delivering
from office to office?

a. a problem bra designed for full-figured gals like yourselves
b. a full-scale mechanical dental model
c. super see-thru babe specs
d. shipments of orange, oversized utilitarian overalls

B1. Orson Welles' 1958 sleaze masterpiece Touch of Evil combined high noir aesthetics and lowbrow sensibilities. Welles directed the movie for infamous exploitation producer Albert Zugsmith. Identify the non-Zugsmith-produced title in the following list of films.

a. On Her Bed of Roses
b. Sex Kittens Go to College
c. The Naked Zoo
d. Movie Star, American Style or: LSD I Hate You

B2. William Grefé considered which of his productions the most artistically successful?

a. Racing Fever (starring: Joe Morrison)
b. Cease Fire (starring: Don Johnson)
c. Stanley (starring: Chris Robinson)
d. Whiskey Mountain (starring: Christopher George)

B3. Grefé's The Checkered Flag returned more than ten times its initial investment. By contrast, Tony Scott's Days of Thunder, budgeted at $65 million, returned to its financeers less than twice the cost of its production, even though it earned over $80 million in domestic rentals. The budget for The Checkered Flag was just under $13,000. Which of the following films performed statistically better at the boxoffice in relation to its cost than The Checkered Flag?

a. Terminator 2 (gross: $200 million)
b. Robin Hood, Prince of Theives (gross: $190 million)
c. The Hunt for Red October (gross: $150 million)
d. 101 Dalmations (1991 re-issue; gross: $51 million)

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Answers will be posted tomorrow.

Best,

TS