Owing to circumstances over which nobody has any control, this week’s Screening Room will be of the short variety—and I mean it this time. Yeah, I know you’ve heard that before and then my natural tendency to subscribe to the immortal words of the equally immortal Mantan Moreland, “Can I help it ‘cause I’m loquacious?” takes over. (Bonus points for anyone who can identify just where he said this—and I offer two clues: the photo to the right and the fact that the divine Madame Sul-Te-Wan is in the same movie.) But that simply cannot be this round, owing to a packed reviewing schedule and the fact that no one has yet managed to invent the 48-hour-day, which I think is lax in the extreme. Haven’t we been using the 24 hour model quite long enough by now?
First of all, it’s with mixed emotions that I announce the end of an era. As a horror movie completist—at least in terms of English language films—there is nothing I won’t watch at least once. This includes comedy horror pictures and spoofs of all sorts. I even freely admit to actually liking such things as You’ll Find Out (1940), Spooks Run Wild (1941) and the irresistibly titled Zombies on Broadway (1945). So, of course, I just had to see The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters (1954) when it finally crossed my path last Saturday. My God, I wish I hadn’t. First of all let’s define “the Monsters,” which in this case means a sort of vampire woman, a man in a gorilla suit, a man-eating plant (which manages to be both hokey and strangely obscene-looking), some brief nonsense involving Huntz Hall and a Jekyll and Hyde potion, and a robot that six-year-olds would be embarassed to have created. The upside is there are no further Bowery Boys movies I feel compelled to check out—ever.
This past Tuesday the Asheville Film Society ran Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York (2008). The audience response was interesting to say the least. I don’t believe anyone walked out, which kind of surprised me, but it was clear from comments that it fascinated some, appalled others and even angered a few—and by that last I mean the film itself angered them, not that they were angered by it being shown. One gentleman even forthrightly opined that he got the feeling that Kaufman thought we—the audience—were all “assholes,” which was without a doubt the strongest negative reaction.
Though I’ve seen the film a couple times via DVD on television, this was only the third time I’d seen it on a screen and with a group of people—and each of those three times has provoked a very different response from me. When I first saw it in 2008, I found Synecdoche a peculiarly uplifting experience—and that’s an against all odds occurence, since there are some pretty grim things in the movie. The second time it struck me as a very funny black comedy. And this time? Frankly, it depressed the hell out of me. I still saw the other things I’d seen the first two times, but depression was my overall feeling. Any movie that can prompt such diverse reactions has to be doing something very right indeed. I’ll be curious to see what happens the fourth such go around, but I’m not anxious to find out any time soon. In fact, I’m very glad that we’re running an uncomplicated comedy this week.
That, in its own way, brings me to the Suggestion Box aspect of this week’s column. And in that regard, I’m meeting all comers—and on all fronts. This, of course, stops short of suggestions involving a stout piece of rope and instructions in its use.
I’m opening the floor to suggestions various and sundry for movies that ought to given serious consideration for inclusion in both the Asheville Film Society and Thursday Horror Picture Show screenings. Some of our most successful showings—The Fall (2006) and Blue Velvet (1986), come immediately to mind—have been the result of suggestions. In the Thursday Horror Picture Show realm, both Bad Taste (1987) and Phenomena (1985) came from suggestions. Right now, the only ironclad suggestion I’ve been given is Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982). That doesn’t mean that no one has mentioned anything else to me in passing—and if you have, this is the place to remind me.
Of course, November is already booked and at least two AFS film for December, but otherwise I’m pretty much open to ideas. I’d particularly be interested in suggestions for a proper—or even improper—Christmas horror picture. I know what the obvious choice is, but maybe I’m overlooking something and hopefully someone might point out what that something is. But don’t delay in suggestions since it might be a title that isn’t at hand and will need ordering from an outside source.
There are literally hundreds of movies that probably should be run—far more than we’ll ever work our way through at one or two a week. Do keep in mind that not everything that should be run is available. I remain completely perplexed just why Stephen Frears’ Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987) hasn’t seen a release since the days of laserdisc. (I check every so often.) And don’t even get me started on the missing Ken Russell titles. Someone requested Yellow Submarine (1968) the other night and I’d be way cool with that—except the long out of print DVD isn’t anamorphically enhanced and that poses a problem. So bear that sort of thing in mind when making suggestions.
And while we’re at it, I wouldn’t in the least mind the odd suggestion for a Screening Room. Some weeks it’s harder than you might think coming up with a topic. Don’t make me threaten you with a dissertation on the social ramifications of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.