So that’s another year down, which means it’s another year of movies down. As usual that means that Justin Souther and I will be listing our picks for best and worst in the first Xpress of the new year. But I’m going to take a different kind of look at the year in terms of movies—not individual titles, but a broader picture of where movies are in Asheville. In that regard, this was a year of some note, especially from my perspective.
This was the year that I walked away from my “day job” of 10 years. I’d like to say that this was so I could devote myself exclusively to movies and the Asheville movie scene. While that is how it’s panned out (so far), but the truth is more complex and less romantic. I won’t go into it here in any detail. I’ll simply say that no sane person can endlessly endure the chicanery of the corporate world—or at least they oughtn’t if they have any remote desire to retain some vestige of that sanity. Regardless of the reasons, it was being free of that responsibility that allowed me the time to become involved in two of the more interesting developments in the local scene to have come along in a while—the Thursday Horror Picture Show and the Asheville Film Society.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show came first—and, if memory serves, it was Justin who came up with the idea as something that could be done with the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina Asheville. We started in the spring with Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (1985) and have kept going every week since with a collection that can only be called eclectic. We’ve run everything from standard classics like James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) to Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise (1974) to Paul Morrissey’s Blood for Dracula (1974). We’ve shown great movies and we’ve shown some outright trash—albeit beguiling trash. I hope we get to show much more of both.
The Asheville Film Society came not much later, but it required more planning, since it not only included a free weekly screening—every Tuesday night—that was open to the public, but a membership aspect. Memberships (at $10 a year)—which among other things provide discounts and special members only showings of some new films in advance of their opening. (We’ve done I Am Love, Ondine, The Extra Man, Tamara Drewe.) But memberships also require record-keepimg and a degree of organization. Thankfully—as with everything else—we had the help of The Carolina owner Bill Banowsky and the staff. Actually, none of this would have been possible without his help and support.
The AFS has allowed us to present a wide range of movies that I believe have taught me as much as any audience member. I’ve been constantly surprised by films or performers that people have never seen. It’s quite a treat to be able to introduce a group of people to, for example, Mae West. It’s even more of a treat find that audience loving what they saw. We’ve shown F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise (1927) to people who’d not only never seen it, but had never seen a silent movie. Again, the real treat for me was seeing them respond positively to a movie that’s 83 years old—to accept a style totally foreign to a lot of them. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
We’ve also been able to book special screenings of a couple films—newly restored prints of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and Ken Russell’s Tommy (1975). I believe the AFS can be rightly proud of being able to bring such showings to Asheville—showings of films that otherwise wouldn’t have gotten within hundreds of miles of Asheville otherwise. It’s also worth noting that both films—shown as fundraisers to help keep the AFS going and to open the door to being able to bring other movies like this to the area—were succesful wth the public. There’ll be more to come.
This was also the debut year of the ActionFest film festival at The Carolina—advertised as “the film festival with a body count.” It was conceptually successful and will be back again this year with, I’m told, some pretty exciting additions. I don’t have the details yet, but when I do—and am given the go-ahead to make it public—I’ll be announcing it.
Now, not everything was skittles and beer in 2010. After all, this was the year that the city decided to kill off the Asheville Film Festival. Granted, this event has not been universally loved. There have been complaints from 2003 onward about the way this or that was handled. It’s not something I can be objective about, because I’ve been involved with it from the beginning, though I had less to do with 2004 than any other year.
Admitting my bias, I still don’t think that any film festival that brought Ken Russell, Jennifer Tilly, Tess Harper, writer-director Dan Mancini, writer-director Tim Kirkman, screenwriter Barry Sandler and writer-director Frank Pierson to Asheville is, on balance, anything but a plus. And that doesn’t even factor in the movies it gave Asheville an early look at—Being Julia (2004), The Squid and the Whale (2005), Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), The Savages (2007), The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007), The Wrestler (2008) and a litle opus called Slumdog Millionaire (2008). Could it have been better? Oh, certainly. Are we better off without it? I really don’t see how. Will something come along to replace it? That remains to be seen.
I suppose it’s worth noting that this was also the year that Mr. Souther and I—under the auspices of the Xpress and with the guidance of producer Steve Shanafelt (not to mention the often brilliant, sometimes disturbing artwork of Jeremy Dylan)—became Elitist Bastards via the wonderful world of podcasting and iTunes. I freely admit that I understand very little of technical side of this (I still think in terms of radio and the gramophone with the little doggie that looks into it), but I’m given to understand that it’s reasonably popular. I also am told that we’re given a parental warning for “explicit material” on iTunes, which comes as a shock to me. I mean it’s not as we would ever stoop to bad language. No not that.
And while we’re here, I’d like to give high marks to Asheville audiences for having supported a wider array of movies—some even with (gasp!) subtitles—in the realm of “art:” titles in 2010 than ever before. Oh, there have been fewer huge hits, but more films have done respectably than in any year I can recall. The range of titles offered by the Fine Arts and The Carolina has been impressive—and bear in mind that both make non-mainstream titles all year long—and Asheville has responded. Keep it up. Who knows what 2011 will bring?