Monday, November 10, 2014

Say it Again! Mad Magazine Presents Up the Academy!

There is something so undeniably captivating about a magnificent disaster. It's the same kind of charisma and fear that you see in riots and car crashes. One part horror and one part pure human magnetic curiosity, both coming together to make you turn your head and aim your gaze straight into the wreckage. This is everything I felt and more when I realized that I wanted to, scratch that, needed to see the 1980 Robert Downey Sr. film, Mad Magazine Presents Up the Academy.

It all started when I picked up a pristine copy of the vinyl soundtrack at a local flea market about a couple of months back. Unlike more famous soundtracks of early 80's comedies, I was shocked at how crazy solid it was. Case in point, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Sure, it had Oingo Boingo, but it also had Jackson Browne and Jimmy Buffet. Up the Academy, on the other hand, had Blondie, Ian Hunter and The Modern Lovers. Even the Sammy Hagar track is pretty good. After playing the album dozens of times, it planted the seed of car crash compulsion. First I researched it. I had known beforehand that the film had bombed at the box office and there were some kind of legal actions related to it.

This was an understatement.

The combination of a live action film tied with one of the greatest and most irreverent humor mags to have ever come out of these shores was a brilliant least on paper. Add to the mix a brilliant underground film maverick in the form of the man that gave the world Putney Swope, Pound and Greaser's Palace, Robert Downey Sr and it's a no brainer. Again, on paper. Throw in a mixed cast that included some young newcomers as well as notable actors like Antonio Fargas, Barbara Bach, Tom Poston and the eternally marvelous Ron Leibman as the main villain along with the aforementioned killer soundtrack and it was sure to be an ace in the deck. So what went wrong?

The first cracks appeared back n the pre-production process, when the script was sent to Mad publisher Bill Gaines. According to an interview that appeared in the Comics Journal, he liked the script as a whole but found some things offensive and requested that certain changes be made. However the changes that Gaines was promised never happened and the end result ended up muddled. To the extent that he ended up paying $30,000 for Warner Brothers to remove any references to Mad, including the appearance of Alfred E. Neuman, on both the cable television print, as well the domestic home video cut. Mad even did a parody called “Mad Magazine Resents Throw Up the Academy.” Adding further to the hot mess factor was actor Ron Leibman, who is the biggest adult character in the film, requesting his name be removed from the film and any related promotional materials.

So, knowing all of this before going into the film, I was prepared for the worst. Like Fraternity Vacation bad. However, the end result, while admittedly uneven, is not the worst thing in the world. The plot centers on three kids whom, due to assorted delinquent behavior, are sent to the Weinberg Military Academy. It's there that they encounter the motley crew of academic faculty, that include a blind barber, a pederast dance instructor (Tom Poston !?) and a weapons expert whose radiant and extremely tan décolletage belongs to Barbara Bach, sporting the weirdest accent that sounds like Cat on a Tin Roof with a dash of Perini Scleroso. The film's real star and the thorn in our young protagonists' side is one Major Vaughn Liceman (Ron Leibman).

Liceman, a former student of Weinberg and happy participant in the My Lai Massacre (yes, that is part of a joke in the film), tries to be the boys' friend which includes spying, assorted racist comments aimed at Hash, the Middle Eastern student and barking out “Say it Again!” anytime he wants to emphatically stress the importance of saying “Sir” at the end of a sentence. Further proof of the amazingness of this villain is that for the first part of the movie, his entrance is always signified by a cool gust of wind and The Stooges “Gimme Danger!”

The boys, headed by Oliver (Hutch Parker), plot revenge after Liceman obtains Polaroids of the young lad in flagrante delicto with his girlfriend, Candy (Stacey Nelkin). Why is that particularly a big deal? Well, the reason Oliver ended up at Weinberg in the first place was due to him getting Candy knocked up, much to the horror of his politician father. One of the bits of satire in the film that halfway works is the fact that Oliver's dad 's campaign hinges on a staunch anti-abortion stance, meanwhile Candy is quickly sent to the abortion clinic before departing to Butch Academy for Women. (If you're groaning, don't worry, I am groaning just typing that last part out.) Well, Oliver's friends help him bust out to go “visit” Candy at her nearby academy for ten minutes, which is just enough time to shake some action.

So, if the photos are exposed, then Oliver's dad's campaign is jeopardized, as well as Oliver's chances of getting his dream car. Add in a subplot involving a fourth student who shows up after setting fire, literally, to his last school and the film goes from already ridiculous to wholly head scratching. Case in point? The strains of Lou Reed's “Street Hassle” intros a scene of the boys doing a “proper” eating exercise in the mess hall. Great song but talk about inexplicable usage. I'm surprised Suicide's “Frankie Teardrop” wasn't used during one of the fart gags. 

Figuring turnabout is fair play, the gang enlist Candy to seduce Liceman explicitly so they can jump in and take some incriminating photos of their own. The plan actually goes without a hitch, with Liceman and the gang using an upcoming soccer match between students and the faculty to settle the score. The best part of the ending is the surreal looping of Liceman running after the gang as they drive away, with each loop beginning with the audio of him yelling out “Play it again!” As if it couldn't get any weirder, around the second to last loop, the camera zooms in closer to reveal the figure of Alfred E. Neuman standing at the side of the road waving and then shrugging as a “What, me Worry?” word balloon pops up. Well, when I say Alfred E. Neumann, what I really mean is what appears to be a child wearing a beautifully executed though moderately unsettling mask created by SFX wizard Rick Baker. The end result of this is nothing short of absolute deviltry, though I'm sure Satan had his name taken off the credits too. 

 Up the Academy has three incredibly strong things going for it. First and foremost is Ron Leibman. The man, who is rock solid in everything he graces, is absolutely majestic here as the Southern milatoid with a penchance for repetition, tying girls up with rope and using “Tickle ya ass with a feather?” as a come on. If they had cast anyone else, the film's watchability would go way, way down. He's charismatic and hilarious, with one of the highlights being the whole seduction scene with Candy. He plays it off so perfectly, right down to doing front clap push ups while she is slipping into something more comfortable. (Which is a belly dancing outfit. Something a random high school aged girl staying at a military academy would happen to have?) His performance outsmarts the script by 800 miles, to the point where I wish he would have left his name in the credits, since he is golden here.

The second is the whole scene with an atrocious a capella group, aptly titled The Landmines. Horrible a capella is admittedly one of my personal comedy triggers, so your mileage may vary. But imagine a band so awful that not only do they practically clear the room, except for an ecstatic and grinning Liceman, but glasses break, dogs growl, stock footage buildings from the past crumble and a woman's shoes fall off. Even better is Leibman's bit at the end, where he asks them if they have any records available.

Then there's the aforementioned soundtrack. Supervised by Blow Up frontman Jody Taylor, it is a veritable Whitman's sampler of the best of the best of 70's era proto-punk (The Stooges, The Modern Lovers), punk/new wave (Eddie & the Hot Rods, Blondie, David Johansen solo) and pop (The Babys, Pat Benatar). The catchiest songs, however, belong to Blow Up themselves, providing both the main song, “Kicking Up a Fuss” and the tune that plays during the “Play it Again” end sequence, “Beat the Devil.” (Again, further proof that Old Scratch was connected to this film.) Much like Liebman's performance, it is too bad that Blow Up's terrific efforts got saddled to a film that ended up being so maligned.

The young cast, minus Ralph Macchio as the incredibly pissy Italian-American Chooch, are serviceable at best. Macchio, only 12 here in his first film role, out-acts all of his peers and makes you wish that his wimpy character in The Karate Kid was this full of moxie and anti-social awesomeness. The others are not bad, but are not terribly memorable either and in fact, inadvertently neutralize some of the better lines in the film. There's also Harry Teinowitz as Rodney Ververgaert, a highly awkward pyromaniac who is so irritating that he actually weighs any scene he is in down. It is one of those performances that is either terrible or brilliant, because he easily makes one recall that kid in school that annoyed even the other student pariahs. Poston is kind of wasted in a one note role that requires nothing for him to do except mince, swish and invoke some of the lighter comedic stylings of your garden variety NAMBLA member. His role is symptomatic of a lot of the more politically incorrect humor, which is occasionally amusing but more of than not falls flat. Antonio Fargas, the great Antonio Fargas, is even more wasted as a cranky soccer coach who shows up for all of two minutes.

The humor misses more than it hits but the film's high weirdness factor combined with its strengths do make Up the Academy an overall entertaining movie. It does make one wonder what could have been if both Downey Sr and the writers at Mad have been given more control. But. that said, the film is worth seeking out on DVD, which has all of the Mad references reinstated, for Ron Leibman, the stellar soundtrack and the most hideously splendid a capella group ever. 

For more on Up the Academy, check out this awesome article over at Technicolor Dreams.

 Copyright Heather Drain 2014

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Hell Bent for Cinema: Mike McPadden's Heavy Metal Movies

Music and film are two constructs that fit so perfectly that they might as well be sending each construction paper hearts with glitter glue lovey words. With something that can be as epic, brutal and at times, goony as heavy metal, it is always natural for it to cross-pollinate with the wild world of film. Luckily for us, someone was ballsy, brave, educated and, yes, metal enough to traipse these curious waters. That man? Mike McPadden and his book, Heavy Metal Movies: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos &Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big-ScreamFilms Ever! 

This is a book, nay, a tome, that loves metal more than the older brother of your best friend in junior high who used to sell skunk weed to underage kids at the roller rink. Even more than that acquaintance you once had who could quote Rush's “Fly By Night” by heart, worshiped at the altar of Ronnie James Dio and happened to have at least one 8-sided dice in his/her pocket. In fact, the only way this book could be more dedicated to the genre of heavy metal is if it was spit shining the studded codpiece of Blackie Lawless himself.

The one and true Thor

One of the first things that stands out about about Heavy Metal Movies is its sheer density. Even as someone who is both a professional (yes, because I am that fancy) film writer and a longtime heavy metal music fan, I was shocked that there were that many movies that fit the criteria. Which is really a testament to the tireless research McPadden put into this book. The expected titles are written about, including for my money, the most uber-metal film of them all, ROCK & ROLL NIGHTMARE starring the one and only true Thor, the Canadian hard rock god. Seriously, forget about The Avengers and all of that and pick up ROCK & ROLL NIGHTMARE. In a fair and just world, every movie would have the hulky, blonde presence of Jon-Mikl Thor. 

But the flip side of that is a film like ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE. Initially, that may seem about as heavy metal as a Stryper concert, save for one very key detail, which is the presence of death metal legends Cannibal Corpse. Having seen this film years ago, how I forgot about Cannibal Corpse being in it is beyond me. Maybe that detail got lost amongst the singing operatic butts, Udo Kier (whom, some could argue, is even more metal than Cannibal Corpse themselves) and the lame, even at the time of the film's release, CRYING GAME twist ending. Even better, is that McPadden then informs us that the sole reason that the band responsible for some of the most grisly album cover art and music in the annals of metal, is even in the movie itself, is due to VENTURA star himself, Jim Carrey. The mental image of Jim Carrey rocking out to some supreme death metal trumps everything that is actually in ACE VENTURA. 

The book itself opens up with, appropriately enough, an interview with the godfather of horror-rock himself, Alice Cooper. (I type this as the ghost of Screaming Lord Sutch grimaces from the afterworld. It's okay, I love them both.) Cooper, having not only integrated horror movie ambiance and imagery with his stage shows, also has acted in such notable scary movies as John Carpenter's PRINCE OF DARKNESS, the Italian-oddity MONSTER DOG and the ooky-spookiest of them all, SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND. With a pedigree like that, as well as a hilarious cameo in WAYNE'S WORLD he is the perfect interview to set the tone for Heavy Metal Movies.

As ambitious as it is epochal, with a resume like Mike McPadden's, it feels like a no-fail formula. Here is a writer that was practically built for the job. His background includes working for Hustler back in the 1990's and even writing the script for the Skin-a-max staple ANIMAL INSTINCTS 3 (under the pseudonym Selwyn Harris, which are both nods to the legendary Grindhouses of NYC) and being hip enough to include a Steve Albini reference. How many “erotic thrillers” included references to the famed producer and former member of Big Black? Only one and McPadden wrote it. In addition to helming the seminal early 90's zine, Happyland, he also currently dips his toes into the trash culture waters with his site, McBeardo

All of this experience shines well in Heavy Metal Movies, with there being a sweet balance of humor, fucking A attitude but all with an undercurrent of being smart and impeccably researched. This is one of those films books where you may learn something new, but even if you don't, you are gonna have fun reading it one way or the other. Kudos to both McPadden and the publisher Bazillion Points for not only releasing this work but having it laid out in such a comic-book fun level.

For fringe-film culture fans and heavy metal converts alike, Heavy Metal Movies is the book equivalent of the cover art for Anthrax's appropriately named debut. But in lieu of a iron studded wrist going through your skull, you get some wicked writing and the only film book to my knowledge that intentionally has 666 movie reviews. It's enough to make the dark lord proud.

Copyright 2014 Heather Drain


Friday, October 17, 2014

Cinematic Sacriledge, Nasties, Snake Plants & Felony: Link Update Round-Up

There are fewer things in life sweeter to me than variety. Chalk it up to a general joie de vivre or a severe case of clinically undiagnosed ADD, I like to shake things up on a fairly continual basis. This is crystalline in its obviousness when you scan through this latest update round-up.

For starters, my piece on Jean-Luc Godard's controversial 1985 film involving themes of religion and family, HAIL MARY, can be read in the latest issue of the best magazine dedicated to VHS subculture, Lunchmeat. 

In the spirit of Columbus/Indigenous Peoples' Day, the fantastic Actually Huizenga (whose work I have written about before on Dangerous Minds) has released a non-album single called "Red, White, Black & Blue." Even better is that it's a duet with Murphy Maxwell and has a corresponding photo shoot by brilliant photographer, Socrates Mitsios. I got to write about it as a collaborative effort of sorts for the fashion-travel-art-sex magazine, Live Fast. They are great and so is Actually. Definitely check it out.

Speaking of Dangerous Minds, I got to recently cover one of my absolute favorite composers ever, the criminally underrated Mort Garson. The man's an electric music pioneer and had one of the most unique careers in the history of modern music.

Being both a big fan of free speech, documentaries and director Jake West, it was only a matter of time I would delve into Severin's superb three-disc set, VIDEO NASTIES: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE. (You can read my piece about it over at Dangerous Minds.) Even if you're not a horror or exploitation film fan, you will still love this vital documentary whose issues are as vital now as they were back in the 80's.

One of my favorite slasher films, GRADUATION DAY, recently got a spiffy release courtesy of the always fabulous folks over at Vinegar Syndrome. It's tight little gem with some key surprises and an appearance by one of the most unique bands that came out of the New Wave scene, Felony. You can read about all of that and more right here.

So there you have it! There is much more where that came from, so keep your peepers peeled, your mind open and in the meantime, have a great evening!

© 2014 Heather Drain

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Post-Nuclear Expressionism: A Stephen Sayadian Sampler

Still from "Red White Acrylic Dream"
Imagine a time where filmmakers were shadowy figures of mystique, only mentioned at awards shows and, if they were really unlucky, clucked about in rags written by harpies like Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper. (And boy, if ever a name was built for literally harpy-ing, it was Hedda Hopper, but I digress.) In this day and age of social media and artists tweeting the exact specs of their brunch at Barney's, it is rare to see a living filmmaker still shrouded in mystery and falsehoods bordering on urban legend, but yet, all of this and more applies to Stephen Sayadian.

Album cover for Wall of Voodoo's "Happy Planet." Note the fish, a motif that appears again and again in Sayadian's work.

For the unfamiliar and unconverted, Sayadian is a former ad-man and current filmmaker and artist whose best known works include the post-apocalyptic, science-fiction adult film, “Cafe Flesh,” as well as the neon-expressionist sequel-in-spirit to the German silent film classic “Cabinet of Dr.Caligari,” “Dr. Caligari.” But his resume is much more than that. In addition to working with Francis Delia on the classic “Nightdreams,” in which Sayadian himself appeared in one of the most joy-happy moments in cinematic history as a dancing piece of toast, (In wingtips, no less!) Sayadian got his big start working as the advertising art director of Hustler Magazine, though the masthead often lists him as assistant art director. He made his official debut in the December '76 issue, with the article “Hustler's Sleazy Shopping Guide.” Starting off with a sense of humor that at times played out like Mad Magazine meets Grand Guignol, it wasn't long before Sayadian's distinctive visual eye and wholly unique thumbprint would come into full play at the magazine. 

From the January 1977 issue.
One of the most amazing things about seeing Sayadian's work in Hustler is realizing how young he was. Born on October 18th, 1953 in Chicago, Illinois, Stephen was all but 23 years old when he started at Hustler. Coming from a commercial background that included writing the fortunes that were included in the individual pieces of Bazooka Joe gum, he truly was the Madison Avenue Wunderkind when he was brought into the fold at Hustler. Sayadian left the magazine for awhile in late '78, right after the assassination attempt on founder and editor Larry Flynt. But as Larry healed up and became more involved directly with the magazine again, Sayadian returned and created some of the best and most memorable layouts in Hustler's history. This included “Red, White Acrylic Dream” in the July 1984 issue, which famously invoked such American advertising brand stalwarts as Bob's Big Boy, the Morton Salt girl and Aunt Jemima, coupled with text by frequent Sayadian collaborator, Jerry Stahl. It takes the “erotic nightmare” aesthetic that was used so beautifully in his films and in turn, he created something simultaneously poetic and ghoulish about our own culture. So much of modern American pop culture is completely riddled with advertising and commercial tactics, which is one of many layers in Sayadian's creative keenness. 

Cover for the "Thing Fish" spread in Hustler
 Another hallmark layout was the collaborative piece with Frank Zappa for “Thing Fish” in the April 1984 issue. Based on Zappa's three-LP album of the same name, the spread featured model/comedienne Annie Ample, spaghetti used as a lewd metaphor, a giant reproduction of the infamous Pat Boone exposing his penis photo and, of course, the titular “Thing Fish.” (The latter was voiced by Zappa-regular Ike Willis on the album, but here is portrayed by a glorious creature designed by Jene Omens.) Frequent Sayadian collaborator, intensely skilled Austrian photographer Ladi von Jansky, lensed this spread, as well as the cover for the actual album. (Ironically, it is von Jansky's birth date and homeland that are often erroneously listed as Sayadian's, despite them being very much two separate individuals. In fact, von Jansky went to school with Milos Foreman and was, in his youth, the Austrian equivalent to James Dean.) 

Two geniuses: Sayadian & Zappa. Photo by Ladi von Jansky.
In addition to his print work, he also worked on a number of music videos, including both Wall of Voodoo's pioneering “Mexican Radio” with Francis Delia, as well as the latter-day incarnation of the band and their cover of The Beach Boys “Do it Again.” (Complete with Brian Wilson cameo and a Keene-faced beach bunny.) But it is his film work that has made the deepest and most seismic-type impact. In a world of remakes, personas, reboots and pretensions, there is no filmmaker, living, dead or demon that is like Stephen Sayadian. His fingerprint is unmistakably his and while Sayadian has influenced numerous artists since making his debut with “Nightdreams,” no one has ever come close to touching him.

While he has flown under the radar for the past several years, Sayadian himself has been surfacing more and more, between an appearance at last year's L'Etrange Festival in Paris and showing up for one barnstormer of a Q&A session with Stahl at the Cinefamily Event showing “Cafe Flesh” in Los Angeles. Could it be a sign of fresh and bigger things afoot? Absolutely, with a new film entitled “May's Renewal” in the works, which for the handful that have read it indicated that all signs point to it the being the best and most transformative Sayadian film yet. If 2014 has been the year of Jodorowsky's return, then 2015 will be the year of Stephen Sayadian.

Thanks to David Arrate for the Red, White Acrylic Dreams scans and super-special thanks to Stephen Sayadian for everything. 

© Heather Drain 2014

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Death Game & Pop Life

"With love, there is no death"-Christopher Tracy

"Fuck death."-Anyone who has lost someone they loved.

Mortality. The word alone is enough to elicit depths of worry and dread, not unlike loss, illness and family reunions. It's one of those things most do not want to think about but the cycle of living has a way of wafting it all right under your nose. The scent is one part charnal house and one part weighted awareness. The more our loved ones, heroes and heroines shuffle off this mortal coil, it is hard to not feel, to quote Love & Rockets, haunted when the minutes drag.

Personally, I have an acceptance/hate relationship with death. It's the great inevitable and an essential part of life. You can't really escape it, so making moderate peace with it is a good idea. Yet, even though many view it as simply a transition to something else, whether it is heaven, limbo, Earth again or the great void, it flat out sucks for those of us who are still here. The dead ultimately are fine. They have moved on but yet it is us who are left to sift through the ashes, sometimes literally.

Out of the assortment of heroes and loved ones alike that I have lost in the past few years, the thing that haunts me the most are the lost acts, ideas and art that never came to fruition. When a close friend of mine passed away in '08, one of the things that hurt the most was all of the great writing he never got to do. He had some amazing ideas and coupled with his innate charisma with words and intrinsic understanding of film and music, there would have been some sheer magic he could have created. This is where I loathe death the most, though it's the worst the kind of hate, because it does not change a thing.

All that said, a lesson for the living that I repeat time and time again is that the best use of death is motivation. We're still here to burn the ashes, create, love, scream and fight for ourselves and our work. Art isn't just for the artist, it's for those who aren't here quite yet and for those who can't be here. Let's rock.


Critics and the public alike have always had a strange relationship with pop music. The former tend to, for the most part, glower at it and hiss like a foamy-mouthed feral cat. The latter can alternately love with a blind, cult-like devotion, only to hastily switch to storming the internet with lit torches in hand. It's weird that such a fairly safe genre can elicit some pretty extreme emotions, but that is part of the fascination with pop music.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a fairly schizophrenic-musical environment, so genre snobbery is something quite alien to me. Metal, punk, klezmer, country, pop, exotica, etc etc. If the song is good, it's good. So when I heard The Flaming Lips cover of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" with Miley Cyrus and Moby, I was astounded. Not because of Miley but because it is really, really great. Not thing I went into it expecting it to be horrible, I was just not expecting it to wow me like it did.

This kind of collaboration may seem like it is from Mars, since the Lips are this fairly respected, psychedelic-art-rock band and Cyrus used to be Hannah Montana and has the sad distinction of twerking on Alan Thicke's son. However, if you think about it objectively, there is something kind of brilliant about that. The Lips are too weird (and probably "old") for Cyrus' demographic and she is too pop-tart for their core audience. Which makes it even more interesting because it is a real creative risk for both parties. Granted, it's one for a good cause, since a portion of the sales are going to the Oklahoma City based non-profit, The Bella Foundation, which helps low-income, elderly or terminally-ill pet owners with veterinary costs.

Some of the negative reactions to both the collaboration and the fact that Cyrus and Lips frontman Wayne Coyne (who looks like the world's grooviest professor/magician) are good friends, reminds me a lot of the critical and public flotsam that ensued when Metallica and Lou Reed worked together and released "Lulu." "Lulu" was an intense and brave album that was also quite good and definitely the best thing Metallica had worked on in several years. The only real thing that either Lou or Metallica had to gain was the feeling of creating a work that they personally loved. Over time, hopefully, both "Lulu" and the Lips cover of "Lucy" will be seen as ballsy creative moves with some gorgeous, rich moments intertwined.  (Also, for a really terrific article on the recent negative critical reaction to Coyne in the media, please check out Katy Anders' piece on her fabulous blog, Fascist Dyke Motors. Then read everything else on there because she is THAT good.)

© 2014 Heather Drain

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Future of Cinema Meets Article Round-Ups

2014 has already been one of the strongest and strangest years I have had, well, ever. Older projects are getting filled out and delved into further, while new ones are starting to take root. The best part is that I am only halfway getting started.

Before I segue into my "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World"-style post, one thing I have wanted to briefly write about is a discussion that has come up and more and more regarding film versus digital. Seeing quotes from directors who should know better proclaiming the digital wave as a sign that "cinema is dead," I have instant PTS of hearing a litany of old people griping about change. You know the drill. The younger generations are sending the world straight into dumbass hell, while their parents and grandparents grind their dentures on butterscotch candy and abandoned dreams. It's as old as time itself. Saying cinema is dead is tantamount to telling all the struggling filmmakers out there that they are screwed and might as well give up. But one thing they don't teach you in school is that the biggest element you need to survive in any of the creative arts is pure, undiluted tenacity. Someone tells you cinema is dead, then prove them wrong and make the best movie you can dream of. I grew up worshipping at the twin altars of silent film mavericks like Robert Weine as well as Indie Cult gurus like John Waters because these are artists that took what could be perceived as limits and instead, created new frontiers. Rip it up and start again.

I will always champion film preservation till my last breath. I love film stock with all of my cineaste heart, especially all the beautiful grain and texture it can possess. But there is a middle to be met here. You can love film, as well as embrace digital. After all, what makes real cinema is the right mix of vision, lighting, good editing, sound, heart and flat out testicular/ovular fortitude. These elements can cohabitate on any format. 

In other words, take care of the past, look to the future and never ever give up.


Now, speaking of the past, here are some of my favorite things that I wrote about in the past several months.

The Dance of Reality/La Danza de la Realidad

One would be hard pressed to think of a finer gift from the universe than a new film by Alejandro Jodorowsky and this year, we got such a present. Even better, is that it was well worth the nearly 25 year wait.

Getting to write about this brilliant and heart-burrowingly great film for Dangerous Minds was a pleasure, matched only by getting to talk with the man himself. With generous thanks to both my fantastic editor and Jodorowsky's lovely PR guy Matt, I got to speak on the phone with the director/personal artistic godhead for an interview about his latest film. Sadly, our connection was pretty spotty lending to a fragmented conversation that was heavenly when it did connect and frustrating when it did not. The fact that it did last almost 30 minutes is both a testament to the seeds of a good conversation and (more than likely) the man's saint-like patience. But even with the wonky connection, Mr. Jodorowsky was incredibly gentle, assertive and nothing short of wonderful. (Also, quick thanks to my friend David Arrate for his audio assistance.)

Back Issues: The Hustler Magazine Story

Hands down, one of the best documentaries I have seen in a long time, Michael Lee Nirenberg's film is smart, fun, kinetic and has its own thumbprint while exploring one of the most subversive American magazines ever. Keep on eye on this guy, because I have a feeling this is just the beginning for the young filmmaker.

Massacre at Central High

After writing about Rene Daalder's powerful and still controversial feature film, I found out directly from Cult Epics that they are indeed prepping to release it. This will be the first legal domestic release this overlooked gem has had in decades.

Sugar Cookies

Bless Vinegar Syndrome for not only releasing this underground-meets-overground film but also for giving it such a gorgeous release. Every frame in this feature could be put on a wall in an art gallery. Great, great stuff.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg, which also includes book projects, recent podcast appearances (Thank you Mike White, Rob St. Mary and Frank Cotolo!) and an event that equals my Jodorowsky experience in a multitude of ways. But I'm here to sell the sizzle, folks, not the steak. So in the meantime, enjoy!

2014 © Heather Drain

Monday, June 30, 2014

Print Your Own Revolution: Jon Szpunar's XEROX FEROX

DIY. Three delicious letters that hold more power than entire scripts consisting of the rest of the alphabet. The ethos of do-it-yourself is one that has spearheaded everything from political revolutions to cultural movements. The former in the past could inspire things like rioting and decapitation. The latter could be slightly more gentle, with one of its many forms resulting in the zine movement. This inspired an assortment of writers and simply enthusiastic fans creating their own magazines. This shined brighter in fewer fields than film, with horror and cult movies becoming a huge part of the DIY periodical zenith. At last, a tome dedicated to this rich, fun and occasionally troubled field has come out, all thanks John Szpunar's meticulously put together XEROX FEROX: THE WILD WORLD OF THE HORROR FILM FANZINE.

XEROX FEROX begins from, where else, the beginning, with its chapter/interview formatting starting with such genre film writing legends as Steve Bissette, Bhob Stewart, Gary Svehla, Tim Lucas and Chas Balun, as well as the young Turks that came along a little later, like Bill Landis, Keith Crocker, Greg Goodsell, Mike McPadden, Shane DallmannTim Paxton and Andy Copp. And they are just the tip of the iceberg! In fact, each individual profiled in this book ranges in personality, approach and aesthetics. From old school Universal Monsters moon-eyed love to a celebration of all things grue-filled and naked nubile flesh, all of them are unified by one very important thing. The sheer drive and need that only the purest of passion and enthusiasm can breed. It's like obscenity. Hard to define but you'll know it when you see it.

Matching the subjects enthusiasm is the sheer amount of research and care that both Szpunar and the book's publisher, headpress, put into this work. It is an instant historically important tome and a needed read for both genre film fans and nonfiction writers, young and seasoned alike. These are stories that were needing to be documented and bless all involved for doing just that. Hopefully, it will be a touchstone for other like-minded compendiums to bear fruit. Imagine XEROX FEROX-quality books covering the music zines, the poetry zines, the DIY comics, etc etc. All of this is art that is not really that old but yet is in continual danger of being lost due to its fringe, low-budget origins.

The only real negative with this book is how little women are featured. No singular woman is mentioned. It would have been nice to see someone like Maitland McDonagh get mentioned, since she's a great writer who has been in this field since the 1980's. Michelle Clifford does at least get mentioned in conjunction with Bill Landis, since she worked with him on the latter stages of Sleazoid Express, as well as being the main figure behind Metasex. This isn't necessarily Spuznar's fault, but is more of a symptom of a bigger problem that is the boy's club of genre film writing where women have been relegated more to the sidelines, only to be dusted off for the occasional female-centric bone thrown their way. It can be a well meaning thing, but the best surefire route to equality is just to treat a female writer like you would a male writer. But all that aside, this is a fine book that will inform and inspire those of any category. Long live the DIY press!

© 2014 Heather Drain