By Will ("The Thrill") Viharo
WHY BIG CORPORATIONS
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eople ask me, "so how is married life treating you?"
Married life - meaning Monica, Tiki Goddess - is treating me just swell. Perfect, in fact. The outside world, however, has a somewhat different agenda.
Soon after returning from our epic Hawaiian honeymoon (complete details are in the July 2001 column, under Archives), Monica and I - happy but broke - buckled in and finally upgraded our basic cable to digital. We figured it was cheaper than going out. But so far, the headaches this decision induced have cost a lot of unbudgeted aspirin money.
Did I say "upgraded"? That's what they promise when they're giving you the hard-sell pitch over the phone. Which reminds me: we dumped AT&T for as our long distance phone service a while ago, because they suck. Now they have the monopoly on local cable. This is not a good thing.
The only reason we decided to pay them the extra dough every month for digital was because that's the only way we could get stations like TV Land, Turner Classic Movies, the Independent Film Channel, and well, those are the only ones we really wanted. We only watch HBO for The Sopranos and Sex and the City since most of the movies they show are crap we wouldn't watch even for free. So we don't need the fourteen other HBO stations they offer, or Pay Per View. They railroaded me into getting extra phone lines installed even though I assured them I am not a sports fan, am in no hurry to see the latest Tom Hanks movie, and I don't need to pay for porno, as vicarious lust has lost its luster, so Pay Per View holds no appeal for me. They think you'll eventually break down anyway, which means extra dough for them, so they tell me without the phone lines, my digital will "eventually cut out." Yea, sure. Whatever. Just give me my god damn TV Land and leave me alone.
To my dismay, I discovered that the digital TV lineup for Oakland does not include TNN, an otherwise hick channel which does shows Miami Vice reruns exclusively. I can't and won't defend my fascination with this show, since I hold no nostalgia for the 80s whatsoever. My theory is that in my pre-lounge/tiki days, Miami Vice's exotic atmosphere, pastels, art deco, moody music and ostentatious style spoke somehow to my inner lounge lizard in the midst of Michael, Madonna and metal. And I like Don Johnson. I don't know why. Just call it a harmless vice. (I was thrilled when Monica scored a small speaking bit on Nash Bridges last year, and got to dine with Don - who once did a movie with my old man, Robert Viharo, called Return to Macon County, in the mid-70s.)
When I officially "received" my Lounge calling in 1988 at the Rat Pack reunion concert in the Oakland Coliseum, then further crystallized my personal style in reaction to the unsightly and discordant onslaught of grunge and rap in the early 90s, I realized why I had been so into the otherwise vapid Vice. Now when I watch it, I remember what a wasteland I once lived in, and revel in my current identity and consciousness. But I still get a kick out of that show as pure, stupid entertainment. Oakland doesnt get TNN, though, for some inexplicable reason, so I am deprived of my curious obsession. It also doesn't get Boomerang, a spin-off of the Cartoon Network that features great, original cartoon series from the 60s like Space Ghost, whereas the original Cartoon Network shows more and more "original" programming I can easily miss. The Sci-Fi Channel needs a spin-off station that concentrates solely on vintage sci-fi TV and movies instead of the new, stupid, incredibly dull, glossy lookalike garbage they now feature, especially in prime time. (Once I flicked on the Sci-Fi channel and they were actually showing, out of almost a hundred years of classic fantasy cinema to choose from, fucking Field of Dreams - I haven't gone back since).
But these are not my main gripes against AT&T Cable "Services."
First of all, the guy who installed it took hours drilling holes and connecting new, pointless phone lines, even though I will never use Pay Per View. When he finally left, I noticed none of the remotes worked, and my VCR couldn't record anything - which renders having TCM moot. It was a Saturday. The tech support person I called at AT&T said someone would be out Monday to fix the problem. Monday came and went. I called the bastards. No record of a Monday appointment - they had be down for the following Friday. I told them no, I was told Monday. They said okay, okay, how about the following Tuesday morning then? Fine. I stayed home and waited. Nada. I called again. No record of a Tuesday appointment. They still had me down for Friday. I asked for the supervisor, complained, they said someone would call me back. Finally someone did - to confirm my Friday appointment. Then another person called, the sub-contractor who handles installation. He knew part of the problem, didn't know anything about a Friday appointment, though. Not his department. He wasn't their department, either. He said he'd send someone out right away. A few hours later the problem was fixed. I called AT&T, who apparently never heard of the sub-contractor, to cancel the Friday appointment because the problem had already been expediently handled.
Copious quality time getting re-acquainted with the Cleavers and Maxwell Smart ensued. I got to see Miss Sadie Thompson, starring Rita Hayworth and filmed on our honeymoon isle of Kauai, on TCM. The Independent Film Channel did a David Lynch fest. I figured this might be worth it after all.
Then a few days later, our favorite channels started pixelating, then disappearing altogether.
I called AT&T to complain. It was a Thursday. They said they couldn't send anyone out to repair the problem till the following Wednesday. A week of no TV Land? Because they initially installed a weak-ass signal? Even my basic cable looked like shit now. Why did we do this to begin with? After a day of this crap I called again. I insisted on instant service and got a supervisor on the phone, who said someone would get back to me the next morning. I stayed home and waited till noon, a Saturday. No phone call. So I called them back. I told the supervisor they had the worst customer service and poorest communication skills of any company I'd ever dealt with, which is true. He said he'd send someone right out to look at the problem. Monica and I decided not to wait. We left the house, ran a few errands. Came back, found a note from a service technician- the problem was in the "pole," meaning the dope who installed the digital had somehow plugged it into the neighbor's cable so the feed was filtered, thin and intermittent, but he needed a bucket truck to reach it, which he couldnt get till Monday. I called AT&T to confirm the guy would indeed be back Monday. I was astonished to hear they had no record of the visit, but they did have me down for service call - on the following Wednesday. I asked for the bigwig who'd promised he'd have this latest problem, which was their fault, fixed by Monday. He was out of the office - till Tuesday. Meantime, I'm missing the original Breathless on TCM and The Company of Wolves on IFC, plus My Favorite Martian on late night TV Land. I wasn't missing them before because I wasn't paying for these channels, didn't even knew what was on them at any given time. Now I knew what I was missing. They offered to credit my account - again. I get no digital cable, they get no money. So why am I practically tripping over all these wires around the house, and have new holes drilled in the floor for phone lines I'll never use? As of this writing, I still have nothing but black pixels where TV Land should be. It's become Black Pixel Land. Not a place I care to visit.
When I called the Better Business Bureau to bitch, the recording told me their free service was made possible by the following sponsor: "AT&T CABLE SERVICES." I hung up with disgust. They fucking own everybody.
Basically: AT&T SUCKS. Like all big greedy conglomerates that buy everyone out so they monopolize the market, they have way too many departments that don't talk to each other, so the actual customers who pay their salaries fall between the cracks. If you're thinking of getting digital, think twice. Next time you get a phone call from them begging you to "upgrade" your basic cable to digital, tell them you heard their service leaves a lot to be desired, and if they somehow lost their monopoly on local cable, they'd be out of business within a month. Then if you decide to buckle in, hold your breath, take your chances, and plan to catch up on your reading, since your TV might no longer cooperate with your leisure requirements.
This is why we have refuges from reality like The Parkway Theater (www.picturepubpizza.com), home to Thrillville every other Thursday - which brings me to my next rant.
Around the same time I was dealing with the clueless corporate clumsiness of AT&T, the San Francisco Chronicle published a two party series in their Sunday Datebook called "Dinner and a Movie." Finally, I thought - an article on The Parkway that isn't about babies (every Monday parents with infants are allowed to attend, and everyone from Time Magazine to the Today Show has publicized this unique attraction - Thrillville gets zip from the mainstream press, but whatever, I basically ignore them too). I looked, and looked, for the Parkway in the article: they did feature the beloved Castro, Roxie, Red Vic, all the usual suspects. Even Le Video, a video store, probably the best around (though in the East Bay we also have the Video Room and Movie Image). The article was a guide to local independent rep/art theaters and nearby restaurants where you grab a good, tasty meal quickly and cheaply so you wouldn't miss the opening credits of the movie playing next door. Hm. The whole point of The Parkway is you don't have to wolf your food down, ever - you order it right there on the premises, it's brought right to your table, and you enjoy your meal as you watch the film, reclining on a comfy love seat. The Parkway is the first and so far only theater/restaurant of its kind in California, much less the Bay Area. So you'd think a major article in a major Bay Area paper on a major subject like "Dinner and Movie" would at least mention the one major place in the vicinity where you can get both in the same place at the same time. No rush, no fuss.
Contrary to popular belief, I do not own any part of The Parkway. My "day job," however, is Parkway promoter/publicist/programmer. (Thrillville is an independent entity sub-contracted to the Parkway by Thrillville Productions - which is me, so I am totally in command of content, promotion, etc.). But as a conscientious employee, it's frustrating to me that after four years, there are people right here in Oakland who have no idea what, or even where this special theater is. Most of the business is generated via word of mouth. One reason more people don't know about The Parkway is because major local papers like the Chronicle, Tribune, Bay Guardian, and SF Weekly hardly ever deign to mention our programming or special events, despite a barrage of press releases from yours truly. (The major exception is the witty, urbane Silke Tudor of the Weekly, who routinely plugs Thrillville events in her column, the House of Tudor.) The weekly papers are overall much more fair than the Chron, though - we've won Best of the Bay nods in both the Weekly and the Guardian, on a nearly annual basis.
We've also been well served on our own turf by the East Bay Express, where my buddy, discerning (but not snobbish) film scholar, B movie buff and superior scribe Kelly Vance does a fine job of giving the Parkway its due. (The powers that be behind the Weekly recently took over the Express and converted its format to the same generic look all their other papers have, robbing the Express of its sophistication and dumbing it down for the masses. If they lose Kelly as a writer, they lose me as a reader.)
I also want to gratefully single out Peter Crooks of Diablo Magazine, another swell East Bay publication. Pete is perhaps the most avid and consistent Parkway supporter in the local media - here's to you, pally.
But I know for a fact there is an anti-Oakland sentiment in many of the SF papers: one big writer for the Chron Datebook told me he was allowed to do "one Oakland story a month" - probably reserved for the latest, bloodiest drive-by. Oakland used to be known for its drive-in. This is outright snobbery, and pathetic insecurity on the part of the Chron's editors.
I wrote them an angry letter after Part One of "Dinner and a Movie" appeared (not realizing there was to be a Part Two and a shot at redemption on their part), to which only reporter Wesley Morris responded. Wesley, a Philly transplant and the young buck on the Chron's entertainment roster, is an avid Parkway regular. He was politely and sincerely apologetic, though he explained he didn't get to choose his own assignments, and defended the Chron's Oakland coverage. I don't blame him, or any of the writers, for the Chron's myopic editorial policies. Of course, Edward Guthmann, so-called champion of non-mainstream movies, has yet to respond to any of my emails at all. I often used to clue him to offbeat, indie or Thrillville cult-flick programming at the Parkway, which he elected to ignore in favor of creaming all over the Castro again and again. They are not the only game in town, Ed.
The worst example: Local legend Bob Wilkins was at the Parkway last October, for a rare and quite possibly the very last, Creature Features reunion and Thrillville tribute. Behind-the-scenes man Bob Shaw and latter day host John Stanley joined Reno-resident Wilkins - puffing on a cigar, the old skull-candle burning by his side - on a replica of the original TV set built right on the Parkway stage. I booked a special creature double feature of The Tingler and Night of the Living Dead, and then I sent out press releases to every local media outlet. And surprise, surprise: there was no coverage of the event whatsoever - not even from Wilkins' old station, KTVU. There was one sentence in a minor piece on local Halloween events in the Datebook. If Wilkins had appeared at the Castro or the Roxie, the Chron would've featured a splashy interview with him on the front page. But he returns home to Oakland, and he rates barely a jealous whisper. A while ago, Peter Stack publicly lauded the overblown new mall Metreon as being the "first" theater in the Bay Area to offer a varied menu with comfortable seating. He damn well knows better than that - he's been to the Parkway, was one of the first reporters to cover it. This is beyond petty. It's unprofessional. And I just don't know what's behind it. You got any theories, lay 'em on me, I'd love to hear 'em. So far, the folks at the Chron ain't talkin'.
Sour grapes, you say? Hey, the Parkway serves wine too! You can't get wine in any movie theater in Frisco. Yes, I said Frisco.The only comparable establishment on the West Side of the Bay is the Mission's Foreign Cinema - but that' s really just a swanky restaurant with a movie imposed on it. They show foreign classics projected on a wall, but depending on when your reservation is, or where you sit, you may or not be able to watch all of it. It is a cool place, I hear, but it is not the Parkway - sorry, you SF purists. I can smell their sour grapes through their sourdough.
I'm not as big an Oaktown fan as Monica is, though. I think it helps to perpetuate its own negative image. You can feel the self-pity and lackluster energy in the air. The fact that KTVU and the Trib have barely mentioned the Parkway over the last four years, when it's one of the few (if not only) Oakland attractions that beckons visitors from all over the nation, attests to the city's own lack of civic pride. No wonder it's like Hoboken by the Bay. Manhattan itself, though, is not over-rated - unlike Frisco. I guess SF has the paper it deserves, after all - insecure, full of itself, and can't see beyond the "bridge" of its own upturned nose. All in all, I'll take Oakland. Hey, I was raised in New Jersey, after all, and Oaktown does have some of the Bay Area's best neighborhoods, including a downtown straight out of Edward Hopper, and beautifully old-fashioned but timeless Lake Merritt. It also boasts some of the Bay Area's best movie theaters - including the Grand Lake, the Paramount, the Piedmont - and the Parkway.
Anyway, this is why Thrillville exists - a town to escape to when the real world drags you down to its level. Welcome! This month is packed with a variety of rare and classic thrills in a variety of venues - mainly the Parkway, but also another road show at the fabulous Fine Arts Cinema in Berkeley (www.fineartscinema.com).
In fact, at the Fine Arts for a special two night stand, on the last Friday and Saturday of the month, August 24 and 25, at 10:30PM, I am finally presenting my all time favorite flick (besides Sweet Smell of Success, also from 1957): I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF! I've shown other classics from my favorite studio, American International Pictures, like Invasion of the Saucer Men, It Conquered the World, The She Creature, The Amazing Colossal Man, War of the Colossal Beast, Blood of Dracula, How To Make a Monster, Bucket of Blood, and of course I Was A Teenage Frankenstein, but the only 35mm print of Teenage Werewolf on the circuit literally disintegrated before I could book it for Thrillville. The company that owns the only official prints of the classic 50s AIP monster movies is Kit Parker, which is retiring. The rights are reverting to AIP founder James Nicholson's wife Susan (I did a profile of Jim for Filmfax a couple of years ago). I'm not sure what will happen then, if they'll even be available. But in the meantime, I snagged Kit Parker's 16mm print, of IWATW, and the Fine Arts has a flawless projector - and projectionist, the legendary Josephine - to accommodate it. So finally, I will be able to present the film that haunted me the most in my formative years. This is the original drive-in cult masterpiece starring Michael Landon in his pre-Bonanza salad days as a lyncanthropic James Dean, Whit Bissell as the mad scientist who brings out the beast in him, and Yvonne Lime as his busty, pouty girlfriend. Also featured is superb direction by Gene Fowler Jr. (I Married a Monster From Outer Space), Fritz Lang's former editor; a masterfully moody musical score by Paul Dunlap (The Naked Kiss), and noirish photography by the great Joseph LaShelle (Laura). The influence of AIP's first big hit (co-billed with Invasion of the Saucer Men in 1957) is still felt in contemporary crap like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer and all the other big screen teen screams - even on TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer.And you know how Mojo Nixon called Michael J. Fox the "anti-Elvis"? Well, Michael Fox is also the anti-Michael Landon. This ain't no Teen Wolf. This is the B movie bonanza of all time. DO NOT MISS MY FAVORITE FLICK! AND I'M GIVING YOU TWO CHANCES - BECAUSE YOU NEED TO SEE THIS! 'Nuff said.
Back at the Parkway - hey, did you hear you could get food there, and beer, which is served to you as you watch the film? - I am hosting a whole month of white trash wonders, beginning with A TRIBUTE TO JOI LANSING (August 2), featuring HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE (1967), the silly but fun sequel to Las Vegas Hillbillies, which starred another blonde bombshell, my pal Mamie Van Doren. Why throw a tribute to Joi Lansing, a buxom blonde bombshell obscure in most squaresville circles? BECAUSE WE CAN! And who else will?? Not only do we get to see the Werepad's (www.werepad.com) incredibly rare 35mm print of Hillbillys(the plot doesn't matter, who cares, it's in color by Deluxe and it's cute), but we also get treated to Scott Moon's collection of incredibly strange, sexually charged, sizzling 60s scopitones starring the lovely Ms. Lansing in a variety of scanty outfits and exotic locales! In case you're not hip, scopitones were the original music videos, only instead of watching them on cable, you watched them on a jukebox! (Sounds solid to me.) My favorite is "Web of Love," with Joi prancing practically nekkid behind a huge spider's web, then dancing around in a silky black widow number that would barely cover an actual arachnid! Scott Moon, the mastermind behind Planet X Magazine (www.planetxmagazine.com) with the aid of Buzz Bob Ekman, psychotronic man about town, promise surprise shorts from the ultra-lounge Lansing oeuvre. This will be a sensuous smorgasbord that will leave you dizzy with desire! For more on and of this beautiful, and bountiful, B movie babe, go here: www.briansdriveintheater.com
Next, on Thursday, August 16, for my THRILLVILLE ELVIS D DAY 2001 PARTY, to mark the 24th anniversary of the King's disappearance on August 16, 1977, I am once again hosting the movie that brought Monica, Tiki Goddess into my life forever - JAILHOUSE ROCK (1957, what a year!). That's right, on May 31, 1997, I showed this rebellious rocker to a crowd of ten people and a cricket in my old Midnight Lounge - but one of those ten people was E's biggest fan, Monica. Exactly four years later from that date, we got hitched! (See previous column for details). This time I am anticipating much larger crowds to help us celebrate our first post-wedding screening of this special flick, which will be preceded by a dozen, carefully chosen, killer drive-in Elvis movie trailers from the astounding archives of Uncle Bill, the Trailer King, imported all the way from the mythical land of Palm Springs! In case you don't know, this is a GREAT movie, Elvis's finest performance next to King Creole (1958). He plays a snarling redneck truck driver who slugs some asshole in a bar too hard, so he gets canned for manslaughter, but in the pen he meets up with a country-singing con who inspires him to musically sublimate his rage. When he finally gets out, El proceeds to take the entertainment world by storm, soaking panties from coast to coast while raking in the big bucks before finally reaching a crisis of conscience. It features a legendary lineup of songs penned by Lieber and Stoller, including the title track dance number choreographed by The King himself! His co-star, the beautiful Judy Tyler, died in a car crash at age 24 (same age as James Dean) before the film was even released. Raise your beer glass to Judy and Elvis, both in rock 'n' roll heaven, and while you're at it, toast my wife too - we're going to be here a while though, so get used to us.
On Thursday, August 30 I am showing another movie from the voodoo vaults of The Werepad, a rare biker flick from 1970 called THE LOSERS. (No, it's not a documentary on either AT&T or the San Francisco Chronicle). I've never seen it. It's about a bunch of rowdy, ass-kickin' Hells Angels who get sent to Cambodia by the asshole government to rescue some POWs, and reputably it's the greatest biker flick ever made. The last time I booked a Werepad flick unseen was Shanty Tramp, which turned out to be a bonafide sleaze masterpiece. Suffice to say, they've earned my trust. I did find this informative web page devoted to The Losers on a site dedicated to the great biker actor William Smith, who stars: www.williamsmith.org . I recently saw Smith in Darker Than Amber, the Travis McGee flick starring Rod Taylor, (which came out the same year as The Losers), and he was a pretty scary dude. The fact that he's in The Losers makes me want to see it all the more. You won't see this on digital cable, and you won't read about it in the Chronicle. We'll revel in this new experience together. See you there.
THE RETURN OF THE SHADOW, A CRIMSON KIMONO, AND THE ORIGINAL TAXI DRIVER!
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