Thrillville - Archives for Thrillville Beat
By Will ("The Thrill") Viharo
By Will "the Thrill" Viharo
PLEASE, DON'T " BE BACK"....
aven't we learned that bad actors do not make good Governors? I can't believe all these people who are hot to see Arnold Schwarzenegger step in if Gray Davis gets the boot. For one thing, the last thing California needs is another Republican governor, much less another B movie star running the show. (How short our collective memory is -where's the "Total Recall" here, or just a partial one, huh?) No one loves B movies more than I do, but I can still separate fantasy from reality. For instance, I enjoy watching zombies munch on human flesh in movies, but in real life, I'd find it repulsive and depressing - just like, I adore werewolves in cinema, but if I actually knew a real one, I wouldn't socialize with that person after dark, no matter who it was. You gotta draw the line with these things, see what I'm sayin'? I know some people consider Arnie charmingly left of center, especially for a Republican, but that isn't the point. Right-wing Republicans - as they're once again proving with this totally bullshit recall effort - are rabid and ruthless, and we mustn't give an inch in our opposition to this hostile takeover. The hardcore play hardball, that's the name of the game - and there are no more sidelines for the weak and passive to languish in blissful, ignorant neutrality. Arnie is popular with the masses because of his lousy movies, and he doesn't even come off such as a bad guy, really - which is his secret weapon. In truth he's a would-be star quarterback for the other team, the one we need to defeat for the sake of alternative lifestyles, personal freedom, unique ideas and dissenting viewpoints everywhere in this nation. Arnie would be scoring touchdowns for a conservative agenda, which has its place in a well-balanced democracy. But currently the scales are way too tilted in their favor, and they are making the most of it. If Arnie gets in, expect "True Lies 2," only this time, he's the bad guy, on a much more epic scale. Please don't greenlight this project, people. I know some think it would be "cool" to have The Terminator in charge, but he'd be a robot for the right, just remember that. Please don't let them use our own disillusionment as a weapon of mass destruction, too. That would be a tragic misfire, and we'd be blowing off our own legs.
Me, as a "Rat Pack Democrat" - meaning I'm liberal with style, and a politically incorrect progressive - am just as disgusted with my own party as I am with the other side. This is why I support Howard Dean, who shares my disdain for the lily-livered Demos, and my passion for reform. (If the Dems pick any other presidential candidate for 2004, like that flip-floppy war-voting Walter Mondale rerun John Kerry, who has "Loser" written all over his face, the Dems are truly doomed and I'm going Independent, though I'll always vote against a right wing conservative agenda. The Dems have one more chance to show me they mean business and can offer an impassioned, reasonable alternative that stays on message- but if they blow it this time, like many progressives, I'm through with them for good.) Dean's sudden surge is heartening, though, as are several other recent developments:
The Supreme Court rulings on Affirmative Action (in Michigan) and gay consensual sex (in Texas) are landmark victories just not for liberals and progressives, but for America, strengthening our reputation as a diverse, democratic nation tolerant of all lifestyles and ideologies, where religion and government do not mix, where one's natural right to privacy, and freedom, is legally, if not popularly, respected.
Those among us who still think gay sex - or any sex outside of procreation - is "evil," are sadly out of touch with the real world. A lot of fundamentalists want to shape the entire civilization to their vision of how "it should be" according to their interpretation of ancient texts and doctrines. But the reality is this: people like to fuck, whoever they are, it's in the genes, it's nature's law, and its sneaky way of forcing us to propagate our own species (why, that I don't know). From where I sit, homosexuality is just nature's birth control in action. It's bad enough these people want the rest of us to either suppress our desires outside the constraints of what they deem "a family unit," or not take any precautions against pregnancy at all. Isn't this world overcrowded enough? Pick up the reality check for once, you so-called freedom-loving freeloaders.
Why do these people care so much what other people do, especially in an allegedly free society? I've thought about this, and my theory is, when the Law in their own land does not corroborate the religious beliefs they are basing their entire way of life on, they get worried. They don't have the strength of their own convictions; the rest of the world, or at least the authoritative aspect, must conform to their "faith" or else that must mean something is wrong somewhere - and deep down, they worry it's them. That's why the right is so rabid about taking control of our country's constitution (recalls, etc) - the fact that so many disagree with their core beliefs seriously bothers them. We must all be forced to live by their rules, or we're all damned to hell. Or they're just plain wrong, and there is no Hell - which would mean they're missing out on a hell of a lot of fun for no real reason at all. This is a disturbing prospect they can't even consider. The Bible must not only be their roadmap to eternity, it must be enforced - and force-fed - as the Law of the Land. That big Gray area of disagreement allows too much room for wondering the big question: WHY?
This all goes to the heart of the cultural wars polarizing this nation like never before. It all boils down to the basics: death, sex, race and equality. White Christians claim this is God's country, so we must all abide by His rules - meaning their interpretation of them. Not even Black Christians deserve an equal voice, it seems. So it extends even beyond the complex arena of religious domination into the black-and-white realm of Insecure Honkiness.
Of course, while I support Affirmative Action as a necessary compromise to even out this lopsided society and level (i.e. culturally diversify) the academic and employment playing field in this so-called boiling pot, I'm totally against the idea of playing the race card as an excuse for one's own ineptitude. Case in point: one or two special events I've booked for The Parkway did not go well and the organizers, who just happened to be people of color, were not asked back. We (at the Parkway) were subsequently flat-out accused of racism, which is ridiculous, given my outspoken passion for civil rights, and ironic, given the fact that as a white dude, I'm actually a minority in our small company (Speakeasy Theaters). But this was easier for some people than accepting the fact that they were poorly organized and unprofessional. The recent shakeup in Oakland's City Hall has many pillars of the community accusing Mayor Jerry Brown of racism. This may or not be true - but I doubt it. I just don't see it in his history, plus in an African American-dominated city, this would just be stupid politics, and Brown, who is pretty bull-headed and even wrong-headed in many respects, is no slouch as a politician. I'm not saying the people he ousted were bad, but saying it's just because of their skin color is simplistic and insulting - to people of color everywhere. Affirmative Action is a legitimate way to give the oppressed in our society a well-deserved (and earned) leg up. But it's not fair to misuse the race card as a bailout for real losers, regardless of their heritage.
I admit, I often have to make an effort to embrace, or at least accept, cultures foreign to my own personal tastes. Take Hip-Hop. I absolutely hate the sound of it. I even hated it when Debbie Harry rapped on Blondie's 1981 hit "Rapture." I just don't dig people shouting rhymes over a drumbeat. I crave, even thrive on melody (and mood). The sound of Rap simply grates on me, I can't help it, it goes against my very nature. BUT...after reading about what a positive outlet Hip-Hop is for kids from downbeat environments, how it opens a gateway to freedom and an avenue of creative expression where otherwise they might feel completely alienated and powerless, you gotta give Hip-Hop Culture its props. Of course, all this gangsta "mothafucka-bitch-ho" bullshit is destructive and even stereotypical (ask Spike Lee), but it's mostly white kids from the 'burbs who dig that crap anyway, since it makes them feel safely superior by commercializing their innate fears of a black uprising (I'm generalizing, and that's only my little theory). You talk to the kids from the real 'hood, many of 'em are all about using Hip-Hop to enrich and expand their lives, not throw them away.
I know and feel the power of music to heal. Lounge changed my own life. You can go ahead and laugh, I'm used to it. But when I received the Rat Pack at their reunion show at the Oakland Coliseum in 1988, I realized my life was one long Frank Sinatra song - one of the sad ones. My epiphany was this: it's okay to swing too, baby, and with style.
OH, ALL RIGHT, ALREADY!
A very good friend of mine, and also one of my nit-pickiest critics, who will go publicly nameless at his own request, pointed out that in my last column, devoted to the unsung merits of Oakland, I wrongly referenced Gertrude Stein's most infamous would-be saying. "Reader X," who apparently reveres Stein as much as I do Sinatra, directed me to this web link and contrary quote:
"What is behind the oft quoted Stein phrase 'there is no there there'? The quote "There is no there there" appears in Stein's Book: Everybody's Autobiography. When Stein returned to California on her lecture tour to the United States in the 1930s, she wanted to visit her childhood home in Oakland, CA. She records that she could not find the house. Hence, 'there is no there there.' -Sonja Streuber"
This may be so - but I was honest with Reader X, and I'll be honest with you: I just don't give a shit about Gertrude Stein, what she said, or how and when she said it. I was off-handedly referring to this famous phrase - wrongfully attributed out of context or not - to kick off an entirely different issue, which is the public's misconceptions of Oakland, perpetuated by a biased media. I wasn't setting out to effectively debunk the media's myths about Oakland - because, I'm sad to say, the crime rates, urban blight and civic unrest are all tragically true. My goal was to illuminate the many neglected positive aspects of life in Oaktown, stuff you could do without fear of violent death or getting arrested. But in so doing I apparently perpetuated a widespread misconception of one of Oakland's most famous former residents - though, again, this was not my intention. I wasn't setting out to bash Stein, or to challenge her legend - but simply to praise Oakland. Pretty much just for the hell of it, since I was tired of writing about social ills elsewhere. Anyway, this is the first time I've heard this particular legend is based on a misinterpretation. This shouldn't matter, really, as I was using it somewhat sarcastically, which should allow some flexibility regarding credibility, since I'm in effect evoking the well known and oft-used quote, which is now part of the culture, right or wrong, and not Stein herself. Still, in deference to Reader X's passion for the subject (and his inability to reconcile my seemingly contradictory stance), if not for the sake of Stein's allegedly maligned reputation, I'm posting the correction.
"AVANT-GARDE," MY ASS!
Here's some more "Frankness": not only am I totally apathetic (and even clueless) about the legacy of Gertrude Stein, I likewise think a lot of those elitist authors were incredibly over-rated: Faulkner, Joyce, all those experimental stylists who are lauded as geniuses by the academic literary establishment. Maybe they were elusively brilliant, and I'm just exclusively stupid. Okay, I'll accept that. Or maybe, just maybe, they were just too plain lazy, self-indulgent, and/or drunk to write a fuckin' comprehensible sentence. In any case, they're virtually unreadable, and to me, a reasonably intelligent man, it's not worth the work it takes to appreciate them. I mean, if the authors themselves aren't working on making their work understandable, why should I? It's like choosing between watching someone else jerk off or just jerking yourself off - I find the latter much more pleasurable. I refuse to indulge willful incoherence! This also goes for abstract, avant-garde cinema that purposefully alienates the viewer - fuck you, too, you patronizing pricks! Everyone's free to creatively express themselves any way they see fit, but if you want my money to support your efforts, earn it by at least entertaining me a little! I'd rather read the fluid, accessible, beautifully constructed and obviously artful words of Raymond Chandler, F. Scott Fitzgerald, J.D. Salinger, or Tennessee Williams - or latter day authors like James Lee Burke and Walter Mosley. I even admire the crude but direct, honest and unambiguous work of Charles Bukowski (didn't always, though, it took some hard living for me to come around to his POV). I also love the idiosyncratic short stories of Damon Runyon, who managed to mangle the language with skill and style. Of course, that's just me. This is where respecting the culture and tastes of others comes into play - another reason I'm posting the correction, for the record, and for the sake of Stein lovers everywhere (wherever they are.) But, like Hip-Hop, even though I respect it, I don't have to like it. All that means is I'm not the target audience, anyway. Gertrude Stein and Tupac Shakur were both geniuses, by many accounts. Their work just didn't speak to me personally - and so what? They weren't talking to me in the first place. And to be honest, I've never really paid much attention to either. So what do I know about it? Zilch, that's what.
I feel the same way about much of Modern Art. Recently Monica and I paid a visit to MOMA in SF. I loved the surrealism of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and especially Salvador Dali - but the bulk of it was far beyond my grasp. It looked like the work of retarded six-year-olds. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I just don't see why it should be exhibited in a museum (unless, of course, the artists really were retarded six-year-olds - that would make it seem legitimate, at least). Piles of random rocks, shapeless paint splatters on a big canvas, and zig-zaggy panels of black wood just don't challenge my imagination or satisfy my thirst for beauty, much less illuminate any truths about our existence. At least not my existence. I appreciate technique that I can see. But hey, to each their own. (For the record, my personal favorite artists are Shag and Edward Hopper.) Nonetheless - yes, I respect their right to exist, my own ignorance notwithstanding. I must, because that's just the way it is.
Given the myriad minds in my hip, cultured, educated audience, I'm sure to be pissing someone off by dissing their idols. If so, I apologize if I've offended you. Just because I don't like something you do like doesn't automatically mean I wouldn't like you. Conversely, just because we may share similar aesthetic tastes doesn't necessarily mean we'd get along otherwise. People are funny that way. As far as hobbies go, I have little in common with many of my closest friends. Part of the secret to our longevity is the ability to accept our differences while reveling in our common appreciation of life in general. That may sound pretentious, but once again, I don't give a damn - it's still true.
Hell, a lot of people find real religion in The Matrix movies, as well the pop culture dynasties of Star Trek, Star Wars, and The Lord of the Rings. Whatever fills your void, I say. Monica, Tiki Goddess claims Elvis is her Guardian Angel, while I "worship" the Holy Trinity of Frank, Dino and Sammy. The fact is, no one really knows for a fact what the hell is going on, or why, so if something or someone seems to answer your questions satisfactorily, it has relative value. For you. Everyone else can decide for themselves what works for them, in their own lives, as they choose to see it and live it, since it's all a crazy crapshoot, anyway. You dig that, Jerry Falwell (and ilk)?
O MIGHTY ELVIKI...
Speaking of pagan religions, this Tiki thing is out of control. Of course most people know that "tiki" is shorthand for anything exotic (non-white), from Polynesia to Latin America to Africa - it's one big voodoo-cha cha-mambo-mating ritual for white boys - like me! Hell, I married the Tiki Goddess! Initially it was the postwar suburban dream of visiting exotic ports-of-call (particularly for ex-GIs romanticizing their WW2 exploits) in the convenient security of one's own backyard that kicked off the first wave of stateside tiki culture, epitomized by the success of Martin Denny's "Quiet Village" in 1958. Tiki bars -first conceptualized in the '30s by Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood and Hinky Dink's (later Trader Vic's) here in Oakland - began springing up on every suburban street corner. They were taken for granted, just like all the other lost exponents of our forgotten collective culture, such as drive-ins and bowling alleys, which also started fading away (via mass demolition) in the '70s and '80s, to make way for a new wave of plastic strip malls and generic chain stores. It wasn't until most of the tiki bars were gone that a new generation began mourning their passing, and the few left became places of pilgrimage, not just kitschy neighborhood dives.
Why the sudden resurgence of interest? It sprung out of the Lounge revival from a decade ago, when youthful hedonists hungry for old-school romance, adventure and the lost lifestyle of the Space Age Bachelor began archiving these archeological treasures. Leading the big dig was exotica entrepreneur Otto Von Stroheim, whose seminal 'zine Tiki News became the roadmap for the lustful wanderer in search of forbidden fruit. "Tiki" symbolized the pagan pleasure seeking of the cocktail crowd; it was and is emblematic of sexual mystery and stylish intrigue. Tikis are also monsters, which is one reason I like 'em. They're part of that whole B movie world where shapely, half-naked babes are forever pursued by ugly, drooling, lust-mad creatures. Swingers of all stripes know that a tiki god or torch is a signpost for a torrid twilight zone of tantalizing thrills. And, I must admit, it remains almost exclusively a Caucasian obsession. Even in Hawaii, on our honeymoon, the natives thought Greg Brady inspired my tiki necklace. (I had no idea what they, or anyone, was talking about until I accidentally saw the Hawaiian episode of The Brady Bunch on TV Land a couple of months ago.) The Tiki phenom is biggest in areas outside of Polynesia. Tiki geeks like me congregate in the standing remnants of this culture - like the Mai Kai in Fort Lauderdale, or the now-gone Kahiki in Columbus, Ohio - sipping Mai Tais and Zombies, ogling velvet paintings of Tahitian cuties, sporting aloha shirts and collectively dissing all things mundane and mainstream. The reality is, we're no different than these pasty punks in the 'burbs wearing baggy pants, backward baseball caps, and adopting ghetto lingo and attitudes (except, of course, we dress cooler). We, too, are co-opting an indigenous culture and adapting it to our own needs and interests, exploiting its virtues as if we invented them.
To which I say: yea, so? Like I said, whatever floats your banana boat.
This month I'm proud to bring back Otto, his glamorous wife Baby Doe and her celebrated Bay Area dance troupe The Devil-ettes for TIKI-SPLOITATION 2 (Parkway, August 14), a long delayed follow-up to our first big event way back in December of '99. Once again we're offering two shows in one night, to accommodate all those Devil-ettes devotees out there. The gorgeous gals will perform their delectable dance numbers at both programs before screenings of various tiki-themed short films from Otto's collection and one 60 minute feature from mine, Roger Corman's 1957 B "classic" SHE GODS OF SHARK REEF (all on big screen DVD), a pulpy adventure tale of lost sailors and horny native babes filmed on our lush honeymoon isle, Kauai. No advance tickets are offered, but get there early - anything "tiki" tends to draw a certain crowd....
Two day later, on Saturday, August 16, I'm hosting a public party at Oakland's newest and coolest hipster hangout, The Conga Lounge, located above Cafe Rustica on College Ave. in the Rockridge district. The occasion? THRILLVILLE'S ELVIS D-DAY 2003 "BLUE HAWAII" TIKI PARTY, commemorating the 26th anniversary of The King's final aloha on August 16, 1977. It'll be a swingin' smorgasbord of Elvis music and movies, exotic cocktails, prizes, and peanut butter and banana sandwiches - just one big Elvis orgy, baby. Come one and come all. Festivities kick off at 9PM and go till the cops break down the door and force us to stop playing "Rock-a-Hula Baby" so god damn loud.
The Tiki Goddess herself won't make it there till later in the evening, since she'll be deep in her San Francisco Shakespeare in the Park gig (see Schedule link for a link to the details). They're doing Will the Quill's Loves Labours Lost as a '60s Fellini flick, specifically La Dolce Vita, replete with classic lounge music, including Dean Martin! Monica is being directed to play her part a la Sophia Loren. Thrill seekers may've caught Monica doing Mae West in the 1930s movie star version of A Comedy of Errors in Berkeley the year before last. She seems destined for these glamorous re-imaginings of the Bard's work. And she's perfect for 'em, too. She can do much, much more than spin a big carnival wheel full of "mystery" numbers, and you shall see...
FLAGG LOVERS UNITE IN THRILLKILLERVILLE!
Finally, Thrillville patron saint RAY DENNIS STECKLER returns for the second time this year to co-host his 1965 masterpiece THE THRILL KILLERS (Parkway, August 28), which I've shown before, on the bottom half of a double bill, which meant most of you sleepyheads split early and missed it. Now it's a stand-alone feature and you must force yourself to stay awake for it, as it is a landmark of cult cinema and one of the forerunners of the modern slasher flick - though of course it is totally unique. What makes this show special is Ray promises the personal appearance of his ex-wife and frequent co-star CAROLYN BRANDT. As of this writing there may be a snag (check the Schedule or sign up for my Thrillville Flash email newsletter for updates), but hopefully the lovely Ms. Brandt, who has two of the hottest gams in Hollywood history, will grace our stage along with Ray regular Herb Robbins - one of the titular "Thrill Killers," and hopefully I'm not his latest target - who always wows the crowd with his wit. Of course, Ray himself never misses a chance to don his "Cash Flagg" (his acting alias, you clueless Clydes) hood and run around the audience scaring the shit out of people. If you've missed Ray the last few times I hosted him at The Parkway (and the now defunct Fine Arts Cinema), DON'T MISS HIM THIS TIME! He's a real gasser and a living legend, one of the true pioneers of independent cinema, a true god of exploitation. He lives in Vegas now and his health isn't always so reliable these days, so this is not something to put off or skip, hoping you'll catch him the next trip - I never know if there's gonna be a next time. His print of The Thrill Killers is rare and in fine shape, too, (and not on DVD so far, though he says Rat Pfink a Boo Boo and Lemon Grove Kids are coming out this Fall, stay tuned for updates). Plus I'm also having him bring his very cool 1960 debut short GOOFS ON THE LOOSE, a quirky little beatnik time capsule shot in and around Griffith Park in LA, co-starring the curvaceous Carolyn. Sometimes in the past Ray's shows have sold out, sometimes they were sparsely attended - and he always takes this very personally. If you love Ray, or weird movies in general, please: SPEND THE CASH AND DON'T BURN THE FLAGG!
Support offbeat American cinema and their makers. That's my kinda patriotism.
SMOKE, SIRENS AND SNIPERS - FILM NOIR IS BACK, BABY!
Thrillville - Archives for Thrillville Beat