By Will ("The Thrill") Viharo
SCHEDULE link for
THE PROTEST MEETS THE PRESS; BAD CAR-MA; MOTHRA IN ENGLISH, HARRYHAUSEN IN THE MOON AND A VISITOR FROM VENUS
n my last column, I prematurely offered my year end wrap-up, even though the year wasn't over yet, mainly because I wanted to get it over with (the wrap-up, not the year). As it turns out, in the few weeks since I wrote and posted that piece, I experienced two major milestones that overshadowed everything else in my personal 2001 diary except for my wondrous wedding and heavenly honeymoon (which will never end, after all.)
Before I get to these major recent events, lest I forget, let me just add one movie to my list of Best Thrill-Sanctioned Movies of 2001, which I saw after I wrote about my Top 5 (Mulholland Drive, Ghost World, Mau Mau Sex Sex, Sexy Beast, and Memento) last month. At number 6: the Coen Brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There, a nifty neo-noir homage to James M. Cain, amongst other pulp art icons, which is easily one of their best (and I'm one of the few who doesn't think Fargo is one of them.) I love how they managed to slip in flying saucer mythology into the Cold War context - UFO paranoia and film noir, a truly atomic amalgam. And now, dear Thrill Seekers, dig these recent wild and unexpected events in this most Thrilling of years:
First: my unexpectedly famous, and oddly infamous, protest of the Ocean's 11 remake. What can I say? Some people go with the flow, some people make waves. Apparently I'm the latter. I always thought of this little campaign as a personal statement, existing chiefly within the realm of my web site and stage show, as a reflection of my tastes and opinions alone, the actual picketing a fun way to kill time on a Friday night, an excuse to goof off creatively with some like-minded pallies. I never, ever dreamed in my wildest imagination it would spark a minor media wildfire in this era of well-documented terrorism. How would they find room for me? - and why would this strike their fancy after everything else I've done, especially bringing Bob Wilkins back into the public eye twice? I always thought that was my ultimate achievement as The Thrill. It still is. It's just not the most publicized. Go figure.
I love it when hippie-type hypocrites denounce the protest as a useless past time, that I should be devoting my energies to world peace or curing other universal ills outside of my jurisdiction. This coming from supposedly morally superior people dropping eight or nine bucks on a ninety million dollar remake of a movie that was just fine the first time. Imagine how many happy meals could be bought and donated to starving children worldwide with that kind of dough. And yet they accuse me of frivolously frittering away my time and energy. Amazing. I feel it's far more constructive, and entertaining, to stand outside in the fresh air with a bunch of pallies picketing a worthless movie than paying good money to stare at it in a cramped, stuffy multiplex. That's just me, though.
I also get a kick out of those lonely losers who actually take the time to email me and suggest I "get a life" - this coming from people who obviously have nothing better to do than surf the web and hurl electronic insults at complete strangers. That is so funny it's sad. This whole experience has been a crash course in sociology, especially in an era of electronic convenience, allowing malcontents to vent anonymously, or at least from a safe distance. (Say what you will, but I least I get out once in a while.) In fact, all the abrupt, limited but intense attention certified me as a public figure for the first time - and I found it very uncomfortable, as well as bizarre and unwarranted. I didn't solicit hardly any of the media attention I got, and I got plenty in a short amount of time - from Entertainment Weekly (nice plug for the web site there); The Las Vegas Review-Journal (in Cult Vegas author Mike Weatherford's Sunday column); The San Francisco Chronicle (thanks to James Sullivan for the amusing plug that actually gave me some credit); my reliable good pal and man about town Kelly Vance pitched my very successful Sinatra birthday tribute at the Parkway in the Express; there several generous mentions on our favorite station KABL AM 960, and even a guest shot on the Bay Area's top rated morning show, on KFOG.
DJs Dave Morley and Peter Finch invited me on to discuss the protest on the day of the event (December 7) - and they were already on my side when I took the opportunity to publicly defend the alleged racism of the Rat Pack's penchant for off-color humor. I pointed out that the Rat Pack had more black, Puerto Rican (though I mistakenly said Cuban, I'm normally asleep at 8AM, gimme a break) and Jewish members than the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, and the Backstreet Boys combined. (People also forget before Frank came to town with Sammy Davis Jr and Count Basie and others, no blacks could stay in any Vegas hotels, much less walk in the front door - the Chairman changed all that. And if you notice, the advertising for the remake focuses almost exclusively on the white faces in the cast - Don Cheadle and Bernie Mac get hardly any play at all. You tell me which version is more "racist.") I also asked the KFOG DJs how they'd feel about a remake of A Hard Day's Night - with N Sync. They groaned with disgust, completely getting my point. Though I told them I felt like the limo driver from Spinal Tap - a lounge lizard on a rock show - they couldn't have been warmer, friendlier, and more pleasant. Great bunch of people. I also heard from Dino Donikian at KABL that our friend Bob Shaw told George Clooney about the protest in a broadcast KTVU interview - and George just chuckled. Of course he'd think it was amusing - and he's the only member of the new cast who even respects the Rat Pack.
The best, most comprehensive piece resulting from this sudden scrutiny was found in the exhaustive mini-bio published in swingin' scene scribe Silke Tudor's esteemed "Nightcrawler" column for the San Francisco Weekly. Check out the link at the top of this column - it covers everything you ever wanted to know about the protest and the personality behind it, were too afraid to ask but intrepid Silke wasn't. She is the absolute princess of the local alternative press, and I felt very flattered to be the subject of her brilliant breakdown.
Along with all the positive press, I got completely blindsided by this weasel from a major magazine-type dot com I won't reveal (though many of you probably know what I'm referring to anyway), since I don't want to give this hack the satisfaction. Nothing against the dot com he toils for - they actually posted a great piece defending the Rat Pack's legacy, which is all I was doing, though I was taking my message to the streets. But as I discovered too late, this pushy little prick had a preconceived agenda before we even started talking. He was already biased in favor of the remake, and was using me as a patsy for his position. Yes, me, with my little grassroots movie boycott in Oaktown, CA, was deemed worthy of a high profile hit piece - like I'm a real threat to the film industry with my little hand made cardboard martini shaped signs. Unbelievable.
This Clyde insisted on inviting himself into my home, then swilled on the last of my rum, walked around my living room taking notes in his little pad, and kept badgering me about my protest, wondering how the remake could replace or wipe out the memory of the original. That was never my platform to begin with. My point was and is: it's an insult to the heritage of the original, simply re-packaging an icon with a modern spin for contemporary audiences, many of whom are totally ignorant of its historical source (I can't begin to count the number of people who've come to me and claimed they didn't even know the remake WAS a remake before I publicly pointed it out for them). Of course the likes of Soderbergh's crew could never hope to eclipse Frank, Dino, Sammy - or hell, even Peter or Joey. Even Rosie Clooney's nephew admits that. Anyway, as this guy sucked up the rest of my liquor, I laid the same rant on him I've been laying on you for the last year, ever since I got wind of the remake. All he did was argue with me. He was wondering why I was doing this protest, and I was wondering what the hell he was doing on my couch. He seemed like a harmless enough chap at the time, though - no obvious agenda, but he obviously wasn't digging where I was coming from. Once his article was posted, I found out what his true objective was - to make the protest look like a silly stunt from a bunch of "film geeks" that had no more impact on the success of the remake than the remake had on the legacy of the original. I even laid the Hard Day's Night analogy on him, which he found - and this is a direct quote - "disgusting." But in his piece he made it sound like that was the sole foundation of my stance (without mentioning his reaction). All I was doing was taking my own disgust with the remake of a film I cherished to a passionate extreme. I certainly didn't expect to stop the remake. I didn't even expect to stop people from seeing it (though we did - plus it was Jack London Cinema's slowest weekend in months, I doubt because of us, though.) This dot com muckraker worms his way into my sanctuary, then publicly patronizes my personality, my protest, and my public persona (he claimed it was harder to find people who loved me that hated me, but didn't back it up with any actual data.) He knocked my stage show which he saw once, if that. He said I was defending what I call "the lost art of being cool" while being totally uncool myself (and this was coming from a putz whose idea of style is a parka). The thing is, his bias was so obvious that nearly every email I received from readers of the hit piece took my side. Not that I even wanted to take sides in an international forum. This clown came to me. I really didn't need his publicity, for my show (which does just fine already), for my boycott (a primarily personal obsession), for anything. He did this for his own twisted reasons, and I'll never know for sure what those were, unless he was just another Soderbergh stooge.
I just took it as one of many lessons learned that week - not only about the enormous amount of negative electronic sublimation going on out there, but also about the untrustworthiness of the media. By and large. I won't ever let a reporter in my home again - now I know why Frank used to punch 'em out all the time. They can be leeches, sucking your blood to fatten up their own reputations. Silke Tudor and Kelly Vance and many others are major exceptions. Shouldn't let a few worm-ridden apples spoil the tree. What really bothers me: when Silke came over to our home (and I invited her, she didn't invite herself), all she asked for was eggnog, without rum - which was fortunate, SINCE I DIDN'T HAVE FUCKING RUM LEFT!
One point Silke noticed at the actual protest but which escaped the weasel's razor-sharp attention (both were there, along with a cameraman from KRON for a short segment that aired that night) was how flat out fun the whole thing was. The gang from the Donkey Punch All Stars of Pleasanton showed up in force, crooning in unison "NO NEW ELEVEN!" Pallies joining the protest included Dr. Jon, Doug Johnson, Robert Silverman (Thrillville's theremin master), Keith, Soren, Dwan, Randy, Alan (KALX's Cali Kid), his wife Leslie, his son Kip. Peter Crimmins interviewed protestors and patrons for his excellent KALX film program, which airs every Saturday at 5:30. My new friend Marshall dropped by to tell me Yoshi's (the jazz club he co-books) was behind us all the way. And of course - Robert Ensler was there as Dean Martin (with his gal Gloria), providing the classic crowning touch.
One of my favorite moments was when a black and white pulled up, lights on. Two cops got out of the patrol car and sauntered our way as we stood there shouting and shivering with our signs flapping in the cold breeze wafting off of Jack London Square. I admit, not being too keen on protest protocol, I was nervous. We all were. Since this was all my idea, I made sure they approached me first. One of them - who looked like the one in Rumble Fish, mustache and glasses - leaned into me a little and asked me, "What are you protesting?"
"The remake of Ocean's 11." It was like a Seinfeld moment.
"You mean with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin?"
"Well, who's in the remake?"
"Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon."
He thought for a second, then patted me on the shoulder and said, "Keep doin' what you're doin'."
There was another difference from the protests of the past - support from the police. I was just lucky this one was a Sinatra fan. Later he drove by again and gave me a thumb's up. At the end of the night, when we going to our car after a round of celebratory cocktails at Yoshi's, I heard someone yell from across the street, "Hey, where ya goin'?" It was my new cop friend having a coffee break.
Other choice moments: A homeboy sizing up our protest and then yelling into a cell phone, "YEA MAN, FUCK OCEAN'S ELEVEN!" A ring of teenage girls shouting at us from across the street, "HELL NO, WE WON'T GO!" A big bad black dude got in my face and I told him next they were remaking Dolemite with LL Cool J. "I feel ya," he said after considering it, then he walked away.
Most of the people coming out of the movie told us it sucked. Not that it matters - my beef has nothing to do with the competence of the remake, but the irreverent philosophy underlying its pointless conception. One doll leaving the lobby said we were right about the remake, but these new guys were so hot, she couldn't stop thinking of a threesome. "They should've called it Ocean's Three, then," I told her.
One last observation: I find it supremely ironic that in this age of broken homes, single parents and a high divorce rate, the "seedy" mainstays of our cultural centers - the Vegas Strip, Times Square, Hollywood Boulevard - are being gentrified for soulless consumption by the idyllic, imaginary nuclear family unit of the 1950s which no longer exists, if it ever did. The two versions of Ocean's 11 seem to appeal to a cultural division that already existed - the original film is for those who cherish the colorful memories of Classic Vegas as a unique, stylish Mecca for adult hedonism; and the new, bloated, bland, hollow, mainstreamed remake is for those who somehow prefer the new, bloated, bland, hollow mainstreamed Vegas. Take your pick. I've played my hand, and now I'm out.
The most positive effect of the protest was that if served to lift Monica's spirits after a horrific car accident we experienced when I was dropping off The Satanic Rites of Dracula at the Werepad in mid-November. I was double parked on triple-lane Third Street in SF with my emergency lights on, keys in the ignition, and Monica in the passenger seat. I ran inside, dropped off the film, saw a few people milling around, and asked for Jacques, the Wereman himself. He was in the were-head, though, so I stood there waiting for him to flush, fingers drumming on the film box impatiently. I felt anxious. We were on our way to a party, though neither of us felt like going out that night. I really wish now we'd listened to our initial instincts.
I heard a sickening crash outside and knew immediately our new car - a 2001 Altima, a wedding gift from Monica's pop - had been struck. With Monica in it. I looked outside the open door into the street. Our car was no longer in sight.
In a stoic panic I ran outside and saw our car about thirty feet down the street, crashed into two other parked cars, a big white truck rammed halfway through it. It looked like Godzilla had just stomped by. Our car was a complete wreck, the shattered rear windshield and demolished trunk pressed against the front seats (it was a four door instantly downsized to a door and a half). I thought of Monica and my heart stopped. I felt a terrifying chill of pure dread.
Then I heard a blood-curdling, heart-piercing scream from the sidewalk. Miraculously, it was coming from Monica, safe but not too sound, her feet bleeding from all the broken glass. She'd kicked her shoes off when she ran out of the crushed car. But she was alive and intact. A horrified crowd had already gathered. I gave her a hug, made sure she wasn't in need of immediate medical attention, then ran over to the truck, which was still sitting there, practically parked on top of the nightmarish wreck that a few seconds ago was a pristine vehicle.
I pounded on the truck's passenger window. A beefy white guy was just sitting there with a zombie-like stare. He didn't even regard me. Either drunk, doped or disoriented, or just plain insane, or all of those, the motherfucker slowly pulled back from the wreck, pieces of our car falling like so much scrap metal from his front bumper, and then he calmly drove away. I chased after him and tried to memorize his license plate, but I was just too stunned. I didn't want to chase him too far because I didn't want to leave Monica. It was one of the most surreal moments of my entire life.
Everyone on the sidewalk was comforting Monica. I led her inside the Werepad and Jacques, Scott and some other visitors whose names I wish I could recall were all exceedingly comforting and kind. Witnesses on the scene told me this guy had barreled down Third slamming into cars, running people off the road, but we just got the worst of it. We called the cops, who had already responded to another accident site caused by this wacko down the road.
Paramedics inspected Monica, she was all right, no urgent injuries, though she seemed to be in shock. We talked to the cops - who already had the truck's license plate - to our insurance company, then called our friends Kyle and Catherine (Parkway proprietors) to come pick us up. On the way out of town we saw both the white truck and our car being towed to the police yard as evidence (the cop told me it was a felony hit and run). The truck was recovered immediately, abandoned around the corner from the Werepad. We just found out from the police report that the idiot had left his cell phone in the truck. When the cops found it, the phone was ringing. It was the guy's ex-girlfriend, sobbing, asking for him. She had been one of the first people he hit.
The truck belonged to a local construction company, which copped to liability right away, though they're telling their insurance company their naughty (not nutty?) employee "fell asleep." Right. Fell asleep, hit a car, woke up, kept driving, fell asleep, hit another car, woke up, kept driving, fell asleep .whatever, we'll save that for the criminal case (he's such toast). The civil case is proceeding along to a cathartic resolution. Monica is recovering just fine, though lingering ramifications, emotional and physical, are yet to be faced.
The main thing is she was spared, by her Guardian Angel, Elvis. Thanks, King.
Ironically, about a month later, I threw a surprise birthday party for Monica - at the Werepad. It had already been booked for months. Surrounded by friends and family, watching her favorite B flick, Village of the Giants, all proved very therapeutic. The love and support we received from total strangers at the scene and of course from all our many close friends more than compensated for the grief we felt from losing the wedding gift in such a horrific fashion. It even has my brand new license plate - "2THRILL." Yea, it was a thrill ride, all right. Almost a Thrill killer - or a Tiki Goddess killer. I have many more birthdays to enjoy with her, a full lifetime's worth, and the crazy fuck who creamed our car is going to be one miserable sonofabitch for the foreseeable future. Apparently he was already. No longer our problem.
The ultimate irony: we got the new car as a present at our nuptial celebration at the Cal Neva in Tahoe right after Monica's old car conked out on the way to the wedding, in Truckee. We didn't know her father already had a new car waiting for us, which meant we didn't have to drive home in a tow truck with "Just Married" streamers flowing from the back. Actually, we had to leave the old car at an AAMCO in Reno, where the owner, a terrific guy named Dave, let us pay off the new transmission in installments till we could afford to go pick it up. Exactly one week after we finally did go pick up the old car in Reno, planning to sell it, the new car that replaced it was totaled. So at no point, despite all these set backs, did we ever have to go without wheels.
OH, AND THIS MONTH'S MOVIES!
Friends say I reveal way too much of myself in interviews and in this column, and that's what gives people ammunition against me. But I'm not fighting with anyone, nor do I have anything to prove. What I don't understand are people who see personal honesty as a vulnerable target for their own pathetic insecurities and petty jealousies. Fuck 'em. This is my column, and a column is a literary venue for personal views and free, subjective expression. I have nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to hide, so I pretty much tell it all like it is. If you don't like me or my views, that's okay, I probably wouldn't like you or yours either, but you are certainly entitled to them. Just don't use me as your personal vomit bag.
But anyway, the main reason Thrillville exists is so I can rescue and preserve and present classic cult cinema from the past, and this month I have a triple whammy for you, a monster rally to make you forget all the real life monsters lurking out there in big white trucks and elsewhere.
First is the original MOTHRA (January 3), Toho's 1962 big bug epic fantasy featuring the hit theme song by the Peanuts! I showed this before in my old Midnight Lounge - only I had asked for Godzilla vs. The Thing, and they sent me the wrong movie. In fact, not only did they send me the wrong movie, they sent me a faded pink print in the original Japanese language - without subtitles. It turned out to be a live version of Mystery Science Theater, perhaps the most memorable midnight show I ever hosted. But now, Mike Schlesinger at Sony promises a new, full color print, dubbed in English (which can be just as funny). Japanese film experts August Ragone and Bob Johnson will be on hand with some surprise props in tow. To top it off, Buzz Bob Ekman is bringing a 16mm episode of Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot to show before the feature. I also requested the Parkway serve sushi that evening. It will definitely cure that New Year's Eve hangover, or whatever's ailing you.
Then I'm showing two classics featuring stop-motion creatures created by the inimitable, influential and incredible Ray Harryhausen. I haven't seen it as of this writing, but Uncle Bill the Trailer King told me that the critters in Monsters, Inc hang out a bar called "Harryhausen's"! Every special effects wizard of the past three decades pays respectful homage to the master, who brought to life monsters and myths without the aid of a computer or a support team of geeky experts. He was a one-man show, the great genius of fantasy cinema. I had the pleasure of meeting him last summer at a tribute up at the Rafael. For Thrillville so far I've shown Ray's masterpieces Jason and the Argonauts, 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Golden Voyage of Sinbad, It Came From Beneath the Sea, and Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers - my favorite - twice. This month I'm proud to present his famous Venusian beast "the Ymir" rampaging around Rome after stowing away on a spaceship 20 Million Miles To Earth (January 17), Ray's 1957 drive-in spectacular. For this tribute, Bob Ekman is also supplying a 16mm copy of an interview Ray did for British TV in the early 70s. Two weeks later on January 31 I'm presenting Ray's rarely screened adaptation of H.G. Wells' turn of the (last) century science fiction trip First Men in the Moon, from 1964. This one features the creepy insectoid Selenites and their big caterpillar-like pets. On the same bill is a Krazy Kat kartoon from 1937 wherein the little puss goes to the moon himself.
The moon. Sounds like a nice place to be sometimes. Maybe ol' Ralph Kramden was offering his wife Alice a nice vacation every time he threatened to send her there. BANG! ZOOM!
THE RETURN OF RAY DENNIS STECKLER
SCHEDULE link for
[Home] [Schedule] [Blog] [Scenes] [Contacts] [Links] [Credits] [Archives]