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The Thrillville Beat

By Will ("The Thrill") Viharo Waa! - Waa!

THRILLVILLE BEAT

By Will "the Thrill" Viharo

THIS MONTH:
BLAH BLAH RECALL BLAH BLAH; HOW TO BEAT BUSH; TRASH AS ART?; SMOKE, SHADOWS, SIRENS & SNIPERS

TERMINATE THIS

Like it or not, Arnold Schwarzenegger (am I even spelling that right yet?) will be California’s next Governor. His offbeat, compelling mixture of moderate social liberalism, extreme fiscal conservatism, goofy personable charm and ample muscles, combined with rampant voter ignorance, pretty much ensures this surreal fact. I’m against the recall altogether, since it is a right wing Republican coup, any way you look at it, and Arnie is their conduit for the hostile takeover, which can only help their chances to win the state for Bushboy in 2004. This is why I’m not only voting against the recall, but for Gray Davis, based strictly on principal. (In truth, I would much rather have Arianna Huffington running the show, but I know I’d be both throwing my vote away and effectively supporting the right wing by going along with their dishonest, backdoor program). Ironically, I feel like a real rebel by fighting for the status quo in this instance. The way I see it, if you vote for anyone but the guy who’s already in office and deserves to fill out his term, you’re playing right into these fanatical asswipe’s hands, as well as setting a dangerous precedent. This includes the Greens, Independents, Larry Flynt, Gary Coleman, and all these other opportunistic yahoos making a spectacle of themselves by misusing this gigantic loophole in our traditional electoral process to shove their own agendas on the majority – whom, may I again remind you, just voted last November. Wait your turn, damn it! Don’t let these radical recall reformists poison our democratic system with their own insidious sour grapes! Reject them by rejecting the recall altogether!! I’d even have more respect for Arnie – whose presence in the race is seductively off-kilter, even to serious social reformists like me – if he waited to run straight up in 2006. (And has anyone seen Terminator 3? It sucked! Arnie either ruins his Hollywood career with the fourth installment, which would probably be a team-up with another aging action star called Terminator vs. Rocky, or start a whole new career in Sacramento – and this is his last best chance, so I can see his strategy, even as I resent it.) Letting Davis finish out the term I and millions of others already voted for in the real election would at least legitimize Arnie’s opposing candidacy in my eyes (though I will never vote for any Republican, even if I become an Indie - their social platform is just too fascistic and out of touch). But I’m profoundly disenchanted with my own species, and so I’ve already pretty much conceded this childish state to the Kindergarten Cop. This is no longer a serious political race, but a mere popularity contest. Once again, the ruthless Republicans have out-maneuvered the disorganized Demos. Like Bill Maher observed on his excellent HBO show recently, citing 2000 election as well as the Texas redistricting debacle, Republicans will “do anything to win except get the most votes.” Demos can learn something from their dirty but sadly effective tactics.

George W. Bush and his trigger-happy gang of caveman cowboys have made me ashamed and embarrassed to be American for the first time in my forty years, but at least I found solace in being a Californian citizen, which in the eyes of the world practically makes me an anarchist. But now this revoltingly ridiculous recall has made me ashamed and embarrassed to be a Californian, too. There’s just no place for anyone with half a brain to comfortably, proudly live in this topsy-turvy world anymore. (Except, of course, in Thrillville.)

Get used to it. Call it bitter, cynical resignation, but start making your “Total Recall Arnold” bumper stickers now.

THE WINNING FORMULA FOR 2004

Apparently Republicans believe Governors are solely responsible for State economies, but Presidents have nothing to do with the state of the Union’s fiscal status and budget deficits (especially if the prez is from their own party – if not, no excuses are accepted from this office, either). Otherwise, according to the very same political philosophy that is ousting Gray Davis, Bush should likewise be replaced by Alec Baldwin or better yet, Harry Belafonte.

(I also wonder how many of these hoity-toity conservatives who loudly lambasted left-leaning actors for speaking out against the Iraq war will vote for Arnold – even though he, too, is a member of “the Hollywood Elite” not only meddling in politics, but quite publicly proclaiming his views, and actually willing to force them on the population at large, unlike, say, Susan Sarandon or even Michael Moore, who, though vocally and actively critical of this administration’s policies, is not actually seeking office, meaning he bears no concrete threat to those who disagree with him. Can you imagine the deafening backlash from the right if Arnie was a Democrat? The hypocrisy of this contradictory stance would be enraging if it wasn’t so god damn ludicrous.)

Howard Dean For President!
Photo: John Pettitt / DeanForAmerica.com

I have one logical solution for us progressives in 2004: a Howard Dean/Bob Graham ticket. Dean is feisty, consistent, smart, articulate, argumentative, passionate, and socially progressive enough to please many liberals while moderate enough on issues like gun control and the death penalty to win over a lot of rednecks, a core constituency. Graham is, plain and simple, rich and Southern. Plus they both opposed the war in Iraq, which gives them a strong common bond. You need lotsa money and a white country boy on the ticket to win, that’s just a hard reality these days. I know a lot of liberals are idealistically supporting Dennis Kucinich, a man I respect, but here’s a fact: I’m still not sure how to say or even spell his last name (and I think I may’ve even mangled it just now). Personally I dig where he stands on most issues, but he’s way too Left too win over the vast Middle Majority. This election will be hardball in an uneven playing field, and a goody-goody neo-hippie like him doesn’t have a prayer. I know a Kucinich/Sharpton ticket would probably most accurately reflect true, grassroots progressive values, and I respect anyone who doesn’t want to compromise their own integrity, but you have to choose your priorities. If you’re like me and you really, really, really want Bushboy and his aggressively conservative administration shit-canned into the dustbin of history ASAP, you will simply have to concede some of your personal ideals. As I see it, this is always a given when voting for the greater good, because there’ll never be a candidate who will appeal uniformly across the broad, eclectic spectrum of our increasingly diverse demographics. If you think there will be, then either you have too much faith in humanity, or you think that one day everyone else in the nation (and the world, for that matter) will think just like you do – a common misconception amongst extremist factions, both right and left.

Dean is far from perfect, but in my humble estimation he is plainly the very best man for the task at hand (burning Bush into oblivion), and given all these attributes, and despite his drawbacks, he’s extremely electable – especially with Graham on the ticket. Plus they’re the best looking of the bunch (John Edwards is a pretty boy, true, but he’s too pansy and no longer a serious contender, anyway). Sex sells, folks, that’s another cold fact in these stupid reality TV times. And their surnames are easy to say and remember. I hate to admit it, but these superficialities count. Reference the 1992 candidates and election results for historical proof of this stance.

Just my two cents. We’ll see.

Not everyone reading this column will see it this way, of course. (Believe it or not, some Republicans out there actually have good taste in movies and music, all that ultimately counts here in Thrillville.) Greens, who uniformly resent Dean for his centralism (I respect their party anyway, even though I don’t much see the impact it’s having), will say I’m full of shit, while the other side will likewise accuse me of smoky eyed pipe dreaming. Maybe. Again, we’ll see. My perspectives could change radically over time, but I doubt it. A solidification of definite principals backed up by committed solidarity amongst the rank and file is the only solution to solving the crisis that is polarizing and paralyzing this nation.

I think.

I DON’T KNOW IF IT’S ART, BUT I LIKE IT

Okay, I’m stepping off the pulpit now and preaching among the people about something I really know about: Trash Cinema.

I don’t read much fiction anymore, especially since I stopped writing it – I mean, what’s the point, reality is too tough to out-imagine nowadays – but I read a lot of non-fiction, especially about the history of Offbeat Cinema. Currently I’m devouring two similarly-themed recent tomes: Profoundly Disturbing, by drive-in mastermind and cult flick guru Joe Bob Briggs (who promises to one day visit Thrillville, but we’re still trying to line up our agendas), in which he offers essays on various films from throughout the century that had a shocking impact on our culture; and Sleazoid Express, basically a book-length version of the groundbreaking ‘zine by Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford chronicling “the Deuce,” AKA Manhattan’s 42nd Street’s once-notorious strip of grindhouse moviehouses offering the best and worst of cinematic exploitation (now just one big Disney-ized tourist trap, sigh).

What one deduces from reading both of these fascinating, indispensable guides to the seamier side of celluloid expression is the fact that, with time, truly subversive culture is often revealed and revered as timeless art. Initially, monetary-minded filmmakers from the fringe like Herschell Gordon Lewis (Blood Feast) aimed for an audience, by their own admission, of backwoods rednecks and rain-coated perverts. This is how the establishment treated their output, and why they dismissed them, too. Then time staggered drunkenly on, the culture threw up on itself, and drive-in/underground filmmaking sensibilities and techniques were co-opted by pretentious mainstream-mongers like the two Steves, Speilberg and much later, Soderbergh (even as true visionaries like the two Davids, Cronenberg and Lynch, toiled in relative obscurity). This resulted in a pop cultural revolution ignited by punk rock archeologists who revived the legacy of Lewis, Ray Dennis Steckler, Ted V. Mikels, Russ Meyer, Roger Corman, George Romero, Ed Wood and many others, bringing them unprecedented respect in the process by placing their highly original, boldly innovative and creatively constructed movies in a social as well as artistic context. (And other anarchic underground icons from previous eras, like Lenny Bruce, Bettie Page, and Elmer Batters, and even musical individualists like Esquivel were likewise rediscovered and embraced by latter day counterculture cultists searching for poetic purity amid the cloned, corporate coldness of contemporary culture.) But beyond these luminaries, other lesser known talents who plied their trashy trade against the tide of “good taste” are now finally getting their props – not from pee-brained wankers and other lowbrow lowlifes, but from highbrow hipsters who appreciate the naked truths about human nature salaciously exposed in these bargain basement time capsules. I’m talking about universally unsung geniuses like Jess Franco (Vampyros Lesbos), Jose Marica Marins (At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul and other Coffin Joe classics), Doris Wishman (Bad Girls Go To Hell), Larry Buchanan (Mars Needs Women), Eddie Romero (Brides of Blood), Al Adamson (Dracula vs. Frankenstein), David Friedman (The Defilers), Mike and Roberta Findlay (The Touch/Curse/Kiss of Her Flesh), and many others who all get their due in these books, and elsewhere, like the previously published studies of outré world cinema, Mondo Macabro and Immoral Tales, by Pete Tombs.

The really reassuring thing for fans of this stuff in our post-drive-in/grindhouse era, where glossy garbage has supplanted tantalizing, trailblazing trash, is that there is an astonishing amount of these vintage titles being pumped out weekly by DVD companies like Something Weird, Alpha Video, Anchor Bay, Fantoma, Elite, Mondo Macabro, Retrovision, Media Blasters. Rise Above Entertainment, Image Entertainment and many more. (The best source for discovering what’s available and forthcoming is www.dvddrive-in.com) . Trust me – kids who think Freddy and Jason are scary or that J-Lo and Madonna are on the cutting edge of eroticism are in for a big, big shock when they behold the truly disturbing, disgusting, dreamy, degrading and daring audacity of fearless flicks like Female Vampire, White Slaves of Chinatown, Scare Their Pants Off, The Sadist, Scream of the Butterfly, Night of the Bloody Apes, Fiend of Dope Island, The Curious Dr. Humpp, Awakening of the Beast, Alucarda, and Mad Doctor of Blood Island.

These are the kinds of flicks I constantly seek out for Thrillville, via the Werepad and many other sources – though I’ve only barely scratched the surface with recently unearthed treasures including Shanty Tramp, William Shatner’s Impulse, White Trash, Spider Baby and Ray Dennis Steckler’s many personal appearances with his masterpieces like Rat Pfink a Boo Boo and The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies. Stay tuned. The best of the worst is yet to come…

SMOKE, SHADOWS, SIRENS AND SNIPERS…

Speaking of subversive cinema, it’s September again, which means it’s time for Film Noir, an annual tradition since I started booking the Parkway over five years ago. For THE FIFTH ANNUAL FILM NOIR FEST (see www.picturepubpizza.com for complete schedule), along with the famous classics and neo-noir favorites throughout the three week, nine film series, I’m presenting the more obscure titles in Thrillville, co-hosted by our famous pal, Eddie Muller (www.noircity.com). Eddie, noted author of noir fiction (The Distance, Shadow Boxer) and noir history (Dark City, Dark City Dames, The Art of Noir) also programs his own high profile film noir festivals around the country, most notably at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood every April, and now every January at the Castro in San Francisco. (His premiere festival there this past January, featuring films all set in SF, broke all house attendance records, so naturally they’re bringing it back, this time featuring all female protagonists.) But long before Eddie was a household name (well, in educated, hep households) he was co-hosting our own little noir fests here in humble Oaktown.

This year I’m actually showing one of the movies that Eddie showed at the Castro, 1952’s seminal serial killer thriller THE SNIPER (September 11, 9:15), starring Arthur Franz (Monster on the Campus) as a woman-hating hitman on the loose in Frisco, and his murderous route takes the audience on a dazzling tour of the City by the Bay during this colorful, vibrant period (though amazingly, not much has changed from a geographical standpoint). The location photography alone is priceless, but the genuine tension and pathos of the piece make it an under-appreciated masterpiece of macabre mystery. Directed with shadowy style by noir specialist Edward Dmytryk, one of the Hollywood Ten. And get this: the pathetic, misogynistic killer’s name is Eddie Miller. Do not miss.

A week later on September 18 at 9:15 I’m happy to give you Arthur Penn’s (Bonnie and Clyde) surreal, nightmarish neo-noir from 1965, MICKEY ONE , starring Warren Beatty in one of his finest performances as a neurotic nightclub comic on the run from a seemingly omnipresent Mob. The chiaroscuro claustrophobia and visual virtuosity is atmospherically augmented with a sizzling score by Stan Getz. Amazingly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this one listed in any noir reference guides – including Eddie’s – but to me, both the shadowy style and the crazy content scream noir – at least as an arty, New Wave homage. Come decide for yourself.

Finally, I wrap up the whole series (which includes masterpieces like Dark Passage and White Heat, Eddie and I might show up without notice at other screenings) with Sam Fuller’s 1961 hardboiled hoodlum classic UNDERWORLD USA (September 25, 9:15), starring Cliff Robertson as a man hell-bent on revenge against the ruthless mobsters who rubbed out his family. Fuller is an acknowledged master of character nuance amid intense situations (as in Shock Corrider and The Naked Kiss, his noir masterpieces), and this fast-paced study of gangster angst pulls no punches.

Each of the Thrillville noir screenings will also feature a chapter of that seemingly endless 1940 serial THE SHADOW. I’ve been stringing out the cliff-hanging exploits of Victor Jory as Lamont Cranston for years now, and even though this month I’m showing Chapters Ten, Eleven and Twelve, respectively, guess what? THERE ARE STILL THREE MORE! YES, IT HAS FIFTEEN FUCKING CHAPTERS! And god damn it, I finish what I start!

Okay, I’m finished now. For now. Till I start again

NEXT MONTH:
HORROR HOST PALOOZA! & A HALLOWEEN BEACH PARTY!

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