CHECK OUT THE SCHEDULE PAGE FOR COMPLETE SHOWTIME INFORMATION
A NOTE IN A BOTTLE FROM THE CONTENTED CASTAWAY
This will be my last column for a while, not sure how long. Ill continue to update it now and then, but not on a reliably regular basis like I have been the last near-decade. Fact is, Im sick of hearing myself bitch about things I cant change. Im also tired of baring my soul to strangers, even faceless friends like you. In fact, I was planning to quit this column outright. Ive already written the swan song. But then something happened recently again to make me change my mind, or at least modify this intention.
Last time I threatened to quit this space, I received some extremely warm, gracious and supportive emails from readers around the world encouraging me to continue. It shocked me that so many people followed my exploits even though theyve never actually been to the show since they live so far away. These rallying missives were much appreciated and at least temporarily galvanizing. The thing with me is, Ive always been pretty honest about and with myself, especially in conversation with others, often volunteering personal information that, in retrospect, they had no business (or often interest in) knowing. Basically, in most regards, I have no shame, nothing to hide. This attribute has caused me considerable grief over the years, because whenever you bare your heart to someone, especially to countless unknown people, youre leaving yourself vulnerable to their judgements, criticisms and random hostility. This is especially true on the Internet, now a haven for millions of disgruntled malcontents who have nothing better to do than anonymously fling hurtful insults at whatever web target suits their juvenile fancy. This cowardly, childish crap is rampant on endless chat rooms and message boards around the world (www.imdb.com being a prime example). It seems hardly any conversation about any topic, no matter how trivial, can be maintained for long without it descending into a hate fest or petty exchange of stupid comments aimed at maximum humiliation. There is a great deal of anger, pain and sadness in the world today, and people suffering from this widespread malaise finally have an outlet. Im not sure how therapeutic this is for them, and I dont really care. I just plan to stay out of that mix as much as possible. My forthrightness has caused me as much pain as it has satisfaction, but then thats true of many things in life. Its a matter of balance.
On a recent night, while attending Eddie Mullers Noir City at the Palace of Fine Arts in SF, an interesting and unexpected meeting once again proved to me the positive aspect of this type of mass communication. A sweet, attractive woman named Marie was sitting right front of me in a sold out auditorium (like a thousand people) assembled to see Eddie interview Sean Penn in person after a screening of his directorial movie The Pledge, starring Jack Nicholson, a neo-noir of sorts. I noticed Marie kept turning around to notice me, as if she recognized me. I didnt recognize her but Im used to fans of the Parkway pegging me in public because of the promo video the owner and I make every couple of weeks, which runs before the features, plugging upcoming events at the theater. She asked if I was Will, I said yes, and I asked if she was a Parkway regular. She said no, she lives in a faraway town so she never visited the theater she just knows me via my web site, and said she was an avid reader of my rants. When I told her I was thinking of quitting that aspect of the site, she actually seemed disappointed. She told me she has never written to me, but has often taken my advice on music, for instance, and sought out some of the rare LPs Ive mentioned. I was quite flattered. She was wearing a leopard coat and a beret like my wife! so I could tell we shared a certain sense of style. It was such a random, pleasant, enlightening encounter that it instantly made me re-think my plans to quit the column outright. I couldnt do that to Marie! She echoed a lot of similar comments I receive sometimes from readers who live across the country and whom I will probably never happen to meet, even by chance, like this.
In fact the vast majority of feedback I receive for this column is friendly, like 90%. Even when people disagree with my politics, we find common ground in our movie tastes. And these dissenters are, for the most part, very respectful. The 10% of rude hit and run assholes I have to deal with are negligible, really. But I could live without them. Be nice, or dont bother me. Its okay to disagree, not to disrespect.
Heres a little backstory for relative newcomers to this space. This column originated in print, a regular feature of the Parkway News, a monthly paper printing the theaters schedule in advance, a big mistake since, as a second run venue, we were often only guessing. Kyle Fischer, co-founder and co-owner of Speakeasy Theaters along with his wife Catherine, both long time friends of mine, asked me to create and host a midnight movie show, back when the theater opened in January of 1997. Since then live-hosted movie shows have seemingly cropped up all over the place, and this concept no longer seems as unique as when I first started. The initial reason for the creation of my gig was to promote myself as a local personality to push the detective novel of mine Kyle and Catherine had just published with their Wild Card Press company, Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me (which has been optioned several times by Christian Slater, so far to no avail, but all the checks to date have cleared.) The show, originally called The Midnight Lounge but then changed to Thrillville Theater and then to the Thrillville Revue and finally just Thrillville when it became a prime time hit, took on a life of its own while my one published novel (out of sixteen written!) languished in obscurity. It was all just a big accident. I selfishly showed only old movies I loved and took on a persona of a lounge lizard initially inspired by Jerry Lewiss Buddy Love, but pretty early on it just became an extension and reflection of my true personality. The column I was writing reflected this, as I went from brashly bragging about my alleged lounge credentials to opening up about my views on everything from politics to popular music. The column in itself developed its own following, I soon discovered, especially after the Parkway News folded in December 99 and I began my own web site, now entering its seventh year of existence.
I first entertained thoughts of discontinuing my written public platform years ago, around the time of my infamous protest of the remake of Oceans 11, which, sadly, remains my best known feat. To this day I am astounded at the reaction my teeny, tiny vocal (and inevitably, physical) boycott of this typical Hollywood garbage inspired around the globe, both positive and negative. Why did anyone give a shit what I thought? This was my first exposure to the power of the Internet. Id already been posting my column online for a couple of years and really had no idea if anyone was paying attention, nor did I care, since I was writing it for my own amusement. To me, it was like I was stranded on a stylish desert isle circa 1962, idly scribbling notes and casting them adrift in bottles, with no thought of being rescued (I was a contented castaway). To both my surprise and dismay, I found that way too many people were paying attention. My protest was covered in Entertainment Weekly (pretty cool), Salon.com (extremely uncool), a major French TV documentary on Vegas, a major German magazine, and dozens of newspapers and web sites from San Francisco to Las Vegas to Florida. What began as a personal gripe became a mini-firestorm. And this was right after the really infamous 11 9/11. Didnt people have other stuff to worry about? Was I really a threat to the industry with my little cardboard, martini-shaped protest signs?
Well, this is all ancient history and it doesnt matter now. It was a valuable lesson for me on the fickle nature of media and the ugliness of the human beast. I had been totally naïve about publicly sharing my views on anything, never suspecting such a negative backlash or such a phenomenal show of support, especially in regards to such a relatively minor topic. It inspired a bitter stalker (whose identity is now known to me) to harass me for a while, and some anonymous asshole to actually begin a Why I Hate Will Viharo board on a web site I wrote articles for. It was totally insane. I made the huge, regrettable mistake of responding to both, adding fuel to their little fires (and I still suspect they were the same person, since Ive never otherwise encountered this level of vitriol, anonymously or otherwise, a few random hate mails defending the integrity of Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts notwithstanding.) Now I realize the best response to this gibberish is no response. But this wisdom came at some emotional and even physical expense. And I never really got over it. From then on, I felt naked in a cold, rude world.
Of course, I also made a lot of great friendships because of this experience, some with people I have yet to meet in person, and in itself, the protest was a lot of fun. Wouldnt do it again, though, since it was not worth all the crap I had to endure from people who just happened to disagree with my defense of the Rat Packs traditional purism and aesthetic legacy. I continued my column (which covered all kinds of social and entertainment subjects, not just remakes) almost as an act of defiance. Also, its been my main creative outlet. But Im at the point where its no longer a satisfactory form of sublimation. I will continue to write since its in my blood, but I no longer want to share my personal views or private life in a public forum, at least not as frequently and casually as I have been. Too many wackos out there, and basically, Im just tired of it. As of this writing, Im almost 43, been doing Thrillville in one form or another for nine years and I want to make room for something new.
This whole Will the Thrill thing is not my dream come true, not the way I had always ideally envisioned my creative life. My true ambition was to be a successful novelist, a notion I gave up on about ten years ago. Scratch that. No conscious decision to quit after so many years banging my head on a door no one would open, I just burned out. Im thinking of trying to rekindle that pilot light, if itll take. Maybe Ive run out of gas, which would be a shame.
Seeing Eddie interview Sean Penn on stage that night at the Palace was a strange experience for me too. Not to name drop, though I sometimes do, I guess for insecure reasons, but I knew Penn twenty odd years ago, when I was palling around with Mickey Rourke. Sean and I sometimes hung out, in Westwood and places, and were pals to a limited extent. Ive written in the column about this phase of my life in LA before and dont want to rehash it again, but suffice to say, Seans path and mine became rather divergent. And Eddie is also a good pal of mine, of ours, Ive known him for about a decade, and we hosted little film noir fests at the Parkway years before Noir City became a multi-media circus attraction. (And a very cool thing it is, especially since all proceeds are funneled into his Film Noir Foundation.) From where I sat, both Eddie (an accomplished novelist and the acknowledged Czar of Noir) and Sean seemed so excited and fulfilled in their careers, and it was hard for me, as someone who has floated in their rarified circles, bumping against the periphery of their celebrity, not to compare my own fractured professional trajectory to theirs. Especially since I was not invited back to the Green Room to hang out. I bumped into our friends Stephanie and her beau Jello Biafra, the punk/political icon, whom we know somewhat, and they were on their way up there, to hob nob with the inside crowd. Its petty, I know, but I felt shut out. I hadnt made it. I was a nobody. I felt the same way when one of my favorite authors, James Ellroy, was there a few days prior. If I had managed to become the author Id dreamed of being since I was a kid, and had the luck to match my ambition, if not my talent, Id be hanging with James and Eddie over cocktails, talking literature and all that crap. Instead, I was just another anonymous fan in the crowd. It was an ego buster, sure, but it also made me very reflective on my station in life, reminding me harshly that even though many locals know me as Will the Thrill, I was far, far, far below the heights Id once imagined for myself.
Then Monica pointed out that many of the people who stop me in public always identify themselves as nobody when I ask their names, which is silly. Its all relative. I sometimes bask in the illusion of my own alleged celebrity in these instances, though under the surface, I know its all hogwash. What am I known for exactly? Boycotting the remake of Oceans 11?? Its more important to me to be known and appreciated for something youre proud of than famous for dubious achievements, or just for the sake of being well known and recognized by strangers. People love the Parkway, thats a valid source of pride. But I do not own the Parkway. Im just the front guy for someone elses vision. Thrillville is my baby, but to me, its always seemed more like a grand compromise than a true goal. I have to get over this. I have a platform of personal expression many, many people envy, even as I envy those who are apparently more fulfilled in their careers than I am.
Shortly after I wrote the first draft of this column, I found out Seans younger brother Chris Penn was found dead. I also knew Chris back in the day. He was in Rumble Fish with Mickey. He was always a little chubby, a little brash, but a sweet, nice guy overall. He crash-dieted for Flashdance, I remember, and he was so proud of this feat. His star was on the rise, and he achieved cult status in Tarantinos True Romance and Reservoir Dogs. Last time I saw him on film was around two weeks before his death, while channel-surfing. I froze on one of those cloned crime shows when I saw his face. He was playing some teenage chicks dad. I thought: Jesus, Chris Penn is already playing father roles? In my memory he was still a kid himself. Of course, the daddy was also a killer, but still. He just seemed too young to play someones dad. And of course way too young to die.
I hadnt seen or talked to Chris in twenty years when I found out he'd died at my age. Two things hit me: I have no right to bitch, and also, no time to fuck around. None of us do.
Its all a matter of balance, and a matter of degrees. I need to appreciate the little tiny niche Ive carved for myself, even if I am in effect self-publishing, which is a questionable mark of success, to say the least. But I also need to expand my horizons, and start dreaming of even better things again. Everyone should. Otherwise, whats the point of anything? This is the reason I am adding a whole new feature to this site FICTION, old and new pieces, to be updated sporadically, as the Muse strikes me. Too much reality writing out there nowadays as it is. Time to spark my own dormant Imagination.
Ive always considered myself more of a writer than a performer, even though Im much better known as the latter. I plan to change that. In fact, after this August, I am taking the show down to once every other month. It used to be weekly, twice every Thursday, then we added a Tuesday night show for new parents which flopped. Eventually I took it down to one show every Thursday, then every other Thursday. For the past year its been monthly. There are only so many cool B movies, lounge bands and burlesque acts out there, at least of the vintage I prefer, and Ive already showcased most of them available to me. Our second theater in El Cerrito opens later this summer (www.cerritotheater.org), and Im very excited about it. It may afford Thrillville a whole new audience, and if so, I will exploit and enjoy that opportunity. Im only stopping the column, not the show. Although I cant see myself wearing a fez hat and hosting forgotten Roger Corman flicks when Im 50. But well see what happens. If I cant find anything better to do, who knows?
I have some cool things to look forward to this year. Besides the opening of the Cerrito, Im planning on spending my birthday weekend in Disneyland, the happiest place on earth (yea its a corporate consumer trap but I dont give a damn, its a blast, ditch the bummer grown-up politics and dig it for the innocent kid inside of you). Then later this year, Monica and I will go on a Second Honeymoon by celebrating our Fifth Wedding Anniversary back in Hawaii, my favorite place on earth. And my adopted hometown of Alameda gets its own authentic tiki bar, Forbidden Island this Spring, courtesy of Michael and Mano of The Conga Lounge, along with Martin and Michelle. It will be totally bitchin, drinks and décor-wise.
The best thing about my life is I happen to know a hell of a lot of very, very cool people, famous and otherwise, all talented, passionate and unique. Im a lucky guy.
Eventually, in this cyber-obsessed world, I ultimately see Thrillville surviving primarily as a web destination. In addition to FICTION, I may eventually add a new feature, REVIEWS, of DVDs and CDs I enjoy and wish to promote, if I can get the companies to send me free copies. I will continue to send out The Thrillville Flash newsletter, containing news not just about my show but anything cool and swingin, along with some occasional brief personal musings on anything from world events to the latest posthumous Elvis album. If youre new to this space or are jonesing for another cynical shot of Thrill, check out the ARCHIVES which by now are pretty vast. And I will continue to answer respectful emails, on any topic. If youre just writing to insult me or pick a fight, dont bother, as I will just delete it without a reply. Got better things to do with my time and energy, sorry. Even if that just means kickin back in my home tiki lounge watching I Was A Teenage Werewolf, Monica Tiki Goddess and our pet cat asleep by my side.
Thanks for reading. Aloha and see you around Thrillville, cats n kittens.
PS: IMPEACH BUSH!
Order a copy of
"Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me,"
a novel featuring Vic Valentine, Private Eye