Tag Archives: indie

The Gay Community Needs to Embrace the Cult Movie “Ben & Arthur”

Sam Mraovich as Arthur in "Ben and Arthur"

Sam Mraovich as Arthur in “Ben and Arthur”

In a couple of days, one of the local Chicago theaters will be presenting its yearly screening of Mommie Dearest to a (no doubt) enthusiastic crowd. Wire hangars will be handed out and I’m sure there’ll be plenty of laughs galore with Frank Perry’s infamous film.

That film was released over 30 years ago. Since then, there hasn’t been any film released that could qualify as “midnight movie” material that approached a gay sensibility–until Ben & Arthur.  Both Cracked Magazine and Rotten Tomatoes have urged readers to pick up on this movie and make it a cult sensation. I agree. Not only is the time right for this movie to fill theaters with enthralled partying fans, it has the makings of being one of the greatest midnight cult movies ever, rivaling even cine-phenomena like The Room and Troll 2. Seriously. And the gay community should be front and center in pushing this wild movie for the following reasons:

1. Exploitation movies are generally straight-based.

Let’s face it: exploitation movies are usually made to appeal to horny guys who like lots of firepower and babes. Ben and Arthur has plenty of gunplay and horny guys (on the screen, at least) with one of the leads looking good with his shirt off (hence the promo picture). There’s the added bonus of a wrestling tussle between Ben and his wife. In fact, B&A is meant to be, in part, an action film which is part of the fun, especially when the movie looks as though it was shot over the course of a weekend.

2. Its main theme of gay marriage rights is still relevant today and probably will be for a while.

Produced in 2002, Ben and Arthur deals primarily with gay marriage, which–at the time–was only legal in Vermont via civil unions.  Ten years and eleven state legislative passages later, gay marriage looks increasingly possible for the entire country. The controversy, however, seems destined to hang on while significant opposition continues. This helps keep the movie fresh thematically and even when it passes all 50 states, Ben and Arthur can be viewed through a nostalgic lens, just as I do with movies from the late 1960s and early 1970s.

3. The movie is on the level of anything Ed Wood could have mustered, so it has perennial entertainment staying power.

Ben and Arthur is not just about bad acting or bad writing. Everything
about it is bad, no exaggeration. Out of focus cinematography, actors flubbing lines with no second takes, non-existent continuity, horrible sound mixing–there are no instances of competency apparent during any minute of this film.  Robert Altman said that movies are meant to view more than once and each viewing of Ben and Arthur provides an audience with a newly discovered flub. It’ll easily take several viewings to catch them all. This makes it a rarity, even among bad movies.

4.  Ben and Arthur is one of the most subversive gay-themed films ever.

Sam Mraovich’s film is meant as an earnest plea for the plight of those LGBT folks who want equal marriage protection and, by extension, full civil rights. Fair enough. However, the movie goes completely off the rails and becomes sanctimonious when it excuses such actions as domestic violence, arson and murder. Arthur comes off as one of the most hilariously unpleasant and incompetent characters in the history of gay-themed films. He incapable of taking the proper steps to help protect his new hubby and is, in general, a whiny insensitive asshole. Other characters are lying, murdering charlatans, but he is definitely the worst of the lot. Instead of using sentimentality (a fatal flaw in so many bad socially-minded gay features), Ben and Arthur tries becoming ambitious and eventually becomes unnecessary brutal. It’s a civil rights film, a romance, a revenge picture, an action film, a religious allegory, a fetishistic film, an erotic thriller–and fails at all of them.

So if you’re looking for camp value, you’ve got it. If you want a movie that is misogynistic, homophobic and insulting to religious persons and still hilarious to watch with a bunch of “enhanced” friends. You’ve got to take this movie to heart. It’s one of the greatest cult sensations in recent years.

You can make history with us tonight by attending the first-ever Ben & Arthur interactive screening. Tyler Pistorius, Demetra Meteris and I will be on hand for all the running commentary madness and hilarity.

Bring the following: YOUR CELL PHONE, NEWSPAPER, STUFFED CAT, SUGAR PACKETS

Tonight at midnight at Facets Multimedia
1517 W Fullerton
Chicago, IL 60614
http://www.facets.org
Admission: $5, FREE with Facets Membership. Get one here.

Lew Ojeda

Ken Levine is Wrong: Zach Braff Should Be Forced to Use Kickstarter. Here’s Why…

Make him do it.

Make him do it.

Ken Levine wrote a blog post that went viral about how Zach Braff shouldn’t use Kickstarter, because he’s too well connected to use a fundraiser site meant for the starving artist. I understand the argument, but this notion that Kickstarter is cloaked in some golden glow of altruism is rather laughable.

Kickstarter is fundraising tool, not a shrine shut off to all but members only. Of course someone well off is going to eventually try his or her hand at it, if not Zach Braff, then someone else. Mr. Levine also has to remember that Kickstarter is not only used by struggling artists, but also by those who want investors for new products. Indeed, one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns is for an E-Paper Watch, which garnered over 10,000% of the original goal.  It’s ludicrous to believe that tech companies won’t take notice and, if they do, expect to be warded off by hordes of  “indie investors” or their supporters crying foul.

If Ken Levine is so incensed by a well-off Hollywood type asking for money, then the best advice is the one he’s already following: don’t give money.  There are Kickstarters that fail–I would introduce Ken to the wonderful and hilarious Shitstarter, which compiles truly awful Kickstarter campaigns. If starry-eyed people want to waste their hard-earned dollars on big name projects, because they naively hope, as Levine infers, that they’ll hobnob and dine with the Hollywood elites, let them. To quote Suzanne Finnemore, “Delusion detests focus and romance provides the veil.”

I am, in fact, completely in favor of more transparency with investment monies given to movies. I want Zach Braff, Harvey Weinstein or any other Kickstarter recipient to answer from groups of investors when he makes a shitty movie. Having Kickstarter investors actually feel the loss of a bad investment I think is a good thing. Hollywood films are so divorced from your own artistic hunger and are so perfectly and systematically distanced from you personally that your only recourse for bad cinema is badmouthing it to your friends, skewering it publicly on blogs or asking for your money back from the cinema (good luck with that).

You shouldn’t have to hound the theater for your $12 back. You and other fellow investors should be able to follow the producer in every public appearance and ask why he took your investments and turned them in dogshit. Turn his next PR appearance into a townhall meeting shitstorm demanding your investment back. You probably won’t get it, but the headlines will certainly bite the producer in the ass. Let those producers know that if they invest via Kickstarter, they’ll be playing a different game. Not one which checks are written in closed rooms without a second thought given to the outcome, but instead one where the producers will be quite intimidated by average Joes to whom they’ll have to answer.

Levine is right about helping out independent filmmakers whenever possible. It’s a great idea. But even here, he misses the point on how to best do this.

Just as you can do for your produce, for the best arts results–go local.

Here in Chicago, I know two filmmakers who made feature length films for very little money. They, instead, used the time, energy and geniuses of other talents to make great looking films like The Pink Hotel and Sci Fi Sol (disclosure: the latter film is a production of this site, The Underground Multiplex).  Chris Hefner, the director of The Pink Hotel and the upcoming The Poisoner, told me in an interview that he made both features for practically nothing. Instead of a lot of cash, he bartered goods and services and even gained the assistance of an alderman who knows the value of having great art created locally.

The biggest mistake we can keep telling future filmmakers is that the only way to make feature films is to chase money. Don’t get me wrong, Kickstarter and other online fundraisers are great. But convincing artists that this method, or pitching movies with the big boys via festivals are the only ways to get your movie made is being disingenuous.  With technology and resources available to make movies very cheaply (we made Sisters of No Mercy 3D, a feature-length film for less than $200), this endeavor is open to more people with more ideas and more stories to tell than ever before. The real trick is to get the audience deeply engaged and the best way to do that is to find your local artists and filmmakers, meet them and support them and your local indie theaters.

Lew Ojeda
(I’ll be presenting a wild show on Saturday night, May 11th in Chicago, “The Ben & Arthur Interactive Cinematic Experience, or Can a Cult Movie Sensation Be Created?” Click on this link for more details and to attend. Click on this link for the promo video.)

Killer Looks: Legendary Lew Interviews Lauren Whalen on the Cult Appeal of “Drop Dead Gorgeous”

dropdead1Estrogen deficiency in midnight movie viewing is cured this weekend as Lauren Whalen of Chicago Theater Beat presents “Girls, Guns and Glitter, Don’cha Know: Drop Dead Gorgeous and the Wild World of Mock Doc.”  Legendary Lew gets the lowdown on this influential comedy which joined “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” and “Dick” as among the funniest female-centric comedies of the late 1990’s.

LL: Could you tell a little about “Drop Dead Gorgeous?”

LW: It’s a darkly funny and very quotable 1999 mockumentary about a beauty pageant gone bad. In Mount Rose, Minnesota, teenage boys get hockey scholarships or go to prison and teenage girls enter the Mount Rose American Teen Princess competition. Our heroine, Amber Atkins, is an ace tap dancer who works in the school cafeteria and at the localDrop_Dead_Gorgeous mortuary, and dreams of following in the footsteps of former “pageant girl”, Diane Sawyer. Her rival, Becky Leeman, also has her eyes on the prize – and Becky is rich, the vice president of the Lutheran Women’s Gun Club, and has the stage mother from hell who’s also the pageant organizer. And in the meantime, people are getting knocked off at an alarming rate.

“Drop Dead Gorgeous” has great turns from Kirsten Dunst (doing her best Minnesota accent, don’cha know), Denise Richards (way before Charlie Sheen), Kirstie Alley (as the horrid stage mom) and Ellen Barkin (as Amber’s beer-guzzling mama). Allison Janney is fantastic as Amber’s drunk and horny neighbor – she’s said she gets asked more about this movie than she does about “The West Wing”, if you can believe it.

LL: When people think of midnight movies, male-based films in certain genres usually come to mind–scifi, horror, exploitation. Since “Drop Dead Gorgeous” is centered around female characters at a beauty pageant, where do you think the overlap is with the usual midnight movie?

LW: Cult film is largely a boys’ club. When I worked at Facets, it took me years to get comfortable talking movies with the “cool kids” (mostly men). I’m the only female presenter this session at Night School – even when that’s not the case, I’m one of two or maybe three in an eight-week session. I can’t speak for my entire gender, of course, but I do try to present female-driven films (like “Mulholland Dr.”) or ones with strong female characters (like “Brick”) because there is a place for women in the midnight movie world.

“Drop Dead Gorgeous” isn’t a “boy movie” or a “girl movie”. (I don’t think any movie should be classified this way.) Yes, all the main characters are women and it’s about a beauty pageant, but it’s got this absurdist vibe that’s also strangely true to life. Beauty pageants are fascinating, and they are bizarre, and those in the world are obsessed. In “Drop Dead Gorgeous”, someone is literally killing to win, and there are cat fights and explosions and carnage galore. It’s this hilarious juxtaposition of sequins and bright smiles, and blood and fire. Twisted intelligence that has you laughing and shaking your head equals the quintessential midnight movie.

LL:  What engages you most about the humor in “Drop Dead Gorgeous?”

“DDG”‘s director, Michael Patrick Jann, is an alum of the comedy collective The State. If you’ve seen “Reno 911!”, “Party Down” or “Wet Hot American Summer”, you’re familiar with this group. They were a bunch Dropdead2of film and theater majors from NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts that had a show for a couple of years on MTV, then split up and infiltrated Hollywood. When I was a 14-year-old theater geek, I’d watch The State in my basement. Jann directed a lot of sketches and would often appear shirtless. I have him to thank for my entrance into puberty.

Hormones aside, The State had this really odd sense of humor that’s carried through all their work. It’s very base yet artistic, theatrical and dark, abstract but sort of childlike too. It’s smart – which appealed to me a lot as a teen, and now – but doesn’t take itself too seriously. As a director, Jann takes every opportunity for humor, whether it’s slapstick or clever or uncomfortable. He pulls absolutely no punches. Just brilliant.

Also, I just really like glitter.

LL:  What other potential midnight movies, if any, would you compare this movie to?

LW: “This is Spinal Tap”. Anything in the Christopher Guest oeuvre. “Wet Hot American Summer”. “Team America: World Police”, which has been featured at Night School in the past. “Death Proof”.

Thanks to Lauren for the interview! Be sure to check out her reviews at Chicago Theater Beat.

Girls, Guns and Glitter, Don’cha Know: Drop Dead Gorgeous and the Wild World of Mock Doc
Saturday night May 4th, 2013 at 11:59pm
Facets Multimedia
1517 W Fullerton
Chicago, IL 60614
Admission: $5, FREE for Facets Members. Become one here.
All students: receive one FREE small popcorn with valid student ID.

Mediatrocities #7: Legendary Lew Interviews Chris Hefner on His Upcoming New Feature “The Poisoner”

poisonerChicago filmmaker Chris Hefner recently sat down with me and talked about his new movie The Poisoner, which will debut soon at The Portage Theater (you can help him screen the film sooner by visiting his website and buying a deluxe screening ticket).

Chris is a wonderfully talented director, whose first feature The Pink Hotel had a successful debut at The Music Box Theatre. Our talk discussed everything from his filmmaking approach and his start behind the camera to current methods of radically independent film production and distribution. If you have any interest at all in making films on the cheap but have them not looking that way, you really should give a listen.

This episode hosted by Legendary Lew. Produced and directed by Lew Ojeda. The closing theme is “Ghostsong” by Daniel Knox.

 

Arias with Your Mouth Full: Legendary Lew Interviews Michael Smith on Manoel de Oliveira’s “The Cannibals”

Cannibals1

This Saturday night at midnight, indie filmmaker and instructor Michael Smith will present Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira’s very rarely seen and incredibly strange opera, The Cannibals (Os Canibais), for Facets Night School. Straddling between the two cinematic worlds of art house finesse and grind house excess (think Marco Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffe), The Cannibals promises to blow your mind (if you don’t blow your chunks in the process).

LL:  The Cannibals has been rarely shown in The United States. Could you tell us a little about the film?

MS:  The Cannibals is one of the very best films of Manoel de Oliveira who iscannibals3 one of the world’s greatest living directors. Oliveira is best known in America not for any specific films but rather for having a freakishly long career. He directed his first film in 1931 (in what was still the silent era in his native Portugal) and he is currently in pre-production on a new film at the age of 104. But the movies themselves, which are made in conscious opposition to Hollywood conventions and have not been widely distributed in America, are great: they tend to be rigorous, deliberately paced literary or theatrical adaptations centered on the theme of doomed love. I think The Cannibals is an ideal introduction to Oliveira’s work because it shows off his playful side: it’s funny, surreal and very subversive. It shows the strong influence of Luis Bunuel.

LL: How is The Cannibals a bridge between art house cinema and midnight movies?

MS: I would describe it as a midnight movie disguised as an art film. I think it was brilliant of Oliveira to tell this particular story as an opera. It’s an adaptation of a 19th century novel but he hired a contemporary composer, Joao Paes, to write an original operatic score and libretto. Literally every line of dialogue in the movie is sung and the score is excellent. However, the film becomes weirder and weirder as it goes along until it reaches the climax, which is totally insane. I think Oliveira chose to work with the form of opera because no other artistic medium is so closely identified with the upper class — the true subject of his satire. He’s making fun of his target audience! Without giving anything away, I would say he wanted to cloak his movie in the semblance of respectability and “high art” in order to deliver a kind of sucker punch at the end. I almost want to compare The Cannibals to Takashi Miike’s Audition in terms of how it works. (If you’ve seen that film you know that it lulls you into a state of near-boredom before presenting a mind-fuck of an ending that is effective precisely because of what comes before.) I also hasten to add that it’s not necessary to understand anything about opera to appreciate this film. I myself know little about opera.

LL: Were there any other operas commissioned directly to cinema?

MS: I’m not aware of any. It’s very rare to have any kind of musical film in which all of the dialogue is sung. Les Miserables is an obvious example but that’s, of course, an adaptation of a well-known musical play and had a built-in fanbase. The only other film I can think of that comes close to fitting the bill is The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Jacques Demy commissioned Michel Legrand to write the original score and Demy himself wrote the dialogue, all of which is sung, but the style of the music is not that of an opera. So I think Oliveira’s achievement is singular and highly innovative.

LL: What do you wish to accomplish by presenting The Cannibals to a crowd accustomed to exploitation, sexploitation and violent trashy films?

 MS: I’m glad that you asked. I hope to broaden viewers’ horizons as to what their perceptions of a midnight movie is. The Cannibals is not exploitative or trashy and yet, in a lot of ways, it’s far weirder than many of the movies to which those labels are often attached. This film is so odd, in fact, that I myself don’t even know how to fully process it! This is also a big part of the reason why I want to show it: presenting it to an audience will hopefully inspire everyone present to work together in making sense of it in our discussion afterwards.

My thanks to Michael Smith for the interview. You can read his posts on the blog White City Cinema. It’s definitely worth your time.
Come feast your eyes and ears on The Cannibals at Facets Night School.
Saturday night April 27, 2013 at midnight
Facets Multimedia
1517 W Fullerton
Chicago, IL 60614
Admission: $5, FREE for Facets members! Become one here.

Watch the Great Indie Surreal Film “The Pink Hotel” Free

Chicago’s own excellent talent Chris Hefner presents his first feature, The Pink Hotel, available now on Vimeo. If you haven’t seen it, give it a watch, as you will not see films like this one very often. If you live in Chicago, know that there are many incredible artists like Chris trying to work independently and share their great visions.

Chris will be the special guest interview on “Mediatrocities” coming up later this month. Look for it. For now, you can help him out by heading to his Etsy store and buying a ticket for the debut of his new feature The Poisoner at The Portage Theater. Support your local indie artists!

Jason Coffman Discusses “Carnival Magic,” the Opener for Facets Night School’s Master Edition

Carnival Magic will be presented on 35MM(!), the way God intended, as the opener for Facets Night School Masters Edition. It’s one of the last films by Al Adamson, sleaze film extraordinaire, who is probably more famous over how he died than for his films.

Legendary Lew recently caught up with Jason Coffman, Co-Director & Programmer at Chicago Cinema Society, to ask about this unusual must-see film.

LL: You’ll be presenting the 35MM print of the film Carnival Magic by Al Adamson. Tell us a little about that film.

JC: For whatever reason, Al Adamson decided to make a couple of “children’s movies” in the early 1980s. He made Carnival Magic in 1981 and a film called Lost, and after Lost he retired from the film business. AdamsonIf you’ve ever wondered what a “children’s movie” made by someone with no idea what that means, Carnival Magic is a perfect example. There’s magic and a talking monkey, and beyond that there’s a lot of really inappropriate stuff.

LL: Adamson was known for exploitation movies. Since this is a G-rated family film, what can you tell us about any similarities, if any, to his “sleazier” fare?

JC: Adamson often cast his wife Regina Carrol in his films, and she’s in Carnival Magic, too. She’s the lady wearing the extremely tight shirtsreginacarrol whenever she appears on screen. The villainous lion tamer in the movie is genuinely nasty, he’s an abusive drunk. Not really the kind of character you usually see in a kids’ film.

LL: What would you consider the best parts of Carnival Magic?

JC: It’s hard to decide where to even begin, it’s such a strange film. The voice of Alex the talking monkey is pretty amazing, in that it’s actually sort of believable that a monkey would talk in this way. A creepy, guttural voice. More likely to scare the hell out of kids than endear the monkey to them. The part where Alex kidnaps a woman is pretty fantastic– he steals a car and there’s an inept police chase and everything. So that’s a lot of fun.

LL: What do you hope audiences will take with them after watching this film?

JC: I hope people have a new appreciation for Al Adamson and that they’ll be willing to explore cheap exploitation movies more. A lot of people might see one Adamson film and just write him off, but if you dig in to his filmography you’ll find he made crazy stuff like Carnival Magic. It’s really weird, really entertaining, and unless you’re willing to give this kind of thing a chance, you’ll never find stuff like this.

Thanks, Jason, for giving a little more insight to Carnival Magic.
Be sure to catch this jaw-dropping, weird film (thoroughly recommended by yours truly) as it kicks off Facets Night School’s Masters Edition.

Check out Jason’s work with Film Monthly and Fine Print.

Carnival Magic in 35MM (from The Chicago Cinema Society Archive)
Saturday night, March 30th, 2013 at Midnight
Facets Multimedia
Admission: $5 or FREE for Facets Members
Students: Get one FREE small popcorn with valid student ID.

One final note: The producer of Carnival Magic, Elvin Feltner, I’m told is currently in ill health. We’ll be providing a get well card to sign for him and also have a donation jar available.  Thanks!