Jul 26, 2007

Cowboys, Cube Vans and the Big C... or, Spring Report, by Greg Woods

Well after the success of Beatnik Movie night, I guess I should've listened more closely to my Zen master, instructing me about the yin and yang, the balance of the universe, joy coupled with sorrow, crescendo followed by diminuendo. ESR's subsequent three screenings rounding out the spring-summer season, were for the most part disappointments. Collectively, the attendance for all three was still less than Beatnik night.

In April, we showed the hit on-demand comedy Cube Van, made by the Moores brothers, Todd and Trevor. I had known Todd from back in my days at the Canadian Film Centre- he had done boom on a lot of shoots taking place during my tenure there. And I don't remember exactly how my Googling came across the website for Cube Van, but became intrigued by the scenario and clips on Youtube, so I contacted the boys early in 2007, and after various correspondence, we had decided upon April to screen the film. Cube Van is a fascinating Canadian grass roots story-- its reputation has proliferated largely from good old word of mouth, be it in the traditional sense, or on the Internet. As such, it was a popular "on demand" title for Rogers and Shaw Cable. Suffice to say, the movie is politically incorrect, as it pretty much upturns every taboo one could get away with. However, should it be otherwise, as it is about people who are politically incorrect? And in fact, much of the humour derives from what happens to these three losers on the road when they are en route to deliver a vanload of furniture. And no film that picks on rednecks with the savage degree that Cube Van does can be all bad, right? Roger.

Thus, for people like myself who do not have "on demand", I thought it would be a clever marketing ploy to help spread the word of the film in the more traditional sense of holding a good old fashioned screening. But by the same token, I hadn't expected the movie to be a complete audience pleaser among the various regulars, as this flick is politically incorrect. Even so, based on its word of mouth, showing the film could have given ESR exposure to a new and different audience. But we'll never know, as attendance was an all-time low. I'd like to blame it on the torrents of rain outside, as even a lot of PR people that Todd and Trevor invited to the screening failed to show. It's doubly embarrassing to have a screening that is so pathetically under-attended when the filmmakers are in attendance. Trevor was in LA, but Todd was there with a couple of the cast, but thankfully he seemed good-natured about the whole thing.

When I first began the monthly screenings, it had always been my intention to structure the evening with a short, followed by a feature. However, this notion quickly dissipated as a result of getting carried away with theme nights, et al, in which I would show two features back to back, thereby leaving no room for shorts. However, in May, I staged what could presumably be called "the makeup show", showing two hours of short films. We began with John Longenecker's The Resurrection of Broncho Billy, a simple and sweet film which won the Oscar for Best Live Action short in 1971. Today this film is a sought-after cult item because it was co-written by a young John Carpenter! I had e-mailed Mr. Longenecker in the previous summer about purchasing a copy, and additionally inquired about licensing fees if I decided to show it. I heard nothing back, and figured that was the end of that. However, a few months later, I received an e-mail from him requesting my mailing address, and he would send me the movie, and he could send me a cheque. Okay- so I e-mailed him right back, to the tune of, "Well that's great, but what's your licensing fee if I decide to show it at a screening?" I in turn received a response within minutes, with a disclaimer: "This hereby licenses Greg Woods to show....". God bless the Internet.

Actor Paul Marco was best known for the bumbling "Kelton the Cop" in three of Ed Wood's films. In the twilight of his life, he reprised the role for a proposed series of short films by music video director Vasily Shumov, In the summer of 2006, Paul Marco passed away during the shooting of the second installment. Mr. Shumov had sent me a copy of the first, Kelton's Dark Corner, as I had initially intended to show it for the Halloween show. Alas, that never happened, and this ultra-strange film, done entirely with stills recalling the photographs of Weegee, became tonight's second film.

The energetic comedy The Morning After, by Casey Walker, a director from our roster at work, is a very funny film of conflicting viewpoints surrounding a one-night stand. These three films were interspersed with segments of Ice Cold Heat, a cop spoof by our friend Brian Random (whose film Pop Carts was shown in ESR's very first public screening). This very clever ripoff of the TV show "Night Heat" is made even more special in that it was made with Playmobil. It was Brian's wish to show the film in separate segments rather than showing them continuously.

After the break, we showed two longer pieces: Jeff Stephenson's devastating Chasing Daylight, about a young boy's attempt to deal with the death of his young friend. Jeff is perhaps best known in these circles for the documentary Flyerman, earning him a lot of buzz as a talent to watch. Interestingly enough, after the success of that film, he went to the AFI to direct a couple of films to further hone his craft. I first encountered Chasing Daylight when our company had Rocketfrog Films working out of its basement. Jeff was on their roster for commercial work, and this short is one of the most perfect films I've seen in recent years. The adolescents' performances are incredibly mature (no mean feat for any director), and it retains that perfect, ever-so-delicate balance between reality and fantasy. Finally, for the finale I snuck in a surprise, featuring a favourite short of mine. Now this is all well and good-- yet if only I had a proper crowd to come out and see this collection.

The week prior, I had a show at the spring edition of the Toronto Small Press Fair, which, even though it was back at its old stomping grounds, sadly turned out to be even more of a debacle, as I sold even less than then excuse for a fair in the Victory Cafe last fall! I had hoped to get a new issue out for the fair, but hadn't bothered, because up until two days prior, I didn't know I had a table! I had sent in my registration form and money a month prior and heard nothing back, and after a couple of e-mails they said they had not received anything from me, and that the fair was now booked solid. However, it was revealed they had me booked after all.. under a company name I no longer use! But in hindsight, it's a good thing I didn't kill myself trying to get anything ready for this show. However, there was an interesting event of Zen-like synchronicity, as my good friend Gordon Phinn gave me a copy of Bruce Dern's autobiography (review coming soon). When I was browsing Stuart Ross' table, I discovered novella which was dedicated to Bruce Dern for being one of the few to kill John Wayne.. well, how could I not pick that up after that? In fact, my picking up Ross' novella, Father, the Cowboys Are Ready to Come Down from the Attic, turned out to be strangely prophetic, as this was published in 1982, and a quarter century later, he's still selling copies from his limited print run. This somehow vindicated the five-year old ESR's collecting dust in my back room.

In the following weeks, I had had a little scare with my father, as it turned out that a couple of the lymph nodes he had removed in April were cancerous, and now he was beginning three-week cycles of oral medication instead of taking radiation, and will continue to be taking the meds for six months. Thankfully, the chances of the cancer spreading are low, and he doesn't appear to be worried about it, but still, upon hearing the news, I was quite freaked out for about a week. Two weeks after hearing the news I was to have our June screening (a week earlier than usual), and as such, I had so much on my mind, I planned to cancel the show. However, a week prior to the intended date, I made the decision to go ahead with the show after all, because I realized it would have been an even more financial and logisitical nightmare to cancel the show than to put it on. As they say, the show must go on. And so, I began postering and promoting the show with only several days to go, perhaps too little too late, and I knew that. As a result, only half a dozen people showed up for June's screening, but I expected such a thing, given the circumstances.

June was this year's edition of The Indoor Drive-In, in which I showed two features: the awesome rural crud Thunder Country, in which Ted Cassidy (AKA Lurch from "The Addams Family") gives the performance of his career as a mobster meeting up with escaped female prisoners in the swamp, and the JD epic The Violent Years scripted by the one, the only Edward D. Wood Jr. The night turned out to be a lot of fun after all, considering, and ironically, it proved to be the most problem-free screening to date, which -given the circumstances- helped me end the night with a positive outlook on things. As much as I like the space in which I screen, given the geography and logisttics of the place, there's always last-minute technical issues to iron out, and tonight was blissfully free of them. And, prior to this night's screening, I had decided to take a break from the theatrical quotient of ESR, because I knew the summer would be even harder to fill the place, given the problems I was already having, and that I wanted to buy some time to figure out how to promote this event better.

As of this writing, I know what the next two shows will be, but no dates planned. For the moment, I am enjoying the Sabbatical until I am of mind to give these screenings their proper due. Over the past two years, it has been a growing realization that I tend to take on too much, and as a result everything on the plate suffers. I've finally learned not to kill myself working in the underground. To paraphrase director William "One Shot" Beaudine working in the B movie backlot: "You think someone's waiting for this."

One positive thing I am happy to report is that after two years, I have re-established communication with Rob Craig. Amidst our "catching up" I had mentioned that ESR was now doing screenings. I came home from the drive-in screening and saw this e-mail in my inbox (reprinted with permission), and laughed like hell....


I am surprised you can draw ANYBODY to a public
showing of an old, obscure film, what with everybody
being brain-dead shitheads who hate everything old and
have the attention span of newts... I say Bravo to
you! We couldn't even keep a revival movie theatre
going in New Haven, home of Yale and the friggin' Art
Gallery and supposedly the creative center of New
England! What a joke people are!


God bless him.



Good stuff. It is important to 'vent' -- perhaps 'purge' is a better and less bitter word -- once in a while, especially after riding through a succession of disappointments. These screenings are terrific, ladies and gentlement, so turn off the brain-sucking, or at least, motivation-sucking television and attend some. (The location is very convenient, if you live in Toronto, as it is just a short walk from the 'Osgoode' subway station, right downtown.) I too am pretty busy, but have still managed to show up... I was not let down. By the way, that is a pointed comment from "Rob".

Keep up the good work. With the thousands of movie fans in this great city, at least half a dozen people will show up.

Greg Woods said...

Ooops- you just help me realize something. I was having trouble posting this blog last night, and I just noticed the second to last paragraph was missing from the paste. It's back, and hopefully the end makes more sense.


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