Dec 10, 2007

November Screening: "Emerald Cities"

The final screening of 2007 ended ESR's year not with a bang but a whimper. After the promising attendance at "TV Party", it was my hope and expectation that there would be carry-over to the next month's screening, Emerald Cities... a film I was equally proud to be able to present. But now I know the pattern. These screenings are sine waves-- the highs of "Back to School Special" beget the lows of "Tributary" the following month, ditto "Beatnik Movie Night" begat "Cube Van", "TV Party" sired "Emerald Cities", and so on....

Short of offering cocaine and hookers, I am bereft of ideas as to how to keep a consistent flow of customers from one month to the next. I realize that the diversity of what I show brings about select audiences who may only support one aspect of my programming, but hey, ESR is eclectic, after all, and I wouldn't be happy showing the same kind of movies every month. What I attempt to do is open people's eyes and ears to the broad spectrum of things- that was why I began publishing in the first place. And as such, very few stick around for the ride every month-- and fewer still, considering many of the regulars I have entertained have since dropped off.

Now, I'm not trying to whine like a poor defenseless one, because I also bear some of the blame for the crappy attendance in November. Since my workload at my day job has literally doubled (although my paycheck sure as fuck hasn't), I've had neither the time nor energy to promote this thing properly. Ditto, I was supposed to had a spot on CKLN to talk about the show, and that didn't happen either. And since I booked the date two months prior, I had no way of knowing that Rue Morgue was showing a Mario Bava movie on 35mm the same night, thus I suspect some of the crowd went there instead-- in fact, had I not had a screening, I'd have been there too. (You must understand that I've been wanting to see -any- Bava film on a big screen for decades, and the one fucking night there is one, I'm already booked.)

Yet even so, it has become even more apparent to me the vicious circle that I'm in. To spend more money on advertising and promotion would supercede whatever small revenue I would get with a packed house (to say nothing for the space rental and licensing fees I already have to dole out). Ditto, it is becoming increasingly harder to sell the print publication, and to broaden my readership via distribution (at consignment prices or less) would only cause me to lose more money. As much as I want to expand from the rinky dink operation I'm forced to toil in, I realize even greater obstacles would await me if I did so.

Which of course begs the question, exactly how much more money am I willing to piss away on such a vanity project? Yes, the old adage is "Do it for the love", but I don't exactly love losing thousands of dollars a year, and what rewards I do receive don't exactly make up for what I'm frittering away. ANYway, the movie....

Rick Schmidt was an influence among my generation that went to film school in the late 1980s. His book "Feature Filmmaking at Used Car Prices" was a revelation. Published just at that right time when Jim Jarmusch and Spike Lee were giving spark to the independent scene, Schmidt showed us that we could do it too. His book is not only inspiring, but it is also down-to-earth and unpretentious about the numerous obstacles that one faces along the way. And yet, still one comes out full of enthusiasm to make an independent movie. (In fact, in my own filmmaking days, I used to read this book cover to cover before beginning any project, to get that feeling again.) Yet, in the past 30 years, Mr. Schmidt has also practiced what he's preached, by making a handful of low-budget features, attaining much creativity out of so little means. This year, he has began making his work available on DVD-- and after reading about his films for so many years (as he would cite examples of his own work within his book), this is truly an honour.

As of this writing, I have seen his 1983 film Emerald Cities three times, and I still keel over in laughter for the first half of the movie, with its brilliant, deadpan satirical humour about a drunk Santa Claus on the path of his runaway daughter. And soon he becomes enveloped in the raging paranoia of 1984, Reaganomics and armageddon. The film shifts into a Bowery-level Godard, a truly apocalyptic "Weekend" for the 80s. The sense of chaos is further exemplified by the punk bands Flipper and The Mutants performing throughout, and how it gleefully kicks down the fourth wall of narrative. Seeing this a quarter of a century later, one forgets how much we felt that the world was going to end at any minute, in the midst of the Nuclear Arms Race. And in the current "dark ages", one hopes for a similar film for our decade.

In case you missed the screening (and all but six did), you can purchase the film at Rick Schmidt's website here.

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