Jan 10, 2009

ESR Meets The Hepcats at Off Beat Cinema

(l-r): Bird, Maxwell, Zelda, The G-Man

In the early fall, I had a telephone interview with Eddy Dobosiewicz, otherwise known as "Maxwell Truth", the front man of the long-running late-night movie show, Off Beat Cinema, whose good vibes are transmitted from Buffalo's ABC affiliate at WKBW-TV. I had long been a fan of the show, which airs in our area Saturday night (or if you like, Sunday morning) at 2 AM. Each week, the hip beatniks named Maxwell Truth, Bird (Tony Billoni) and Zelda (Connie McEwen) introduce some way gone flick from their humble hang out The Hungry Ear Cafe, peppered with enough hip talk ("It's a mad pad, Dad") to keep an aging hepcat like me in vogue. While perhaps they're best known for showing such B-movie classics as Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster and House on Haunted Hill, the show also presents bona fide arthouse films like Breathless or The Third Man. But you don't just watch Off Beat Cinema to see a movie-- the discerning insomniac gets a whole package, including musical guests, comedy bits, trailers and shorts. Even their commercials (from regular sponsors like Curly's Bar and Grill) have a "beat" sensibility that reflects the show's ambiance.

Since its debut in 1993, Off Beat Cinema has grown from an amusing curiosity into an institution, since it has been picked up in other markets in the United States. Its arrival couldn't have been more timely, as the late-night airwaves were inundated with infomercials and chat line ads. It has become the last bastion of the "late night movie" experience, those fabled times of yore, when there was a movie on after hours instead of generic plugs for salad spinners, usually introduced by a local celebrity or TV station personality. These shows became a night light and a veritable companion for the lonely souls who were still awake. It is a delight to see OBC still going strong after fifteen years. It has become a tradition in my house- many Saturday nights would have me coming home in the wee hours, and then hitting the remote to see "what's on the beatnik movie"- and now it likely has a new generation of followers who probably weren't even born when the late show was in abundance!

Having seen OBC grow over the years (from when they used to have Mingus' "Pithecanthropus Erectus" as the theme song before David Kane and Them Jazzbeards gave the show its signature soundtrack), it had long been an ambition of mine to interview someone from the show, and never had I a better reason than for ESR's latest issue, the tribute to Late Night Television. Mr. Truth was a gracious interviewee, and as the conversation neared its close, we felt a kinship as both OBC and ESR were projects that people do secondarily-- the things we do out of love at the end of the day after we do what we must for money. At that moment, Eddy had said "We gotta get you on the show." True to his word, he followed up a couple of days later, with a message saying he was looking into some dates, and before long another message arrived, asking me how Nov. 13 was for me.

That rainy afternoon, Susan and I hopped in a rental car to Buffalo, crossing the border just after 6 PM. Our self-made tour of the city prior to the taping was a delightful contrast from The Big Smoke. It was a haunting experience to drive through the fluorescent-bathed streets in the downtown core of the city nearby the TV station, as there were hardly any people walking around. And during the numerous times we spent a moment too long at a changing traffic light to figure out where we were going, not once did I get an impatient horn honking from behind me. (Try duplicating that moment in Toronto 2.4 seconds after a green light appears.)

Upon arrival at WKBW for the 7:30 taping, the cast and crew couldn't have been any more gracious. Even the director was oddly touched by our arrival, by saying: "You came all the way down from Toronto for this?" The taping itself had lasted two hours in total. The beatniks were taping four or five inserts for their Christmas special which aired December 13. (featuring vintage TV holiday-related episodes of such things as "Ozzie and Harriet", and a long special with Liberace- including an excruciatingly long take where he introduces every one of his band members and relatives who come to his home.) WKBW has two studios- the smallest one is devoted entirely to the news desk. The second one is a huge space which holds about four or five sets, some from what I presume to be morning shows, ad well as the weatherman's screen. For historical purposes, the studio also holds two Promo the Robot costumes from the fabled kids' morning show, "Rocketship 7", and there's even a framed photo of WKBW icon Irv Weinstein ("It's 11 o'clock- do you know where your children are?") from "Dialing For Dollars." And then, in the corner, is the homey Offbeat Cinema set, which actually appears larger on television. (Hey, so does my waistline.)

The almighty Irv.

The beatniks had done three segments on their own. When they were preparing, Bird borrowed one of the Santa Claus hats I brought (and wore it throughout the show), and Maxwell asked: "Where did THAT come from?" I responded: "Toronto". And then they had me on to do the interview, talking about the publication and about the late night viewing experience, which of course pertained to the new issue. The interview was shot twice. They had used the second take for broadcast, as I presume there was more coverage and better blocking, but in truth the first take was better, more alive, with overlapping dialogue and more spontaneous. In the second take, the questions and answers were the same albeit without the off-the-cuff feel of the first, which actually befits the milieu. Upon seeing the interview the night of the broadcast, I was disappointed that they didn't put my website address onscreen during the talk despite having had me write it down for them later, but I conceded that I didn't appear that terrible on camera despite that I was shot in profile (my worst camera side).

And finally, for the end of the show, I did a bit where I have my Santa Claus hat on, and dole out presents for the beatniks. I had given each one of them copies of "The Roger Corman Scrapbook", since Corman figured so prominently on the show over the years. (In the master shot, you'll briefly see Susan reading.) They had yours truly signing off with their archetypal phrase "Keep Watching The Skies", and then we wrapped.

After we finished the coffee and packed up, Maxwell invited us to see some music with them, and had I planned to stay over in Buffalo that night, I would gladly have done so. We left Buffalo, taking a bit of the show with us, and I don't simply mean the complimentary mugs, T-shirts and DVDs. It was also the feeling of having developed a kinship, as even the technicians responded to how ESR mirrors what OBC means for them-- something you do for love on the side. I have a feeling that, to paraphrase a familiar movie line, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. In fifteen years, Offbeat Cinema has become somewhat of an institution that I hope reigns for years to come, and I would be remiss if I didn't extend our thanks to the cast and crew for allowing us to sharing a piece of it.

Yours truly and Promo The Robot from Rocketship 7.

1 comment:

katie said...

Wow! You're so lucky you got to be on Off Beat Cinema!

I definitely hear you with the "something you do for love on the side." My love of strange movies and zine couldn't be any further than what I do for a living, but if I ever won the lottery (not that I play. Maybe I should?), I'd fully devote my life to watching strange movies and spreading the word about them.

Also, I met the robots from Rocketship 7 at the Toy Museum in East Aurora.....but that's obviously not as cool as getting to meet Bird, Maxwell and Zelda!