Jul 20, 2011

Off Beat Cinema Presents.... The Beach Girls and The Monster

"What I give form to in daylight is only one per cent of what I have seen in darkness."
-- M.C. Escher

ABOVE: hosts of Off Beat Cinema (l-r): Bird, Zelda and Maxwell Truth
This past Saturday night, according to the handy online Zap2It listing, WKBW's broadcast of the long-running late-night movie show "Off Beat Cinema" was supposed to be showing Blacula.  On Sunday morning, I checked the VCR in the hopes that what indeed aired was that film, as OBC's episode of it likely dated from the late 1990s, when their format was a lot different from now. Despite that our friendly beatnik hosts, Maxwell Truth Zelda and Bird, those hepcats from the Hungry Ear Cafe who have been showing us way gone B movies late at night for (gasp!) nearly 20 years now, have pretty much found a comfortable pattern in recent times, it is a treat to be able to sometimes see their shows from the early years, as the format was perhaps more loose and freewheeling than now.  Instead, what I got was the beatniks introducing the 1965 horror flick The Beach Girls and The Monster. This, however, was a joyful surprise.

I won't get into a review of the film itself right now (as I'm planning to elaborate more about it in a future project), but suffice to say it is one of the most delightful pieces of drive-in junk that I've viewed in many moons.  To paraphrase what Mr. Truth himself said in a telephone interview I conducted with him (for ESR's "Late Night Television" issue way back in 2008), it isn't just about the movie whenever one tunes into their show.   The film is just part of the whole package.  By all means, one can tune into OBC to watch Attack of the Giant Leeches, but the show also exists on a deeper level.  Off Beat Cinema is one of the few existing bastions to carry on that almost folklorish tradition of the late night movie.

Although the late late show was a way for TV stations to fill the midnight-to-dawn slot with inexpensive programming (paid for by low-budget commercials) since so few were watching anyway, it however spoke to those people who were displaced from the regular 9 to 5 routine, and for that matter those who were displaced from whatever mainstream pop culture currently feeds everyone else.  While the majority of the world slept, these people would seek solace in the retroactive programming of old movies and television shows, which, if they were likely, would also be hosted by someone who was sharing the experience with them at the other end of the transmission.  The late late movie would keep the past alive for generations new and old, but this nostalgic look at history also offered a surrogate companionship and shared feeling of community among those who upheld it.

However, as we know, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when independent stations began to merge into faceless conglomerates, programmers decided they could be even cheaper by showing the same infomercials night after night instead.  Thus, Off Beat Cinema's birth in 1993 was a welcome relief: correctly touting itself as a revolt against the ads for spray-on hair, one could be reminded every week what it was like in the good old days, as this espresso-drinking trio endeared us fellow nocturnes with their choice programming from yesteryear, enforcing why it was so much fun to stay up late.  And every so often, OBC produces an episode like the other night's airing of The Beach Girls and the Monster.

This instalment (originally produced in 2008) crystallizes everything that one holds dear in the late late movie experience.  While the main attraction was a movie which delivered a non-stop parade of fun, the program also featured vintage movie trailers (Flight to Mars; Invaders From Mars), and even an interview with former "Beach Party" movie star Frankie Avalon(!).  It was a bang-on, non-stop collection of memories, served by our affable hosts who have now become surrogate friends who preach to the converted.

This enjoyable experience also gives one pause to sorrow, as the younger generation, so weened on instant downloads and on-demand programming, has no idea what it was like to stay up in the middle of the night in pre-VCR days.  Granted, accessibility to entertainment, new or old, has never been more easy, but in the bargain we've lost the mystery and anticipation of discovery, and in some ways we've lost that sense of community which is a little less artificial than what "social networking" provides.  Saturday's rock-solid presentation of "Off Beat Cinema" reminds us once again why such a piece of pop culture is so essential to preserve.

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