Walter Mencken 11 a.m., Aug. 29
Midnight Movies: A Local History, Part 1 - the '80s
MIDNIGHT MOVIES, A LOCAL HISTORY: The '80s Part 1
July 29, 1983,
The Rocky Horror Picture debuted as a midnight movie at OB’s Strand Theater in 1977 – soon enough, devotional fans were showing up night after night to shout over the dialogue and wing wacky props at each other’s heads, some even dressing up as characters from the movie and miming scenes in front of the screen.
Calling themselves “castmembers,” these folks apparently liked to photograph themselves a lot, judging from this online scrapbook put together by a longtime castmember from the film’s 10-year run (beginning 1984) at the Ken Theater. http://www.rassoodock.com/rocky/reunion.html
Former local Michael Reed, who runs Deep Shag Records, was one of those Rocky Horror cast members. Reed spearheaded a cast reunion at the Ken awhile back, and the aforementioned (and aforelinked) website has an area devoted to chronicling those years of “shadowcasting” (ie miming screen performances).
“I was still in junior high in the early ‘80s and didn't join up with Rocky Horror until I was about 15 or 16,” says Reed. His scrapbook includes plenty of photos of men in lingerie, women with rayguns, tuxedoed Transylvanians, and balding hunchbacks.
Also onsite is updated biographical information about “found people,” longlost castmembers who probably stopped pelvic-thrusting years ago, other than maybe for childbirth or closing the car door with an armload of groceries.
The Ken Cinema also hosted the world’s first known shadowcast of the cult movie classic Phantom of the Paradise.
On July 29th, 1983, the Paul Williams rock musical played on a double bill with the Rocky Horror semi-sequel Shock Treatment. Later the same night at midnight, Rocky Horror screened, for quite a few of the same people who’d come for the earlier double feature ----
I saw this screening shortly after I moved to a place near the theater. There were people dressed as characters from both films, miming in front of the screen - I've always been under the impression several or most of them were also Rocky Horror "cast" members, as I recognized a few from the midnight shows.
There were more of them during Shock than Phantom, and there was more choreography for Shock, but their attempts to start audience chant-alongs were pitiful, as they seemed to be the only people there who'd seen the film (such as it was).
The Phantom phans had some good costuming but I think they only stood up and mimed during the musical numbers. I wish I could remember if their Phoenix did the Chicken Dance, but I wasn't paying much attention to them - the word that comes to mind is "halfhearted," that's what the performances seemed to be. They weren't getting cheered or accompanied, so they just kind of awkwardly stood up once in awhile, acted odd, and either sat back down or wandered off. A few great costumes tho –
My most distinct memory of the evening is when my date and I first walked past the ticket booth and into the theater. We hadn't even got past the snack bar yet, and a guy dressed as Winslow/Phantom came swooping down the velvet trim staircase, leaping over the rail and making a spectacular entrance to oohs and ahhs, and then running off into the theater all squirrelly, as if being pursued.
I remember my date and I said "Whoa, this could be pretty cool!" But, inside the screening room, it never again hit that high, at least for the two of us -----
("Real Phantom to the left of me, phake Phantom to the right....")
One of the newpapers had an ad for this screening that read "Come dressed as your favorite character" or something akin - big Rocky fans, that's what got our interest. We had a bunch of weeklies that would have been running display ads, which were a lot more detailed than the Ken’s monthly flyer, with the entire month schedule.
How do I KNOW the Ken screening was probably the world’s first Phantom shadowcast? Because that’s what I’m told by Ari, the ultimate Phantom of the Paradise fan, expert, archivist, and convention promoter ----
Ari runs a Phantom website, swanarchives.org, with an amazing collection of material including long-lost outtakes. “What you witnessed,” he emails me, “may well have been the first - and possibly only - instance of anyone shadowcasting this particular film prior to last year , when it was ill-advisedly done at a Rocky Horror convention of some kind, by people who -- apparently mistakenly -- believed themselves to have been the first to ruin the Phantom experience for onlookers in this manner.”
Ari is the first person to make me aware of the term “shadowcast.” “I didn't invent the term, though I may be responsible for (mis)using it as a verb. I think the Rocky Horror people describe their casts as ‘shadow casts,’ and I appreciate the double meaning there, that they cast shadows on the screen, as they shadow the movements of the authentic cast. It seems like a pretty good term to me.”
“In my experience,” says Ari, “while people often went to Phantom screenings in costume, Phantom shadowcasting Was Not Done. It makes sense, to a degree, for Rocky: They're going to the same film week after week, everybody there has seen it a hundred times, and you're not going to miss anything you haven't seen before if a bunch of narcissists are clomping around on the stage in their mothers' underwear blocking your view of the screen. But Phantom is shown theatrically so rarely - and, historically was shown so rarely - that I think people who went actually wanted to see the movie, and would've been upset at the interference from the shadowcasters. I know I would…it seems rude, self-involved, and disrespectful to me, as well as alarmingly similar to mime.”
(Original poster art by comic book star Neal Adams and final version by Richard Corben, courtesy http://www.swanarchives.org)
While theatrical screenings of Phantom are quite rare, this wasn’t always the case in San Diego. In fact, our city may well be the biggest hotbed of Phantom Phandom outside of Winnipeg, Canada (where the movie somewhat mysteriously sold out theaters for months, much later prompting the cast to attend Phan conventions there).
Phantom of the Paradise made its theatrical premiere on Halloween, 1974. One full year later, on 10-31-75, an ad in the San Diego Union shows that Phantom, with the Legend of Hell House, was playing at downtown’s Balboa Theater, at the Vogue, at the Village, AND at the Clairemont Theater, as well as at no less than three area drive-ins: the Campus, the Harbor, and the Pacific! (ad courtesy http://www.myspace.com/sandiegocinerama)
“I'm amazed that it was playing simultaneously at so many theaters in one town!,” says Ari. “We did the Phantompalooza conventions in Winnipeg, but it sounds like maybe we should have chosen San Diego.”
When Ari and a few other folks put on the Phantompalooza events several years back, the second event was the first time the entire surviving cast had reunited.
“We screened the film; Paul Williams and his band put on a concert and played a bunch of the songs from Phantom (as well as others from Paul's catalog); Jessica Harper, backed by Paul's band, sang Old Souls; the Juicy Fruits (who had to re-learn their choreography the night before) sang their three songs backed by a live band; and Gerrit Graham performed Life at Last (which in the film had been dubbed by a guy named Ray Kennedy). We also had the world premiere of the Paradise Regained featurette, from the French special edition Phantom DVD, introduced by its director.”
“It was a blast! We had almost 2,000 in attendance, from all over the world, and the cast was flabbergasted to see that this work they had done 30 odd years ago, which they had thought was forgotten, has been held dear by so many for so long. It turns out that staging the event was the easy part. Much tougher was convincing the cast that we were for real, and not a bunch of nutcases who wanted them to fly to the middle of nowhere in Canada, and that they wouldn't be embarrassed to attend.”
“The most gratifying aspect of the whole thing is that the various cast members, who hadn't seen each other for about 35 years, got to hang out together for a few days, and renewed their friendships. They're now part of one another's lives on a regular basis; some are working on projects together, they're showing up at one another's (second or third!) weddings, socializing together, etc. It’s been very nice to watch, and feel in a small way a part of.”
"And it's slick as snot to be on a first name basis with all the icons of your childhood, too; can't forget that!”
There were three separate Phantompaloozas, each a year apart. “The first had Bill Finley (the Phantom) and Gerrit Graham (Beef),” says Ari. “The second had the entire cast; and the last, which was really intended just for locals, was essentially the DVD release party for the DVD-set.”
Recently added to the Swan Archives are bits of exclusive long-lost footage from the film, never before seen by anyone, including deleted footage that had to be removed because of Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song threatening to sue over the movie’s villain Swan using the same name.
Amazing stuff - you can find it here:
Here's the original movie trailer for Phantom - if you haven't seen this Brian DePalma film, the trailer sums it up far better than any review ever could.
This fan-made trailer is longer and features more great music, as well as Rod Serling-style narration:
Finally, here's Jessica "Phoenix" Harper at Phantompalooza, singing "Old Souls" - man, I fall in love with Jessica all over again every single time I hear this:
WHERE ARE THE LOCAL LINKIN PARK FANS????
And why are they such a-holes?On the third Monday of every month, International Linkin Park Meetup Day is held for fans to get-together “in up to 600+ cities”, according to linkinpark.meetup.com. I decided to check the website and see if band fans were planning a meetup in San Diego this month, hoping to crash and report. On the homepage, I found that 1,099 Linkin Park fans have signed up to swap information about fan meetups worldwide. Of 100 cities listed with members, the U.S. city with the most members is Chicago at #6 (24 fans). Singapore is at #2 with 70 registered fans. At #1 is Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia, a hitherto unsuspected hotbed of Linkin lovers with a whopping 217 members. San Diego is ranked #25, with seven fans subscribed. It was ranked #31 but I became the seventh member, necessary to find out about a local meetup, boosting our city’s ranking up to the same level as Paris, Liverpool and Buenos Aires. Area members have narrowed down a potential meetup location to two places – a coffeeshop near SDSU is pitched as having “large coffee and slice of cake only $4.50”, while a “Local Eatery” on 4th Avenue has “$8 local beer and $6 Bud pitchers.” There’s nothing listed yet to recommend a third possible locale. I find no evidence that a Linkin Park meetup has ever happened in San Diego, and nobody has agreed to an upcoming date at any the proposed locales yet. Reading the message board, it appears local members are unenthused about actually meeting up, aside from an unspecific bulletin board post from bdority saying “Lookin to hook up” (no reply was posted). So I posted a message asking the group “Has anyone on this list ever had a meetup in San Diego? If not, I'm curious - why did you sign up for linkinpark.meetup.com if not to meetup?” Local Linkin Park fans would seem to be as thin-skinned as they are anti-social and lethargic. Within 24 hours of my post, I received an email telling me my membership to linkinpark.meetup.com had been suspended, due to “membership complaints about flaming posts and inciting antagonism.” Jezz, I was just askin’. ******************************************** THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD Recently, I was online looking up property values, with an eye toward maybe buying instead of always renting. Then, since I don't know much about this stuff, I decided to look up some of the properties my folks used to own, places we lived while I grew up. Cuz I knew what my folks paid and when they paid it, it was a chance to see how much property values had increased, in how many years, etc. It was kinda spooky to bring up info on the house on Durham Road where I lived from third grade through junior high. I recently wrote a story where I mentioned how this place still kinda haunts me - it's where a lot of the worst things in my life happened, the things that still keep me from being the person I feel I would have been - should have been – were it not for certain soulless people. It turns out someone bought the house in 1990, but they only lived there about two years before moving out. They didn't put the house up for sale, they pretty much just disappeared and abandoned it. Nobody has lived there since: the grass grew into a forest, shingles fell off, paint peeled, and the place pretty much seems to have become the neighborhood haunted house! Even though it's a suburban neighborhood, it's so obviously abandoned that homeless people regularly break in and squat in there. This conjures up the strangest images and emotions in me, winos taking a dump right there in the corner of my childhood bedroom. The city came in this year and legally took over - even if the original owners show up now, they're outta luck. The city put in alarms to keep out intruders, pulled out the ruined carpets, mowed the lawn forest, and that's about it. They haven't even gotten around to putting it up for auction yet, and the most current pictures posted online still make it look about as haunted as my memories of the place. Man, I was weirding out. Impulsively, I decided to put in a bid fer the place. I told friends straight up that, if I get the land, I plan to knock the house down right away. It would cost far too much to bring up to code now, and it'd cost half that to build a new duplex - and the duplex would rent to two families. As long as I could keep renters living there, and find a property manager to do the basic upkeep and collect the rent on the cheap, seemed like an almost surefire moneymaker. I’ve never even invested in a washing machine, let alone property, so this was all pretty new to me. But I was on a roll and not about to slow down. I called the city to ask about whether it would be possible to take the house down with a collapse explosion or a controlled burn (no way). I was actually looking up guys who work with dynamite and not even thinking about any of the whys behind me being suddenly obsessed with, well, blowing up my old family home. Luckily, my brain really does function some of the time, so I began to realize just how obsessive I was getting. I've always felt burned over the way my life turned so dark during those years - and here I was wanting to punish the house! I've decided this is unhealthy to pursue. Eventually, I'd probably find myself on the property and, really, I like not thinking about that house and those years too often. It was actually a cozy pad and, well, the house doesn't deserve punishment. It's been busted up a bunch and abandoned, just like I once was, and maybe someone will still be able to come along and fix it up, give it a little propping-up and make it cool ‘nuff once again. Someone who cares about it, someone who sees what's really in there and wants to help bring it back into the light. We could all use just such a someone… ************************************************* THE MIDNIGHT RAMBLER - LIFE BETWEEN DEADLINES It’s been going on for around six months now. Maybe longer. Nearly every single night, at around 2AM, someone skateboards slowly past my house, always to the tune of an external music player (IE no ‘phones). I live in a quiet, residential neighborhood, so at that hour the sound of a skateboard rattling along the sidewalk, and the attendant music, is pretty substantial. The aggressive nature of this nightly act (his own ears can’t be inured to the racket) makes me assume the skater is a guy. I imagine that most of my neighbors are asleep at 2AM and don’t really hear the Midnight Rambler (as I’ve taken to calling him). I’m rarely pulling the sheets up around my ears at 2AM – more often than not, I’m still chained to my drawing board or desk, hoping to make some twelfth hour work deadline. When the Rambler approaches, it sounds like a jet coming toward my house. I hear the volume increasing for a full thirty seconds before he passes my window (which is fairly close to the sidewalk, and usually open). This is when I can just about make out the music coming from his stereo, though I can’t always recognize the tune. It’s faint and I have to strain my ears. He's usually rolling along to seventies classic rock. I often wonder whether it’s a tape or the radio, and why he doesn’t wear headphones (I know, it’s not safe to cycle or skate with ‘phones, but it is 2AM after all). I find myself listening for the song each night, like a daily trivia challenge, congratulating myself when I can pin it down and getting frustrated when I can’t. Then the Rambler trails off for thirty seconds or so into the distance, going to and coming from gawd knows where. It takes a few months before it occurs to me that I should get up and look out the window, or stand in the front doorway sometime as he passes. Maybe I can figure out just who this guy is, see what he looks like, discover what he’s up to and where he’s going at this ungawdly hour. However, for some reason, I find myself reluctant to pull the mask off the Midnight Rambler. Maybe I SHOULD throw open my front door some night. And then just STAND there. Maybe, if I look at him, and he looks at me, it’ll occur to him that he’s actually skating in and out of people’s lives here. Every times he rumbles down the sidewalk at 2AM, like a one-man locomotive, he’s punctuating the chapters of my evening, no less than if he were the tone of a book-on-tape telling me to turn over the cassette, or the blaring static of the TV when the last DVD shuts off. I should try to talk to him. Maybe there’s a story there. Like, maybe he works the late night shift at Roberto’s, and he can’t afford a car, but he has a student loan to pay, and his drug addict sister kicked him out of the motel where they were staying and now he’s sleeping on the roof of the Christian Welcome Center…with his skateboard. Everybody’s got a story, right? Tonight, as the concrete thunder came closer and closer, I was seated at my drawing table, the door shut and the shades closed. When I heard the laconic approach of the wheels, I stood up, ready to finally throw open the front door and make first contact with the Midnight Rambler. Then I sat down again. Part of me wants to know more about him, but another part of me doesn’t. You don’t go out and stop a train when it goes by and ask the engineer where he’s come from and where he’s going. You just get used to the routine, to the sound, you grow accustomed to the ground rumbling you out of complacency each and every night, on schedule, on into the darkness. It becomes the aural backdrop to your life, the soundtrack of your day, wallpaper for the ears. It just IS - a force, a fixture, like the sound of the train whistle, the clickity clack on the tracks or, in this case, the sound of the music player and the clickity clack of wheels on concrete. I strain my ears...yep, sounds like Blue Oyster Cult. “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” isn’t it? I think so. Although that riff sounded suspiciously like “Green Grass And High Tides Forever,” the Outlaws. I can’t really say for sure. He’s too far down the sidewalk. The sound - and the Rambler - has faded away, into darkness. My cue to put another day to bed, and to get ready for the next twelfth hour deadline. ************************************************ ************************************************
Like this blog? Here are some related links:
OVERHEARD IN SAN DIEGO - Several years' worth of this comic strip, which debuted in the Reader in 1996: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/overheard-san-diego/
FAMOUS FORMER NEIGHBORS - Over 100 comic strips online, with mini-bios of famous San Diegans: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/famous-former-neighbors/
SAN DIEGO READER MUSIC MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/sandiegoreadermusic
JAY ALLEN SANFORD MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/jayallensanford
More like this:
- When Cult Movies Ruled at Midnight — March 1, 2010
- Tim Curry Rocks, Tower Bar Rebuilt, Love-In Musical, Local Recording Studios, more — March 30, 2009
- New Kids on the Block Versus Revolutionary Comics — Sept. 13, 2007
- Komplete Kiss Komix Kronicles - Local Company's Kiss Comic Books — Sept. 12, 2007
- The Birth of Image Comics - An Illustrated History — Sept. 3, 2007