Scene report: Sci Fi Movie Marathon 2020
Let the record state that I'm writing this on Monday February 17 at 5:58pm, I just woke up after sleeping since 2pm after being up more or less since 5am Sunday at the 24 hour Sci Fi movie marathon ("the Thon"). I just ate some miso soup, I'm drinking coffee. Forgive me if I'm especially loopy today.
- Frain showed up at my house at 6am to drive me and Mori to Boston. The Thon starts at noon, but the doors open between 10 and 11, and we like to get their early to get good seats.
- The Thon has a highly developed line culture, with people showing up as early as the day before. What's interesting about the line is that everyone's lining up for a slightly different thing, with very little competition. Generally speaking anyone in line early has a spot that they like to sit in, which isn't a spot that anyone else wants or is trying to get. The woman behind us got in line around 7 and wanted to get her preferred seat somewhere in the middle of the second-to-last row. She couldn't believe that anyone would want to sit in the front row, which is where me and my crew sit. Generally speaking people get in line early to prolong the challenge, camaraderie, and spirit of the marathon. My favorite line guy is this wild dude that doesn't sit down the entire time, just stands in the back for every movie. He gets in line at 5am and then doesn't even get a seat!
- Doors opened at around 10:30 and we filed in and got our seats squared away. I got my preferred seat, in the middle of the second row, behind Dan Wars and in between Sakiko and Dirty Doug. This year marked the 10th anniversary of our crew, the Dick Miller Fan Club. I made buttons featuring beloved character actor Dick Miller, and passed them out to the crew, which I think was 20 people this year. Jesse Wonderful joined the crew this year, I hope he had a good time and comes back next year. Tumblecat couldn't make it this year, he was greatly missed. Next year, Tumblecat!
- The first movie of the Thon starts at noon each year but around 11 they start with an "in memorium" section, a slide show with video clips celebrating movie people with a connection to Sci Fi who passed away this year. You only need 1 science fiction credit to make the cut- Rip Torn made it this year via "Men In Black". When it's someone you especially like you clap extra hard. For the most part it's pretty reverant-- I can't think of anyone really getting booed, except for when Harlan Ellison died, and to be honest I can't tell you how many people were even booing, because I was being really loud.
- 12:00pm Miracle Mile (1989) - a great 80s nuclear paranoia movie starring Anthony Edwards, the cutest nerd from Revenge of the Nerds, sort of an apocalyptic version of After Hours. Denise "Tasha Yar" Crosby co-stars along with a long list of character actors. Soundtrack by Tangerine Dream
- 1:50pm Fiend Without A Face (1958) - fun 50s movie about an invisible killer that ramps up to a suprisingly gory conclusion, when the killer becomes visible in the form of hundreds of pale floating brains with whip-like tentacles. I imagine a 1958 audience of mostly children screamed and screamed in absolute delight when each of these brains gushes strawberry jam and cottage cheese when hit by an ax. In 2020 I also screamed and screamed with delight.
- 3:25pm Spaceballs (1987) - "Mel Brooks Star Wars riff" should tell you all you need to know, for good or ill. Mel Brooks breaks the fourth wall exactly the perfect amount, that's maybe his greatest finesse. Released the same year as David Lynch's "the Elephant Man", which was also produced by Mel Brooks.*
* update 2020/04/29 - eagle-eyed reader Mike Benedetti points out that Elephant Man was released in 1980. I'm gonna chalk up the gaff to sleep deprivation. :)
- 5:10pm Mysterious Island (1961) - great Ray Harryhausen movie. set for almost no reason during the time of the American Civil War. I think setting a special effects movie in a different time period really eases you into believing a fantastic scenario. Anyway I loved it. Magnificent Herbert Lom plays Captain Nemo. Score by Bernard Herrman.
- Following the movie there was a Q+A with Harryhausen's daughter, Vanessa, which was great.
- 7:15pm Dr Jeckyll & Mr Hyde (1920) - silent version, with John Barrymore. Lot of magnificent leering. For the past couple years of the Thon there's been a silent movie with live accompaniment, and the guy that does the accompaniment, Jeff Rapsis, is incredible. It took me a little bit to figure out how he does it but I think he programs a keyboard to play different sounds depending on how hard he hits the keys- if he just barely touches it the sound is a soft violin, if he slams it there's a tympani, and inbetween there's a celeste, an orch hit, and I don't know what else. An elegant set up and the dude slays. Standing ovation.
- Even tho I love the keyboard guy I went out and got a burrito in the first part of Jeckyll and Hyde. I always get suckered into paying more by not realizing that guacamole is $1.25 extra. Why is guacamole the only ingredient like this?? It makes no sense. I stopped going to this one place near the theatre because they do that, and the new place, they do it to. The new place also has that modern city restaurant look where every surface is covered by a tiled photograph of a weather-beaten surface. It's like being in a video game, futuristic by virtue of being an over-approximation of the past.
- 9:15pm Altered States (1980) - I never liked William Hurt because of the way his dull character treats Geena Davis' manic pixie character in Accidental Tourist, and this movie presents a much sharper edge to that narcissism, or maybe an active narcissism vs a passive one, the sharp part of the knife vs the flat part. That said, the movie is bonkers and I really enjoyed it. Ken Russell directs. Loosely based on the life of psychonaut John Lilly, who told OMNI Magazine that this movie "did a good job". The main character wakes up nude in a zoo, that's a great bit. American Werewolf In London, Cat People, are there other movies that do this? ISO zoo nudes
- 11:10pm The Fly (1986) - Great movie with lots of extremely gross parts, including a sequence where the titular fly pukes acid on a yuppie scumbag's clenched fist, dissoving it into wax. Geena Davis co-stars, with cameo by Cronenberg as the doctor in a dream sequence. Extremely good (if you like body horror) and like all good movies (Sakiko's theory) it has a feeling of lightness throughout.
- 12:55am Midnight Special (2016) - messianic kid / family on the run storyline that goes totally nowhere. The big reveal is that there's a race of angel beings living in a reality layer superimposed on Earth, and that they did what we could not-- realize utopic 1960s architecture where walkways and greenspace connect multipurpose buildings that respond intelligently to weather conditions. Nothing else about these angels is revealed or inferred and no one in the movie has any sort of character whatsoever.
- 3:00am Seconds (1966) - OK, I fell asleep a little bit for this one but it's about being a fucking baby and instead of trying to change your life in a way in keeping with your interests and desires you pay a God-like service to fake your death, surgically transform you into Rock Hudson, and set you up with a new life as a swinging bachelor, a life which sucks because you've been given a fish, rather than taught to fish. I should hope that anyone watching this would come away with the twin revelations of don't fake your death and don't be a baby. The camera swings around all the time and zooms in a little too much, sort of a drunken master feeling. I liked it.
- As I'm watching these movies, I'm separating them into "Jeanne likes this" and "Jeanne hates this", based on this absurd preference that Jeanne has for opening movie credits that stand alone as a sort of overture before any action takes place. Any movie where the credits roll over dialogue, Jeanne hates that. Seconds had a cool credit sequence by legendary graphic designer and credits artiste Saul Bass, we all liked it. As with last year's Thon, Jeanne was over-scheduled and had to leave the theatre for 2 or 3 movies for a wrestling promotion she was booked for. I assume she won but didn't ask.
- 5:00am Die Monster Die! (1965) - Boris Karloff adaptation of Lovecraft's "Colour Out Of Space" that I dipped in and out of consciousness for.
- 6:30am Tarantula (1955) - John Agar movie which I wilfully slept through because something had to give. Namechecked in the Rocky Horror theme song, so I feel like I have to see it at some point.
- 8:00am Fast Color (2018) - in a movie where someone has a special power, there's an unexamined moment where you have to decide "how serious is this in this world". Like how in Superman world he can fly but life goes on, but in our world we go bananas when someone can improve a record by like .00000001%. Anyway this movie was great because the main characters have what they describe as "a parlour trick" that later they realize is actually mega huge. Like a lot of independent sci fi movies, this takes place largely on a bleak road or midwestern ranch-style home, somewhere you can film for free without seeing other signs or structures that would mess up your shot. I thought it was good.
- 10:15am Soylent Green (1973) - Charleton Heston sci fi movie, which, like Planet of the Apes (1968) hangs a satisfying weight on a Twilight Zone style late reveal, and which unfortunately is yelled by Charleton Heston in a way that's fun to imitate, preventing anyone from ever seeing this movie without knowing the end. That said, I had never seen this before, there were some cool parts, some parts that were a huge bummer. I'm sure not everyone had this takeaway but it was one of those dystopian movies that made me really want to go out and enjoy the natural world and also treat people with respect and dignity. I left the theatre recommitted to investing in a future that doesn't grind people up and coerce others to literally ingest them. This movie is set in 2022, and this makes me feel crazy to admit but the thing about the storyline that came true the least is that the US adopted the metric system.
- The big theme this year was what I would call "the interior Other"- Fiend Without A Face, Jeckyll & Hyde, Altered States, the Fly, and Seconds all presented movies where an identity layer gets peeled back to ostensibly reveal a more primeval self, which is still just baggage. My favorite moment in all of these was at the end of Altered States when William Hurt was talking to his long-suffering wife in minor apologia and said that he had been seeking an ultimate truth but now he feels like there is no ultimate truth, and a woman in the back of the crowd shouted in true frustration "YEAH, NO SHIT".
- Other echoes in the sequence:
- two movies produced by Mel Brooks (the Fly and Spaceballs)
- two John Agar movies (Miracle Mile and Tarantula)
- two Massive tarantula sequences (Tarantula and Dr Jeckyll & Mr Hyde)
- two Dick Van Patten movies (Spaceballs and Soylent Green)
- two Barrymores (John in Jeckyll & Hyde, and Drew, who made her debut in Altered States)
- Spending a long time just watching things and not interacting with things really messes with your mind, and by a few movies in people are talking back to the movie a lot more. Mystery Science Theatre and the aforementioned Rocky Horror Picture Show normalized this sort of behavior for science fiction movies, and sometimes, when you have a good crew, it's good. This year there were a lot of people just saying what's on their mind in the most basic cliche way. I think usually that's the sort of thing that drives me nuts, this time I just got to thinking that you really do need to resist psychic death. I'd rather have someone treat a text critically than just marinate in it.
- The Thon has been going for 45 years now and some in-jokes pervade. There are some that I don't know the origins of, like when someone's name is "Mark" and everyone goes "Mark???? Mark????" like they're looking for their friend Mark somewhere in the theatre. Some I do know, like yelling "Close the door!" which was a recurring line in "First Men In The Moon" (1964), which showed at the Thon back in 2014. I would call "Mark" a benevolent riff because it's both cute and rare, and "door" a malevolent riff because it's common and you say it in an angry way and also it makes you realize how no one in a movie ever closes a damn door, they just leave it open after they waltz right in, it's infuriating. Maybe another way to define benevolent vs malevolent riffs is that a benevolent riff activates a situation, whereas a malevolent riff reminds you that you had fun once, overwriting the present with the past. Other benevolent riffs include clapping along to each punch in a fight (for slugfests only), clapping exactly once for each name visible on screen during the credits, counting down with any countdown, and hissing at creeps.