Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media
Dante's InfernoSEX, FRIES AND VIDEOTAPE: THE VA FILM FEST

Just returned from the 10th Annual Virginia Film Festival. It used to be called the "Virginia Festival of American Film," but I guess they realized that they were sorta limiting themselves. Anyway, it's a four-day blitzkrieg of films from every and all genres with this year's theme being "Caged." Unfortunately, no screenings of CAGED HEAT, REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS, or BARBED WIRE DOLLS, but lots of flicks that dealt with personal and existential states of imprisonment and freedom.

My schedule was pretty tightly packed from the word "go," and I had the added bonus of having an "in". My brother-in-law works at the festival each year, and he was able to get me the inside scoop on show schedules, timing problems, guest speakers, and an easy way to move to the front of the line and get a choice seat near the bulkhead for optimum leg room! Remember, it's now what you know, but who you know, and it wasn't done by me, it was done through me.

Anyway, I arrived on Friday afternoon in time to catch my first flick, 1984's TIGHTROPE. The festival has many things going for it...a) a lineup that's usually pretty great; b) guest speakers that were involved in the flicks being shown; and c) uh, that's about it. On the other hand, they have a myriad of problems, such as: a) the festival almost always falls on "Parents Weekend," which means that there are more folks who have no clue than usual wandering the campus and clogging the roads; b) serious mismanagement as far as timing and scheduleing go...it's apparent that nobody involved with the fest ever worked in a movie theater; c) the supreme fallacy that people from out of town know their way around (my tickets arrived in Pittsburgh with...nothing. Actually, that's not true, I did get a nice little envelope with "Thank You!" scrawled on the outside. No map, no tips, no nothing. I only got a program and schedule because of my sister and the Internet. If I wasn't familiar with the area I would've been supremely screwed! Maybe that can be the theme of next year's festival!)

TIGHTROPE was hosted by screenwriter/director Richard Tuggle, but I missed that 'cause traffic was a mess and I had little or no clue how to get from the parking garage to the theater. I asked a bunch of bewildered student-looking types before I stumbled into a Visitor's Center for the Parents Weekend and got directions from a freshman who gave me a map. She also said I seemed "reasonably intelligent," so her opinion goes RIGHT OUT THE WINDOW!

The flick holds up about as well as I remember from my first viewing back in 1984. Whew! That's 13 years ago gang! Clint Eastwood portrays a New Orleans detective who's just a slight riff on his Dirty Harry character...with mixed results. Unfortunately, the person behind me had noinner monologue and felt the need to spell out all the plot twists (even some made up in his own twisted head) for his companion. Yeesh!

Flick is somewhat hampered by the overwhelming darkness and the fact that Genvieve Bujold looks like a pig. For a moment I thought I'd stumbled into the 1978 INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS! Also, you don't get a real feel for the villain of the piece, so it's hard to work up much interest in the mystery. They would've been better off showing MANHUNTER.

One of the great things about this festival is the fact that they get premieres and "works in progress" to show. Such a flick is HOME FRIES, a comedy from the screenwriter of WILDER NAPALM, who currently writes for X-FILES (but I won't hold that against him). Jake Busey and LukeWilson (who steals the flick with his hang-dog Gary Cooper persona) star as brothers that "accidentally" cause the death of their stepfather. In a series of convoluted twists, Wilson ends up falling for the shake-jockey (played by Drew Barrymore) carrying his stepfather's love-child! Whew!Trust me, it sets up more easily than it sounds. Unfortunately, the flick's wonderful set-up and hilarious first 2/3 are blown to hell by the outlandish, overwrought last act. And that'd not just my opinion...the festival crowd and screenwriter also felt HOME FRIES was bogged down by the over-the-top climax. I give it points for a bunch of funny scenes, plus the interaction between Busey and Wilson and Wilson and Barrymore (a real-life couple at the time of filming).

After the five-hour drive from Pittsburgh the selection of an 11 pm showing of the French farce KING OF HEARTS was probably a bad idea. The 1967 cult flick was much more appreciated by the late night crowd than this jaded gorehound. As WWII (the last good war) winds to a close, SS and Allied troops wage a war of "wits" over a small French town. When a Scottish soldier (Alan Bates) is sent to disarm the SS bomb that will blow the town to smithereens (not to get too technical...Smitherneens is about 10 km to the west), he takes refuge with a group of lunatic asylum escapees that have taken over the deserted town.

So, the point is that war is crazy and that...no, that's about it. Okay, I GET IT. NEXT PLEASE! Unfortunately, I had to sit through nearly two insufferable hours of mincing, camping, and oh yeah, prancing that would embarass the members of Monty Python. Tedious and overrated, but interesting 'cause it also starred Genvieve Bujold (this time as a virginal hooker). Other audience members thought it "delightful," I coulda sworn it was horribly dated.

After a good night's sleep and a hearty, aretry-clogging McDonald's breakfast, I plunged headlong into another long day at the festival.

First up was WACO: RULES OF ENGAGEMENT. It's pretty tough to take events that've been well-reported in the evening news and turn them into an effective, intriguing tale that unravels over the course of two plus hours.

The reported facts of the standoff and siege in Waco, TX are well-known. On February 28, 1993, officers of the US Dept. of ATF attempted to serve a warrant to David Koresh and members of the Branch Davidian Church. With fear -- or malice, depending upon whose version of the day you accept -- the residents exchanged gunfire with ATF officers on the ground and in helicopters (which leads to one of the film's funniest exchanges...a testament to the world of semantics). Several feds were killed and many were wounded, leading to a 51-day standoff between members holed up in the church and its connected buildings and officers of the FBI (who took over in the wake of the botched ATF raid).

WACO follows the story from its roots and bookending confrontations to the Congressional hearings that followed in the halls of Congress via news footage, archival audio and video tapes, and interviews with surviving members of the confrontation. While some of the film's most powerful moments come courtesy of the infrared video taken during the final siege, it's the video and audio of David Koresh that give WACO its most dramatic impact. This isn't a "cult leader", by any stretch of the imagination. Koresh, as shown by the tapes, may be a fanatic for his religious order, but he's far from the Messianic Cult Leader portrayed by both the government and the mainstream media.

I'd be remiss if I failed to mention the flick's most unintentionally funny moment: California Representative Sonny Bono turning a teary-eyed face from the proceedings. You can show me all the charred bodies, government riff-raff, and defense exhibits you want...Sonny Bono just makes me LAUGH! (If you're interested in more details about the flick, you can visit their web site.)

One of the festival highlights, before I even arrived, was sure to be the screening of THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT attended by Flynt and lawyers from both sides of his Supreme Court battle with the Rev. Jerry Falwell. (Unfortunately, I missed the day's earlier panel discussion of the case attended by Flynt AND Falwell.) I'd seen THE PEOPLE upon initial release and thought it funny and interesting, but certainly far from the remarkable tale critics and industry wags held it up to be. Essentially the same holds true after viewing #2, though I was more fond of the pacing and less annoyed by Courtney Love. (Sorry Kurt ol' buddy.) Maybe I just needed some distraction from the hype.

As anticipated, the man in person provided far more memorable moments and laughs than his biopic. Flynt brought forth the fact that he actually appeared before the Supreme Court five years before the climactic battle used in the flick. Though he requested, at that time, to act as his own defense, the judges refused and appointed a defender. Flynt blasted thehigh court as "nine assholes and one token cunt" and was removed from the courtroom. When asked about his relationship with Falwell, Flynt admitted that it was quite cordial and the pair frequently get together. On the other hand, he responded, "he's trying to keep Ellen in the closet and I'm trying to get him to come out."

Unlike the bumbling, barely intelligible students and audience members that questioned him, Flynt closed the proceedings with an eloquent discourse on the price of freedom in a democracy -- well-deserving of the lengthy standing ovation (and chorus of "Happy Birthday") that closed the screening.

Normally a tough act to follow, Michael (ROGER & ME) Moore had little trouble meeting the gauntlet thrown down by the paralyzed HUSTLER publisher. Moore's new flick, THE BIG ONE, continues to rip the lid off corporate America and expose it for the cancer it is.

Framed around his book tour for DOWNSIZE THIS: Random Threats From an Unarmed American, THE BIG ONE is guerilla filmmaking at its best. Moore and Crew take on corporate security guards, bookstore clerks, and even Nike CEO Phil Knight. There are, of course, plenty of light moments as he calls McDonald's "fuckers" for placing "vegetables on my Filet-O-Fish" (I agree with him) and he gets his own media rep detained as a stalker.

Though I may not agree with everything Moore says, his feelings about government and big business hit close to home. An exceptionally funny AND bright documentary, THE BIG ONE deserves all the kudos it'll receive next year (an April release from Miramax is what Moore told the audience). Stick around during the credits for Phil Knight's comment that 14-year-old Indonesians working in factories didn't bother him, as well as the ex-felon who once worked at TWA's prison-based reservation desk!

Moore also scored huge points from this writer by addressing nearly an hour's worth of questions from the audience (many of them incredibly dim-witted) as well as signing books and chatting in the lobby till the cows came home.

Last up on the itinerary was the director's cut of BLADE RUNNER. Granted, I think the theatrical release of this flick is one of the most massively overrated fan-boy flicks ever made. But, with the garish voice-over narration removed, maybe the flick would be more watchable. Um, not really. BR still holds up as a silly exercise in sci-fi wanna-be, though it does advance the idea that Deckerd himself is a replicant.

After that there was nothing to do but hop in the Probe and head home with the new Replacements "best of" blaring on the box!

That's it for this week...


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