The Straight Story – 9 – The Owls Are Not What They Seem

For all readers who were superhumanly patient awaiting my continuation of this retrospective amongst all the bullshit that came up, I offer my sincerest apologies that recent events keep me from making videos, my sincerest apologies that I stunted and stuttered in the return of this project half-cocked, and most of all, my sincerest gratitude in your belief in me to come back to this once I was ready – much like Lynch wouldn’t return to Mulholland Dr. or Twin Peaks until he saw it ready. Let’s get this shit over with.

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The constantly elevating success of Lynch’s projects from Eraserhead catching Mel Brooks’ attention to The Elephant Man garnering him acclaim that had George Lucas and Dino de Laurentiis spoiling him to Dune … Blue Velvet being Lynch’s first Oscar nomination, Lynch was pretty well in the zone and getting more and more offers – amongst them, a biopic for Marilyn Monroe titled Goddess. Lynch was introduced to television writer Mark Frost (whose big hit at the time was a police procedural Hill Street Blues) and in spite of Goddess eventually falling through (as well as a Steve Martin vehicle the two were briefly commissioned to work on), it began the genesis of a partnership that would result in one of the most influential shows in television history.

Now, I make that claim insofar as I don’t actually watch television continuously. As far as I understand, this show wasn’t necessarily a game-changer in format except as much as it is maybe the earliest example of a television work that isn’t a miniseries going out of its way to capture a cinematic softness to its presentation, such would probably be the case when a director such as Lynch takes on the project. It’s probably as notable in these days where now every serialized television series has an emphasis on using mediums and wides and shooting in HD with higher-budgets to make themselves looks like hour-long movies. In the meantime, while Lynch and Frost elaborated on a more heightened manner of soap opera storytelling (with several inputs that are, in the end, unmistakably Lynchian) and delving deeper and deeper into the supernatural out of it, several shows (most notably in the late 00s to early 2010s when the show was really getting to the ebb of its cult attention) such as Veronica MarsThe Killing, and Bates Motel, took a hold onto the idea of a small-town with dark secrets in every character and watching them tangle over each other. And that’s only in television – the ripples this project would make in culture would extend beyond that medium from video games (as early as The Legend of Zelda II: Link’s Awakening and as overt as Alan Wake) to films  (L’il Quinquin being the last in that line to cover that; I am willing to bet money that Twin Peaks has just as much a hand influencing Rian Johnson’s Brick as the works of Dashiell Hammett and Miller’s Crossing) to transcendental meditation exposure.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Back to the development…

On the suggestion of Tony Krantz that Lynch try his hand at television, Lynch and Frost decided to humor him while brainstorming in a coffee shop, of all things, about a small-town Dickensian multiple-lives story, heavily influenced by the novel and subsequent film adaptation of Peyton Place – the tale of scandal in a small mill town – all crafted together to give a vision of America as Lynch himself sees it. And thus they began crafting…

North Dakota! A little expose of the lives of a town living in the North Dakota Plains. Except the lack of forestation brought Lynch and Frost to eventually decide to move the project up to Washington instead, adopting the title Pacific Northwest for the pilot concept, and pitching the concept to ABC at the proper point in the middle of the 1988 WGA strike holding on to the image of a body wrapped in plastic washing up on a shore and the investigation of this murder starting a fuse that would run away from us and leave us in the middle of the inhabitants of this afflicted town, becoming more involved in their lives than the actual murder itself. ABC followed through on ordering a screenplay for a pilot and then a pilot for the 1989 fall season. A couple of hiccups in the middle of the production of the two-hour pilot – namely the departure of ABC President Brandon Stoddard, who greenlit the program in the first place – but with the help of another executive named Robert Iger (who would later go nowhere fast in life… except being currently the CEO and Chairman of The Walt Disney Company) who fought tooth and nail with all other figures in ABC to get this show on the air, the world was finally introduced to the various interesting characters that reside in Twin Peaks, Washington.

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The poor soul found on the beach by Pete Martell (Jack Nance once again) is Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), a particularly enigmatic figure who seems to have had a connection with damn near every person in Twin Peaks one way or another, even beyond being a popular homecoming queen in a small town. An incredibly large portion of the pilot episode is dedicated to watching the grief of the whole town send ripples all around, affecting others in different shocking ways – from her parents (Ray Wise and Zabriskie Grace) to her many lovers (Dana Ashbrook and James Marshall among others, the latter of whom had always been the one thing I could never force myself to like… even when the second season become a lot more engaging). But the first big update on the investigation headed by Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) is that Laura Palmer was not the only victim of whatever ungodly thing occurred. There is a surviving (yet entranced to the point of waking coma) survivor of the rape/murder named Ronette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine) and in her fugue state while walking away from the scene of the crime, she crossed state lines.

Bringing the FBI into the investigation, who sends Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan evolving the inquisitive attitude he adopted in Blue Velvet into a complete personality) into the town, a genial coffee-and-pie loving FBI agent who in tune with spiritual ideas than is regularly orthodox and gets right down to the case before Truman and his fellow officers have a chance to catch up to him. And there in lies how we use Cooper as a surrogate for exploring Twin Peaks and its inhabitants, trailing along with different storylines for different individuals – in truth only using the death of Laura Palmer as a MacGuffin (albeit an incredibly compelling one that kept people talking about the show well into its popularity) to let us sink into the atmosphere of an American town conceptualized unlike any other, right down to the gorgeous landscape photography of all the wilderness that gates Twin Peaks away from the rest of the world in its own magic guided by the dreamy at times, hypnotically jazzy at other times score of Lynch’s reliable composer Angelo Badalamenti with the very best work of his career. The theme song alone, whether encountered as instrumental to the opening credits of the show or encountered with Julee Cruise’s vocals lulling one into a daze, is a miracle of utilizing the barest elements of pop music and transforming it into something that fascinates the listener in nostalgia and familiarity while leaving an undertone that haunts one into a ghostly atmosphere.

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But that’s only the backdrop what makes Twin Peaks such a compulsive watch for so many viewers. Cooper is a pretty good segue into what’s so alluring about the show – within Cooper, we find a leeway to the superficial pleasantness of every other character on the show (although in Cooper’s case and a few others, it’s genuine), the inquisitive tone the show takes on whenever the Laura Palmer case is on the table and especially whenever we catch one of several affairs in the middle of the act, and the more absurd elements of the show that Cooper is somehow more than a little bit game with. Because indeed this is still a Lynch show and while most of the things we encounter in the first season of Twin Peaks comes around full circle, a hell of a lot of it comes from inspiration that Lynch happens to have caught out of thin air. The most famous element of these being the conception of Killer BOB (Frank Silva), the demonic entity that we identify early on as the entity that possessed the person who raped and killed Palmer, even if we don’t yet have the identity of the physical being. Silva was a happy accident in the film, who started out on the show as a set dresser (he had also worked on the crew of Dune), but accidentally trapped himself in a manner that allowed the camera to catch him during one of the takes. Later on, Silva was also caught in the reflection of a mirror in another shot and Lynch – using both shots in the final product of the show – decided this would lead to Silva being cast as the conscious killer of Laura Palmer.

What’s even scarier is how well Silva plays pure evil for someone who had no previous experience of acting. Silva just lets himself go into darker grinning places of malice without tossing himself into the camp levels of loudness that a lot of the other actors on Twin Peaks indulge in. But that’s not at all intended as a slight for the cast. Perhaps it is simply how tied I feel to the show (I have now watched it in its entirety three times – the only other shows I’ve watched in their entirety more than once are Paranoia AgentCowboy Bebop, and The Wire. And I guess Firefly, if we want to count it), but I cannot imagine Twin Peaks as a show without any of the characters inhabiting it in its first season missing. From the devastated hysterics of the Palmer family to the wealthy and intimidatingly powerful Horne brothers of sophisticated Ben (Richard Beymer) and wildly unsophisticated Jerry (David Patrick Kelly; one of my favorite moments in the whole show in the fatigued yet incredibly brief “I’m sad” reaction he gives when he finds out about Palmer’s death) to Ben’s drop-dead attractive trouble-making daughter Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn). From the haunted femme fatale presence of Josie Packard (Joan Chen) to her contemptuous sister-in-law Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie), both of them battling for the condition of Martell’s brother and Packard’s husband, the high-spirited Andrew (Dan O’Herlihy), who owns the town sawmill. From the complicated relationship between Palmer’s ex-boyfriend Bobby Briggs (Ashbrook) and his addled Air Force officer father Major Garland Briggs (Don S. Davis) to the intense and disturbing abuse between waitress Shelly Johnson (Madchen Amick) and her sociopathic husband Leo Johnson (Eric De Ra). The law enforcement office alone has its own pack of wonderful characters – the laconic and versatile Hawk (Michael Horse), the inept yet well-meaning Andy (Harry Goaz), and the ditzy secretary Lucy (Kimmy Robertson). Even James Hurley (Marshall), whose presence forces my eyeballs in all directions up my fucking skull, is an irreplaceable part of what makes Twin Peaks feel like such a home, thanks to a cast that plays well into the soap opera aspects of all the different affairs and relationships that erupt and end and Mark Frost’s ability to twist all these encounters into different shapes that are interesting even when they are confounding. Certain characters are 100% Lynch’s brainchild (Cooper, The Log Lady, the Man from Another World, Killer BOB) and it’d be naive to pretend Lynch didn’t have a notable amount of control in where each character went and how they developed, but Frost’s experience with Hill Street Blues‘ is absolutely what spills out of all the more grounded characters in Twin Peaks and carries it into being more than just a show where weird and dark shit happens to the town.

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Oh, but aye, very weird and very dark shit indeed happens in Twin Peaks, because again… it’s a David Lynch projects. White and Black Lodges leading to portals that promise salvation or pain, prostitution at the brothel One-Eyed Jacks, drug running under the Renault brothers (supplying Leo with them), and secret societies even (albeit one on the good guys’ side). Like the insects under the grass in the opening of Blue Velvet, everybody has a secret to hide and some of them are a lot more sinister and revolting than others. The show often leans towards horror in its supernatural dealings – many a list of the most frightening moments in television appears incomplete without one, or some, or most, or all of Killer BOB’s appearances – and eventually the show let the melodrama of the inexplicable happenings of malice around Twin Peaks take it by the reins.

And yet what makes this work so well and mesh into the rest of the show is that… however haphazard plot elements are… now matter how out of left-field developments occur, it all nevertheless has a singular feeling of inspiration and self-containment within David Lynch’s mind (he obviously did not direct every episode, but he handpicked the directors who took over for him). There are a great deal of themes to pick out of Twin Peaks – cycles and the evil that men do and women in trouble and the sinister hiding beneath the friendly – that I simply can’t go over in detail at this point given that I’ve gone well past the 2200 word mark and especially given how painstakingly I am avoiding spoiling any element of the show, but even if those were not present, Twin Peaks is very recognizably an ambitious work of a creative consciousness between Lynch and Frost that gives it its quirky and engaging personality that few have tried to replicate and none have ever succeeded in capturing (I mean, only Lynch and Lynch alone can get away with solving murders through dreams – you hear that, Guy Ritchie? Fuck you.). And that’s what makes it a joy to watch, the fact that every single person involved probably loved living in this town – however much evil might live inside of it – and that energy radiates into every single scene, most of all Lynch’s wonder at the world he created.

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It’s probably why the nails on the coffin began coming once Lynch unfortunately allowed himself to compromise on certain elements during season 2. The sudden cancellation of a very much shipped relationship (I won’t say who because spoiler, but you’ll know who when you get to watching the series), his reluctant agreement with ABC to reveal early in season 2 who the physical killer of Palmer was… from there on, it felt like it was scrambling for storylines and shoehorning in characters for the sake of drama while finding footing in a new villain, Cooper’s insane former partner Window Earle (Kenneth Welsh), that was never as unnerving as BOB was. They pulled a few strings out of the ball of yarn that they shouldn’t have and the whole thing came tumbling down enough that more than a few of the later season 2 episodes are a chore to watch, and by its completion, ABC had decided that the declining ratings meant the show was done, resulting in a very haunting and unforgettable ending that remains one of the best episodes of the show but still unnervingly dissatisfying as to where it left certain characters we have to know and love and want to see make it out of there. Twin Peaks retreated away from the world into obscurity into mere cult icon (especially exacerbated by the poor reception of the 1992 film that was to function as its continuation Fire Walk with Me), but obviously I’ll get to talking about that soon enough.

Still, all I need to do, in order to lift myself out of the bad funk that the finale left me with, is simply start the show over and return to Twin Peaks, seeing Cooper and Audrey and the Log Lady and everybody else getting into their shenanigans again. If it’s possible to fall in love with a fictional town with plenty of reasons not to love it, I’ve done it with Lynch and Frost’s masterwork of television storytelling. That it also served as a brand thoroughway for new fans of Lynch makes it all the better and, while I will not be 100% satisfied with how surface-level this write-up has been for one of my favorite shows (again, I really don’t want to spoil more than I have to), if one person kind of gets the urge to grab a cup of joe, a slice of pie, and sit down to try out the show for the first time, then by all means. I probably should warn you about darkly it begins with characters screaming and crying over loss, but the moment Cooper shows up, watch that smile build on your face. And I certainly should warn you about how disappointingly unfair the final scene is… but all is not lost… 25 years later…

A final note: I obviously have no chance of exhausting all the themes and ideas embedded within the pleasing soap opera (maybe a later post will allow that) BUT I do wish to lead you to a blog that almost single-handedly reignited my love for the show a few years after I first introduced myself to it in high school of 2007: Joel Bocko’s Lost in the Movies. Absolutely a bigger fan of the show than I am (and I’m pretty huge on it), I’d like to pretend that this and the entire David Lynch retrospective that continues NOW would be possible without access to Bocko’s own insights on the director’s work and you know what? Yeah, it totally is.

But it wouldn’t be half as easy. Thanks, Joel.

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Take This Capsule and Bite!

I’m gonna get back in the habit of full-length reviews as soon as continued access to an internet-wired computer becomes a regularity (videos will be another story – damn dem disasters, dawg). But in the meantime, I think it best to get myself back in the swing of reviewing movies for a change – considering the first post some newcomers might see is the honest yet over sentimental SCS post – so let me crack at my knuckles for a bit before hitting up some quickie capsule reviews for recently released movies I’ve been seeing in 2016.

Some of these I will be giving full-length reviews for eventually – especially since some are parts of series’ that I’m entertaining once I get my ass back in my seat (Coen brothers retrospective, X-Men series retrospective that I already sort of nudged at with reviewing the first one, Batman/Superman film retrospective, Disney Animation runaround, again mayyyyyyybe Terrence Malick retrospective – but I really don’t think I can tackle them yet) later this year. In the meantime, lemme get things back in full swing.

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Knight of Cups (2015/dir. Terrence Malick/USA)

I can happily say that Knight of Cups is an improvement on the ok To the Wonder and Malick’s collaborative efforts with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki remains the single best looking element of the film. It’s not hard to really get what the movie is on about towards a Hollywood life of decadence and the empty feeling that enters Rick (Christian Bale) as he loses himself.

That doesn’t really stop this film from really feeling a bit more sloppy, despite very little changing in the visual aesthetic of Malick’s work and his preferred style of crafting his stories in the editing rooms. There’s more gaps and it’s a lot easier to catch the seams and that takes me out of a movie that very much wants to be meditative towards its characters. Maybe it doesn’t help to have a stacked and blocky structure towards the scenario. Maybe it makes it worse to not give your cast much to work with.

*sigh*, I know I liked it is all. I can’t put a true finger on why and I think I need a couple more rewatches before I give up a full-length review. Aren’t you guys happy I’m still flaking on that Terrence Malick retrospective now?

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Hail, Caesar! (2016/dir. the Coen brothers/USA)

I seriously want to know what the fuck was everybody bitching about when Hail, Caesar came out? There is nothing about the movie I couldn’t love in the slightest. I heard it called out as just a bunch of vignettes, but those vignettes are gloriously conceived by cinematographer Roger Deakins, production designer Jess Gonchor, and costume designer Mary Zophres to be the best kind of Hollywood eye candy while still holding a great amount of satirical irreverence for the sort of culture it depicts.

People claiming that certain elements of the plot didn’t really matter, except insofar as it’s all obviously a depiction of the broken life of head fixer in Capitol Pictures Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), as he has to obviously deal with all these trials and ordeals while letting 1950s Hollywood still glimmer and shine as an icon. It’s essentially A Serious Man except replacing Judaism with Catholicism (and I know A Serious Man is not everyone’s cup of tea either, but it’s possibly in my top five favorite Coen films, so y’know, that’s like your opinion, man).

A cast of recognizable cameos personifying different aspects of this era in Hollywood who steal every scene they are in their short appearances. Leftist-Socialist-Marxist ideals are introduced while still poked and prodded in the same loving way as 1950s Hollywood and religion is here. What is not to love, what the fuck is not at least of some interest here?

AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO LOVED THIS FUCKING MOVIE?! FUCK!

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The Witch (2015/dir. Robert Eggers/USA)

The reception of The Witch is a little more ambiguous to me. On the one hand, everybody whom I interact with face-to-face having seen The Witch, except my friend Josh (who I attended the film with) and two others, really hated it. I literally walked out of the theater hearing people talk shit about it. On the other, I see an overwhelming amount of praise given to the film from many major figures in horror culture and critics and general audiences.

I lean frankly to the high praise of the film. I was impressed, unnerved, and messed with all throughout the film, but there are some aspects of that praise I rein back from (without really dismissing the film). Namely how much random accolades are given to Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography that isn’t really much more than a facility for the number of close-ups and geometric shots that give us an ability to really be impressed with the cast.

I think it’s sort of a mistake figuring this movie as a straightforward witch film. The titular witch is of course a constant presence in the air, but the main focus of the film is on a Puritan banished based on how holier-than-thou their patriarch William (Ralph Ineson) was towards their settlement and how they deal with the sudden loss of their infant child, namely how quickly they are willing to blame the eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) as she was watching the baby when he literally vanished before her eyes. Namely how matriarch Katherine (Kate Dickie) is willing to transparently resent Thomasin’s existence while twins Mercy and Jonas (Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson) make things worse in their naivete. Thomasin’s brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) is the only person on her side and she’s losing more and more agency within the family as things just turn worse and worse.

And now I really made it sound like a domestic drama, but the asphyxiating amount of dread all throughout the film facilitated by Eggers’ ear for tension never leaves us with any true doubt that something more wicked above the family is sinking them more and more into a living hell. That plus a pretty shocking and upfront sequence early in the film lets us know early on that “yes… there is a Witch and yes… this movie will not have a happy ending (depending on how you look at it)”. And shocking moments are buried deep within the movie – most of the movie is functional and only works to maintain the space between characters, but then it wallops you with an image that widens your eyes and returns back to normalcy.

But it’s really the cast’s movie. The entire ensemble – even and especially the child actors – know that their characters are all completely followed and ruinous, which leans into getting the audience doubt if this fall from grace is truly the witch’s doing or the family’s own, but still retains a humanistic sympathy that twists the knife with every new ordeal.

I dunno, I really loved it. I haven’t gotten to the point of re-watching releases from 2016 yet, since I’ve been too busy, but I feel The Witch (or Hail, Caesar! will eventually find their way in my home movie collection).

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Deadpool (2016/dir. Tim Miller/USA)

I really walked in expecting myself to dislike Deadpool. And while I laughed a hell of a lot less than the people around me and find it certain to turn into superhero films the way Shrek turned into animated films, I liked it. I liked how small the stakes were for this pretty straightforward revenge story (though I wasn’t too crazy about how it tried to wink against being a superhero origin story despite being exactly that). I liked how Ryan Reynolds (still not my ideal Deadpool) could work between his sarcastic attitude to making Deadpool a surprisingly humane character, aided by Morena Baccarin as a love interest with their chemistry on fire (my favorite gag of the movie is hands down a sex montage between the two of them based on holidays). I laughed at a few of the jokes, of course. And the mask… I was at first skeptical about the idea of hypocritically using a CGI suit after that in-film jab towards Green Lantern, but it’s so plasticky and animated without feeling separated from the frame and in the end, I like how the animation can match up to Reynolds’ energy and feel just as much a part of the character as anything else.

I’ll never entirely succumb to the hype of this film. I don’t think it’s “intelligent” simply because Deadpool says “fuck” to the audience rather than the characters. And certain elements are still kind of too juvenile for me. It’s narrative structure could be the most inspired thing about the whole movie, but it’s still a misfire for me – stunting and stopping just for the sake of prolonging one action scene (thankfully, it’s wrapped up a little over halfway through the film). But in an age where superhero films come out by the baker’s dozen and are so easily to identify on their aesthetic and attitude, Deadpool felt like a breath of fresh air by all means. That air isn’t really all that pure, but I’ll take what I have to before diving back into that pile of superhero white noise.

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Zootopia (2016/Disney Animation Studios/USA)

Still trying to convince myself this isn’t a DreamWorks film. It fits the bill well enough – modernized film that feels almost immediately dated, based largely on a message that is kind of poorly communicated (so we at once have a mayor who is a predator and police officers that are primarily predators… and predators are also the persecuted minority… but they’re the ones in power… but… what?), ending with a dance party featuring celebrity voices simply because they are celebrity voices.

BUT…

That’s a little too much tossed at a film that I in the end really enjoyed. The concept is gorgeously fun enough for me to shrug off whatever problems I have with the generic 48 Hours plot, with the imagination brought to defining the different zones of the titular city and how animals and their environments adapt together. And most of all, the lead duo of Jason Bateman as con artist fox Nick Wilde and Ginner Goodwin as police officer bunny Judy Hopps are such a good match for each other and I’d kill to see a screwball comedy with the two, their rapport is so good.

I don’t need to talk about the quality of the animation, do I? It’s Disney, guys. Since Tangled, they’ve been up on their game. Look at that picture! The texture on Bellweather’s wool! Come on!

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Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016/dir. Zack Snyder/USA)

If I had my way, we would not have a Superman movie dealing with the morality of being Superman directed by Zack Snyder or written by David S. Goyer. But we’d still have one. It’s certainly a concept I’ve always wanted to see (indeed one of the only compelling philosophical concepts we could possibly have for a character like him). And lo and behold we got one and I’m kind of happy to get it.

Which is not to say Batman v. Superman is an intelligent movie. It’s not even close. It’s a Zack Snyder/David S. Goyer movie. But it carries a gravity to many of its individual elements that gets away with making this feel mythic and look cool. And this is pretty much aided by an fascinating hash of a score between Hans Zimmer re-experimenting with the motifs he composed in the previous Man of Steel (one of the best works of Zimmer’s career in my opinion) and Junkie XL adding bombastic blasting momentum for many superhero themes (the Wonder Woman theme! That’s my favorite of the movie, the way it totally kickstarts my heart into the Doomsday fight once she appears, even if all but one of the fight scenes were so fucking bad) and the fact that most of the cast either satisfactorily accomplishes what they must (Cavill is not my idea Superman – maybe my heart is too settled on Christopher Reeve – but he gives each scene he’s in the mood it needs) or absolutely fights to steal whatever scene they are in (I don’t think I’m supposed to be as impressed with Holly Hunter or Laurence Fishburne as I should have been while Gal Gadot literally does nothing and still has more shot-stealing scene presence as Wonder Woman than she did in the whole of her Fast and Furious appearances). And I will definitely join the choir of praise that even the many detractors of Batman v. Superman have given that Ben Affleck makes a very transfixingly dark and nihilistic Batman (I would probably have more of a problem with the decision to have Batman kill people if they didn’t come in forms as badass as the “I believe you” scene). I hate to say it, but I had a lot of fun with the movie, more than I expected, more than I had with any Snyder film save Dawn of the Dead.

Is the script a mess? Absolutely. Almost irritatingly so, since a lot of its sloppiness just needs a little bit of housecleaning by some screenwriter who is honestly not Chris Terrio (sorry, y’all, I didn’t like Argo THAAAT much). Is the editing vomit? Oh god yes, I am so very disappointed with how David Brenner made the few fight scenes in Batman v. Superman incoherently in Michael Bay fashion and sucked out all the energy that could possibly come from Batman giving that whole Arkham video game beatdown. And that’s not to mention how annoying all the fan service “Justice League” peeks are (and the only one that might have mattered – the Death in the Family reference that was featured in the trailer… that one was two seconds and I’d say it’s a lot more integral to explaining Batman’s psychological nature in this movie. Any viewers who don’t comic books will undoubtedly be lost on that.).

But I can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy myself. I can’t help feeling that there was more good than bad. And I can’t help feeling like there’s more sincerity in Snyder’s work on this movie than in Man of Steel (where he unambiguously tried to Nolanise Superman). There’s a lot of cool comic book shots coming from Larry Fong, there’s a lot of curiosity in what to do with these characters in the same room, and I’m sorry but large-scale movies are my jam as long as they don’t collapse hard.

Oh, but Jesse Eisenberg was awful. A poorly wigged clown that had no place in a movie with such a sobering tone. Absolutely the worst thing about a movie with THAT editing.

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Hardcore Henry (2015/dir. Ilya Naishuller/Russia & USA)

When a movie is so very eager to be a mindless brainless piece of action moviemaking and yet my only interest is in the development of the story, that’s me twisting the knife in how underwhelming the movie was to me.

Inspired by the success of the music video of “Bad Motherfucker”, a song by director/writer Ilya Naishuller’s rock band Biting Elbows (which is admittedly worth a watch), Hardcore Henry is a movie following the literal point of view of the titular Henry as he finds himself in a circumstance where he has to beat, shoot, stab, crush, run over, immolate, and essentially kill a whole lot of people in order to reach his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) who is currently kidnapped by psychic psycho Lex Luthor Akan (Jesse Eisenberg Danila Kozlovsky). As simple as it needs to be, so that it can get straight to the action, right?

Except the movie is shot with Go Pro cameras. All except a flashback sequence to Henry’s childhood (with Tim Roth giving a grizzled appearance). And while it’s a fun concept for some something as short-scale as a music video directed by a bandmate, the problem is that there’s no depth to any images we’re watching. There’s a lack of clarity to the scenes that give it the impression of one 90 minute YouTube video. I don’t feel immersed in these moments. In fact, while I personally didn’t even get dizzy, I can understand how that sort of nauseates audience members.

I’d really like to say at least the setpieces are somewhat inspired and unique, but they really aren’t. It’s just a bunch of gunshots and fistfights that happen in different locations for arbitrary reasons – now a shopping center, now an abandoned building, now a helipad, etc. Nothing really sets them apart from each other, it’s a white noise of bullets and blood. And while I feel I should have expected cuts (yes, there are cuts in the film. Multitudes of them.), I can’t help but feel cheated by their presence, especially in a scene where Henry scales a building. The amount of disorientingly exciting vertigo we could have gotten from watching the ground get more and more distant from us is undercut by just deciding “Fuck it, we wanna go to the 14th floor already.”

The only source of any true energy comes from Sharlto Copley as an immediate ally in Henry’s predicament named Jimmy (Kozlovsky tries so damn hard to be worthwhile camp and just becomes a nuisance in everyway). Jimmy is not really a singular personality in the film, he’s a grab bag of stereotypes and entities and they don’t demand anything of Copley except that he chew on every accent and attire big time to make damn sure the viewer is having fun with him. It is the first time I didn’t hate a Copley performance since his debut in District 9.

It is an unenergizing version of the Crank films. Those were brainless junk food films that knew how to be enjoyable and find creative ways to make already ridiculous moments seem immensely banal ’til we can’t stop laughing and cheering (and given how blatantly a scene is lifted from Gamer, it is hard to believe Naishuller did not see Neveldine/Taylor’s more popular action franchise). Hardcore Henry is felt like the sloppy end of a sugar rush right before you find your legs can’t run anymore.

Don’t Call Them, They’ll Call You

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Sorry about the radio silence for a while (including missing a Hit Me with Your Best Shot assignment that would have had me re-explore the amazingly awesome Zardoz), but I’m still going through a lot of things at once and the sudden loss of a personal computer and the immediate planning to depart from Miami to New York for an indeterminate amount of time adds to the inability to regularly post. Please forgive me.

In the meantime, all of my energy for the past week has been going into this particular post from the past month that I had intended to do as a personal tribute for a couple of friends who I are going through their own grand move pretty soon.

Since 2013, Nayib Estefan was roaming through Miami dead set on showing movies he loved to people who’d know exactly when to show up and in what zone to be in before watching them. A lot of those early screenings took place in the Blue Starlite Drive-In before he put his foot in the door with the Wynwood bar, Gramps, resulting in a back screening room affectionately title Shirley’s that held weekly screenings. By Halloween of 2014, Estefan got to taking his screenings over to the Coral Gables Art Cinema and – slowly but surely – made a point of making as many of those screenings be held in 35mm celluloid film. Early in 2015, he brought on a right-hand man in the form of Bryan Herrero, and together, the two have been keeping the classic reels of Miami rolling under the nomiker of

SECRET CELLULOID SOCIETY

This isn’t some kind of a coverage write-up, though. I’m not going to run through THE COMPLETE ABRIDGED HISTORY OF SECRET CELLULOID SOCIETY. I’m much too tired to dig into that – there’s so much they did within the past year alone between the Olympia Theater Birthday Bash of Dick Tracy and the opening of Snake Alley market and the running of Fading Formats in Shirley’s and so on. And there’s so many names that would have to be named alongside them in helping Nayib build SCS from the ground up.

But I can at least report on the result: Secret Celluloid Society primarily invigorated an interest in Miami towards retro cinema and brought in a welcoming atmospheric vibe for both casual filmgoers and hardcore film nerds.

As a result, it shouldn’t be such a surprise that many friends of mine had been made within these weekly (occasionally bi-weekly) nights where I’d go to watch a movie and hang back until the waking hours talking about whatever picture played on the screen or in my mind.

And what kind of movies did Nayib bring out? Well, we have Phantom of the ParadiseHedwig and the Angry InchMiami ConnectionHouse, LabyrinthForbidden Planet, Night of the Demons and so many others that it’s impossible to exit any screening without a smile on your face. All for less than the price of an average film ticket and with free popcorn for attendees. And this is just talking about their Gables run and this is without even mentioning the absolutely hits like Raiders of the Lost ArkThe Evil DeadBack to the Future, and other extremely recognizable names.

When you want to talk about people who did it for the love of cinema, Secret Celluloid Society is the very first name that pops in mind. It kept me around for certain.

Secret Celluloid Society is currently wrapping up its run at the Coral Gables Art Cinema and preparing to take its weird and eclectic selection of celluloid madness up to the O Cinema Miami Beach. It’s sure to be an exciting and uncertain time for them, given the circumstances and the location being not as accessible as Wynwood or Coral Gables.

Because of this, and just as a reminder that everybody who attended these screenings and loved them will stick around, I decided to put together all these testimonies (because I can never decide entirely on one thing, I was a bit between top five SCS moments and just whatever they wanted to write) from friends who also really appreciated the SCS experience.

It’s sure to be a long post. If you’re still waiting on my Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice review, you’ll have to wait. This ain’t for you. This is for us.

SCS has been a series of amazing moments. At my first screening, Roger Rabbit, I met Nayib. Just after meeting him, he invited me into the projection booth to quickly look at the 35mm print. He did the same thing the first time I brought my daughter to a screening.

It was a small gesture, but to me encapsulates what going to SCS every week is like. The 35mm movie experience is amazing and unmatched but the people there are what make it special.

I always go for the movie but I keep coming back for the people.

– Humby Valdes is the co-founder of Abuela Mami, a Cuban goods care package service, and Ownzee.com, an online zine service. And the author of the following video establishing the SCS vibe:

 

Most winters when I lived in the Northeast, I would buy a bag of candy and watch 1980s horror movies. It was one of the ways I would stay warm. I preferred 80s horror, because if the movie was not very good, I would still be amused by the dialog and wardrobe. My winter horror marathons sort of reawakened my love of horror and film. I couldn’t take the winters anymore and moved back to Miami in February of 2015. No more horrorthons for me… or so I thought…

On May 30th 2015, I received a cryptic social media message from my friend Nicole Soden who was inviting me to Rocky Horror Picture Show on 35mm at a place called Coral Gables Art Cinema. She was playing the lead Dr. Frank-N-Furter for the shadow cast. It was an hour before the show. I hesitated as I often do, but I made the drive since it was so close to my digs. I was still at the time rediscovering Miami (I lived in NYC for 5 years) and the thought of going to a film screening at 11:30 at night for Rocky Horror in a town like Coral Gables left me perplexed and excited. 
 
Let’s just say I’ve been to almost every screening since Rocky Horror. One of my most memorable Halloweens of all time was with Secret Celluloid Society and the horror movie marathon at Gables Cinema. It was something I use to do by myself and now I was experiencing classics on 35mm with other true film lovers, freaks, weirdos, and horror fiends. My friend Nayib Estefan has done a wonderful thing for the community. I congratulate him and Bryan for moving forward to taking the madness to O Cinema in Miami Beach. I highly recommend going if you love movies. You will make friends and share some great times. Personally I can not wait for tomorrow’s screening of Return of the Living Dead. Maybe I’ll see you there.
– Kiki Valdes is a nationally renowned artist currently based in his origin of Miami, FL. He is also the author of this particular video on the SCS experience:

My top 5 [screenings] are:
1. Hedwig and the Angry Inch. My first time at SCS. A personal invite from Nayib. Who I only knew as some random person behind a computer screen associated with SCS. He was persistent in reaching out and inviting me to multiple SCS events before, that unfortunately I was unable to attend. I’m so glad I went to the HATAI!
2. Little Shop Of Horrors. The time Nayib, in character, came up to each of the audience members, and Audrey II ate my cellphone and it accidentally flew across some rows of seats. The camera recorded being eaten by Audrey II.
3. Labyrinth. It was a childhood fantasy that came to life for me. To be able to see it on the big screen in 35mm, I’ll take that memory with me for the rest of my life.
4. Up All Night Halloween 2015. In particular, Eraserhead, it changed me that night I felt honored and so lucky to watch it for the first time, on 35mm, on the big screen, sleep deprived, with a room full of a bunch of crazies dressed up in costume. But some dude with mile high teased hair and a serious demeanor, stands out the most for me.
5. It’s a tie between Brazil and Videodrome. I kid you not that when I say watching Brazil while being sleep deprived, sitting in the center first row, with the sound system at the insane volume it was set at, MESSED ME UP! I had a twitch for about a week, and the most insane night terrors. I was visually over stimulated with Brazil. Videodrome was freakishly intense in it’s own way.
6. Honorable mention A: Purple Rain! No words. I felt like I was a teenager in the 80’s going to see Purple Rain on opening night. ♡♡♡♡
7. Honorable mention B: The Notebook. I know this shouldn’t be anywhere on the list but it’s all about the memories dammit! Sitting in between Abe and Humby, while Humby made it very clear to me that I better not cry, and Singa Extreme aka Abe shoving the box of tissues in my face during every sappy moment!
 – Nicole Gonzalez is one of several regulars at Secret Celluloid Society screenings. Thanks for the list, Nicole!

Being at almost every single SCS screening since my first viewing of The Evil Dead, I’ve seen a lot of shit go down. Here’s just a sliver of what I consider to be some top moments:

  • The Fly – People tend to chit-chat during screenings and that’s usually never a huge problem. During the screening of The Fly, there was a very drunk elderly lady sitting in front of me and it turned out to be a hilarious experience. Between her constant one-way banter with Seth Brundle, one particular phrase will never escape me: “why can’t he be a good fly? Why does he have to be a ‘bad’ fly?”
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit – I’ve seen my fair share of scratches and splices but nothing will ever compare to all the near white-knuckle moments during this screening. At one point everyone in attendance thought the film would just break and burn! You could hear the audience cheer or jeer whenever the film looked to become compromised. It’s never happened but this was the closest it’s ever come to.
  • The Shining & 2001: A Space Odyssey – Kubrick is a legend and was a master at his craft. Watching a 35mm print of The Shining was life-altering. The warm color the print had was amazing. It was like watching the movie again for the first time. The crowd that night was incredible. PACKED house and not a whisper could be heard. Every scene was being dissected all over again. The same could be said with 2001. A dead silence befell the audience. The scene where HAL kills an astronaut was so quiet you could hear a pin drop in the room. Watching Dave disembowel HAL was mesmerizing.
  • UP ALL NITE – The Halloween extraveganza was epic. I was at the theater over twelve hours. I enjoyed every minute. The Thing is one of my favorite films ever and being able to watch it in glorious 35mm was a marvel. Meeting the director of Night of The Demons was beyond a treat. Getting completely chocked up during ht climax of Eraserhead was totally unexpected. Hearing Leatherface’s chainsaw cut off during the final scene of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was the perfect ending.
  • The Evil Dead – This was the screening that got me hooked. I remember seeing the flyer at my job. A quick glance before attempting to toss them into the garbage was a life-saver. I saw the one-sheet for The Evil Dead on it. Alongside it was the statement: “35mm Film”. That was it. I knew I had to go to that screening. I knew no one at SCS. I had gone to a few screenings prior but never really connected with a single person except during Blade Runner were I chatted a bit with a couple guys that claimed they had never watched the film. I met my spirit animal during The Evil Dead screening. Mr. Bill Butler approached me that night when he saw I had a Necronomicon in my hands. We bonded that night and will most likely share that bond for the rest of our SCS experiences. I’ve had dozens of great moments at SCS. Some great, some not-so great. It’s been a blast meeting great people and sharing the love of cinema every night. It’s ruined my theater-going experience whenever I go to a major chain only to be shown a digital representation of film. Long live the new flesh!
Abraham Brezo‘s instagram page The Vinyl Squad features with great pride his vast vinyl album collection.
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Sitting with my back plastered to the theater seat, and my face plastered to projection screen, every sensation in my being was heightened beyond compare. Fully immersed in a dream-like, meditative state. Eraserhead – a black and white surrealist horror film by David Lynch – was being screened as part of the Secret Celluloid Society’s “Up All Nite” Halloween spectacular. Starting time was 4:30 am, making Lynch’s masterpiece the perfect selection for the smallest of the “witching” hours. My surroundings slowly began to melt away, and I focused entirely on the scene before me – which was of course being shown in the purest artistic glory of 35mm film. Like a supercharged tuning device, my mind began to recollect similar past “Up All Nite” experiences. A doorway that had been long since shut was opened, and a flood of emotions washed over me like a warm ocean wave.

Memories can be like fingerprints. A permanent way of tracing your identity. These “Up All Nite” memories were no exception:

As a young child, cuddling with my mom late on a Friday night, watching the classic horror monster movies. She knew I hadn’t been sleeping, and instead had nervously watched every frightening moment with her into the wee hours.

Going to the theater with my father on a Saturday night, spending hours at the diner afterward discussing what we had seen together, as the cold winter wind whipped and snow flurries danced around the street lamps outside.

Watching an endless barrage of “B movie” gore horror flicks with my best friends, laughing until what felt like near death, until we heard the morning paper hit the front door of my house with a bang.

Coming home from some of the most trying times of my life, not knowing where I was going, if I’d have anything to eat, or how I was going to get out of my latest eviction notice, turning on USA network’s “Up All Nite” program, and being comforted by my favorite cheeseball movies until the sun came up both in the world and in my heart.

Since it’s arrival shrouded in mystery, the Secret Celluloid Society has been many things to many people. For me, it’s been the “Up All Nite” I had been missing. The films, the friends, the fun. I never thought in a million years that I’d experience anything like this again… Until I was sitting there, back plastered to the theater seat and eyes plastered to the screen, watching Eraserhead with a new set of best friends, feeling love and desire and joy and weightlessness and wonder and beauty wash over me, enjoying EVERY SINGLE FRAME the projector had to offer. So I say to the Secret Celluloid Society: Let’s stay “Up All Nite” together… and make celluloid memories until the paper hits the front door 🙂

Sincerely,

William Champ Butler

William Butler is a Ft. Lauderdale based artist specializing in “Art, Mayhem, and the Macabre”.

http://www.podbean.com/media/player/i8dz9-59adf1

 

It was a Saturday, 11pm. The date was October 11th.

My good friend Abe had been telling me about these rowdy group of people that played 35mm screening of really awesome movies for quite some time already. Me being the hermit that I’m I kept blowing off screening, until that October 11th. Little did I understand what I was in store for…The bright, loud, gore…. It was fucking beautiful. “House” was the 1st feature I attended at SCS (Secret Celluloid Society) but what people don’t understand about attending a SCS feature is that you don’t just go for the movies. Well, you do… but you stay for the company. All the best movies in the world wouldn’t mean anything if the event weren’t hosted by the SCS crew.

The brotherhood feeling that you get when you walk into a SCS screening is what kept me coming back; and these are my top five moments at SCS:

  • Back to the Future
    • Once I found out that SCS was screening back to the future, I just lost it. Again, as I mention above the movie was irrelevant. It was the fact that I was going to watch it would great people. An added bonus was that it was on the same weekend as one of my best friends Chris Cortes’ birthday, so I surprised him and his wife with tickets to the screening. That made the experience even better. Other than surprising Chris and Rebecca with tickets, the highlight of the night was the “Back to the Future Ride” simulation at the beginning of the screening that made the experience complete. It was like stepping back into the 90’s.
  • Trailer Apocalypse
    • Come one, this one is a no brainer… two hours of some of the grimiest movies made in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s….. You’re insane if you didn’t make it out. Again, for this screening,I was able to get my brothers Brian, Chris, and his awesome wife Rebecca out to see these amazing trailers. Reflecting once again on my main theme here, it’s not what you’re watching it’s who you’re watching it with. Also, these trailers “NEED MORE WENIER!!!”
  • SCS Roadshow
    • These screening where extra special. These where last minute locations, very small groups, and mainly black and white screenings all horror. Quite honesty that’s the only thing I would screen if I had the resources to do so. I was unable to attend the Night of the Living Dead screening since I was out of town that week, I also missed up all night, which I hate myself for it more and more each day for that. But I did make it out to one of my favorite Bela Lugosi movies White Zombie in the most random location, which happened to be walking distance from my house, Versailles.
  • Mad Max Fury Road
    • This was the movie that got me back into going to movie theaters. Before Fury Road I had given up on going out to watch movies. (we cover this in the SCS episode of my podcast) At least for me, I don’t like crowds or long lines. So going to a movie theater on a Friday night to watch the year’s blockbuster isn’t really my MO. That’s why I went to see Mad Max Fury Road on a Wednesday afternoon in the middle of nowhere. I also saw this film for the first time in D-Box (that crazy movies seat experience) the best way to see it other than 35mm, hands down. That being said, I couldn’t pass the opportunity to watch Fury Road in 35mm. The film grain from the 35mm celluloid gave the movie the grunge that was missing in the digital formats. Plus, I was watching it with the right people. With the brotherhood that is SCS.
  • The Fly
    • No not the Vicente Price fly, those of you that know me already know my obsession with Vicente Price, although I love the Jeff Goldblum version just as much. This is my top moment, not only because it’s one of my favorite movies with Goldblum but also because this was the night we recorded one of my favorite podcast to date. We set up the mic in the lobby, hit record and let the conversation just go. We covered The Fly (obviously) films in general, how the SCS began, and what everybody asks when you mention that you’re going to watch a 35mm screening: “What’s the point?! We have a Blu-ray version of that on the shelf!” Really worth giving a listen if you’ve attended any 35mm SCS Screening, not just because it’s my podcast.

So as you see, my moments weren’t so much the movies (well except for Mad Max Fury Road) a much as the events that happened around them, or where they happen. But most importantly the friends I’ve made while attending the SCS screening. I’d like to thank Abe, for introducing me to this family of awesome people. Nayib and Bryan for the awesome work and dedication to the art of film. And all the other amazing friends I’ve made while attending these screening: Ana, Butler, Dee, Greg, Humby, Kelly, Kiki, JC, Juan, Mike, Pam, Roja, Salim, Slim,  and of course Ervin!

Thank for some awesome memories.

– JP Forest is the man behind Bro, You Got a Podcast? of which the above episode features Secret Celluloid Society (while yours truly was featured in the latest episode).

Secret Celluloid Society, or SCS, for me, is more than a simple film screening, it is a place where you will meet the most interesting people and watch 35mm films that would not otherwise be shown in South Florida. Honestly, every SCS event has been unforgettable because the SCS crew do their best to make each and every screening special from shadow casts to providing free popcorn to light set ups and so forth.

Here are just a few SCS events that have stood out for me thus far:

1. Up All Night! The Thing, Night of the Demons, Eraserhead, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre are some of my favorite horror films of all time. And it just doesn’t get much better than watching these on 35mm with everyone in their crazy costumes at the cinema as part of a Halloween movie marathon! It was really an unforgettable night. The cherry on top was meeting Kevin Tenney, the director of Night of the Demons, and watching his personal reel of what might just be the ultimate Halloween movie (at least in my opinion).

These next two films are ones I never thought would be played in Miami:

2. Hausu because it is one of the most absurd and trippy flicks out there! It was entertaining to see and hear the reactions of people who had never seen this film before.

3. The Holy Mountain because it was a surreal experience watching an occult film among a sold out crowd. I love that the crowd participated in a spiritual mantra to prepare for the film.

4. The Evil Dead because it was my first 35mm screening for SCS so I will always hold it near and dear! That was the night I realized that SCS was going to bring some film culture to Miami after Nayib spoke so passionately about film and the importance of original format projections.

5. 2001: A Space Odyssey because it is one of those epic and visual masterpieces that needs to be seen on film in a movie theatre to really fully experience the film.

Honorable Mention:

1. Miami Connection because my sides still hurt from laughing so much.

2. I have to mention at least one SCS roadshow because the whole concept is freaking genius! The one that really sticks out was the 16mm films shown at Versailles: Rabbit’s Moon, La Jetee, Un Chien Andalou, Night on Bald Mountain, The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, and White Zombie!

3. The Rocky Horror Picture Show because not only did Nayib track down a rare print, he also set up an amazing shadow cast! The makeup, the performances, and the goodies bags with newspapers to shelter us from the rain that literally poured over us in the theater really makes this a once in a lifetime kind of experience.

I need to end this already because I can go on and on about each and every screening I’ve attended. So to quote our favorite SCS handler, Bryan Herrero, “get ready to get ready” because SCS is going to continue to bring us unforgettable film screenings and you don’t want to miss out!

– Kelly Cao is one of several regular attendees of the SCS screenings. Thanks for the write-up, Kelly!

For the last two years I’ve been covering everything that Nayib Estefan and Secret Celluloid Society has been doing for Miami. It’s been weird, to say the least, and it’s moved from me being cautiously optimistic to completely signing up for the experience that SCS provides.

The first time Nayib and I met was at Gramps, where I’d gone for an interview with him I’d been assigned, with my ex-boyfriend in tow, who was worried about his car because he’d never parked in Wynwood before. (This is not-so-long before he started working at O Cinema, which amusingly enough is now where SCS is heading). So I was being semi-rushed and also semi-uncertain of what the fuck an all-digital cinema in the back of the bar was going to be like.

Turns out it was pretty dang cool, resulting in this article (one of my first for the Miami New Times), and a new acquaintance who I’d bother in emails and Facebook messages on rare occasion. Seeing him setting up for Mannequin and seeing the atmosphere that had been created at Shirleys was enough to show me that this guy cared about movies, but I was still skeptical about where this would go.

It wasn’t until a full year later that we started chatting it up more and I started going to more screenings. By this point, it was in Coral Gables and I was much better suited to drive there than Wynwood. There was Phantom of the Paradise (considering both Paul Williams and Gloria Estefan were there, I would have happily murdered someone to attend and am thankful to say I didn’t have to), After Hours, Saturday Night Fever, Blade Runner, and Fantastic Planet. It sounds like a good chunk, but it wasn’t really that much (which I realized when looking at the SCS After Hours list on Letterboxd). I was sporadic with my attendance at first, but I always enjoyed myself.

And then came The Rocky Horror Picture Show. My good friend Lauren Cohen and I, dressed in our ridiculous dress clothes and colorful wigs, got to know a little about all the people in the shadow cast that would be performing and ran up to the front mid-song to do the “Time Warp” with a ton of others. Sure, it was unpolished and nobody in the audience knew the callbacks except for a rare few, but it was exactly the way I’d wanted to see Rocky Horror all along: on film and with a bunch of people looking to have a good time.

And then came Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Shining, Ghostbusters, and Beetlejuice, before Nayib and I, who had been talking a lot more frequently (and he can testify to how much I bother him with completely ridiculous stories on a regular basis), finally set up time for a follow-up interview. “Secret Celluloid Society Makes Saturday Night Screenings the Place to Be” was the title and the night was much less an interview set-up than it was me just following Nayib around the cinema before and after 2001: A Space Odyssey on 35mm. It was ridiculous, I was introduced to dozens of people, and I realized something amazing: this was exactly where I wanted to be practically every Saturday night.

There was The Holy Mountain (where Trae DeLellis and I downed a bottle of wine, much to the dismay of an audience member), Hedwig and the Angry Inch (where I met Lena Hall for the second time in my life and fangirled like an idiot), Grease (where I dragged my mother along with me to a theater full of people singing along happily), Little Shop of Horrors (which climaxed with a flurry of green confetti in theater), The Fly (featuring a piercing sharp audio blast on the print whenever the teleporter turned on), the amazing Up All Nite series that featured four films (and I covered in a semi-drunken, very-tired state of mind), Brazil, Videodrome, Goodfellas, Mad Max: Fury Road, Die Hard, The Wild Bunch, Purple Rain, Big Trouble in Little China, Boogie Nights, Labyrinth, The Notebook, Back to the Future, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Dick Tracy, Evil Dead 2, and Miami Connection.

I could list so many things that have happened at these screenings that have impacted me amazingly in some way, but I’ll just mention three of my favorites: winning the SCS Contest that resulted in my free tickets and my beautiful Eraserhead baby that I cherish every day, meeting one of my favorite filmmakers John Cameron Mitchell during his first viewing of Labyrinth ever, and experiencing Miami Connection with a full audience that seemed just as in love with it as I was.

Along the way through those screenings, I also realized I ended up with a weird family of sorts. I met amazing people! People from every place in Miami and further north who were all incredibly different (and who I won’t list here because I will inevitably forget someone and feel terrible), but came together because of what Nayib had made. They’re the same people I see at practically every screening (except The Notebook because you’re all terrible and you didn’t get to enjoy the fantastic Ryan Gosling “hey girl” memes on the screen with me) and they’re the same people who I’ve come to want to see outside of screenings.

And they’re the same people I’m going to keep on seeing once SCS moves to Miami Beach (and wherever they may move after that because our bond seems kind of endless at this point). Secret Celluloid Society, for better or worse, has taken over my life in a crazy way. I may not attend every screening, but nearly each and every single one I’ve attended has been well-worth it in some way; not just because I’ve enjoyed the movies (some new-to-me and some rewatches), but because I’ve enjoyed getting to know all the people who attend them with me all the damn time.

Months ago, I considered what life would be like if I moved somewhere else (because I was infatuated with a boy). I started taking stock of the things I’d miss the most, and after a particularly wonderful SCS screening, I realized that these screenings are what I’d miss the most. It’s something I never expected to happen, but I’m glad it did. It’s why I keep texting Nayib that I’m incredibly excited for the first O Cinema Miami Beach screening (which just so happens to be The Matrix by Lilly and Lana Wachowski – two filmmakers I adore – and takes place a few days after my birthday). Hell, if I had the money and costumers had more plus-sized options available, I would be dressing up as Trinity just for the sake of amping up the fun.

Anyway, I’m not here to sell you on SCS, but at the same time, I sure sound like I am, and I’m okay with that. Secret Celluloid Society screenings are not for everyone, but they’re enough to make me want to drive my tired ass to North Miami Beach every so often to watch movies and have a good time with my new weird family. So, y’know, join along sometime.

– You probably wouldn’t tell from the article he just wrote up there, but Juan Barquin is a journalist for the Miami New Times and the co-founder of Dim the House Lights (where yours truly recently authored a guest article).

Damn, and I guess that leaves just me. I am a very simple man, so I will stick to my original plan of my top five favorite Secret Celluloid Society moments.

5. Raiders of the Lost Ark – August 16, 2015

Raik is a movie that made me want to go adventure as a child and beat up Nazis and find treasure so badly that I was always going to be eager to see it in the big screen the moment SCS announced it. What of course made it all the better for me was hearing about how some guy coming down from Brickell was giving Bryan unnecessary hell over the delayed showtime (which has been a staple of SCS, but just went along with the whole lax mood of the show). The moment Nayib hears about this bollocking, he gets right up to the mic, calls out the guy in the least-antagonistic yet obviously seat-heating manner possible, and everybody begins booing the guy once he starts putting the mood down. Still wasn’t enough to kill the vibe once the lights went out and the movie started.

4. The Wild Bunch – January 2, 2016

Truth be told, this shouldn’t be listed anymore. I missed most of it and only barely caught the finale. Everything that made this screening seem spectacular should sort of be gone and lost in my mind. But I did catch that finale. And I did have a great time afterwards. And that memory is probably only going to belong to me, but it’s a memory I’m going to cherish anyway.

3. Blade Runner – April 25, 2015

It’s a secret to barely anybody that two movies battle for my heart as my favorite movie – Blade Runner and Casablanca. Both have been shown at SCS and while I did not attend Casablanca (I dating someone who wanted to see Kingsman: The Secret Service that same night which should have been a bad moon rising already), I was ready to attend Blade Runner and even brought my younger sister to the screening in anticipation when Nayib came out to sadly tell me that the film was sold out. Still, I was willing to wait it out along with my sister and our perseverance pulled us through when Nayib was able to squeeze the two of us in. I finally saw one of my favorite movies on the big screen and my sister got introduced to the kinds of movies I was into (which led to her raiding a lot of my movie collection when I wasn’t at home). And the best part was getting her to figure out the true nature of Deckard on the drive back home.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road – December 5, 2015

I feel like it may be thinking a bit too much of myself to assume this screening happened because Juan Barquin and I would never shut our mouth about the movie (I mean if you read this blog, you know I don’t shut up about Fury Road), though it seems naive to deny the hype that movie had being something that quickly caught Nayib’s eye as an instant sell-out. Up until this point, the most recent movie SCS screened was Hedwig and the Angry Inch and even that felt a bit too new-school for them – even 14 years old at the time. And I was really uncertain about how the film would look in 35mm celluloid given the manner that it was shot and voiced these concerns to Nayib (though I still encouraged it because who the fuck else would be able to say they saw it on film?). It was maybe the fast sell-out of SCS save for Pulp Fiction and it was an experience that gave new dimension to a film I saw 6 times in the same damn year it came out. The warm, yet obviously still-clean manner of the film gave a texture to the desert setting and suddenly the reds of the sand felt a bit more severe while the heavy blues of the night were less comforting. It was a really cool experience that I would never have dreamed of.

  1. Miami Connection – March 12, 2016

The moment I heard this gem of a flick was being screened, my heart stopped and I get so excited, I was literally clapping over my head like a monkey shouting YK KIM!!! I have witnesses to this. And in the week up to it, I was in the worst headspace and really not feeling like I was going to make it to the weekend, let alone the screening. Many of the people you see quoted above me in this post convinced me to snap out of it and come to the screening anyway (all of them heard my not shutting the fuck up about it so they knew how much I loved it) and with my best friend Josh Martinez in tow for his very first SCS screening, I ended up having one of the best nights I’ve been lucky to have in a pretty overwhelmingly long while. Chanted Tae-Kwon-Do to “Against the Ninja”, got to watch Josh’s reaction to this movie he had absolutely no knowledge of beforehand, got to enjoy the obnoxiously positive vibes from the movie, and all around me in that theater, the energy was high. I’m usually too much of a cynic to buy into the whole “Energy” and “Vibes” thing, but that was a night I was a believer.

Goddamn, that’s it, huh. I already reached my five moments. No space for Stephen Trask and Lena Hall performing before Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Or Bryan receiving an envious copy of the 1992 cut of Blade Runner on VHS. Not even a nod to Up All Nite or talking to Kevin Tenney. The times Nayib was eager to show the group the latest update to SCS’ journey or even sneak a peek at some stuff just get us more hyped and engaged. Recording the SCS podcast. Bryan recognizing me at Flamingo Bingo for my brother’s band. Buying a Raymond Carver anthology at Snake Alley (and being swindled by my sister’s friends for a Kubrick collection). Singing along with “Heroes” before Labyrinth just cause. Making a few shorts in the hopes of Nayib screening them at Up All Nite. The many roadshows – especially at Versailles. Showing up to Grease just to give my support, dressed as a Greaser, because I wanted to see SCS continue to grow. The time I got to help out with the Little Shop of Horrors shadowcast. Buying a ticket to Friday the 13th despite not attending. Bringing my friend Marianna to see Forbidden Planet for the first time. Nayib telling me he saw and loved my Hit Me with Your Best Shot video for Dick Tracy. Catching a problem with the projection of House and getting to chat with projectionist Dave Rodriguez afterward. Going to Denny’s one night being presented with a gift of a Tales from the Crypt issue by Kiki. The big damn raffle held around Halloween time. Juan passing on his plus-one (with Nayib’s ok) to squeeze Josh into the screening of Pulp Fiction. Tachyons+ popping up to give a display at Videodrome. Slim Rodriguez performing a magic trick with someone’s dollar when prompted one night. Catching Naked Lunch one beaten Wednesday night at Shirley’s just because. Having everybody around me in the back of Shirley’s suddenly discover the existence of an after-credits scene to The Great OutdoorsThe Holy Mountain and El Topo.

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These little moments, these memories. These are things that keep brings me back to SCS every week, as much as I can, glad to be around these folks. While I’m in New York, these things are going to be in the back of my mind. I’m carrying them with me. They don’t get lost in time, like tears in rain, they get stuck on my person like jangling loose change.

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And I guess that’s why I made this long post for it. Not just to give Nayib and Bryan and company a lot of hype, but just to show how much it means to me to see these faces and the cinema lights reflected off of them as often as I can. Touching base with one of the few things in Miami that can keep me looking forward to coming back.

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Thanks, Nayib, Bryan, photographer Ren Feria, and everybody else who keeps Secret Celluloid Society running.

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