B-Fest 2001

Hoff! Hoff! Hoff! Hoff!


"Meesa Luv B-Fest!"

B-Fest: Adventures in Cinematic Sleep Deprivation

As is my habit, we must first cover background.  It was only a year and about two weeks ago that I first realized that the infamous B-Fest was actually in Evanston, practically a stone’s throw away, as distances go in Chicago.  It was about the same time that I realized Chris and Scott of Stomp Tokyo, old college buddies of mine, had come on up to Chicago and not even given me a call.  Well, they had a lot on their minds; they just didn’t remember I lived in thisTor! town, is all.  But I started reading all the B-Fest diaries, like many of you, and I naturally got interested in attending.  As did my wife, and our friend Jennie.  Which is really convenient, as we all live in Chicago, and all.

Anyway, so this was the year I got to actually go, the year I got to meet all these people whose work I’d been reading for so long.  Well, not all the people.  Actually, the B-Masters had relatively poor representation, but the personalities that were there were memorable.  Naturally, I knew Chris Holland from our youthful educational experiences at the same college, but I finally got to meet the photogenic Chris J. Magyar of Diary of a Tuber fame (and I got to see some of his real-life work, as well, which is every bit as good as his online stuff), and the ever-erudite Joe Bannerman, the gracious host for my cinematic ramblings (hey, I guess it fills up space, at least).  Sadly, that was all we could summon up from Stomp Tokyo Industries, as Scott, Jeff, the good Doctor, Chad, and all the other major contributors couldn’t make it.  Next year, perhaps I’ll get to see more of my compadres.  Meaning more individuals, not more exposed skin.  Though Joe is a very fine looking young man….

But then I met the other B-Masters, who might best be described in terms of stereotypes from World War II movies.  Yeah, that’s it.  There was the hardened veteran, Ken Begg of the Dimension of Jabootu, who has attended most of the B-Fests and thus has his tactics down to a science.  There was the skilled professional, Mark, whom I later realized was Apostic of B-Notes.  There was the dangerous-crazy guy, like Telly Savalas in The Dirty Dozen, embodied by Sgt. Andrew Borntreger, of Badmovies.org.  Actually, I liked Andrew a great deal, as he reminded me of my college buddy Ken, and in fact, I would accidentally call him Ken, which, naturally, Ken Begg responded to.  "...Shake Yer Bom-Bom, Shake Yer Bom-Bom..."Andrew also had the voice with the most projection; must be that military angle again, shouting orders and all that.  Then there was The Weasely Guy.  The Tough Drill Sergeant.  The Doomed Southerner with the Girl Back Home.  The Guy Who’s Sick of Killing.  Private Ryan.  And so on.

Still, it was fantastic to meet these guys, and then when they recognized my work, man, I was done.  I could have gone home right then with a warm feeling.  But my local friend Jennie was also there, and if I’d left, not only would I be out the cost of a ticket, but I’d be leaving her stranded in a sea of testosterone with no familiar faces.  Besides, my darling George was showing up later, after she got off from work, so I had to stick around for that, at least, to show some of these people that even a b-movie reviewer can marry well.  Actually, I’ve met some of the other guys’ wives, or at least seen photos, and I have to say, I think that whole Billy Joel/Bruce Willis/Lyle Lovett luck thing (i.e. homely men, gorgeous women) seems to have settled around people like us.  Yay!

The Fest itself.  Many people will go over the list of movies; indeed, some of them deserve as much mention as they can get.  I, however, was struck by the general feel of the place, of the event.  I won’t say there was an instant camaraderie between participants, though there were a few cases of that.  But everybody did seem rather open toward everyone else, with a shared purpose and a common enjoyment of crap cinema.  This is a good thing.  The feeling, that is, not the crappyness of the cinema.

How to describe the average B-Fest movie?  To say it’s like an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is close, but not quite accurate.  For one thing, the jokes aren’t usually planned out (intensely accurate use of the slide whistle notwithstanding).  For another, it’s a big theater, and people are shouting things all the time, half of which Mothra you can’t really hear.  It does have a kind of positive energy, though, and unlike most theaters, you won’t get thrown out for shouting out jokes.  We just hope that we don’t step on each other’s funny lines.

I had heard about the laser pointer problem, but I didn’t really get it until I saw it in action.  Sure, you’ve got a red dot on the screen, but what do you do with it to make it funny?  It’s difficult to get an accurate point, because you’re free-handing it, and so it’s all jiggly, and then, what, you make someone’s eyes red?  You highlight the tip of the cigarette?  Those make sense, but they’re not really funny.  Outlining people, indicating some woman’s breasts, those are just juvenile.  There was one person with some gobos, filters which threw the laser beam into a shape, like a mouse or a heart.  With that, at least, the guy could make a joke.  Having just a dot really didn’t do much.  I guess the telling point is, if you can’t do something new and funny with it, you shouldn’t bother with it.  Of course, the people who bring the things won’t bother reading these B-Fest diaries, either, so it does little good to complain about it.  I just wish people would either show a little creativity with their pointers, or at least get a steady platform.  Eventually, however, I was able to tune them out, more or less, and deal with the films themselves.

There are only a few movies I would like to single out for special mention.  The second in line was Greaser’s Palace, which, as Andrew constantly reminded the theater, was an allegory of Christianity.  It was also confusing as heck, which didn’t lead to much in-movie discussion (too busy gaping dumbfounded at the screen), but it was the source of a lot of lines for lInsert Spy Plane Joke Here.ater.  “And then I turned into a perfect smile.”  “I’m on my way to Jerusalem, to become a dancer/singer/actor.”  And it also verified our theme for the evening: “girls digging.”  I don’t know why, but most of the movies seemed to have a scene in them with a person, usually female, digging a hole or a trench or a grave or something.  Whatever the case, it was certainly more appreciated than the “fat men in towels” theme of last year, from what I heard.

Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold; just from its title, we could tell it was going to be a joy to behold.  Whoever decided that a tall black woman would be the perfect choice to go undercover in Hong Kong should probably be transferred out of the CIA.  However, you have to give her credit; for a woman who arrived with no luggage, she still managed to find a new outrageous outfit for just about every scene (eliciting cries of surprise, and at least one scream of “My eyes! My eyes!”).  And the two guys she was sent in to rescue, when they got dressed up, it was like Pimps on Ice in your hometown!  Or maybe that’s juts me.  Thankfully, they burst through at least one door, allowing us to burst out with a hearty “Big Jim Slade!"

The short Wizard of Speed and Time was… interesting.  The song itself was catchy and all, and the accelerated stop-motion kind of thing they did to make the wizard so fast was also clever, but the thing that was most interesting was everybody’s reaction to it.  Much of the theater came up on stage and pounded their feet really fast for the running sequences, then stomped in time to the music for the singing portion.  It made for a more martial feel right around midnight, and that suited me just fine at that time.

Plan Nine.  Wow.  First time I’d seen it, for probably good reason.  Don’t know if I could have stood it, if it hadn’t been for the whole theater-full of people shouting “Day!” “Night!”  “Bela!”  “Not Bela!” and “Tor!” whenever the respective things came on-screen.  Of course, the paper plate throwing during the space saucer scenes got a bit out of hand, in my opinion, but they were employed in movies for the rest of the night, so I suppose we got our money’s"Shrewd" Skippy Mitchell worth out of them.  Also, George didn’t care so much about the film, but when it came to winging those plates, she was all into that.  I think she pulled a muscle doing that, actually, but heck, it was fun.

Of the last stretch of films, there were the gross (surgery footage used in a slasher/cannibal film really showed me a line I didn’t realize I had), the weird (drugged-out rock star establishes fascist age-ist regime), and the merely dull.  But one of the more interesting ones was the original Mothra.  Near the end of the film, we had spotty sound (which plagued the whole Fest, actually), but during the sections with model planes and tanks and such, the heavy machinery sounds were what made them seem the tiniest bit real.  So when the sound cut out, we gradually started filling in the sound ourselves, growling like tanks, whooshing like planes, and jabbering like panicked Japanese crowds, all in response to whatever came on the screen.  It was things like that which brought us together as an audience: making sound effects, buzzing whenever one of the bee women were on screen in Invasion of the Bee Girls, and singing the lilting Wicked Witch of the West theme whenever some old biddy on a scooter came on screen.  Ah, memories.

So, this time through, I did the Fest without consciously napping.  There were times when I nodded, but when I caught myself, I went out to wake myself up, and I don’t think I slept for any significant time.  It was grueling, but necessary, if only to test myself, and find that even at this early point in my maturity, I’ve lost the stamina to do a real hard all-nighter.  Next year, however, having both already done the full stretch and having seen some of the old favorites, I’ll be better able to survive in a coherent state.  Maybe then my last shouted contribution to the movies won’t sound like “Glarble mazfan, torgle nerr!”

Or maybe I need a nap.  




-- Copyright © 2001 by E. Mark Mitchell



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