B-Fest 2010: The Motion Picture

B-Fest, Day 1 —

Well, it’s about 2:30 or so, and I’m sitting in the airport awaiting my 4:40 flight to Chicago, home of B-Fest (among other things). After years of reading about B-Fest, yes, I’m actually going, which means that buying the ticket and airfare actually meant something. This weekend will probably be the highlight of the year. (Yes, it’s only January. Same old me.)

The weather in Western North Carolina was gorgeous–probably 50s or so. I drove to the airport in short sleeves but brought along a heavy coat I knew I’d need.

The flight was decent. A couple of hours on a small plane goes down smooth thanks to Kindle. The view through the clouds, at times, made me wish I could have brought a canvas and paints—white cottony clouds hovering over snow-covered squares of farm. How come I’m always inspired when I can’t do anything about it? Descending into Chicago around 5, the city was a grid of orange lights that stretched on endlessly, punctuated with the odd dark expanse of trees, carefully squared.

At the airport, I was met at the airport by Jeff W, who took me to Ken B’s place. Ken’s place is like a treasure trove of DVDs ‘n’ stuff. Also with Ken were Andrew B (of Badmovies.org) and Joe B (of the sadly dormant Opposable Thumbs Films). While everyone I met was a terrific person, I have to admit it was a treat meeting Andrew, as I’ve been reading his site as long as I have Jabootu’s.

We all drove out then, first so that Jeff could buy a knife. Okay, I thought, I had no idea weapons would be needed–and I didn’t bring any! What would I do? Perhaps I would use my rapier-like wit! (Though I’m sure a rapier-like rapier would be better.) In the parking lot, there was a KAZANGO twixt a van and a two-door which the security guy ignored as long as he could. Drama!

After witnessing this tableau commenting silently on something pretentious, we wended our way to Jameson’s Charhouse for dinner and conversation, as well as meeting up with Tim and Julie, and Paul and Holly. A large social gathering? How did I survive? I don’t remember the answer to that, but I must have because I’m still here.

Paul and Holly were putting me up for the duration and a nicer couple you couldn’t meet. Spent the evening in conversation (raccoons, statistics, etc—you know the sort of thing). Slept fairly well, though the time change threw me off a bit and I had a couple of weird dreams, which I felt compelled to confirm were just dreams the next day (“I didn’t? Oh good…”).

B-Fest, Day 2 –

The day began with Ken, Andrew, Jeff, Joe, Holly and myself breakfasting (not break dancing) at the L& L diner, a B-Fest tradition. Excellent food, outstanding service. Ken warned us that we should clean our plates (of food) or there would be trouble. No one wanted trouble, so plates were cleaned!

More shopping ensued, as some sandwiches and groceries were required. Many of us waited in the van. In fact, we waited so long that the shoppers returned to find a trio of moldering skeletons! Actually, I’m just kidding about that.

Shopping completed, we returned to Ken’s World of More DVDs Than I Have (But Just Barely) and started packing up the snacks in preparation for the long B-Fest ahead. I tried to make myself useful, but perhaps was most useful in illustrating V.I. Lenin’s phrase, “useful idiots.” I happened to note a video of the wonderful Giant Claw and Ken, gentleman and scholar, said, “Take it,” Holy moley! I was now the proud owner of The Giant Claw! It was like being given a brain by the wizard!

Next, we went to another B-Fest tradition, Superdawg. Very good hotdogs, and then everyone gathered in a semi-circle with Ken in the center and talked movies. More folks were introduced but I fear my inadequate brain capacity has lost their identities. Sorry!

Then we drove to the theatre and started unpacking the plethora of snacks. We mapped out the Jabootu seats and claimed them against the world entire, I picked up my ticket (and learned where the bathrooms were) and we sat down to wait until 6 PM, when everything would commence. More folks were introduced, including The Well-Known Liz and her husband Charles, friend Ian, and friend Sally. And there was much visiting. Due to some odd defect in my hearing, whenever a lot of people are talking simultaneously, the sound tends to turn to a kind of dull roar; hence I didn’t participate as much as I coulda.


Crippled Masters (1979)
Technical difficulties prevented the start of this for a while. For the most part, the action and plot made this a typical dubbed kung fu movie—but with the distinction that its two stars are actual cripples, armless and legless respectively. Lots of fights (with “Kill that paper bag!” sound effects) and training stuff, and a story that didn’t really matter–evil guy does evil, etc. For some reason, the bad guy’s hunchback gives a loud CLANK whenever punched or kicked, which is never explained–perhaps left for a sequel. Kind a kung fu X-Men (or ecch men, given the circs), complete with bald mentor.

Heartbeeps. (1981)
The announcement of this sent Andrew B into a murderous rage–justifiably, as it turned out. A largely static robot love story, it was also largely dull and predictable. The germ of a good idea was there, but it was quickly stepped on and crushed in a landslide of bad ideas badly executed. The sound level was set very low, but the dialogue was easily guessable if one were so inclined. Liz pointed out the various cute animals, and it did have Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov and Nigel Tufnel, but since they were all wasted there were no bonus points to be had. It’s hard to imagine this going through all the stages of getting made–except through inertia past the “oh crap, we’ve spent too much already” stage, or someone losing a bet.

Gymkata (1985)
This was a pretty well made variant on the martial arts “Survive the game” thing, the twist being that the kung fu here is gymnastics-based. The major failing here is the acting, bland and wooden (star Kurt Thomas, looking disconcertingly like a very young Mark Hamill) or rather broad and hammy (whoever played the king). Also, we’re never told anything about the other contestants, so we can’t care much when they’re killed. Oops, guess that’s a spoiler. One of them is a real meany, though, so we’re glad when he’s killed. Damn, another spoiler. Sorry. Also, how come a walled city full of crazy people with weapons haven’t killed each other off?

Next was the raffle, where a bunch of DVDs were won by various. There was also a laserdisk which I almost won by default. (Laserdisks are like cats: I love them, but don’t need another one. Also, they fight.) I didn’t buy a raffle ticket so, while admiring the bizarre prizes, I spent the time catching up on these notes.

One Froggy Evening (1955)
Classic cartoon from Chuck Jones. The man really could tell a (Michael Maltese) story very effectively with pretty much nothing but pictures.

Wizard of Speed and Time. (1979)
The first of the B-Fest perennials, accompanied by lots of feet waving in the air. Shown backwards and upside down—let’s see those DVDs try that! Ha ha ha, DVD losers. Speaking of losers, there was some lost car keys excitement! “Someone won a car!” was yelled out, and that was amusing.

Plan Nine from Outer Space (1959)
Another B-Fest perennial and the first film of the evening (not counting the shorts) that I’ve seen before. Very funny stage presentation, “What is Solarmanite?” which would be cool to have as a PDF. The story is too well known to comment on, other than this: the saucers survive an army attack because they have force shields. Couldn’t they shield us from the universe to prevent ragnorak? Also, since Eros’ ship was destroyed by stupid, stupid, stupid humans, shouldn’t we have been destroyed by the rest of the aliens afterwards? There are still two more ships after all, and, budget cuts or not, the fate of the universe is involved…

Ego Trap (?)
Another short cartoon told entirely through facial expression. I got a laugh when I yelled out “Too soon!” at the end. A fun cartoon though kind of too pink. Reminded me of the DePatie-Freling cartoons but a lack of credits precluded my triumphal, um, being-right-ness. Also, IMDB seems to know nothing about this film. It might have been “Ego Trip” but I’m pretty sure not. Oh well.

The Room (2003)
Another one I’ve never seen. With good reason, as it turns out; thank goodness I was spared this terribleness ‘til now. A vanity project by one Tommy Wiseau, who serves as writer, director, producer, executive producer and star, this is a long, pointless, endless movie about unlikable idiots. Some good audience participation (at least, better than what was on screen), but otherwise such a disjointed mess–scenes seem to appear in non-chronological order, but, surely NO footage could be discarded–that it gets my vote as “Dr. Least Fun” of B-Fest 2010. Johnny, you were such a saint, and everyone betrayed you! Also, despite the title, many rooms (and a rooftop) were involved.

Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987)
Really, you can’t argue with breasts. Decent late night cable-type soft-core entry with good-looking women (who didn’t hesitate to get naked), great explosions and some blood. Not the sort of thing I’d seek out (or see twice) but fun, lively and it didn’t drag. The “let’s stop the story for nudity” bit made plot advancements seem little less compelling to the characters than I figured they ought to, but this film wasn’t made for the plot. I did appreciate that they took pains to explain why the characters couldn’t go to the police for help. I took my first bathroom break here, when a sports interviewer was quizzing Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson (not his real name). Got back to the theatre as the scene was ending, which I figured was worth a point or two in my favor. Oh, a huge plastic snake occasionally figured in the action (of the film). Enjoyable and the best entry so far.

Black Shampoo (1976)
I’ve never been a fan of blaxploitation, though I respect the opinions of those who are. This one has a twist in that the hero is not a gangster, pimp or vigilante but a hairdresser. All his (female) clients are more interested in sex than styling, so that element remains. A fair bit of nudity and a funky score overcome the predictability of the story and the unhurried pace (courtesty the 70’s and director Greydon Clark). Interestingly, race never really plays a part and the hero’s fellow salon members (flamboyantly gay) are the most fun characters.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)
I’d seen this one, once, a few years back and while I could appreciate it, it didn’t really rock me. I liked it quite a bit more the second time because I was aware of its stuffed nature. I still think the film is oversaturated with plot elements, and the fact that reels one and two were switched and no one noticed story holes is pretty telling. Still, it’s fun and impossible to mock.

Troll 2 (1990)
I’d seen this one just recently and it still holds up as bad, but “The Room” kind of kills any standard of bad-movie-judgment. Deborah Reed chews so much scenery that, were she teamed with John “Jaffar” Steiner, the two might tear a hole in reality itself. Great how the ghost guy pretty much does everything, because the kid star’s only real talent seemed to be super-whining and looking like someone had just kicked his Sleeping Beauty bobble-heads.

Live It Up! (1963)
Another one I’ve not seen, and the oldest non-perennial film thus far. A rags-to-riches rock & roll story with the usual problems (OMG I lost the tape) and many musical numbers. I’m probably exhausted but I found a lot of the British slang impenetrable, though the clichés made the story easy enough to follow. Still, an okay entry that didn’t overstay its welcome.

Fiend without a Face (1958)
The oldest film so far, and for my money, the best thing seen at B-Fest 2010. Invisible creatures suck brains from unsuspecting victims–and no, it’s not a political allegory. The film itself is taut and well-made, but the stop-motion knocks this one out of the park. B-Fest 2010’s Reigning Champ.

Sextette (1978)
Another vanity project, though not as awful as The Room. Had this been made in the 1930’s it would probably be high in Mae West’s filmography, without a single change in dialogue or plot machinations. Sadly, time marches on and Mae West, over 80 at the time, was just not as daring as she was forty years earlier. This was the second film that sent Andrew raving, howling for death with such power and fervor that I was tempted. But really, I just found it more sad than bad. Everyone has a sad, unsupportable delusion or two (“I am a hot mama”), but few have theirs open in theatres throughout the world.

War of the Robots (1978)
Desiring another bathroom break (the caffeine was catching up), I was glad to see this title because I was pretty sure I’d seen the film. However, panic set in during the first few minutes as nothing looked familiar. Was this something I had not seen, or had my previous viewing been really veiled by alcohol? The air of the familiar still hung over the production, and I did start to recognize some characters, so I decided not to cap my first B-Fest with a visit to the hospital for a burst bladder. This film went on for so long that I had to take another break, and did so during the climactic and dull space battle, figuring the film would be over when I got back. But no, there was at least another ten or fifteen minutes of repetition to go. This film won 2nd most bad from me, and most of the audience adjudged it Worst Film 2010.

The Giant Claw (1957)
If not for the ludicrous appearance of the title menace, this would probably be remembered as a formulaic but decent entry in the giant monster genre. But really, even if the model had been frightening in a good way, what can you do with a giant bird? The monster is seen as terrifying the entire country, but it’s just one bird. (I know Larry Cohen’s Q does the same, but he wisely confines the creature to one city.) The design of the bird notwithstanding, the team that built it obviously took time to make some nice touches, like the flaring nostrils. (Yeah, I know, bird nostrils don’t work like that, but this is a bird from space.) A good film with which to conclude B-Fest 2010.

And with B-Fest concluded, Liz and I took pride that neither one of us had fallen asleep through the entire length of the festival. The snacks and drinks were duly packed up, trash gathered, cars loaded, and souls taken to Paul and Holly’s house for the post B-Fest party.

At this point, I was pretty much running on fumes, but the conversations were wonderful. Ken, Ian, Liz and myself got a long discussion running on animal actors, the Alien films, James Cameron, which somehow mutated into philosophic, religious and political themes, and the place of the individual in the society in which he finds himself. I can’t recall any of my contributions but I suspect they consisted largely of pauses or interruptions.

Day 3 –

After a handful of hours of sleep (I apologize again to Sally for my snoring), the gang reassembled and Andrew made an incredible breakfast of omelets and pancakes. Should he ever leave the Marine Corps, he should open a restaurant. I was packed up and bundled off to the airport for my 1:40 flight home. Upon landing, I was greeted by the mounds of snow that had mercifully missed Chicago and headed southward instead.

I carefully removed my car’s new exoskeleton and headed home over the (fortunately) clear streets. I greeted my complaining cat and thought a quick nap would be nice…awakening some four hours later, I figured I should tidy up these notes and get them ready for posting. And here they are. A fine B-Fest concluded, I hope that I will attend again next year.

UPDATE: I knew I’d gotten some names wrong, thanks to Ken for the corrections.

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