Retro-View: QT III Fest – Exploitation Marathon!

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QT lll continued in the afternoon with a Saturday Kiddie Matinee featuring VISIT TO A SMALL PLANET with Jerry Lewis in a skewed adaptation of Gore Vidal’s more satirical Broadway hit. I know the Ain’t It Cool News crew were there with this excellent report. I was not, sleeping in, writing at my favorite cafe haunt, Mojo’s. And I had to reserve my strength for that evening’s all night EXPLOITATION MARATHON! The list of films was unique with some real treats including ALLIGATOR written by John Sayles, starring Robert Forster; and Ralph Bakshi’s controversial rarely-seen animated drama COONSKIN.

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Inside The Alamo

Saturday night at the Alamo Drafthouse. Festive vibe. I’m fully rested and vested to immerse myself in my first theatrical all-night movie mainline. Bethany and Manny have joined me in the cause. I buy one of the Duke Wayne adorned Alamo mugs that act as a bottomless cup o’ coffee to help you make it through the onslaught of screenings. Here’s the line-up:

* Coonskin
* Alligator
* Death Collector
* Nashville Girl
* Little Cigars
* Surprise Bonus Wake-up Movie

I had already settled on the middle seat, third row as my official spot for the fest. Bethany and Manny sat excited on both sides of me, all of us laughing or marveling at the breadth of funky bad-ass trailers. Texas magic was in the air. Robert Rodriguez was there, and Mike Judge. Harry Knowles has a good report on the night here. He and the Austin Geek Mafia sat behind me throughout the festival.

lyricQuentin bound on stage, dressed in black, pumped up, ready to rawk and rawl the all-nite-shock-a-thon audience. He went on a great riff about how many of these films have very good scenes or moments, or scripts in the case of ALLIGATOR. “Oh… and another thing… don’t worry about falling asleep… That’s kinda one of the things that’s great about this kinda thing. You fall asleep remembering a man being bit in half by a giant alligator and you wake up to see a country western singer getting a blow job and you’re kinda like…. WHOA… what’s happening here… is this the same fucking movie, where the hell did these dwarfs with machine guns come from, what’s happening?”

He warned that he and others would be watching to see who stayed or snuck away. “We know who you are,” he promised with pointing finger. I guess we would be filed under “chicken shit” if we bailed. Not me. Plus I wanted to find out what the Surprise Movie was as I had an idea… Who would survive this exploitation marathon and what would be left of them?

Quentin did his customary mic drop and it was Showtime at the Alamo!

coonaddThe marathon started in grand politically ruptured fashion with a rare showing of the long suppressed, COONSKIN, animator Ralph Bakshi’s flawed, angry and experimental treatsie on the Black Urban Xperience circa 1975 at the tail end of the blaxploitation film era.  Sold as “SONG OF THE SOUTH in Harlem” Bakshi found himself in real hot politik as the young archetypal Al Sharpton led a protest before seeing it. The film was re-titled STREET FIGHT and sunk into the cracks of reel time. You can see why this would be a fave for Tarantino. The incredible opening credits with the legendary Scatman Crothers alone set the audience up for things to come. A mash-up of Bakshi’s cartoony caricatures, rotoscoping, and animation with a live action bookend, the film is a heady trip but I’ve never warmed to Bakshi’s style. I think his dialogue is great, but the Saturday Morning antics of the characters pull me out. Yet Bakshi is clearly coming from a place of empathy and radical rage, so charges of racism are rather moot and P.C., especially given that Spike Lee is a fan along with rappers like the Wu Tang Clan. Way to start the night!

Up next, ALLIGATOR from 1980, a personal favorite. I always loved the witty, aware script by John Sayles and Lewis Teague’s slick direction. Particularly awesome is Robert Forster in the lead. Quentin explained that this film was the reason he cast Forster in JACKIE BROWN. This is easily the best JAWS rip-off along with the Sayles-penned PIRANHA. The effects are pretty cool for a low budget creature feature, and there are some wonderful shock moments. There’s even a little Sayles-esque political allegory as the gator sweeps through a crooked contractor’s wedding, eating guests like a demon of capitalism. I was also in hog movie heaven, working over my pepperoni pizza and draft beer. Tarantino made an impassioned pitch to make sure we all tipped the faithful Alamo wait-staff and somebody yelled out something about RESErVOIR DOGS. “Listen to ME, do not listen to MR. PINK!” Tarantino shouted to cheers.

Next was the little-seen DEATH COLLECTOR from 1976. A gritty slice of greasy New York mobsters, this was the film that actually prompted Martin Scorcese to cast Joe Pesci in RAGING BULL. And Pesci acts here as if he’s been in Scorcese films all his life. Despite the exploitive title, this was a well-made tough ambitious flick with some terrific scenes.  This rough gem deserves a nice Criterion release.

I looked around at the still thick crowd. At some point, Manny had vanished, perhaps for a date. Bethany was still next to me, her head pillow already in use. It was only around two in the AM, and we still had three more films to go. I thought this was as close to a 42nd street grindhouse as I was going to come in my life. Minus the rats, junkies and stabbings.

nashvilleSome old fashion sexploitation came up with NASHVILLE GIRL (1976), starring Monica Gayle, best known and beloved as “Patch” in Jack Hill’s amazing SWITCHBLADE SISTERS (“I lost an eye for this gang!”). Here, she plays a gentle country girl who spends most of the film being degraded by men in her life. There was an honesty about how women in show biz are used by con-men that gave the movie more validity than the usual New World fare; her cruel Svengali manager was presented with some actual psychological subtlety. I even liked some of the faux-honky tonk tunes. So not bad, if too brutal. Only Roger Corman would release a drive-in version of a Robert Altman film.

Quentin was still vibrant, getting us pumped up, analyzing the energy flow of the crowd. He seemed satisfied and intro’d the most unusual film of the night, 1973’s LITTLE CIGARS, another New World release I’d never heard of. Basically the story of a modern Snow White and her criminal dwarfs, LITTLE CIGARS was not the “ha ha midget thieves” feature I was expecting. The film has a seedy noir feel, and you can identify with the lead little person’s triumph at hooking up with the luscious Angel Tompkins. Though I caught a few zzzz’s during the film, one of the highlight moments of the fest was the audience’s almost visceral reaction when the tiny crooks threatened to turn the film very unpleasant. You’ll have to see for yourself. If it ever makes it to DVD.

egyptian_kong_17The marathon was winding down and we were all curious as to what the Surprise Bonus Wake-Up Movie would be. I told Bethany it might be THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN since QT’s distribution company, Rolling Thunder, would be releasing it in a month or two. Bethany nodded and fell back asleep. Quentin bound on stage like human Redbull, looking over the audience wreckage of the Alamo at 6 AM. Still jazzed, he announced that we were to be the premiere elite for…THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN! Hoots and hollers from those able to move. Fortune cookies were passed around. I’d seen pictures of this film since I was a monster-mag-reading kid, and heard that it was the most expensive film ever made in Hong Kong. Clearly an attempt at a Dino De Laurentis style KING KONG remake (it should have been called HONG KONG), I viddied TMPM in a sort of strange, delirious, hallucinogenic Ludovico state. My eyelids fluttered as the jungle woman twirled the leopard, exposing its genitalia in a slo-motion love montage. Then I would slip back off to cozy sleep, awakening to the final protracted city battle as one of the silliest man-in-ape-suit history destroyed Hong Kong. I particularly loved the endless close-ups of the great monkey’s screaming puppet face. The film ends on a rather grand tragic symbolic image, and I could see why Quentin wanted THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN seen by the world.

But it was around 8 AM now, the sun was out and the Exploitation Marathon had come to a mellow finale.  Along with the crowd, Bethany and I staggered into the Austin Sunday morn like zombie refugees; I recall driving home somehow, hitting my pillow into deep B-movie REM, images of busty jungle women and giant puppet apes unspooling in my head.

Yes, a great night. We had survived. At least some of us had. And I would be back for that evening’s 70’s DOUBLE FEATURE. After this cine-trance, I was tested and battle-ready. Nothing would keep me away… I was… was… wasszzzzzzzz….

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4 Responses to “Retro-View: QT III Fest – Exploitation Marathon!”

  1. […] an excuse to write about my beloved old Texas haunt, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, where you can see Tarantino wax rhapsodic about ALLIGATOR or behold Tobe Hooper introduce THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE on Halloween eve (and friends, there […]

  2. […] DIRTY O’NEIL would make a great streaming double-bill with the equally unavailable-on-DVD, LITTLE CIGARS (1973). For drive-in AIP completists like me, this is still worth a view along with a few beers and a […]

  3. […] DIRTY O’NEIL would make a great streaming double-bill with the equally unavailable-on-DVD, LITTLE CIGARS (1973). For drive-in AIP completists like me, this is still worth a view along with a few beers and a […]

  4. […] Culture, Politics & SKIDOO « Inglourious Basterds Retro-View: QT III Fest – Exploitation Marathon! […]

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