Friday, November 9, 2012

Beneath the Planet of the Parkway

Back when I began programming and hosting my weekly cult movie series at The Parkway, initially called The Midnight Lounge, starting in April 1997, three months after the theater opened, it was basically on-the-job training for all of us. While I was a bona fide film geek and freelance writer specializing at the time in classic cinema, writing for magazines like Filmfax and Outre, I had zero experience as a film programmer/impresario. And it showed. In the beginning, I didn't even have a microphone so I was basically shouting improv wisecracks at the audience, weakly echoing in the cavernous downstairs auditorium, my "Will the Thrill" lounge lizard persona still being hatched and honed live on stage. I never aspired to be a performer. I was a writer. This was all a strange quirk of fateful circumstance. 

However, I did know what I was doing when it came to actually choosing the movies, but back then, when it was all 35mm, my choices were subject to availability and condition of prints. This proved to be a very frustrating process which didn't get any easier over time. 

Case in point: one of my first requests was the original Planet of the Apes (1968), starring Charlton Heston, Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall. I knew it was a slam dunk crowd pleaser, and better known to mainstream filmgoers than some of the other classic B flicks I'd been showing, personal favorites like War of the Colossal Beast and  Day the World Ended, which didn't attract large droves to that sketchy neighborhood on late Saturday nights. So we were all very excited when I booked this famous sci-fi classic. I even made my first television appearance with my new lovely assistant and future wife, Monica Tiki Goddess, on Jan Wahl's old Talkin' Pictures program on KRON, where she interviewed us and showed clips from some of my favorite films (I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Sweet Smell of Success, Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! and Bare Knuckles starring my father, Robert Viharo), and I plugged my upcoming screening of Planet of the Apes that Saturday at midnight. Certainly, it was going to be a big night for our fledgling theater. (Watch video of the Jan Wahl interview here.)
Friday arrived, naturally followed by Saturday - but the print didn't arrive with 'em. We totally panicked. This was before we even had a video projector, so dumbing down the format was not even an option at that point. No print, no screening. The booking was scrapped and large crowds were disappointed, though I think we swapped it out for Evil Dead 2, which was already in the house for some reason, so the night wasn't a total loss. Still a major letdown for all the people who left the safe comfort of their homes and parked in the dark just for Apes, though.

It turned out the delivery driver had attempted to drop off the print when the theater was closed, early on Friday, and none of the staff passed on the note he left on the door. It has been sitting at the UPS depot all weekend.

A year or so later, I tried to make it up to the Apes fans by booking it again. We got the print in time, but it wasn't Planet of the Apes. The distributor had screwed up and sent us the sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). Frustrating, but at least it still had Charlton Heston and talking apes, so we settled for it, even though we were presenting the series out of order. 

One more snag, though: Linda Harrison, who played the sexy human slave girl Nova, had only a single word of dialogue in both movies, "Taylor!", but it had somehow been excised from the badly faded, choppy print. The film simply skipped right over it. The audience booed...then laughed.

The next time I tried to book the original film, I was told the single available print had been trashed beyond repair due to excessive use and it was no longer in circulation. Sigh.

This was only one of many glitches Parkway audiences suffered through over the years. At least we served beer to ease the pain. Cheers.

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