Retro Review: WHITE ZOMBIE Walks Again in the World Premiere of an All-New Restoration at Atlanta’s Historic Plaza Theatre!

Posted on: Jan 16th, 2013 By:

WHITE ZOMBIE (1932); Dir. Victor Halperin; Starring Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, John Harron and Robert Frazer; World premiere Friday, Jan. 18 @ 8:00 p.m. hosted by Prof. Morte (scary details at end of story), and Jan. 25-31; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Long before George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD forever redefined “zombie” in the public mind as “undead, flesh-eating ghoul,” the Halperin Brothers first brought the Haitian legend of the zombie to the screen with 1932’s WHITE ZOMBIE.

The movie finds young couple Madeline Short (Madge Bellamy) and Neil Parker (John Harron) reuniting in Haiti to be wed at the plantation of their friend Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer). Beaumont’s secret love for Madeline drives him to visit local voodoo master Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi) in order to enlist his help in winning Madeline’s hand. Legendre provides Beaumont with a potion that will transform her into a zombie, robbed of her will and love for Parker. He complies with Legendre’s instructions, but soon finds that the villainous voodoo master has plans of his own for the young beauty.

In 1932, America was in the midst of a newfound fascination with voodoo due to New Orleans’ emergence as a tourist destination. Interest was further fueled by authors such as William Buehler Seabrook. Seabrook was a well-traveled journalist, explorer, occultist and Georgia resident who had gained renown by documenting occult practices across the globe, including some of the only objective contemporaneous reporting on Aleister Crowley. Seabrook’s interest in the occult led him to spend considerable time in Haiti researching voodoo and the Culte des Morts. This adventure resulted in his 1929 book THE MAGIC ISLAND, which introduced the concept of the “zombie” to American audiences.

Producer Edward Halperin and his brother, director Victor Halperin (along with screenwriter Garnett Weston) capitalized on the nation’s interest in voodoo by borrowing liberally from both Seabrook’s work and Kenneth Webb’s 1932 Broadway play, ZOMBIE, and crafted an atmospheric masterpiece. The Halperins enlisted Bela Lugosi, fresh off his success in Universal’s 1931 smash DRACULA. It’s unclear as to Lugosi’s reasons for choosing to immediately follow a major studio hit with a micro-budgeted independent film, but he may have seen it as a way to stretch his creative muscles in a low-risk venture. Although he was paid little for his role (reports vary from $500 to $5000), his co-star Clarence Muse reported that Lugosi rewrote portions of the script, restaged some of the scenes and even directed portions of the film. His personal investment in the end results may be why Lugosi considered WHITE ZOMBIE a favorites among his own movies.

It could also be because it’s just a damned fine film.

The film deftly balances the legendary with the actual. While Legendre’s zombies are the reanimated corpses of Haitian lore (their look provided by Universal’s maestro of makeup, Jack Pierce), the film also depicts his use of a poison that emulates death and results in the victim’s deathlike trance and subsequent subservience to a bokor or sorcerer. Though this method had long been suspected, a pharmacological explanation for the zombie phenomenon wouldn’t be confirmed until ethnobiologist Wade Davis’ explorations into Haiti in the 1980s.

Beyond the film’s knowing mixture of fact and fiction, it benefits from the collaboration of Victor Halperin, cinematographer Arthur Martinelli and music superviser Abe Meyer. Together, they take what may have read on the page as stagebound and stodgy and create a dreamlike vision that mirrors Carl Dreyer’s VAMPYR (also 1932), echoes elements of contemporaneous Universal horrors and anticipates Val Lewton’s exercises in atmosphere and sound design. Constantly inventive staging and camera work—taking place on sets borrowed from DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME—operate in sync with native drumming, chants, ambient noise, eerie rearrangements of classical works and original music by Xavier Cugat to deliver a palpable sense of creeping death under the oppressive hand of Murder Legendre.

And in the role of Legendre, Lugosi becomes the embodiment of evil itself. No other role—not even Dracula—fully utilizes his mesmeric power and hypnotic presence. From the opening scene, when his eyes are superimposed on the landscape of Haiti, his presence is felt in every frame of film; this is the power of his performance as Murder Legendre. The Halperins attempted to recapture the magic of this film with a sequel, REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES, but made the mistake of attempting to replace Bela with Dean Jagger. It’s no small wonder that the subsequent film failed.

For years, WHITE ZOMBIE only circulated on washed-out transfers of faded 16mm prints, mastered for public domain VHS and TV broadcast. In 1999, two rare 35mm prints were used to create the restored version released on DVD by the Roan Group. However, those prints were hardly in pristine condition, displaying evident damage and dropped frames.

Left to right: Bela Lugosi as voodoo master Legendre, a mesmerized Madge Bellamy and a concerned John Harron in WHITE ZOMBIE (1932).

In recent years, Los Angeles-based Holland Releasing had heard that a previously unknown complete 35mm print was rumored to be in the possession of an aged film collector. Thomas W. Holland (a previous resident of Roswell and Marietta) spoke about the efforts to track down this elusive print and its owner. “I heard a rumor about an old fellow who claimed to have a superb, original 35mm print and that began a worldwide search to find this aging, eccentric film lover and convince him to let us acquire the film for a full restoration.  People think I’m joking when I say I had to go through a friend of a friend of a friend to contact this man.” When the print was found, Holland was stunned at its overall condition. “It must have been removed from theatrical service early on, or been set aside as a special studio print.” The Holland Releasing group then set about restoring the film.

AlgoSoft-Tech USA, based in Bishop, Georgia, was hired to return WHITE ZOMBIE’s image quality to its original standards. AlgoSoft’s president, Dr. Inna Kozlov, a famed mathematician in her native Russia, took on the project with great excitement. “We arranged to have the vintage 35mm print scanned, frame-by-frame, at a very high resolution so as not to lose any information.” From that point, Dr. Koslov and her technology developer, Dr. Alexander Petukhov wrote customized software to correct any imperfections in each frame. “Our goal was to return the film’s visuals to how they looked in 1932, the way a vintage carbon arc light source would have glistened through a silver nitrate print of the era.”

Another Atlanta firm, Crawford Media Services, was chosen to do the final re-assembly of the motion picture which included intensely detailed color-correction. “Being a black-and-white film, WHITE ZOMBIE required far more expertise and patience than a typical color feature to get the light levels correct,” says producer Holland. “This film is a gothic masterpiece, and we wanted it to look exactly the way it did when audiences first saw it.”

Once the Georgia image work was completed, the master was sent to Chace Audio by Deluxe in Burbank, California. Using a variety of sources, Chace remastered the film’s faded audio tracks to restore the sound to match the quality of the restored image. “Early sound films had a tremendous amount of inherent hiss, clicks and pops,” Holland says, “but Chace was able to give us a new audio track that greatly reduced this. We weren’t looking to make a hi-fi version of the WHITE ZOMBIE track, just a cleaner, clearer representation of how the movie originally sounded in theaters of the ’30s.”

Of course, any restoration invites an amount of controversy, and WHITE ZOMBIE is no exception to this rule. The Holland restoration, which has been licensed for use on an upcoming DVD and Blu-Ray release by Kino/Fox Lorber, is already attracting its share of debate from advance reviews. (The release offers two viewing options for comparison: the Holland restoration and a “raw” transfer of the print used prior to AlgoSoft’s restorative work.) However, without actually being able to see an arc light-projected silver nitrate print of WHITE ZOMBIE, it’s impossible to say that the Holland restoration is an inaccurate representation of how the film looked in 1932.

What is most exciting, though, is the chance to see WHITE ZOMBIE on the big screen once again as the restoration makes its world premiere at the Plaza Theatre. The Plaza is making this night a grand event. Hosted by Professor Morte of the Silver Scream Spookshow (aka Shane Morton) and Blake Myers (Atlanta effects artist, filmmaker, Buried Alive Film Festival programmer and ATLRetro Kool Kat, whose credits include THE WALKING DEAD and V/H/S), the film will be preceded by the vintage Betty Boop cartoon “Is My Palm Read?” and followed by the 1932 short subject “An Intimate Interview with Bela Lugosi.” Following the filmed entertainment, the team behind WHITE ZOMBIE’s restoration will take part in a question-and-answer session. And attendees will have a chance to win a lifetime all-inclusive ticket to the Plaza, original Plaza seats and T-shirts and monster masks from event sponsor Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse.

Following its premiere on January 18, the film will be showing at the Plaza for a full week, running from January 25-31, and will be shown on a one-time-only basis in theaters across the Unites States and Canada. But you can be there first and see WHITE ZOMBIE brought back to life at its world premiere in Atlanta.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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In Search of Bigfoot at Rock n Roll Monster Bash 2012 and the DEAR GOD! NO! DVD Release Party!

Posted on: Jun 2nd, 2012 By:

We can’t say where you’ll find a Sasquatch in the actual woods, but we’re damned sure that you can spot BIGFOOT, one of Atlanta’s most badass and hard-edged rock bands, twice in the next few days right here. First they’ll be grinding their guitars at Sunday June 3 at the 10th annual Rock n Roll Monster Bash 2012 at the Starlight Drive-In (gates open at 10 a.m.). Then Tuesday June 5, BIGFOOT headlines the DVD release party for DEAR GOD NO!, the home-grown grindhouse film that’s been turning heads and stomaches all across the nation and stars BIGFOOT front-man Jett Bryant.

In case you’re living under a rock and haven’t heard about the Rock n Roll Monster Bash. It’s an all-day, all-night horror festival featuring Dames, Bands, Ghouls, Food, Creeps, Hot Rods, Hearses, Flicks, Freaks, Vendors Werewolf Style Parking Lot Partying and Monstrosity Championship Wrestling hosted by the Silver Scream Spookshow‘s Professor Morte. Other bands playing include X-Impossibles and one of them now rare but always unforgettable performances by Atlanta punk legends Dead Elvis, including ATLRetro logo artist Derek Yaniger. And damn you, dirty ape, but after dusk, lucky attendees get to see 35mm prints of the incomparable, original PLANET OF THE APES (1968) and zombie comedy RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985), on the big Drive-In screen! If you haven’t already read Gene Kannenberg‘s awesome remembrance of growing up with the Apes and making ape masks with paper and crayons, check it out here.

When DEAR GOD NO! launched its world premiere at the Plaza Theatre last fall, the Star Bar must’ve been empty. Indeed, the number is legion when it comes to talented folks from Atlanta’s alt-garage, Redneck underground and horror scenes who worked on the movie. Familiar faces in the cast and crew including Shane Morton (Silver Scream SpookshowGargantuaAtlanta Zombie Apocalypse)Nik Morgan (Splatter Cinema), Billy Ratliff (Truckadelic), Madeline Brumby (check out our Kool Kat on Madeline here), Jas. M. Stacy (Starlight Drive-InPalookaville, Get Delicious!AM Gold) and many more. Since then, Director Jimmy Bickert‘s “unapologetic homage to classic grindhouse cinema” (DailyGrindhouse.com) has taken the festival circuit by storm and hauling in reverent reviews from lovers of exploitation films. The Big World Pictures release will finally be available on DVD on Tues. June 5, with a ton of bonus features, and to celebrate, the public is invited to the FREE party and screening that night at The Masquerade (doors at 8 p.m.).

Shot in 16mm with ’70s period-authentic effects, DEAR GOD NO! follows outlaw motorcycle gang The Impalers, led by Jett Bryant (yup, that’s his character’s name, too), on a tri-state rape and murder spree which culminates in a bloody massacre with rival club Satan’s Own in a dive bar (actually Tucker Saloon) with the added bonus of topless strippers in Richard Nixon masks with machine guns. Still keen to continue their rampage, the survivors invade a mountain cabin occupied by a scientist and his geeky/sexy daughter. And that’s when the depravity really begins as the bikers realize the scientist is mad, his wife is madder, and the monster that lurks in the wilderness outside is maddest of all.

So it just seemed kinda natural (or should we say, supernatural?) to catch up with Jett, who also plays in AM Gold and has played Jesus on stage in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, for a down and dirty little talk about Bigfoot and why  hard rockers, drinkers and monster movie lovers alike need to get out of the house both Sunday and Tuesday! Dear God! Yes! That’s why we’re proud to say that we live in the city with America’s finest Retro horror scene!

First off, let’s talk BIGFOOT. How did the band get started and what’s your sound like for the uninitiated?

BIGFOOT was started by Jimmy Hall and Evil Jim Wright, two of the most badass guitarists you can imagine. Together with Micheal Faulkner (bass), Kevin Watford (drums) and myself, you get the rowdy and raunchy BIGFOOT—a very loud and heavy southern rock with high energy.

Do you have any special plans for your gig at Rock n Roll Monsterbash 2012?

My biggest plan is not to be too drunk when I get onstage.

What’s your favorite part of this year’s Monster Bash, other than BIGFOOT, of course?

I’m looking forward to seeing PLANET OF THE APES and RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD on the big screen. I love me a zombie movie. I like the goofy punk rock situation in the graveyard, and Linnea Quigley gettg all naked and eaten by zombies is pretty cool, too. It’s always been a favorite movie of mine. And apes taking over the world, what’s not to love about that?! It’s always a pleasure to see a movie at the drive-in. That’s the best way to see a movie as far as I am concerned. You can bring your own beer. I love it.

How do you feel about all the positive buzz DEAR GOD! NO! has been getting on the festival circuit?

I’m excited about it. I think it’s great. I always wanted to be famous or infamous. However,  the f–k you look at it. Jimmy did a really great job with that movie. I wasn’t surprised that it was such a big hit just because I’ve known Jimmy Bickert forever and he put all his attention into it. I haven’t seen him do that in years. It’s about time.

Is it just coincidental that you’re in a band called BIGFOOT and a Bigfoot is the monster in DEAR GOD! NO!?

It’s total coincidence that the band is called BIGFOOT and the movie contains a raging sasquatch.The band name came about while we were tossing ideas back and forth and our buddy Ted got impatient waiting for us to figure it out because he needed to make a flyer. So he just dubbed us BIGFOOT

Did you ever feel like the movie was going too far in pushing the limits with the sex, violence, gore and general disgustingness? What do you say to people who are offended?

DEAR GOD NO! is a pretty brutal film, but it’s all in good fun. However, I will not let my mama see this picture

Your character in DEAR GOD! NO! bears your name. What’s the difference between you and him, and are you ever uncomfortable with that—given the crazy, sick things he does in the movie?

As far as playing the character Jett in DEAR GOD! NO! I really just played myself, took out all the good parts and replaced it with the DNA of a honey badger.

I can just imagine how much fun you had recording the commentary track for the DVD with Madelaine Brumby and Shane Morton. Can you talk a little about how you guys approached that and maybe share one favorite behind-the-scenes story? 

We all just sat around with microphones and watched the picture. They got wine-drunk and I got beer-drunk. Shane and I have been friends for a long time so it wasn’t even like work. It was just like hanging out with my buddy. As for a story, [shooting the film] was all pretty long days, but John Collins (Collins in DEAR GOD! NO!) was always making it pretty loose and funny. He made a habit of sending us pictures of his turds when taking a shit. It is not on the commentary track, but it is on blooper reel, a little Easter egg they have in there.

You die in DEAR GOD! NO! but everyone knows that never stopped a character from coming back in a sequel. Will we see Jett Bryant again in the sequel, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS, or can you tell us?

My character will return in the sequel, probably more pissed off considering he’s been woke from the dead.

Anything you want to add about Bigfoot’s performance at the DVD release party next Tuesday?

We’re excited about it, but it’s just going to be another badass BIGFOOT show, you know!

What about what you’re up to with AM Gold, any other acting plans and what’s next for BIGFOOT?

BIGFOOT’s going to keep stomping like they do, we’re going to keep make movies, and AM Gold’s going to keep playing festivals!

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Kool Kat of the Week: Madeline Brumby Battles the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, Scares at the Spookshow and Braves Bikers ‘n’ Bigfoot in DEAR GOD NO!

Posted on: Oct 12th, 2011 By:

As Halloween creeps close and THE WALKING DEAD returns to TV next Sunday, Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse (AZA) arises for its own second season with new sets and a new storyline at Safety Wolf, the vast paintball combat complex off Moreland Avenue, just south of I-285 (open Thurs.-Sun. nights through Oct. 31). Set in and around a two-story abandoned motel, this approximately 100,000-square-foot attraction was nightmared up by the maniacal minds of local horror Renaissance man/make-up artist Shane Morton (Silver Scream Spookshow, Gargantua, etc.) and Jonny Rej (Plaza Theatre). Not just your traditional walk-through haunts with jump-out monsters, AZA delivers a total immersion “experience” with a distinct plotline that lands visitors right in the middle of the zombie plague, interacting along the way with a variety of human characters from scientists and bureaucrats at the Center for Disease Development (CDD) (but can you trust them?) to commandos fighting the zombies with automatic weaponry (reminiscent of last year’s Mack and Johnson) to a twisted carnival of human scum who thrive in the chaos, reminiscent of John Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.  It’s sometimes hard to know who to trust but if someone says “run,” let’s just say you can be sure zombies are around and if you don’t, you may get bitten and infected with the plague yourself or worse eaten for your brains!

To get the scary scoop, ATLRetro caught up with Madeline Brumby, a brunette with a machine gun who is no mere scream queen but a key cast-member and also this year’s pinup girl for the “hero” side of the AZA. But that’s not the only place you can see this monster-loving maiden this October. She’ll also be acting in the 5th Anniversary Silver Scream Spookshow this Saturday Oct. 15 at the Plaza Theatre – and you know Prof. Morte and Co. will be pulling out all the tricks and treats given that it’s their Halloween show and the movie is a rare 35mm print of the Vincent Price/Lon Chaney Jr. (not to mention H.P. Lovecraft) 1963 classic HAUNTED PALACE (Read our Retro Review here). Then she’ll be taking to the streets for this Sunday’s Zombie Walk Atlanta, organized by Luke Godfrey (Splatter Cinema, Chamber of Horrors) and cosponsored by AZA, and again with the AZA group at the Little 5 Points Halloween Parade on Sat. Oct. 22. Finally Madeline also will be up on the Plaza’s big screen later this month (Oct. 22-27) as one of the stars of DEAR GOD NO!, a hard-edged/no-holds-barred homage to ‘70s grindhouse features about a hellraising motorcycle gang, a mad scientist and a sasquatch on the rampage. Yeah, the name makes total sense when you see the movie!

All of this sounds like horror heaven to us, so we had to make Madeline Kool Kat of the Week

AZA 2011 T-short design by Dave Cook.

ATLRetro: This year’s AZA has the same basic concept but a totally new pathway and set of characters—loved the R.I.P. Mack and Johnson graffiti on the back wall. Without giving too much away, what’s new and different?

Madeline Brumby: We are all extremely excited about the new format. Of course, I’m sad to see Mack and Johnson go, but this year’s show is the sequel to the Mack and Johnson story. The versatility of the AZA to create and continue an apocalyptic scenario is really what gives the unique feel to the experience this year. And for years to come!

One of the cool things about AZA is every character seems to have a back story. Who do you play, and what’s yours?

Definitely! We had a patron come through the other night who was totally impressed that we had “real” actors with “real” stories. I’m a resistance paramilitary character. My troopers and I are rebels fighting for the survival of the uninfected and the destruction of the Center for Disease Development.

Some of the zombies have pretty intense make-up—i.e. they’re not freshly dead. How long does it take the zombies to get into make-up and how many make-up artists are on the team?

As much as we try to make the apocalypse real, the AZA is still a show. With not much light, our zombies have to be highly detailed for a spine-chilling scare. The process is down to a fine science—taking about 7 minutes per zombie. We have a team of about eight artists, myself included, headed by Shane Morton. First they are outfitted and receive a prosthetic. Once the prosthetic is dry, they are base-coated, detailed with additional colors, blood-splattered and hungry for BRAINS!

What zombie movies and books were most influential in planning AZA, and did a certain TV show set in Atlanta and featuring the CDC influence AZA at all in this year’s planning?

Haha! That’s funny. Last night Shane and I watched THE WALKING DEAD for the first time, and I thought it was pretty weak. CGI blood is a NO-NO! Our blood gags are far more realistic and they’re LIVE! And I’m pretty sure we were using the CDC gimmick first(?) as our show opened before the first episode aired. As far as most influential, WORLD WAR Z, I AM LEGEND [Ed. note: original Richard Matheson novel, not Will Smith move], LAST MAN STANDING and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK provide the main inspirations.

Were you involved in any of the planning and construction? What can you tell us about that – how does AZA come together and who are some of the key behind-the-scenes masterminds, whom readers might not know about?

I’ve been out on builds from January to October and helped with some big scares in the courtyard. The primary innovators are Jonny Rej (co-owner of the Plaza Theatre) and Shane, with the major help of Dusty Booze in the construction department.

What’s a cool piece of trivia about AZA that isn’t widely known?

It is HAUNTED!

Professor Morte (Shane Morton) and Madeline Brumby in Silver Scream Spookshow.

Can you share any history about the AZA site? It was an abandoned motel, wasn’t it?

It used to be one of the busiest trucks stops ofAtlanta. At some point the owners ran into financial trouble and it shut down. Pirates ransacked the place and absconded with all the copper! When the property was purchased by Safety Wolf, I think they found EIGHT dead bodies during clean-up in the motel.  Shane and Jonny sure found some scary stuff when they were cleaning…

In addition to the main AZA experience, there’s a photo op, the opportunity to shoot zombies with paintball weaponry and some tasty food vendors, aren’t there? What might readers want to know in advance about what else is going on?

What better way to remember your apocalyptic experience than a photo with a zombie and a weapon of choice! The Zombie Shoot is even better this year and don’t let your taste buds miss out on Jim Stacy‘s famous Palookaville eats! His pickle is amazing! (insert joke here)

You’ve also become a regular in the Silver Scream Spookshow. Can you give us a little sneak peek into this week’s stage show and what makes HAUNTED PALACE such a special treat?

We definitely have some comedy gold in store for this week’s show! It’s the 5th year anniversary, so we’ve got some of the older characters like Persephone (Plaza co-owner Gayle Rej) and some of the new ones like Quozzy mixing it up for a spooktacular monster mash with more onstage illusions than ever. The score of HAUNTED PALACE is what makes the movie special to me, so I’m excited to see and HEAR it in the wonderful Plaza Theatre.

Will AZA be in the L5P Halloween Parade this year? Just zombies or how does one decorate an undead float?

We’ll be there! Undead and Alive! I think the only “float” we’ll have is a blood-splattered car.

You’re also starring in DEAR GOD NO!, an over-the-top neo-‘70s exploitation film featuring tons of local talent and playing at the Plaza Oct. 22-27. Can you tell us a little bit about that movie and the part you play?

Jimmy Bickert‘s DEAR GOD NO! is the ultimate grindhouse film. It is disturbing, offensive, hilarious, horrifying and amazing. You can’t even call it a tribute. It was shot on super 16mm film and all the effects are practical. I play Edna Marco who is the daughter of the mad scientist that has created something terrible. She transforms from submissive to empowered. Developing her went beyond all expectations. I channeled some deep dark emotions into my character and it has definitely been one of my proudest roles.

DEAR GOD NO! pushed a lot of boundaries and isn’t for everyone. What advice do you have for who should see it, especially the gals?

Take it for the art that it is and expect to be offended.

You also are acting as one of Dracula’s wives in Rob Thompson’s highly anticipated DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA, which premieres next April at 7 Stages. Do you have anything you’d like to share about that role and experience?

Well, it’s definitely a musical that isn’t lame. My poor brother didn’t realize that Dracula’s wives were semi-nude and felt a little weird seeing that much of his sister. Haha! But, I don’t think it bothered anybody else too much. From musicians, score, and performers, the show is oozing talent and potential. I hope we do play in Prague this summer.

Any other acting roles or creative endeavors that you’d like to share with ATLRetro readers?

I hear there’s going to be a sequel to DEAR GOD NO! Hopefully we start shooting in the Spring.

Finally, you lived in England and have a science degree from Georgia Tech. Not that it wouldn’t be our dream/nightmare job, but how did you end up being a B-monster attraction/spookshow/movie actress?

Life’s a journey, right?

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Kool Kat Of The Week: Ben Ruder Smuggles Some Contraband Cinema into The Plaza

Posted on: Oct 4th, 2011 By:

Plaza Manager/Projectionist Ben Ruder loves film so much it even tastes good.

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Writer

Ben Ruder is one of the unsung heroes of Atlanta.

As chief projectionist and manager of The Plaza Theatre, he’s a cinephile who keeps the art and pleasure of movie-going alive in an era of digital downloads, streaming and DVD boredom. You can train a monkey to run the 16 digital projectors at a chain-run multiplex; but knowing how to repair an actual film print, especially an old one, and project it properly is a skill that’s sadly coming to the end of the reel. Ruder is one of that dying breed – a real projectionist who cares about the experience patrons have when they see a movie at The Plaza. Now, along with other like-minded lovers of celluloid, he’s starting to program CONTRABAND CINEMA, an ongoing, eclectic selection of rare films in a variety of formats (Super-8, 16mm; everything from avant garde to rare, archival, educational films, and personal Underground artistic expressions). The first show is this Thursday, October 6 at 8 p.m. at The Plaza – and that’s why he’s our Kool Kat of the Week.

Ben took time out from his busy schedule to share the details on what promises to be a fascinating kick-off for a series of eye-treats for Atlantans who are tired of the same old Studio produced rubbish cluttering up area multiplexes. He also shared a little bit about his company RUDERMEDIA, his personal love affair with film on film and why helping owners Jonathan and Gayle Rej to preserve the Plaza is such a passion.

ATLRetro: How did CONTRABAND CINEMA evolve?

BEN: Contraband Cinema is an Atlanta-based micro-cinema safehouse based on, inspired by and executed under the guidance of Craig Baldwin‘s Other Cinema in San Francisco – an ongoing series of experimental film, video and performance. Contraband Cinema strives to select the best work locally and around the world, transplant it to the south, and nurture it through close collaboration with regional filmmakers, curators and established film institutions.

Contraband Cinema is operated by Marcus Rosentrater and Gideon Kennedy. Marcus and I have talked about doing something together for a while, as he is a regular volunteer for us at the Plaza. We are both big fans of the medium of film and wanted to share hard-to-obtain materials with other cinephiles. Through my company RUDERMEDIA, I am assisting Marcus with locations, equipment, and providing “Film Education” programming which takes a look at educational shorts shown in the classroom, as well as teaching the attendees lessons on how 16mm projection works as well as what goes into film preservation and restoration. I secured The Plaza for this first event, but we’ll be in several nontraditional screening spaces for future shows.

This month we’ll also have a “photobooth” set up in the lobby before and after the screening where you get 5 seconds of time in front of a Super 8mm camera which will be screened at a future event, as well as posted online after processing.

Read the rest of this entry »

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