Spring Into Cinema: Your Retro Primer to the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival

Posted on: Mar 20th, 2015 By:

AFFlogoBy Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Alongside the first appearance of flip-flops and the musk of Bradford Pears, the arrival of the Atlanta Film Festival at the Plaza Theatre (and other venues) is becoming a new annual rite of Spring. Starting Friday, the AFF is bringing another year of offbeat and engrossing titles, and you can bet that ATL Retro is going to be all over it, providing coverage, features, and reviews of the best of what the festival has to offer.

For Retro-inclined readers out there, we’ve taken the liberty of targeting a few productions that may be relevant to your interests. Every screening at the AFF is likely to be a great time at the theater, but consider this your retro primer. In fact, let’s make that official:

OLD SOUTH

OLD SOUTH

Kick off your AFF experience with a little crowd participation by visiting the folks from Lips Down on Dixie as they present their extremely popular performance of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975). Although a Plaza staple for years, the show gets even better when seen with a festival crowd of fervent movie fanatics. You could even decide to see the show twice during your festival-going, if you just can’t get enough of the good Doctor Frank-N-Furter’s “hospitality.” There’s another midnight screening the following Friday. (THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW plays at midnight, March 20 & 27, at the Plaza).:

Retro is a broad category, and it can sometimes mean a state of mind. In OLD SOUTH (dir. Danielle Beverly) contemporary values collide with a damaging stereotype from the past as a college fraternity in Athens “known to fly the Confederate flag” attempts to mount an antebellum-style parade in a historically black neighborhood. The film plays with PEN UP THE PIGS (dir. Kelly Gallagher), a film described as “handcrafted, collage animation” that explores connections between old slavery and present-day racism. (OLD SOUTH plays 3/21 at 12:45 @ the Plaza)

Meanwhile, HOLBROOK/TWAIN: AN AMERICAN ODYSSEY (dir. Scott Teems) explores a more positive representation of the old south. Hollywood legend Hal Holbrook’s most famous role is that of Mark Twain, who he’s performed on stage in a one-man show for most of his life. This new documentary looks into the special relationship Holbrook has with his version of Twain, and features new interviews from stars like Sean Penn and Martin Sheen discussing Holbrook’s life and legacy. (HOLBROOK/TWAIN plays 3/21 at 8:00pm @ The Inn at Serenbe Pavilion, with an encore screening on 3/29 at 4:30pm @ 7 Stages)

ThEditor

THE EDITOR

Finally, for retro horror lovers, don’t miss THE EDITOR (dir. Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy). In this Canadian comedy-horror film, a shlock film editor with wooden fingers is accused of a string of murders and must clear his name. The production comes from the demented minds of Brooks and Kennedy, two members of the ensemble who brought the world MANBORG (2011), and features genre mainstays Udo Kier (SUSPIRIA) and Paz de la Huerta (NURSE). (THE EDITOR plays 3/21 at 9:45pm @ The Plaza)

Musician Frank Morgan’s life can be used as a cautionary tale about how great talent is no defense against the traps of the world which, in Morgan’s case, manifested as a drug addiction that sent his life and career spiraling into bankruptcy and incarceration. SOUND OF REDEMPTION: THE FRANK MORGAN STORY (dir. N.C. Heikin) chronicles Morgan’s struggles beginning with the ups (when the saxophonist was considered a successor to Charlie Parker) all the way to the downs and the back again. The documentary features extensive concert footage featuring the likes of saxophonist Grace Kelly and pianist George Cables, both of whom will appear in a live performance preceding the film. (SOUND OF REDEMPTION screens 3/25 at 7:30pm @ The Rialto Theater at Georgia State University)

THE KEEPING ROOM

THE KEEPING ROOM

THE KEEPING ROOM (dir. Daniel Barber) is a Civil War drama that places the spotlight squarely on a trio of strong, Southern women in a tough situation. When their father and brother go off to fight for the Confederacy, two sisters and their slave must defend the homestead from marauding Union soldiers who are in advance of Sherman’s infamous march. THE KEEPING ROOM is a tense, claustrophobic drama that features known stars Hailee Steinfeld (TRUE GRIT), Brit Marling (ANOTHER EARTH), and Sam Worthington (AVATAR). (THE KEEPING ROOM screens 3/26 at 9:30 @ The Plaza).

Atlanta director and ATLRetro Kool Kat Eddie Ray follows up his 2011 short film SATANIC PANIC: BAND OUT OF HELL with the in-demand sequel, SATANIC PANIC 2: BATTLE OF THE BANDS. The sequel finds our heroes, electronic dance band who pretend to be Satan worshippers for marketing reasons, preparing for a huge band battle while their manager plots to sacrifice them to the Dark One himself. In their new adventure, the band must contend with “secret government spy missions, band rivalries, and growing egos.” Look for an exclusive interview with Eddie Ray here at ATLRetro.com next week. (SATANIC PANIC 2 screens 3/27 at 6:30pm @ 7 Stages)

BLACK SUNDAY

BLACK SUNDAY

The folks from Splatter Cinema join the festival this year with a special presentation of the Italian horror classic BLACK SUNDAY (dir. Mario Bava). Banned in the UK for years—a true badge of honor in the horror world—the film stars the immortal Barbara Steele as a witch burned at the stake who returns 200 years later for bloody revenge. Featuring memorably grotesque and frightening scenes, BLACK SUNDAY is a slam-dunk classic of the genre that is well worth the effort to see on the big screen. (BLACK SUNDAY screens 3/27 at 10:00 pm @ 7 Stages)

LOVE AND MERCY (dir. Bill Pohlad) is an unconventional biography film about the life and career of singer/songwriter Brian Wilson. The film chronicles the young Wilson’s struggles with his musical ambitions, as he seeks to throw off the “surf music” label he had become known for as part of the Beach Boys, and with his overuse of psychedelic drugs. Paul Dano (LOOPER) plays Wilson as a young man, while John Cusack (GROSSE POINTE BLANK) plays Wilson as an adult, on the other side of experiences that left him a broken man. (LOVE AND MERCY plays 3/29 at 12:15pm @ The Plaza)

LOVE AND MERCY

LOVE AND MERCY

And finally, there’s a documentary that has sadly gone retro, as one of our favorite downtown eateries is sadly no longer with us. DANTE’S DOWN THE HATCH (dir. Jef Bredemeier) is a profile of the famed restaurant and its owner, Dante Stephensen. Far more than a place you could eat fondue while watching the alligators lounge in their pool, Dante’s became a landmark for many of us an integral part of the Atlanta landscape, and this documentary ensures that legacy is not forgotten. If you missed ATLRetro’s Kool Kat interview with Dante about his unique decor, you can find it here(DANTE’S DOWN THE HATCH plays 3.29 at 4:30pm @ The Plaza)

Of course, these films represent just a tiny portion of the events, shorts, seminars, and screenings taking place as part of the festival. For a complete list, you need to check out the official Atlanta Film Festival Schedule. And keep an eye on ATLRetro throughout the fest for coverage on all the fun and films. Enjoy this year’s AFF, movie lovers!

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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Get Set for a Swinging Time with Vincent Price at THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM! A New Digital Restoration at Atlanta’s Historic Plaza Theatre!

Posted on: Jan 30th, 2013 By:

THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961); Dir. Roger Corman; Starring Vincent Price, Barbara Steele and John Kerr; Premiere Friday, Feb. 1 @ 8:00 p.m. with giveaways; then nightly at 8 p.m. Feb. 2- 7; Plaza Theatre (visit website for times and ticket prices); Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Finally, after years of waiting, it is now possible to see PIT AND THE PENDULUM on the big screen once again in a newly-restored, high-definition digital presentation. For far too long, the movie has been hard to see in optimal condition (even the most recent MGM Midnite Movies DVD of the title isn’t anamorphically enhanced for widescreen presentation). This is something that’s always struck me as odd since it’s one of the best-remembered films of American International PicturesEdgar Allan Poe cycle, was a huge box-office smash at the time and contains some of the most defining scenes in post-1960 horror. Be that as it may, as far as securing prints go, it has been one of the more obscure films of Roger Corman. Thankfully, that’s changing now, and THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM can be seen in all of its glory and grandeur at Atlanta’s historic Plaza Theatre from Friday, February 1 through Thursday, February 7. Friday night’s showing will feature a special giveaway of two free tickets to all nine days of the Atlanta Film Festival: a $600 value! It promises to be an event big enough to befit the legendary teaming of Corman, Price and Poe.

Roger Corman. The name means many things to many people. To some, it primarily conjures up images of cheaply-made and quickly-shot horror/sci-fi fare from the 1950s and ‘60s. Flicks like CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA, A BUCKET OF BLOOD and THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. For others, it is chiefly and inextricably linked with the development of the “New Hollywood” of the late 1960s and ‘70s. Movies from American International Pictures and New World Pictures that helped launch the careers of talents like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Robert De Niro, Barbara Hershey, Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda. For a former co-worker of mine, it means “that aloof guy who would stroll into the New Horizons office and ask if Jim Wynorski had called.”

But for a certain set of the man’s fans, the first things that come to mind are two names: Edgar Allan Poe and Vincent Price.

In 1960, American International Pictures was seeing the market for their low-budget, black-and-white output shrink. Roger Corman had been their most prolific filmmaker, churning out low-budget schlock in 10 days or less (mind you, it’s some great schlock, and never without a sense of wit and intelligence behind it all), and convinced studio heads Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson to take a risk on shooting a full-color widescreen film with a larger budget (a full $300,000!) and a longer production schedule (a full 15 days!). The success of this film, HOUSE OF USHER, pushed AIP to demand more of the same: another Poe adaptation, made by the same team and starring the same lead, Vincent Price.

Corman complied and assembled his USHER team: cinematographer (Floyd Crosby), set designer (Daniel Haller), score composer (Les Baxter) and screenwriter, the now-legendary horror author Richard Matheson. Matheson had seen a good deal of success as a writer in the decade previous to his teaming with Corman. He had adapted his novel THE SHRINKING MAN into the smash sci-fi/horror film THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, and his novels and short stories were in high demand. He had just been added to the stable of writers employed by THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and was also selling scripts to western- and war-themed TV shows. In short, Corman (in a typical move for him) had spotted an up-and-coming talent that he could grab for relatively cheap: someone who might be willing to trade some of the money he could get from a higher-paying gig for the relative liberty of a Corman screenwriting job. The pairing worked so well on USHER that Matheson returned for this, and several of the films following this in Corman’s Poe series.

The film is set in 1th Century Spain, and follows Francis Barnard (John Kerr) as he visits the castle of his brother-in-law Nicholas (Vincent Price) to investigate the death of his sister Catherine (Barbara Steele). Nicholas recounts that Catherine had been driven mad by the castle’s history and atmosphere, had committed suicide and now walks the castle halls as a ghost. When it is uncovered that Catherine had been interred alive, Nicholas is sent into paroxysms of fear and plunged into madness as he has visions of the traumatic events of his childhood. It all culminates in Nicholas’ break with sanity as he tortures his household in the dungeon beneath the castle’s floors.

Because of the slightness of narrative material in Poe’s short story, which is set nearly entirely within a prison cell over the course of a few nights, Matheson was encouraged to devise a way to shoehorn Poe’s tale into just the film’s climactic scene. In doing so, he created a psychologically rich screenplay centered on the main character’s neuroses, all of which seem to stem from a terrifying event witnessed in his youth. This psychological approach to gothic horror would prove to be incredibly influential in the years to come, as reverberations of its themes (along with their visual depiction by the team of Corman, Crosby and Haller) would be seen in many of the great Italian gothic horrors of the 1960s and ’70s, as Tim Lucas uncovered in his 1997 interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi in VIDEO WATCHDOG #39. Gastaldi admitted that the film had inspired his screenplays for Mario Bava’s THE WHIP AND THE BODY and Antonio Margheriti’s THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH: “Yes, of course! THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM had a big influence on Italian horror films. Everybody borrowed from it.”

Vincent Price, too, returned to the AIP fold. Price had starred to great effect in HOUSE OF USHER, and brought equal parts menace, dignity and emotional complexity to what could have been a flatly-played character in lesser hands. In THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, he would be given even more to chew on as Nicholas Medina (and, in flashback, his crazed Inquisitor father, Sebastian Medina). Some have argued that perhaps Price sank his teeth a bit too deeply into the role, which required him to shift from a refined-but-fragile gentleman persona to that of a raving madman at a second’s notice. And it’s true that Price seems to be having the time of his life, relishing every utterance and mannerism, and basically being Vincent Price at his Priciest. But in a film that demands a tone that almost tips into the surreal, his nearly over-the-top performance works perfectly as a piece with every other element in the production.

Barbara Steele, fresh from starring in Mario Bava’s international gothic horror success, BLACK SUNDAY, is also incredibly memorable as Catherine, delivering an impressively expressive performance. However, it’s hard to objectively discuss her work in this film beyond the physical aspect of it: thinking that her natural British accent didn’t mesh with the other actors’ performances, AIP had her part dubbed in post-production by another actress.

Visually, Corman and his team work wonders with what little budget and time they were given, using impressive sets borrowed from other studios, violently active camera work and dream/fantasy/flashback sequences warped and twisted optically and displayed using a blue and red color palette. Corman’s direction is—as usual—tight and effective, providing impressive and perfectly-timed jolts while steadily building an atmosphere of oppression and madness. For pure horror, it is the highlight of the entire Corman/Poe series, and artistically tied only with THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (MASQUE may be more thematically and symbolically rich and more daring in its approach, but PIT beats it on pure fright value).

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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