Kool Kat of the Week: Mike Malloy Rewinds Back to the 1980s Home Video Revolution with His Latest Documentary Feature

Posted on: Jul 15th, 2013 By:

Mike Malloy. Photo credit: Andramada Brittian.

Video may have killed the radio star, or so that ’80s song goes, but it launched a lifelong passion for cult action movies in Kool Kat of the Week Mike Malloy. Now he’s paying homage to the format that revolutionized the way people accessed and watched movies from the late 1970s to the 1990s in the documentary series PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND: THE STORY OF THE ’80S HOME VIDEO BOOM, for which he is seeking funding through a Kickstarter campaignThe timing couldn’t be more perfect with VHS tapes, like 33rpm LPs, enjoying a renaissance among collectors, both old and new.

From his slicked-back hair to his Retro bowling shirts, Mike looks like he ought to be playing the stand-up bass in a rockabilly band. Instead he’s devoted himself to “playing” tribute to a side of cinema that often doesn’t get a lot of love from mainstream critics. At age 19, he signed his first book contract to write the first published biography of Spaghetti Western star Lee Van Cleef (for McFarland & Co.) Since then, he went on to write articles for a wide spectrum of national film magazines, served as managing editor of fan favorite Cult Movies Magazine, has spoken about movie topics at universities, ghost-wrote several fim books, and served on the selection committee of the 2006 Atlanta Film Festival.

In the past few years, Mike has moved increasingly both in front of and behind the camera. He has acted in more than 25 features and shorts. He co-produced the Western THE SCARLET WORM (2011) and directed the short, LOOK OUT! IT’S GOING TO BLOW! (2006), which won the award for best comedy short at MicroCineFest in Baltimore. But he’s garnered the most acclaim, both national and international, for EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE ’70s, a kickass documentary homage to that B-movie subgenre which he wrote, directed, edited and produced.

ATLRetro caught up with Mike recently to find out more about how home videos fired his fascination with film, his unique vision for PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND, some really cool incentives he’s lined up for his Kickstarter campaign which collectors will love  and what’s up next for Georgia’s Renaissance man of cult action cinema.

Having written Lee Van Cleef‘s first published biography at age 19, you’ve obviously been into rare cult and B movies since an early age. What triggered your passion for the less reputable side of cinema and why does it appeal to you so much?

I’m a rare guy who’s deep into cult and genre cinema without caring much for horror or anything fantastic. For me, it’s all about a desperate Warren Oates shooting it out in Mexico. Or Lee Marvin with a submachine gun. For some reason, I’m just drawn to gritty tough-guy cinema – which is not necessarily the same thing as action cinema.

How did the home video revolution influence you personally? Having been born in 1976, you can’t really remember the pre-video days, I’d guess, but it must have afforded you access to a whole spectrum of these movies which otherwise would have been hard to track down and see.

And I even missed most of the ’80s video boom, because my parents, in 1990, were the last on the block to get a VCR. But in 1994, I made up for lost time. I had a college girlfriend who had an off-campus apartment, and while she was at work,  she didn’t like the idea of me being on campus, potentially fraternizing with other young ladies. So before each shift, she would take me by the local mom-and-pop vid store and rent me 8 hours’ worth of Bronson, Van Cleef, Carradine, etc. That kept me safely in her apartment, and it put me on the cinema path I’m on.

Videophile Magazine; Jim Lowe and Mike Malloy on the set of PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND.

In Atlanta, Videodrome seems to be the last independent rental retailer still in business and it’s even hard to find a Blockbuster left. And of course, they now just stock DVDs. Now you can order up a movie online and watch it instantly. Do you think we’ve lost something by no longer going in to browse, and was there a particular video store that became your home away from home?

One of our interviewees said something interesting: The mom-and-pop video store business model was based on customer DISsatisfaction. That is, you’d go in to rent CITIZEN KANE, it would be checked out, and you’d somehow end up leaving with SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED (1974). Being forced to browse leads to an experimental attitude in movie watching. That’s a good thing.

VHS tapes can get damaged easily, the picture and sound quality can’t compare to a bluRay (or often even a regular DVD) and they rarely show a movie in widescreen. Why be nostalgic about them, and is it true that the VHS format, like LPs, is having a comeback?

VHS is experiencing a major comeback. There are about 20 little startup companies that have begun releasing movies to VHS again. A certain old horror VHS – of a film called DEMON QUEEN (1986) – sold recently on eBay for $750.00. VHS conventions are springing up all over the country.

I’ve always thought that the format is superior for horror films. If you watch THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) on a soft old VHS poorly transferred from a faded film print, that makes you feel as if you’re watching some underground snuff film obtained from a shady guy in a trench coat. Watch that same movie on a pristine Blu-Ray, and you don’t get that same grimy feeling.

Michael Perkins films a scene at Videodrome, Atlanta's last great independent video store.

There have been other documentaries about home video, such as ADJUST YOUR TRACKING (2013) and REWIND THIS (2013). What will PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND add to the topic that hasn’t been covered already?

PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND will be a three-hour series, spanning six half-hour episodes. Those others just have a feature-length running time. So if mine isn’t the most definitive word on the subject, I’ve really screwed up. I’m sort of glad those docs exist as companion works, because it frees me up to explore some of the weirder corners of the phenomenon I find fascinating. Things like video vending machines and pizza-style home delivery of VHS tapes.

You’ve got a pretty interesting line-up of interviewees, not all of which are big names. Can you tell us about a few of them and how you went about selecting them.

Right, many of these people are very significant without being instantly recognizable. We have Mitch Lowe, the founder of Netflix (and later a CEO of Redbox). We have Jim Olenski, owner of what is considered to be the first-ever video store. We have Seth Willenson, a Vice President at RCA who oversaw their failed video disc format. That’s just several off the top of my head. They all have that level of significance. And we interviewed a bunch of cult filmmakers, because working at the cheap extreme of the video boom was where some of the craziest stories were. Further, we were glad – er, glad/sad – to have been able to document a closing video store in Toronto during its final month.

Gary Abdo and Mike Malloy. Photo credit: Jonathan Hickman.

Moviemakers, and artists of all ilk, have always seemingly been ripped off by others who pocket all the money. What distinguishes the video era in that regard, and are there any lessons filmmakers can apply to the current wild west of digital camerawork and online distribution?

I think the potential for ripping off artists is greater when an industry is in upheaval, when the rules and the financial models are unclear. And you’re right, VOD and streaming have caused the same type of upheaval that the videocassette did in its day. So I love all the anecdotes we captured of swindled ’80s filmmakers fighting back against their underhanded distributors. And I hope today’s filmmakers realize that distributors are now becoming largely unnecessary at all. For instance, I hope Vimeo OnDemand – with its 90-10 split in favor of the filmmaker – is a total game changer.

You obviously went into this project with a lot of background, but did you find out any big surprises or delightful unexpected moments during your interviews/research?

I went into the project feeling proud that I was going to cover not only VHS and Beta, but all the failed video formats – like Cartrivision, Selectavision (CED) and V-Cord II. Turns out, they were just the tip of the iceberg. I now probably have about 15 different also-ran video formats I can touch on.

Left to right: a video vending machine; Mitch Lowe, founder of Netflix.

How different would the world be today if Cartrivision had caught on instead of VHS?

Well, Cartrivision was an early attempt at rights management for movies. The Cartrivision rental tapes couldn’t be rewound at home; that could only be done at Sears, where you rented them. It limited you to one viewing per rental. So it would’ve started the concept of video rentals off on a very different attitude and philosophy. I think part of the reason the ’80s home video phenomenon was such a boom was the freedom associated with it – you could rent a movie of your choosing and watch it at a time of your choosing. You could watch it a number of times before returning. Hell, you could use your rewind button to watch a jugsy shower scene over and over.

Tell us about the Kickstarter campaign. How’s it going and how are you going to use the monies raised to finalize the film?

Since ADJUST YOUR TRACKING and REWIND THIS both successfully kickstarted, I knew this would be an uphill battle. My only chance was to turn what is normally a beg-a-thon into a reward-a-thon. So I created a $75 level for the collectors where they could get so much more than just a copy of the documentary. The very first expense I’ll cover, if I get successfully funded, will be an 8 terabyte hard drive. I really can’t cut another frame until I get it.

PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND tells it like it was: Mike Malloy deals videos out of his van.

You’ve got some mighty cool incentives for donors, including actual vintage VHS cassettes. Tell us a little bit about them.

Not only have many of our filmmaker interviewees donated signed VHS and DVDs of their movies (to say nothing of rare, unused artwork and such), but a lot of these new startup VHS companies have also donated rewards. I’m feeling very supported.

Unlike your Italian-centric EUROCRIME documentary, you’re trying to involve Atlanta as much as possible in PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND, aren’t you?

Local documentarian Michael Perkins (THE BOOKER) is my second-unit director, and Atlanta-based musician/engineer Matthew Miklos is my primary composer. His ’80s synth sound is so authentic. An associate producer (Jonathan Hickman) and at least one interviewee (filmmaker Gary Abdo) are here too. Videodrome has been very cool about letting me shoot re-enactments in the store. I tried to document the closing of another Atlanta institution of the video-rental industry, but it didn’t work out.

Anything else on your plate right now or next as a writer, director, producer or actor?

Later this year, I’m acting in HOT LEAD, HARD FURY in Denver and BUBBA THE REDNECK WEREWOLF in Florida. I wish someone would cast me locally so my pay doesn’t keep getting eaten up by travel expenses!

Editor’s Note: All photos are courtesy of Mike Malloy and used with permission.

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As Real As It Gets: Cinema and Reality Blur in Mike Malloy’s EUROCRIME!, A Fascinating Look Behind the Scenes of the ’70s Italian Cop/Gangster Movie Genre

Posted on: Mar 26th, 2012 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Writer

A labor of love for Atlanta filmmaker, Mike Malloy, who researched, wrote, directed, produced, edited  and even contributed a small amount of instrumental funk to the score, EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE ’70s screens at the Atlanta Film Festival on Friday, March 30 at 7 p.m. at the Landmark Midtown Art CinemaEUROCRIME! is a  feature-length cinema documentary concerning the violent Italian ‘poliziotteschi’ (a literal translation is “policesque”) cinematic movement of the 1970s which, at first glance, seem to be rip-offs of American cop/crime films like DIRTY HARRY or THE GODFATHER, but which really address Italian issues like the Sicilian Mafia and red terrorism.

What sets these movies apart from American cop movies of the era were the rushed methods of production (stars performing their own stunts, stealing shots, no live sound) and the dangerous bleed-over between real-life crime and movie crime. EUROCRIME! is an excellent, exhaustively researched, fascinating chronicle of this action-packed sub-genre of low budget Italian cinema.

ATLRetro scored an exclusive interview with the busy movie maker earlier this week.

ATLRetro:  What inspired you to make EUROCRIME?

Mike Malloy: I got my first book contract – to write a cinema biography [of Spaghetti Western star Lee Van Cleef] – when I was 19, and over the next decade, I was slowly but surely building a career for myself writing for movie magazines [(FLAUNT, FILMFAX, VIDEO WATCHDOG, etc] and for newspapers [AP, Knight-Ridder, SUNDAY PAPER]. Then, one morning in 2007, I woke up and learned that the whole world had apparently decided overnight that film journalism was no longer going to be a paying profession. So I decided to try to parlay my film commentary into cinema documentaries.

The Eurocrime genre was my cinematic fascination at the time, so I made a three-minute demo video, and a colleague got it in front of an acquisitions VP at a major cable broadcaster. They said they’d be interested in buying the broadcast premiere if I could get it made. That allowed me to jump headlong into the project.

Mike Malloy dons a police badge himself in an acting role. Photo courtesy of Mike Malloy.

Looking back, I see what caused me to fall so madly in love with Eurocrime movies. I love cinema that rings true to life. And it may seem strange to say this, considering the Eurocrime genre’s over-the-top violence and action, but these movies are about as real as it gets. And that’s because of the way they were made. Sometimes the organized crime down in Naples got involved in producing these films, so you got a pretty hairy blurring of real-life crime and movie crime. And because the leading men of these films – even big international stars – performed their own dangerous stunts, the action had a certain authenticity to it too.

How long did it take to make EUROCRIME!?

Getting the interest from the broadcaster launched me on a four-year odyssey. I know nothing about raising money, and I was in a bad place to do it anyway, as these movies weren’t experiencing the revival here in Atlanta that they were in places like Los Angeles and Austin. So I just did the doc on my own, basically, with a few small private investments and with some help from some colleagues who also loved these movies. And I ended up starting the project Standard Definition and starting over midway as HD, teaching myself all the necessary editing and VFX software along the way.

Having no real budget meant that most of the things that other pop-culture docs farm out – like stylish, graphics-oriented opening credits sequences – I just had to do myself. In fact, because I realized that many of our filmmaker interviews were shot on the fly and with less-than-ideal circumstances, I wanted to compensate by creating as many graphics, montages and other touches of style as possible.

I started the doc in my living room and finished it in the upstairs of my fiancée’s parents house, as this project even cost me my ability to pay my rent for a while!

How did you obtain all the amazing footage (in addition to all the great interviews)?

These films have gotten some pretty great-looking DVD releases in other parts of the world. So it’s a matter of finding those good-looking releases, than finding cruddy-looking gray-market copies of the same films with English dialogue, then matching up the good-looking print and the English audio. Of course, NTSC (North American) and PAL (European) video run at different speeds, so it takes plenty of trial-and-error adjustments to sync it.

We also were very grateful to receive some 8mm home movie footage from one of our interviewees – John Dulaney. And we got some other cool materials from people like Italian cinema documentarian Federico Caddeo.

Wasn’t Quentin Tarantino supposed to be involved at some point?

We were interested in interviewing him regarding the important part he played in the revival of these movies, setting up Eurocrime screenings at The New Beverly inLos Angeles, the Alamo Drafthouse in Austinand at events like The Venice Film Festival. He said yes a couple times to the project, but we never could make it happen.

What’s next for you?

I’m now in production on PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND: THE STORY OF THE ’80s HOME VIDEO BOOM. And I’d like to do DAVID CARRADINE: THE LOST AUTEUR.

Where would intrigued viewers of the doc go to find these movies?

Last time I checked, Videodrome on North Avenue had a Eurocrime section. And the longtime Italian DVD company, RaroVideo, just started releasing some of their titles in theU.S.last year -movies like THE ITALIAN CONNECTION and LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN. And for years now, the U.S. DVD label Blue Underground has been championing Eurocrime movies in the U.S., releasing films like STREET LAW and THE BIG RACKET. All these titles from Raro and Blue Underground are available through Netflix, too.

Contributing write Philip Nutman, is a long-time film journalist, author, screenwriter and occasional director. He recently produced the forthcoming, controversial zombie love story, ABED, in Michigan.

 

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