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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Retro Review: Eastwood, Wallach and Van Cleef Blaze Trails and Guns This Saturday at The Plaza

Posted on: Aug 12th, 2011 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Blogger

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966); Presented by AM 1690; Dir: Sergio Leone; Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach; Sat. Aug. 13; 3 PM and 7:30 PM; Plaza Theatre. Trailer here.

1966. After shooting up a storm at the European box office between 1964’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and 1965’s FOR A FEW DOLLARS’ MORE, Italian movie-making maven Sergio Leone – against his deepest desires – agreed to make a third spaghetti western. Clint Eastwood, growing tired of filming in Spain, was skeptical, but with major US money (from distributor United Artists) and a substantial salary, finally agreed to reprise his role as “the Stranger.” With Eli Wallach on board as the sweaty, foul-mouthed, primal bandito, Tuco, and Lee Van Cleef returning at Leone’s request, too, the film was a “go.”

A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS established the tone of Italian Westerns to come with its callous violence. FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE provided Leone with an expanded lexicon of cinematic storytelling which turned the classic American Western on its head. But with THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, well, Leone turned a TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE-like story, a quest for hidden gold, into a unique film which reinvented the pasta genre he had created and redefined the cinema-going experience.

Three men. One cache of Civil War gold buried in a coffin – story concepts don’t get more simple than this one. But it’s how Leone plays out the three strands of the stories, the three characters and their respective actions towards acquiring the goal which makes this movie special. Leone’s deliberate pacing – punctuated by shocking, explosive moments of unexpected violence – took a new turn. In certain sequences, seconds become minutes; preparation, psychologically and physically, became the calm before the storm. No director of Westerns had ever attempted what he achieved with THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY.

The Good (Clint Eastwood, L), The Bad (Lee Van Cleef, R), and The Ugly (Eli Wallach, center). Copyright United Artists, 1966.

Whether you love Westerns or the films of Clint Eastwood or not, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY also is a film which was designed to be seen and experienced on the big screen. The Civil War sequences are the most striking ever visualized, and the climactic scene will make your heart race (fans of the film know exactly what I’m referring to here; for those of you who haven’t, prepared to be wowed).

The copy screening at The Plaza this weekend is a pristine print of the 2004 remastered Director’s Cut,  struck from the original negative with the basic mono sound adapted into a crisp stereo mix. In 1967, when first released, United Artists cut 18 minutes from the original version to save on print costs and so they could squeeze an extra screening per day at US movie theatres. So this version of the film has barely been screened in American cinemas. A terrific experience all around. NOT TO BE MISSED!!!

ATLRetro Movie Trivia –

  • Although Leone’s first three spaghetti westerns are frequently referred to as the “Man With No Name” trilogy, Eastwood’s “Stranger” is called three different names over the course of the three movies: “Joe” in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS; “Manco” in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE; and “Blondie” – as Wallach’s Tuco loves to derisively call Eastwood in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (although Clint’s chestnut-brown hair hardly qualifies him for Marilyn Monroe status).
  • Speaking of La Monroe, rumor has it that when Eastwood first saw the Italian version of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and heard how the Roman dubbing artist had changed his voice – slower, more whispery – he decided to start delivering his lines like Marilyn (but with balls instead of boobs). So without the inspiration of a real blonde and an Italian actor who made money redubbing Americans, Dirty Harry would have sounded quite different…

And don’t forget that between the 3 PM and 7:30 PM screenings of this classic, revisionist Western, The Plaza is giving a free show (donations encouraged; remember, The Plaza Theatre is a nonprofit entity): COMING SOON! 35 Minutes of 35mm Trailers at 6:35 PM, a special, rare opportunity to see some of Plaza Manager Ben Ruder’s private collection of retro celluloid teasers! Give generously or pig out at the concessions stand!

Contributing Blogger Philip Nutman is a regular broadcaster for the The Night Crew, a podcast created and run by film journalists Sean Smithson and Thom Carnell. Over the past few months, Phil has presented “Philip Nutman’s THE WILD, WILD WEST” a multi-part, eclectic primer on must-see cowboy movies. The final installment will be live within the next two weeks.

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Retro Review: Eastwood Returns to The Plaza FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE

Posted on: Jul 8th, 2011 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Blogger

FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965); Presented by AM 1690; Dir: Sergio Leone; Starring Clint Eastwood, Gian Maria Volonte, Lee Van Cleef; Sat. July 9; 3 PM and 7:30 PM; Plaza Theatre. Trailer here.

In 1965, following the spur-burning European success of his second film as director, Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone returned to the genre he had unwittingly created with 1964’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS – the “spaghetti western” – again working with a young actor named Clint Eastwood. Eastwood was yet to become an international star and was still working on the hit US TV show, RAWHIDE, as cattle wrangler Rowdy Yeates. But outside of America, FISTFUL had been a huge box office hit, and Eastwood as “the man with no name” was already becoming a cinematic icon – so much so, Leone was immediately given the green light to make the second of what would become known as his “Dollars” trilogy (The Plaza will screen a restored print of the ne plus ultra of the sequence of films, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY on August 13).

Eastwood dons the poncho again, this time with Lee Van Cleef in A FEW DOLLARS MORE.

A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS can be considered the template all further spaghetti westerns would follow: mysterious, amoral, cynical stranger either arrives in a small town and upsets the status quo, playing the various sides against each other, or said amoral, ethically-questionable stranger is after the money…the only item of value in an emotionally and politically corrupt landscape where a fistful of dollars (or more) are the only things worth fighting for…and death is always lurking outside a saloon swing doorway. The first film in Leone’s trilogy can also be considered as an experiment; with FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, the director escaped the typical curse of a lame sophomore effort to transcend his groundbreaking western debut and set the stage for the cinematic shake-out which he would deliver in 1966’s THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. The three films were finally unleashed on an unsuspecting American public in 1967, and Eastwood finally escaped his career doldrums and became a full-fledged movie star.

Lee Van Cleef in A FEW DOLLARS MORE.

The plot of DOLLARS MORE is as simple as that of A FISTFUL, but in this case, the film delves into a psychological/motivational grounding the former film lacked. It is the work of a filmmaker finding his footing as he reinvents a genre as old as American movie-making itself. The movie sets up a potential conflict between bounty hunters – Eastwood’s squinting, cheroot-smoking nameless stranger and Lee Van Cleef’s steely-eyed Colonel Mortimer.  After conflicts, the two loners team up to go after the psychopathic killer bandit, Indio (perfectly played by Gian Maria Volonte). The final scenes are killer – literally. But whereas Eastwood’s stranger is just after the money, Mortimer has a personal score to settle with scumbag Indio.  No spoilers on ATLRetro – go do yourself a favor and support the Plaza and enjoy a classic movie, even if you’re not a fan of westerns or Clint.

ATLretro Movie Trivia: Eastwood, who is highly anti-smoking, is on record as stating that if Leone wanted him to turn up his bad-ass volume, all the director had to do was get him to stick one of those stinky cigarillos in his mouth and light up. No wonder Clint had no problem shooting so many sleazy outlaws…

Contributing Blogger Philip Nutman is a regular broadcaster for the cinematic podcast The Night Crew, and for the past few months has discussed “The Wild, Wild West,” his eclectic, personal primer on cowboys movies every film lover should watch. His current verbal essay is on the other Sergio – Sergio Corbucci – director of MINNESOTA CLAY, THE HELLBENDERS…and one of the other greatest spaghetti westerns, 1968’s THE GRAND SILENCE (Here’s wishing the Plaza would screen that!)

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