Blast-Off Burlesque’s TABOO-LA-LA and the Plaza Theatre Ask: Have You Visited Your MOMMIE DEAREST Lately?

Posted on: Apr 4th, 2013 By:

Blast-Off Burlesque’s TABOO-LA-LA Presents MOMMIE DEAREST (1981); Dir. Frank Perry; Starring Faye Dunaway and Diana Scarwid; Saturday, April 6 @ 9:00 p.m.; Ages 18+ only; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

The historic Plaza Theatre and Blast-Off Burlesque have joined forces once again for another round of TABOO-LA-LA! This time, take a trip to the Golden Age of Hollywood via the excesses of the early ‘80s, and watch as Faye Dunaway goes gloriously over the top in the role of Joan Crawford in MOMMIE DEAREST!

“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE

In 1978, Christina Crawford published her memoir MOMMIE DEAREST, in which she revealed the private face of her mother: Tinseltown legend Joan Crawford. Rather than the standard glowing Hollywood biography, Christina’s told a sordid tale of alcoholism and abuse that few suspected lurked behind the carefully stylized façade of Joan Crawford’s public image.

While many of Joan’s closest friends called Christina’s claims into question—that though her mother’s alcoholism was undeniable, the abusive acts chronicled by Christina were embellishments—other long-time friends of Joan’s said that they had witnessed some of the events of abuse and supported Christina’s side of the story. Whichever side is closest to the truth, though, the fact remains that the enormous success of Christina’s book created an entirely new public perception of Joan Crawford, helped to usher in the phenomenon of the “celebrity tell-all” biography and resulted in a film that quickly became known as a high camp classic.

Now, I’ve long held a particular philosophy when it comes to film: the most important question that should be asked when evaluating a movie’s worth is “was it entertaining?” By typical standards, it’s hard to make the case that MOMMIE DEAREST is a good movie. The tone is pitched far too high for it to be taken seriously as a biopic. Faye Dunaway somehow manages to overact before even speaking a word. (In fact, the only real reference she makes to the movie in her autobiography is to say that she wished that director Frank Perry knew how to rein in his actors’ performances.) But despite all of this, the movie works and has gained a cult following because it’s just so giddily entertaining.

Faye Dunaway in one of the more crazed moments in her performance as Joan Crawford in MOMMIE DEAREST. Paramount Pictures, 1981

Because MOMMIE DEAREST draws from the classic Hollywood film and the made-for-TV movie, the movie feels more like an exaggerated melodrama than a traditional biopic. Characters are abstracted to fit into particular stereotypes (the repressive and tyrannical family head, the resolute and self-sacrificing heroine). Themes center on familial turmoil and emotional struggle. Emotions within the film are heightened to an almost surreal point. However, when you’re dealing with a persona as tightly wound and stylized as Joan Crawford, to abstract what is already something of an abstraction of a “real person”—while wildly amping up emotional levels to the John Waters setting—results in something close to (if not smack dab in the middle of) caricature. And while caricature is likely not what Frank Perry or Faye Dunaway was intending, the resulting cartoon is 10 times more captivating than a realistic depiction.

For instance, it requires a facile skill and considerable contemplation to film scenarios that turn a harrowing depiction of child abuse into something hilarious. It’s a fine line to tread between hysterical tastelessness and offensive tastelessness. But in the celebrated “no more wire hangers!” scene—a fractal-like smaller moment that perfectly captures and represents the larger whole—Frank Perry falls bass-ackwards into hilarity without even trying. He’s like the Fool in the Tarot deck: blissfully stepping off a precipice into the jaws of a grand journey while his attention is drawn elsewhere, unwittingly creating a sublime parody of the melodrama without even thinking about it.

Meanwhile, what can be said about Faye Dunaway? She’s one of the great actresses, whose performance in 1967’s BONNIE AND CLYDE helped define the “new Hollywood” of the late 1960s and ‘70s, portraying one of the defining actresses of the “old Hollywood.” And she physically transforms herself into…not Joan Crawford, but the idea of a Joan Crawford. A concept of what a Joan Crawford might be. She’s all eyebrows, lips, nostrils and shoulder pads, fueled by viciousness and liquor. A ranting, raging simulacrum of a human being. It’s a role that Divine was practically born to play, but somehow I doubt that even the divine Divine could pull off the required over-the-top theatrics of the part while maintaining the gravitas that comes with an actress like Dunaway in the role. It’s the only thing that keeps the performance from flying through the ceiling as it is.

Christina Crawford (Diane Scarwid) and her MOMMIE DEAREST put on a cheery public face. Paramount Pictures, 1981

Shortly after the film was released, Paramount realized that nobody was seeing this film because of the story’s real-life compelling drama; they were seeing it for the unintentional comedy it had become. A month into its release, they changed promotional tactics, telling audiences to “meet the biggest MOTHER of them all!” Even that same year, rock band Blue Öyster Cult took advantage of the inherent comedy of MOMMIE DEAREST and released their single Joan Crawford from the album FIRE OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN. The song details the resurrection of Joan Crawford as a harbinger of the apocalypse and features the voice of a zombified Joan calling out “Christina, Mother’s home! Come to Mother!”

Blast-Off Burlesque brings the inadvertent work of genius that is MOMMIE DEAREST to the Plaza’s big screen in a celebratory bash as gloriously over the top as the film itself. DJ Westwood-A-GoGo will be spinning tunes in the lobby, where patrons can enjoy complimentary cocktails and mingle before the show begins. Once seated, the audience will be treated to a riotous performance by Blast-Off Burlesque, with guest performers Kristiva Diva, Poly Sorbate, Chico Nunez, and the Baphomettes. Audience members are encouraged to dress like their favorite character, and to enter contests to win prizes provided by Libertine and Cherry Blossom Salon.

So get dolled up in your old-school finery and get down to the Plaza on Saturday, April 6. You wouldn’t want to get on this Mommie’s bad side.

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

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30 Days of The Plaza, Day 24: It’s No Holds Barred at the Plaza When Blast-Off Burlesque Goes to Prison with a Taboo-La-La Screening of Wendy O. Williams Cult Classic REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS

Posted on: Jul 26th, 2012 By:

By Melanie Magnifique
Contributing Writer

REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS (1986); Dir: Tom DeSimone; Starring Wendy O Williams, Sybil Danning, Linda Carol, Pat Ast; Taboo-La-La Series hosted by Blast-Off  Burlesque at Plaza Theatre, Sat. July 28; 10 PM; arrive early for a sexy live stage show courtesy of Blast-Off Burlesque, and special guests Vanity’s UnCanney and Poly Sorbate; Also riots, chainsaws, and pillow fights , a Wendy O. Williams and Reform School Girls Costume Contest and prizes from  Libertine; age 18 & over only; trailer here.

Blast-Off Burlesque will host REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS at the Plaza Theatre this Saturday July 28, as part of its “Taboo-La-La” film series. The film, which stars Wendy O. Williams of punk band The Plasmatics fame, is a satire of the women in prison film genre and intentionally features many of its more provocative elements, such as shower scenes, fight scenes and implied sexual relationships between inmates and authority figures in exchange for favoritism. Austrian-born Hollywood actress Sybil Danning plays the warden, and Pat Ast rounds out the cast as sadistic prison guard Edna.

As the story plays out, Reform School becomes a microcosmic version of society in which women are stripped of their dignity, terrorized, punished for and enslaved over their sexuality, and forced to lie to protect their captors. The only compassionate ally that the inmates have is the institution’s therapist, played by Charlotte McGinnis. Despite her best efforts, however, the crimes of mistreatment against the inmates finally spark an uprising which ends with a real bang.

Wendy O. Williams plays inmate Charlie Chambliss in REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS. New World Pictures, 1986

Blast Off’s own Dickie Van Dyke says this weekend’s salute to Wendy O is timely. “Wendy is the patron saint of women who whoop ass,” (s)he pointed out the other night at rehearsal. Indeed, it seems that women everywhere could use some inspiration in the whoop-ass department. The global climate towards us these days has many of us shaking our heads in disbelief, and, as Dickie says, “Decades after women’s lib, we still do not have total control over our bodies, we still battle to overcome the glass ceiling, lack of respect… and PMS! Apparently we have to kick everybody’s ass while wearing a bra and thong before our voices are heard. If that is the way the game is played, so be it. Wendy O will be our MVP!”

Other members of Blast-Off agree that the timing is just right for this show. Barbalicious says, “It’s time for us to rock out, and after spending some quality time in the ’60’s and ’70s with Russ Meyer, John Waters and Pam Grier, the ’80s seemed like a great place to continue our big-haired hijinks, but with much less clothes, because you know in reform school, you only need to wear your underwear. It’s also summer, and we’re hot.” She adds that the movie itself will be a blast, saying, “REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS is a ridiculously fun camp classic. All the classic women in prison elements are in place: shower scenes, food fights, forbidden romance, branding and other tortures, but then you add in the Wendy-O-Williams factor and it becomes just that much more surreal. Wendy-O is one of the hardest working women in rock and roll history. She is as hardcore as it gets; no female performer has or will ever come close her badassness. She beats the hell out of everyone in this movie. Those who are not familiar with her, need to be. Those who remember what the power of real rock and roll was about need to pay tribute.”

Taboo-La-La has been a wildly popular film series for Blast-Off at the Plaza Theatre. Previous films have included SHOWGIRLS, FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! , FEMALE TROUBLE and BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. Barbalicious says that its main purpose is to examine cultural taboos in film, but adds with a wink, “It’s really just an excuse for us to throw an amazing party.”

Festivities will begin at 9 p.m. DJ Westwood-A-GoGo will be spinning tunes in the lobby, where patrons can enjoy complimentary cocktails and mingle before the show begins. Once seated, the audience will be treated to a riotous performance by Blast-Off Burlesque, with guest performers Poly Sorbate and Vanity’s Uncanney. Audience members are encouraged to enter a costume contest to win prizes provided by Libertine. Tickets are $10, and are available through Plaza Theatre’s box office and at www.plazaatlanta.com.

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30 Days of The Plaza, Day 12: Oh, Taboo La La! BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS Is Not A Sequel, There’s Never Been Anything Like It

Posted on: Jun 1st, 2012 By:

By Jeremy “Puck” Turman
Contributing Writer

BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970); Dir: Russ Meyer; Writer: Roger Ebert; Starring Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marsha McBroom, Phyllis Davis, Charles Napier; Taboo-La-La Series hosted by Blast-Off  Burlesque at Plaza Theatre, Sat. June 2; 10 PM; arrive early for a sexy live stage show courtesy of Blast-Off Burlesque, all-girl band action from Catfight (featuring Kool Kat Katy Graves) and special guests Baby Doll, Patricia Lopez, Poly Sorbate and Turnin’ TriXXX! And enjoy Psychedelic Trip Punch while DJ Westwood-A-Go-Go spins in the lobby, compete in a Dance FREAK OUT Contest and win prizes from Libertine; $10; age 18 & over only; trailer here.

The first thing that came to mind when I was younger, and BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS was brought up, would have been a porno. I mean it is an X-rated title (or was until 1990 when it was re-classified as NC-17 ) It is in fact a Russ Meyer production—the [man with the] same creative energy that unleashed such classic american sleaze as THE IMMORAL MR. TEAS , FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! and VIXEN! upon the masses. It also boasts a healthy dose of nudity-laced scenes littered with culturally taboo topics of the time, which has led to this film being widely considered the zeitgeist of exploitation cinema.

Now that I’m an adult, I have a much broader opinion of the film than just a porno. The story falls into place as three devilishly good-looking young girls in a band looking to make it big head to Hollywood to fulfill the most youthful of dreams, to be rock stars. Hollywood embraces the girls as quickly as a candy bar at fat camp and thus our adventure begins. Along the way they come across everything AND the kitchen sink . Here’s a quick rundown:

This girl Kelly (Dolly Read), band[Casey (Cynthia Myers) and Pet (Marcia McBroom), along with Kelly, form The Kelly Affair) and with boyfriend/band manager Harris (David Gurian) high-tail it to Los Angeles to make it big and find Kelly’s aunt Susan (Phyllis Davis), who has something to do with some money that could somehow be rightfully Kelly’s as well. Susan has an accountant that’s real sleazy and thinks the band are nothing but a bunch of hippies looking for a free ride. The band meets this totally awesome rock producer at a party, and, of course, he demands they sing/play and, of course, they do and, of course, they rock! So now this guy takes over as their manager and has them change their name to The Carrie Nations. This pisses Harris off and he goes on a bender. At this point a lot of nakedness and sex begin happening. Seeing as I haven’t seen this film in over 10 years and knowing the age I was at that time, being a younger man focusing in on the eye candy, the plot begins to fade. Although I can truly say the one thing that sticks out in my mind the most are the colors. Vivid rainbows of tacky print burned into my memory. What were they thinking?

The three gorgeous stars of Russ Meyers' BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (20th Century Fox, 1970).

BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS has stood the test of time as an example of an era when moral fiber was more prominent in the culture of America and to release a film with such a lack there of was a slap in the face to the establishment from which it bears roots. It screams where’s the line and how far can I get past it before you stop me? How about a film filled with love, rape, murder, sex, dope, abortion and suicide? Sounds deep, doesn’t it? But it’s not. It’s really a film about nothing. Call it Cult Classic. Call it Sexploitation. Hell, call it Rabid West Coast Surrealism, but keep in mind what the narrator clearly states to close out the film’s trailer: “This is not a sequel, there has never been anything like it.”

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Taboo La-La! Blast-Off Burlesque Stirs Up Some FEMALE TROUBLE, John Waters Style, At The Plaza This Saturday!

Posted on: Nov 16th, 2011 By:

By Melanie Magnifique
Contributing Blogger

FEMALE TROUBLE (1974); Dir: John Waters; Writer: John Waters; Starring Divine, Mink Stole, Edith Massey; Taboo-La-La Series hosted by Blast-Off  Burlesque at Plaza Theatre, Sat. July 23; 10 PM; free makeup, meatball sandwiches (while supplies last), costume contest, Filthy Fashion makeovers with prizes from Libertine! Special guests include Patricia Lopez, Poly Sorbate, Babydoll & Baltimore’s own Elle Devene; age 18 & over only; trailer here.

This Saturday night, Blast-Off Burlesque will serve up a veritable cornucopia of camp while hosting John Waters dark comedy, FEMALE TROUBLE at the Plaza Theatre as part of their sin-sational new cinema series—Taboo La-La! Before viewing the film in its original 35mm format, moviegoers will be able to compete for fantastic prizes in costume and makeover contests, as well as enjoy performances by Blast-Off and their very special guests, Patricia Lopez, Poly Sorbate, Babydoll and Baltimore’s own Elle Devene.

Released in 1974, FEMALE TROUBLE tells the story of Dawn Davenport (played by infamous drag queen, Divine), a bratty bad-girl who lives a hard-knock life of juvenile delinquency, experiencing sexual assault, subsequent single motherhood, employment in the sex industry, obsession with fame and victimization by sensationalists masquerading as artists. Did I mention that it’s rated NC-17?

Blast-Off’s Co-founder (and ATLRetro Kool Kat), Barb Hays, says the film’s caustic content fits right in with the sprit of Taboo La-La. “You know, the Plaza Theatre used to show adult films, so we decided that we would host a series which paid homage to its roots,” she explains. “They can’t show X-rated stuff anymore, but there’s plenty of great films out there which push the boundaries of societal taboo as decreed by the MPAA.”

Melanie Magnifique. Photo credit: March Turnley

Hays adds that now is a crucial time to support the Plaza Theatre. This week Plaza Owners Jonathan and Gayle Rej announced that they are looking for a buyer forAtlanta’s oldest cinema, adding that they do not wish to close, and are seeking individuals or organizations which might preserve the landmark theater as a historical site. Since purchasing the theater in 2006, the Rejs have focused on event-centered films with live audience-interactive elements, including Splatter Cinema, the Silver Scream Spookshow, Flicks & Giggles, Summer Camp, Art Opening and a Movie and Taboo-La-La! In 2009, the Plaza Theatre received nonprofit status.

Supporting the Plaza Theatre is a rare chance to do something special for this community and gifts of all sizes will make a big difference. The Plaza Theatre Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization and all gifts are tax  deductible. All funds generated will be used toward restoration, furnishings, equipment, operations and community initiatives for The Plaza Theatre.

Saturday’s events kick-off at 10 p.m., and the first 50 people in the door will receive free makeup! They can also eat meatball sandwiches (while supplies last), and the most beautiful, glamorous audience member in the costume contest will win a basket of makeup! The winner of the Filthy Fashion makeovers will win prizes from Libertine!

Are you willing to die for Art? As Dawn Davenport says, “Being executed will make you famous, like winning an academy award.” Put on your biggest hair and your cha-cha heels! The bad girls are back in town!

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