Take a Savage Journey with Blast-Off Burlesque and the Plaza Theatre as TABOO LA-LA presents FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS!

Posted on: Sep 17th, 2013 By:

Blast-Off Burlesque’s TABOO LA-LApresents FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998); Dir. Terry Gilliam; Starring Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro; Saturday, September 28 @ 10 p.m. (pre-show cocktails at 9 p.m.); Ages 18+ only; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

It’s time for Blast-Off Burlesque to tempt us with TABOO LA-LA at the Plaza Theatre! This time we venture into Bat Country with Hunter S. Thompson and Terry Gilliam for FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS!

It’s easy to celebrate Dr. Hunter S. Thompson for all the wrong reasons. FAR too many people see him only as a caricature: senses blazingly altered by some high-octane combination of hard drugs and bourbon, firing his guns at anything that dares blink in and out of his peripheral vision and ranting unintelligibly at imaginary phantasms. For these people, he’s become a counterculture hero not because of his accomplishments or the words he’s written, but because of a persona.

Sure, it’s a persona that he called into existence and encouraged to a large extent. Why? Because, goddammit, you need a larger-than-life personality to stand up next to those works of his. You can’t be some milquetoast beat reporter and deliver epic pieces of immersive journalism like “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” “Freak Power in the Rockies” or “The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat.” Nor can you be a typical Washington Beltway insider and compose the incredible series of articles that would eventually make up FEAR AND LOATHING: ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL ’72, perhaps the greatest piece of political journalism ever written. No, you’ve got to be a daredevil. You’ve got to be a shaman, using sacramental substances to achieve the frenzied mental state needed to venture into the heart of darkness and divine the inner essence of a situation. You’ve got to be the kind of drug-crazed madman who is unafraid to sacrifice accuracy on the altar of journalism to summon forth the Elder Gods of Truth.

And if you’re not that person, then you need to invent that person and become that person.

Which brings us to Raoul Duke and his journey with his personal attorney, Doctor Gonzo, into the godforsaken land of Las Vegas in 1971—the story of which would become Hunter S. Thompson’s landmark novel FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS: A SAVAGE JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE AMERICAN DREAM.

Benicio del Toro and Johnny Depp find FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998).

Thompson’s tale is actually a portmanteau of two trips into the desert city with his friend Oscar Zeta Acosta, lawyer and Chicano activist. The first was intended to be a retreat for the two of them to discuss an article Thompson was writing about the death of Mexican-American journalist Rubén Salazar. Thompson used an invitation from SPORTS ILLUSTRATED to write a series of photo captions about the Mint 500 motorcycle race as an excuse, and the two of them descended onto the city.

250 words. That’s all they wanted.

Instead, he spent 36 hours straight, “feverishly writing in my notebook,” describing the pair’s wild adventures in Las Vegas and creating the expansive first part of the novel. And then, after the insane experience they undertook, they went back. Thompson took an assignment from ROLLING STONE to report on the National District Attorneys Association’s Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs held a few weeks later in Vegas, and further explored an idea that manifested during the first trip: that the rebellion of the 1960s had failed, and that the American Dream was now manifest in the crass, loud and materialistic oasis of Las Vegas.

Thompson combined the two trips into one story, which ROLLING STONE published as a two-part serial illustrated by Ralph Steadman, and which was later compiled into a novel. In creating what he admitted was “an essentially fictional framework,” Thompson assigned himself and Acosta pseudonyms: Raoul Duke (a nom de plume frequently used by Thompson and originally used as his byline for the ROLLING STONE serialization) and Doctor Gonzo. As for the book itself, it’s hard to say how much of what is written about is strictly accurate. It’s easy to say that the whole thing is true. What may have appeared at first as a wacky drug-fueled adventure turned into a work mournful of the failure of the ‘60s revolution, furious at the insane excess of artifice and celebration of the futile pursuit of money that is Las Vegas, and aghast that Vegas survived the revolution to stand in representation of the American Dream.

For years, the thing was regarded as being as unfilmable as NAKED LUNCH. Surreal, hallucinatory and depicting any number of illegal and violent acts by its protagonists, it just seemed to be too much to exist on a movie screen. Sure, they tried. Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone both gave it a shot, but only one movie wound up being made in the wake of those early efforts. WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM (which attempted to shoehorn “Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl,” “The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat” and LAS VEGAS into one movie) starred Bill Murray, and was widely panned, particularly by Thompson himself. He praised Murray’s performance, but said the movie was saddled with “a bad, dumb, low-level, low-rent script.”

A direct adaptation eluded filmmakers for years, but that ended in 1998. After Rhino Films went through protracted tangling with director Alex Cox (whose screenplay Thompson viscerally hated), Terry Gilliam was brought on board to helm the film adaptation of the novel, and his surreal vision was a perfect match for the material. Though Gilliam had never used drugs, he researched the effects of all the chemicals used by the characters to create a series of visual effects that would mirror how the drugs would have affected their perception. The end result, while not exactly matching the horrifically ugly darkness of Ralph Steadman’s illustrations, stands on its own as a fully-formed take on Thompson’s subject matter.

Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro were cast as Duke and Gonzo, respectively, and both underwent extensive preparation for their roles. Del Toro gained 45 pounds and immersed himself in studying the life of Oscar Zeta Acosta, and Johnny Depp spent four months living with Thompson at his Woody Creek ranch. Depp assembled his wardrobe from Thompson’s clothes of the time, wore a pendant of Thompson’s that was a gift from Acosta, and shaved his head in imitation of Thompson’s own male pattern baldness. The research and work paid off in spades. Depp and del Toro inhabit their roles perfectly. While they may come across as slightly cartoonish exaggerations of both Thompson and Acosta, it must be remembered that the Duke and Gonzo of the novel are slightly cartoonish exaggerations of Thompson and Acosta.

More gonzo antics by Depp and Del Toro in FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998).

Terry Gilliam stated that he wanted the film to be polarizing—that he wanted it to be known as both the greatest and worst film of all time. And, thusly, it sharply divided critics: it currently holds a 50% average on the review aggregator ROTTENTOMATOES.com. Meanwhile, the film was a huge commercial failure. Filmgoers wanting to see the handsome Depp and del Toro got presented with a pair that were deliberately ugly. Filmgoers wanting to see a modern drug comedy wound up with something less a comedy and more a tragedy. And filmgoers wanting to see the Thompson perpetuated by DOONESBURY’s Uncle Duke character (and practically every other mass media depiction of the author) wound up with the only-slightly-fictionalized Thompson of the book, which is far closer to Thompson the man than Thompson the caricature.

Thankfully, due to home video releases, the film has built up a large, faithful audience, and it’s that crowd which is invited to the Plaza Theatre as Blast-Off Burlesque’s TABOO LA-LA brings us a screening of Gilliam’s adaptation. The pre-show kicks off at 9 p.m. with complimentary cocktails served up in the lobby, and then things kick into high gear with a live stage show from Blast-Off Burlesque featuring special guests Tom Jones, Elvis (somehow I’m guessing that these might not be the actual Tom Jones and Elvis) and Batastic. There will also be a Gonzo Costume contest and an Ether Walk contest with prizes from Libertine and the Cherry Blossom Salon, as well an art display of Lucy’s Barbara Streisand portraits! So come down and enjoy one of the greatest films of the 1990s while celebrating Hunter S. Thompson for all the right reasons.

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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Retro Review: Sometimes Filth Can Be Divine! PINK FLAMINGOS Nest at Blast-Off Burlesque’s TABOO-LA-LA at the Plaza Theatre!

Posted on: May 30th, 2013 By:

Blast-Off Burlesque’s TABOO-LA-LA presents PINK FLAMINGOS (1972); Dir. John Waters; Starring Divine, Mink Stole, David Lochary, Cookie Mueller, Edith Massey, Danny Mills and Mary Vivian Pearce; Saturday, June 1 pre-show entertainment starts @ 9:00 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Ages 18+ only; Tickets $12; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

It’s time once again to push across the boundaries of good taste and delve head-first into the outré, the out-of-bounds and the delightfully wrong as Blast-Off Burlesque and the Plaza Theatre bring us another heaping helping of TABOO-LA-LA!

This is it. The film that put John Waters and Divine on the map. The film that made Baltimore famous. The filthiest film in the world. PINK FLAMINGOS.

It’s crude, it’s angry and it wants to rub you the wrong way. It wants to offend you. It wants to provoke you. It wants to push you face-down in the ugliness that lurks just under the surface of everything and laugh at you. It will poke you with a stick. And you don’t know where that stick’s been.

All that, and it’s hilarious to boot.

“I’m all dressed up, and I’m ready to fall in love!” – Divine / Babs Johnson

The entire film is centered on the fact that Divine (played by Divine, as only she could), who is living under the alias of “Babs Johnson,” has been named the Filthiest Person Alive. This angers her arch-nemeses, Connie and Raymond Marble (Mink Stole and David Lochary). The Marbles are running an entire criminal empire entirely dedicated to being filthy. They force their gay servant Channing to artificially inseminate kidnapped women. They then sell the babies to lesbian couples. Then, the money they make from their black market baby ring is used to push heroin to elementary school students and fund their chain of pornography shops. Meanwhile, Raymond has a nice sideline going in flashing unsuspecting females and then stealing their purses. Understandably, the Marbles think that they are more deserving of this major award, so they set out to destroy Divine and unwittingly start a war that can only end in the destruction of all life on this planet. Or at least the lives of a few people in the Maryland boondocks.

PINK FLAMINGOS' Egg Lady (Edith Massey).

PINK FLAMINGOS takes the unusual step of making its heroine someone who has no moral qualms with killing anybody or everybody who dares look at her the wrong way. Someone whose raison d’être is summed up in the quote “Kill everyone now! Condone first degree murder! Advocate cannibalism! Eat shit! Filth is my politics! Filth is my life!” Divine is not just an anti-heroine, but an anti-human. You are dared to root for her, and you acquiesce because you fear that she may hack you to pieces with an axe for not doing so.

From a sex scene in which a live chicken is crushed to death to an orgy of oral sex spurred on by licking furniture; from one woman’s insatiable love of eggs to an anal sphincter singing Surfin’ Bird; from a trailer fire to, yes, the actual on-screen consumption of dog shit…PINK FLAMINGOS is not for the weak of heart, stomach, mind or constitution.

This was John Waters’ third feature film after MONDO TRASHO and MULTIPLE MANIACS, and featured his much-beloved Dreamland Productions ensemble. To get a handle on the Dreamlanders’ retro-trash aesthetic, imagine the B-52’s if they’d joined the Manson Family. Driven largely by a lack of money and a surplus of a camp sense of flash, their thrift store style was cemented by the Baltimoreans’ shared memories of the city back when it was the hairdo capitol of the world, and their sensibility shaped by Waters’ fascination with those who live outside the law. The Dreamlanders’ performances are all perfect. They exist beyond criticism. There’s nothing natural about them, but there’s nothing natural about the characters either, so who are we to judge? And while it’s not Waters’ most technically proficient film, its raw and blunt stylistic approach is the only thing suitable to capture the intense taboo-shattering of the subject matter. Anything prettier would take away from the transgressive attitude on display. And, quite literally, you can’t polish a turd…

Divine archnemeses Connie and Raymond Marble (Mink Stole and David Lochary).

Did I just say “taboo-shattering?” Because that’s what TABOO-LA-LA is about. And as such, this film practically screams to be shown. Because as transgressive and deliberately offensive as this film is, it’s also unbelievably positive. Remember, this was a mere three years after the Stonewall riots, where drag queens, lesbians and poverty-stricken gay street kids were on the front line against armed squadrons representing a society that would rather beat them down. In the wake of this, John Waters dared to turn a drag queen named Divine into a larger-than-life symbol of rebellion against anyone who’d dare take away anything that she claimed as hers. And in becoming the Goddess of Bad Taste, Divine was almost saying, “so you think all of us outsiders—drag queens, lesbians and gay men—are disgusting? Let me show you what disgusting really is, you prigs.”

It’s not just a fist in the face of a world that deserves it. It’s a celebration.

And it’s a celebration that Blast-Off Burlesque and TABOO-LA-LA are fully prepared to bring off the screen and into your faces. Enjoy complimentary cocktails in the lobby starting at 9 p.m.! A titillating live stage show featuring Blast-Off Burlesque, Baby-Doll and Poly Sorbate! A Filthy Fashion Contest and Sexy Doggie-Doo Eating Contest with prizes provided by Libertine and Cherry Blossom Salon! A raffle for PINK FLAMINGOS artwork by Zteven! And then, AS IF THAT WASN’T ENOUGH, the movie itself! How can you NOT go? If you decide to go anywhere else, know that I and my gang of fellow filth fanatics will sneak into your home and lick your furniture so that it will reject you when you return.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some hard-boiled eggs to eat.

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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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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Retro Review: BARBARELLA, Take Two, or Today, I Watched Jane Fonda Narrowly Escape Death-by-Orgasm in the Excessive Machine; How Was Your Day?

Posted on: Jan 25th, 2013 By:

BARBARELLA (1968); Dir: Roger Vadim; Screenplay by Terry Southern; Based on a bande dessinee by Jean-Claude Forest; Starring Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, David Hemmings, Milo O’Shea, Marcel Marceau; Plaza Theatre, Saturday, January 26 at 10:00pm; presented by BLAST-OFF BURLESQUE’S TABOO-LA-LA with live stage show before the screening including raffle of 10 8×10 signed photos of Fonda as Barbarella from Jane Fonda’s personal collection; Trailer here

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Today, I watched Jane Fonda narrowly escape death-by-orgasm in the Excessive Machine. How was your day?

Although I’d never seen BARBARELLA (1968), the infamous sci-fi sex romp produced by Dino de Laurentiis and directed by Roger Vadim, before today, I definitely knew about it. Almost everyone knows about it. BARBARELLA is a movie with more reputation than respect, a movie that, depending on who you ask, is either awful or awfully amazing. Just its name invokes a few key images—that amazing poster by Robert McGinnis; Jane Fonda’s buxom, uh, hair. I grew up in a post-STAR WARS world, when just the sight of a science-fiction ray blaster promised a particular brand of space fantasy and action, but combine aliens and thrills with the promise of a naked, beautiful woman? There’s not enough concrete on Earth to build a wall an adolescent boy can’t climb.

But I never made it over that wall. Yes, it’s true that young boys can sniff out nudie films like pigs root up truffles, but you guys have never met my mother. I once got a few short minutes of FLASH GORDON (1980) and its adventurous female costumes on the TV before she stomped into the room, feeling a psychic disturbance, I suppose, in her son’s mind. She played goalie effectively until around the time I entered high school, and by then I had found other ways to see boobs. And so, somehow, Barbarella and I had never met.

Durand Durand (Milo O'Shea_ tries to defeat Barbarella (Fonda) with death by orgasm. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

BARBARELLA was a famous flop at the box office, but its racy content, goofy cheerfulness about sex and outrageous set design—the spaceship is lined with shag carpet!—fit snugly with the mood of the late 1960s, at least with certain segments of the youth. The film quickly gained a cult infamy, especially as its star, Jane Fonda, transitioned into A-pictures and won an Oscar for the popular detective film, KLUTE (1971). There’s always been kind of a funny dividing line between mainstream film and exploitation, and it’s thrilling when some star gets a weekend pass to play on the other side, whether it’s Bruce Campbell showing up in SPIDER-MAN (2002) or Jane Fonda taking her clothes off. It was impossibly tantalizing to know that a major actress had once bared it all in a sex adventure, especially before home video, when the only way to see something like BARBARELLA was to catch a revival screening, and there weren’t nearly enough of those. Lack of availability helped grow the film’s legend, and it soon became trendy and cool to latch onto its camp appeal. Even by the early 1970s, a club named Barbarella’s existed in the UK, and it became a key location in the developing punk scene, hosting bands like The Sex Pistols and The Clash. One rising band that played frequently at the club even sampled clips and songs from the film into their music, tweaking the name of the film’s villain, Durand-Durand, into their own name, Duran Duran.

But it was the 1960s; everyone was taking their clothes off, right? There were plenty of sex movies in the world. What is it about BARBARELLA that keeps it going? “I just remember seeing that strip tease during the opening and being in love with the world,” says Max Shell, director of the undead-chicken cult movie THE DEVIL’S COCK. “Dino’s [de Laurentiis] Euro Sci-Fi is about ‘getting it on!’”

Melanie Magnifique of Blast-Off Burlesque takes a more esoteric approach. “I was traversing the spirit lands, when this film was released in conventional space-time. When I first experienced it, many years later, it was still the powerful tale of a girl doing what a girl’s sometimes got to do!”

The famous poster by Robert McGinnis.

Aha! If there’s another narrative to the BARBARELLA appeal beyond sex, it’s girl power. The film came at this neat little intersection of the free love ‘60s and the peak of the misogynist spy fantasies like James Bond. There had simply never been a female action hero who freely used and enjoyed sex while saving the day. (Hell, it’s still hard to find a character like that today!) Perhaps this explains why Barbarella became a feminist icon, and a popular cosplay target for over 40 years. It’s common to see Barbarellas walking the floors at comic book shows and sci-fi conventions, and the heroine’s legend is so large today that the film lives under constant threat of remake, with the most recent major attempt fronted by director Robert Rodriguez as a vehicle for Rose McGowan, who he’d already cast once as an ass-kicker in his GRINDHOUSE entry, PLANET TERROR (2007).

Does BARBARELLA deserve its infamy? I finally sat down to watch the film today, and I was kind of amazed with what I found. Despite its legacy in the sexual revolution, BARBARELLA can sometimes be cruel, and other times naïve. After the famous opening strip scene (described in wonderful detail here on this very site), we learn that Fonda’s secret agent is a wide-eyed wonder. A child of a civilization that has evolved beyond violence and pain, she greets the world with simple joy and, when confronted with the bizarre horrors in an “unevolved” part of the galaxy, she simply pushes through and perseveres, using far more optimism than skill. Melanie Magnifique rightly describes Barbarella as “a female protagonist who wants to do the right thing, but is sometimes a little confused about what that thing is.” Fonda’s earnest devotion to her mission is entertaining, even if that mission sometimes devolves into bizarre, disconnected segments. She’s nearly devoured by carnivorous songbirds, for crying out loud.

As for the sex, my adolescent self would have enjoyed Fonda’s matter-of-fact approach to her body and to the sexual beings she encounters. She’s more or less willing to have sex just for the asking, which works both for and against her feminist reputation. On the one hand, the film is full of scenes of sexual aggression or sexual bartering. Sex is a currency that gets Barbarella from place to place, and there’s an unsettling trend towards sexual torture. It’s easy to read the film as misogynist, using Barbarella as a doll to act out aggressive male fantasies. But, on the other hand, there’s something charming and empowering about how Barbarella, after having been introduced to real sex (in the future, evolved beings do it with a pill) by an impossibly masculine hunter, Barbarella blossoms as a sexual being, pursuing sex with the chiseled angel Pygar and showing frustration when a bumbling freedom fighter (the awesome David Hemmings in the film’s best supporting role) wants to do it with the pill.

Although the film sought mainstream success, BARBARELLA is a movie destined for cult status. Like every good cult flick, there are moments that you simply can’t believe you’re seeing, scenes that should be impossible in a well-budgeted studio film, and yet here they are. This is a film for an audience, if simply so you can turn to the person next to you to share a laugh and one of those “holy shit” looks. This movie should be *ahem* a shared experience, not a solo trip. Even with all the sex, there’s something incredibly innocent about the film, and it serves as a window into a more optimistic, good-natured time. It’s fitting, then, that it’s being hosted at the Plaza this weekend by Blast-Off Burlesque. Burlesque itself is an art form that walks that beautiful line between sweetness and spice, and BARBARELLA is their kind of movie. When asked about the links between burlesque and BARBARELLA, Melanie Magnifique agreed: “It contains many simple theatrical tricks which are used to achieve special effects (we do that a lot).”

“Oh, also, we love to smoke Essence of Man.”

The show starts at 10 pm on Saturday with music, a dance party and complementary signature cocktails, but says Magnifique, “Come early to get your groove on!”

And be sure to read our other Retro Review: Jane Fonda Has No Clothes On: Stripping Down Our Love Affair with Psychedelic ’60s SF Camp Cult Classic BARBARELLA in Time for a Blast-Off Burlesque Taboo-La-La at the Plaza Theatre by Robert Emmett Murphy Jr.

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Retro Review: Jane Fonda Has No Clothes On: Stripping Down Our Love Affair with Psychedelic ’60s SF Camp Cult Classic BARBARELLA in Time for a Blast-Off Burlesque Taboo-La-La at the Plaza Theatre

Posted on: Jan 21st, 2013 By:

BARBARELLA (1968); Dir: Roger Vadim; Screenplay by Terry Southern; Based on a bande dessinee by Jean-Claude Forest; Starring Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, David Hemmings, Milo O’Shea, Marcel Marceau; Plaza Theatre, Saturday, January 26 at 10:00pm; presented by BLAST-OFF BURLESQUE’S TABOO-LA-LA with live stage show before the screening including raffle of 10 8×10 signed photos of Fonda as Barbarella from Jane Fonda’s personal collection; Trailer here.

By Robert Emmett Murphy Jr.
Special to ATLRetro.com

BARBARELLA is a special kind of cinematic disaster. A lavish space-opera comedy released in 1968, the most important year in SF cinema since 1951, it had a $9 million budget, making it only modestly less expensive than the same year’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY ($10.5 M) and more expensive than that year’s PLANET OF THE APES ($5.8 M). Meant to celebrate the era’s new found sexual freedom and the changing role of women in society, BARBARELLA is one of those films in which the first five minutes tell you everything you are going to get, as well as promising you all the things it should’ve given us and simply failed to deliver.

The opening image is a lovely array of stars, and hanging within it an improbable and more than slightly feminine-looking space ship. We move in closer until we can see through a portal into the fur-lined cockpit…

Full stop. Christ, I can’t believe I just wrote that: “fur-lined cockpit.” You know that whoever came up with that idea was thinking ahead to an exhausted film reviewer of a more innocent age, sometime after midnight hammering out copy and tearing his hair out screaming, “HOW CAN I GET THIS PAST THE EDITORS!”

Jane Fonda as BARBARELLA. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

OK, so we can see through a portal into the fur-lined cockpit where a space-suited figure floats in a really excellent simulation of zero-gravity (also a simple illusion, the astronaut is filmed from above while lying on a plexiglass platform). The identify is hidden behind a featureless metal helmet. But the material transforms from metal to clear plexiglass (another fine piece of simple FX, the reflective metal is actually a liquid in a space within the helmet’s bowel-like structure. It’s merely drained through the bottom.) revealing the “spaceman” is actually a not-quite-yet-30 Jane Fonda, never looking more beautiful. Her expression not only evokes a potent come-hither sexual promise, but more importantly, pure delight.

The music comes up. The song is deliberately silly (unafraid to rhyme “Barbarella” and “psychedella”) but quite catchy, celebrating the film’s title character’s sex appeal in a way that is far more joyful than crass. Though the film is based on a French comic book, it’s geared to an American audience, so before we hear her name (already legendary across the ocean), the singer compares her to our more familiar Wonder Woman.

Fonda/Barbarella strips off her space suit. It’s a sectional outfit revealing her progressively, teasingly. She is completely naked beneath. The animated titles escape the seams of the garment like venting gasses, swirling around her, protecting her immodestly. Except when they don’t. They keep trying to obscure, but she is happy to reveal. And the wantonness is now more than just promise; she expresses ongoing sexual pleasure (perhaps the caress of the letters?). Finally, wholly naked, she presses a button, tumbles down the luxurious furs, and she clearly is sated.

It’s one of the greatest stripteases in film history.

The next four minutes aren’t half bad either. The dialogue is witty and provides a lot of narrative context without excessive exposition. Barbarella immediately gets a call on her video screen from Claude Dauphin as the President of Earth. Their greet each other by saying “Love,” in what is clearly a political party’s salute.

Barbarella: “Just a minute. I’ll slip something on.”

President: “Don’t trouble yourself, this is an affair of state.”

In short order we learn that Barbarella is a secret agent in a future so perfectly utopian and groovy that she is rendered childlike in her naivete. She is assigned the mission to find an evil scientist named Durand Durand (yeah, that’s where the ’80s band got their name from) and stop him from supplying weapons to primitive peoples and threatening to disrupt the proper social order.

Barbarella (Jane Fonda) strikes a dangerous pose. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

Barbarella: “Weapon? Why would anyone want to invent a weapon?…I mean the universe was pacified centuries ago.”

President: “What we know of it…We know nothing of Tau Ceti.”

Barbarella: “You mean they can still be living in a primitive state of neurotic irresponsibility?”

Sweet Barbarella seems only vaguely familiar with the concept of secrets (yeah, I know, she’s supposed to be a “secret agent,” but whatever) and can’t even say the word “war,” but instead babbles absurd multisyllabic euphemisms like “archaic insecurity” and “selfish competition.”

We’re now nine minutes into the film. After this point, there’s not a single Goddamn scene in the film that follows that compares, either in its sexiness, warmth of performances, generosity of humor, playful satire or technical achievement.

So why watch the remaining one and half hours?

I can think of three reasons:

1) The wonderfully creative and over-the-top costumes. Especially Fonda’s, who goes through a wide variety because since she’s constantly undressing, she is therefore constantly redressing.

2) The sets and props, which are even more impressively inventive than the costumes. I especially liked the aforementioned fur lined cock pit, the ice craft, the bird-shaped bird-cage that is the size of a small bus- well, the list goes on. Though the film showed little interest in evoking the title-character as she was presented in Jean-Claude Forest‘s comic strip, they did hire Forest as a consultant on the visuals. As wrote Graeme Clark: “[T]he film-makers’ maxim seems to have been, if it looks cool, if it looks weird, then put it onscreen.” And Gary Morris wrote, “[G]audy, colorful sets, looks like it was shot in the bowels of the Playboy mansion — especially our heroine’s spaceship, with its fur-lined walls that reek of ’60s softcore chic.”

3.) Maybe, deep down in your heart, you hate Jane Fonda, and want to just sit back, watch her flounder, and feel superior.

David Hemmings and Jane Fonda in BARBARELLA. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

Yes, Fonda has never been more beautiful, but there’s no doubt this is her career worst performance. Despite being charming in the first scene, her performance quickly degrades, as she becomes increasing wide-eyed, vacuous and cold. I have to wonder why she gets worse the farther she gets into the film. I do know it was made in France at the most important transition point in her acting and political career (her follow-up film, the same year, THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY? earned her first Oscar nomination, and by the time BARBARELLA was released, she’d embraced feminism and thrown her support behind the Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island). What I think happened is that in between takes she started listening to the babble of French intellectuals who analyzed the film’s actual content (and I should say, this is a film that shouldn’t be analyzed for content), and they revealed to her some uncomfortable things:

First, the bad guys are led by an arrogant intellectual who insidiously infiltrates and corrupts a primitive culture with the goal of undermining the larger community of peace-loving, wealthy, advanced societies. Meanwhile the good guys, also foreigners, are forced to intervene and also engage in infiltrating and saving the backward indigenous peoples through a nobler, but still newly introduced, ideology, military training and supplying advanced weapons. The good guys turn the indigenous people into a “third force” that will create a society more cooperative to the ideals of more civilized foreign powers. The overarching message is that if you want to preserve universal peace, start a proxy war. It’s almost Robert Heinlein-esque in the way the heroes are “forced” into engaging in foreign interventions. In other words, the movie is pro- the kind of Third Phase Imperialism that led both the USA and the USSR into the Vietnam conflict.

Ugo Tognazzi plays Mark Hand, the heroic Catchman, the guy who introduces Barbarella to the wonders of really good primitive sex. But he also spends most of his day using corporal punishment to discipline nasty, unsupervised, disrespectful children. He then rounds them up so they can be properly indoctrinated into their responsibilities to society. In other words, BARBARELLA the movie hates the youth culture.

And it didn’t like homosexuals much either.

Women are completely objectified, and the heroine is an utter bimbo (which the comic-book heroine was not). Though she does heroic things, she doesn’t have an idea in her head or a goal worth pursuing that wasn’t planted there by an older, dominant male. Also, after arriving on the planet, almost all the “sexy” scenes concern her being captured and tortured. In other words, the movie is amazingly misogynistic right at the dawn of American feminism.

Also, I think even French intellectuals probably thought that director (Fonda’s then-husband) Roger Vadim, was a sleazy creep who was ruining her career with films like this. Vadim’s life reflected the films bizzaro sexual anti-liberation. He was a serial husband with a penchant for woman barely more than half his age and made a habit of trading eachwoman in as soon as responsibility reared its ugly head. Prior to Fonda was Brigitte Bardot (probably the inspiration for the comic book Barabarella in the first place), who was 15 to his 22 and whom he drove to several suicide attempts before their divorce. He left Bardot for the more age- appropriate Annette Stroyberg, but then abandoned her with a two-year-old child for Catherine Deneuve who was 17 to his 33. He was already involved with Fonda during that third marriage – when Fonda and Vadim first met she was 18 to his 27 -and when Vadim abandoned Deneuve, with their two-month-old child, to move in with Fonda she was 26 to his 35. The two would separate not long after BARBARELLA, leaving yet another child too young to walk. During that separation he would get involved with Catherine Schneider who was 26 to his now-44. There would be another two marriages after that.

Fonda would eventually disown the film. At the San Francisco Film Festival in 1994, she was asked “Where was her head?”

“I don’t know – up my armpit, I guess,” she replied. “We all make mistakes. In my case, I keep getting my nose rubbed them.”

Worse still, Fonda turned down the role of Bonnie in BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) to do this stinker. Faye Dunaway eventually got that role, and an Oscar nomination. Fonda should’ve listened to Virna Lisi. When Lisi was told to play the part of Barbarella, she terminated her contract with United Artists and returned to Italy.

Jane Fonda changes costumes again as BARBARELLA. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

Episodic in the same way J.R.R. Tolkien’s work was, BARBARELLA lacked the master’s flair for the actual episodes, as well as being completely lacking in forward momentum. It displayed none of Tolkien’s warmth or affection for his characters, and notably Tolkien’s much-maligned female characterization was far better than what we see in this film with a higher percentage of prominent female roles. It wasn’t even close to Tolkien’s capacity to pull the divergent threads of plot into a meaningful climax.

BARBARELLA was panned in its day but has grown into a cult classic. Today, many critics are generous towards it because of its camp value, of which there is a great deal (It’s listed with the “Top 100 Most Amusingly Bad Movies Ever Made” in THE OFFICIAL RAZZIE MOVIE GUIDE), but I can’t help but be put off when watching a film that contains much to snicker about, but when it tries to tell an intentional joke, it generally falls terribly flat. Forest’s original comic book was fun, and the movie’s original script was by the great Terry Southern, but later critics seem unanimous that Vadim was more interested in his sexual obsessions than Forest’s swashbuckling adventurism or Southern’s omni-directional satire. As a result, no one in the cast seemed to be having any fun, and lines that really should’ve been been amusing come off stale:

Barbarella: “Make love [in a manner that involves actual physical contact]? But no one’s done that for hundreds of centuries!”

“This is much too poetic a way to die!”

“A good many dramatic situations begin with screaming!”

Mark Hand: “Are you typical of Earth women?”

Barbarella in a revealing costume made all the more so because it was shredded: “I’m about average.”

Pygar the angel (John Phillip Law, who if anything, a worse actor than Fonda in this movie):

“An angel does not make love, an angel is love.”

“But you’re soft and warm! We’re told that Earth beings are cold.”

And explaining why he saved the evil queen who tortured him: “An angel has no memory.”

Pygar the angel (John Phillip Law) gives Barbarella (Jane Fonda) a ride. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

I will credit one cast member with carrying on like a true soldier. David Hemmings, in an underwritten part as the inept freedom fighter Dildano, was quite good. He offered some hints of what this film could’ve been.

Also very fine was a captivating soundtrack by Bob Crewe and Charles Fox performed by The Glitterhouse which featured Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour.

Vadim wanted to do a sequel to BARBARELLA, but that dream died with his marriage to Fonda. He then talked about a remake right up to his death, toying with leading ladies like Drew Barrymore. Other directors have expressed interest in the remake project, notably Robert Rodriguez.

In closing, I would like to recommend an exceptionally sophisticated homage to this really dumb film. CQ (2001) written and directed by Roman Coppola (son of Francis Ford) takes us back to Paris of the ‘60s where a young American filmmaker, Paul (Jeremy Davies), is trying to made personal art film/love letter to his girlfriend Marlene (Elodie Bouchez) but all that the honest camera can do is document her depression and resentments. So he gets a job assisting the director of an a cheesy sci-fi that is clearly a better version of BARBARELLA. That film’s director, played by Gerard Depardieu, is turning the project into a complete train wreck because he can’t come up with an ending, but really, can’t cope with the fact that the fantasy of revolution and liberty he creates on film will never translate to the real world. Paul gets drawn into the director’s lunacy through his growing infatuation with the film’s sexy star, played by Angela Lindvall, who remains the same impossible ideal of sexuality and liberty even when Depardieu’s camera is not rolling.

Robert Murphy is 47 years old and lives in New York City. Formerly employed, he now has plenty of time to write about movies and play with his cats.

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Retro Review: Viva Morte! Viva la Plaza! Celebrate the Plaza Theatre as the Silver Scream Spookshow presents ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN!

Posted on: Dec 20th, 2012 By:

Silver Scream Spookshow presents ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948); Dir: Charles Barton; Starring: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr. and Glenn Strange; Sat. Dec. 22;  kids’ matinee at 1 PM (kids under 12 free & adults $7) and adult show at 10 PM(all tickets $12); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Let me get personal for a minute here.

This month’s Silver Scream Spookshow at the Plaza Theatre is a special one for me. Not just because every Spookshow is its own special thing. And not just because the Plaza is Atlanta’s oldest running independent cinema, which is just incredible in its own right. But because the film being presented—ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN—is my very first memory. The earliest thing I can recall from childhood is trying to fall asleep while watching Glenn Strange’s monster lurching about a pier in a film on the “late-late show” my mom was watching. It’s stuck with me. That’s why one of my most treasured possessions as a kid was a glow-in-the-dark poster of James Bama’s portrait of Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein monster. (Thanks, Super Sugar Crisps!) That’s why I’ve got Glenn-as-Frankie tattooed on my forearm. In the years since that fateful day, I’ve watched this movie over and over again and I’ve never grown tired of it.

For those not in the know, here’s the lowdown on this flick: Chick (Bud Abbott) and Wilbur (Lou Costello) are bumbling baggage-claim clerks in Florida. Thanks to a late-night delivery of mysterious crates to a wax museum, they unwittingly wind up caught in Dracula’s (Bela Lugosi) evil plot to replace the Frankenstein monster’s brain with a more receptive one: that of the dim-witted Wilbur. Lawrence “Wolf Man” Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) enlists their assistance in stopping Dracula’s fiendish plot, and once the full moon rises, the whole thing turns into a large-scale monster bash along the lines of 1944’s HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN or 1945’s HOUSE OF DRACULA. Just a whole lot funnier.

Besides the film’s early imprinting on my developing mind, though, the film is notable for many other reasons. It’s Bela’s second and final feature-length performance as Dracula (he had a cameo as Dracula in 1933’s HOLLYWOOD ON PARADE theatrical short). It’s one of the few horror comedies in which the monsters are not treated as the butts of the film’s jokes; the horror elements are respected and presented practically as seriously as they were in any other Universal film, while the comedy largely rises from Bud and Lou’s interplay and reactions to the horror. (This, however, didn’t stop Boris Karloff from refusing to see the film, believing it to be disrespectful toward the horror genre.) All three of the “monster” actors had played the role of Frankenstein’s monster (with Chaney even briefly playing him during the course of this film when Glenn Strange broke his foot on a falling lighting rig), and both Chaney and Lugosi had played Dracula. Vincent Price even makes a surprise cameo (though don’t keep your eyes peeled for him).

Dracula (Bela Lugosi) hypnotizing Bud AbbotT in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. Universal Pictures, 1948.

But beyond even those items of interest, there’s a larger and more personal reason why this Spookshow is a special event this month: it’s the final Silver Scream Spookshow being held at the Plaza under the watchful eye of Jonathan and Gayle Rej, the Plaza’s owners and operators since 2006.

Let me make another personal detour here. The Plaza Theatre is, to me, a sacred space. It’s almost a religious temple, dedicated to conjuring and making manifest the spirit of cinema. And over its history—from movie palace to grindhouse to a showcase for independent film and performing arts—it has presented Atlanta with the full spectrum of the cinematic experience. And more than that, it has become a central, vital spot in my life. When I first moved back to the Atlanta area in 2006 after more than a decade away, I was working from home and initially didn’t get out much. It took me a while to get settled in and motivated to check out what was going on. That was when I saw a flyer for the Silver Scream Spookshow in the window of Junkman’s Daughter. It promised a revival of the classic Spook Show tradition of live stage shows augmenting showings of classic horror flicks—a phenomenon that I was old enough to remember coming to my home town, but young enough to have never personally experienced—presented by Professor Morte, an old-school-styled horror host from the cracked mold of Ghoulardi and Zacherley. So I went. And went. And went again.

The Frankenstein Monster meets Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Universal Pictures, 1948.

Being a movie fanatic, the Plaza quickly became the center of much of my recreational time because more than simply being a theater, it has spawned a community. Most of the people I know and the friends I have, I have met either directly or indirectly through the Plaza. In fact, I wouldn’t be writing this piece for this fine website if it weren’t for the Plaza. And if it weren’t for the hard work and dedication of Johnny and Gayle Rej in the face of economic struggles that would have beaten down lesser mortals, none of the above would have existed.

As you may or may not know, Johnny and Gayle have sold the Plaza to Michael Furlinger, who recently revived the classic Terrace Theatre in Charleston, SC. I spoke with Shane Morton, the mastermind behind Morte, for his thoughts on the end of the reign of the Rejs and the beginning of a new era for the Plaza.

“I think out of all the phases that the Plaza has gone through, that Johnny and Gayle have really turned it into something much more than just a movie theatre. Something beyond just building the stage and clearing out the space in the back for us to work. It’s like they gave this place a soul. You can feel it when you walk in there. And if I can be selfish, they’ve given me a place to do what I think is the most important work of my life with the Spookshow. We recently did a showing of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925), and I spent 15 minutes turning a kid into Lon Chaney’s Phantom. All that time, I was talking to the audience, and I felt the passion that one of those true-believer preachers must feel—not one of those charlatans that’s just out for money or to bang chicks or whatever. I got to preach about the magic of the movies. I not only get to be this hero (or anti-hero, if you want); I get to educate kids and give them something that they don’t have enough of right now. Kids’ programming today sucks, and they don’t have the kind of stuff available to them that even you and I had growing up; they don’t see things like the original KING KONG, stuff that filled me with a sense of wonder and amazement at the age of four.”

Shane went on to discuss the creative development that the Plaza has encouraged: “It’s become a hub for a lot of creative people: Splatter Cinema, Blast-Off Burlesque’s Taboo-La-La series and all the great art shows that they’ve hosted at the Plaza. Johnny and Gayle really turned a simple movie theater into almost an art movement. I know that it has literally changed my life. It’s given me the chance to fulfill every dream I ever had growing up. I could get to be Houdini or Alice Cooper or the horror host I had always wanted to see. And no matter what happens in the future, if I wind up making the greatest movie ever made, I don’t need any more than this: I saw a kid dressed as Professor Morte for Halloween. My mother passed away recently, and I’m so glad that she got a chance to see me spread my bat wings and fly with the Spookshow. And I really have Johnny and Gayle to thank for this.”

Professor Morte (Shane Morton). Photo courtesy of Shane Morton.

And what of the future? “We’d always hoped that someone with the financial backing could come in and turn the Plaza Theatre around. It seemed like an impossible dream. And then suddenly, it all seemed to fall together at the right time. Johnny and Gayle had just had a baby, and that’s without a doubt their most important job right there! Suddenly, Mike Furlinger came in and was in the position to deliver everything anyone involved with the Plaza could hope for. New digital projectors, new seats, new carpeting…now, I like the old seats and the old carpeting. I like stuff that’s old and weird. But you have to keep moving with the times, and what he’s going to bring to the Plaza is going to help the theater thrive. The future looks really exciting. The Plaza will be able to show first-run films along with the art-house movies they’re known for and keep delivering the funky stuff that all of us bring to the table.”

After the Rejs turn the keys over to Furlinger at the end of this month and renovations begin, it may be a while before we can see Morte’s handiwork on the Plaza stage. So come out and celebrate. Celebrate that the world didn’t end on Friday. Celebrate that the solstice has passed and a new dawn is rising. That Santa’s on his way. That a new year is on the horizon. That one of the best films in the Universal Horror cycle is screening in a lovely digital restoration. That Professor Morte and his merry band of misfits are taking the stage. And celebrate the legacy of the hard work and spirit of Jonathan and Gayle Rej. Raise your tubs of popcorn in salute, boils and ghouls.

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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Retro Review: The Sweet Scent of POLYESTER: Blast-Off Burlesque Taboo-La-La Presents John Waters’ Most Odor-ific Cult Classic

Posted on: Dec 1st, 2012 By:

POLYESTER (1981); Dir: John Water; Starring Divine, Tab Hunter; Plaza Theatre, Saturday, December 1 at 10:00pm; presented by BLAST-OFF BURLESQUE’S TABOO-LA-LA in ODORAMA. Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Let’s start with a question. What if I told you that, on Saturday night at the Plaza, you had a chance to experience a film in ODORAMA, a process that lets you scratch-and-sniff a card to experience with the, um, aromas of the movie you’re watching, aromas that include such delights as model airplane glue, skunk and flatulence? Does that sound like your idea of a fun weekend night?

Those of you who said “yes, please!” already know John Waters and his film, POLYESTER, playing as part of the regular TABOO-LA-LA series presented by Blast-Off Burlesque. You guys are going to be there anyway. For those of you who *ahem* politely declined, the burden now falls to me to change your mind.

John Waters is kind of a maniac, but movie nuts and those with a taste for the trashy have long considered him their maniac. Waters is a true indie, a guy whose tastes and warped sense of humor never stood a chance of playing in Hollywood, and so he made his own Hollywood in Baltimore, churning out a handful of homemade movies starring his friends, a company of actors who took to calling themselves the Dreamlanders. Perhaps the most famous Dreamlander was Divine, an actor who performed in drag and rose to fame as Waters’s muse, due equally to Divine’s incredible charisma and willingness to waltz into the darkest corners of Waters’s imagination. Divine starred in all of Waters’s early Baltimore films, never more famously (or infamously) as in PINK FLAMINGOES, which uses as its money shot a scene where Divine consumes dog shit. Did I mention that John Waters movies aren’t for the weak-stomached?

Baldly nasty content is what earned all of Waters’s early films an X-rating, when he bothered to have them rated at all. Waters sold himself as a master purveyor of camp, trash and kitsch, and his films can be endurance tests for the timid. So, Waters had to seek his audience, growing them like a culture through word of mouth. Many people watched Waters’s films with jaws dropped and raced from the theatre to tell friends who, of course, could never believe such filth existed at the cinema… and so they bought a ticket to find out for themselves. A passionate few liked what they saw and became fans for life. Waters’s movies owned midnight crowds back when late-night movies were for the deranged and the dangerous, but then a funny thing happened somewhere along the way: once the shock value numbed, fans noticed the actual craft and talent present both behind the camera and in front of it. Despite his image as the gleeful outsider with the pencil-thin moustache looking to tear down the system, Waters was the real deal, and as experience improved his work, his films became less pointedly offensive and more simply on-point. It was time for John Waters to go mainstream.

Enter POLYESTER, the film universally recognized as the transition from Waters’s early days with the Dreamlanders to an artist whose work could eventually be mined by Broadway (his hit 1988 film HAIRSPRAY eventually became a Broadway show, and then a movie musical, with John Travolta in the part originated by Divine. Times, they do change.) POLYESTER is John Waters’s take on the suburban aesthetic and weepy melodrama of Douglas Sirk, with Sirk’s painterly Technicolor tossed aside for garage-sale chic. Divine stars as a housewife named Francine Fishpaw whose marriage falls apart while her kids spin off in a variety of unsavory directions. To fully describe the plot would risk giving away many of its lightly-shocked laughs, but the movie isn’t afraid to explore. The more over-the-top the tragedy—and believe me, this clears the top by a half-a-foot–the more laughter Waters drags from the audience.

POLYESTER was the first John Waters film that could sit comfortably at the multiplex, and his first to receive an R-rating, bringing his work and his fans reluctantly blinking out into the sun. No matter which version of Waters you enjoy the most, generally everyone can agree that POLYESTER is one of his best and most accessible. In fact, The AV Club named POLYESTER as the ideal gateway into the director and his work.

And then there’s ODORAMA, the gimmick Waters cooked up to let his fans know that mainstream success wasn’t going to change him. In a nod to the showmanship of the great huckster William Castle, viewers of POLYESTER were handed scratch-and-sniff cards to keep up with the overactive olfactory system that helps Francine through the film’s plot. Now you can smell what Francine smells, and although the odors are rarely pleasant, the whole idea is just on the right side of wacky to lend the proceedings a heaping helping of charm. It’s Waters saying that it’s OK not to take his movie so seriously; he certainly doesn’t.

Blast-Off Burlesque is handing out ODORAMA cards for Saturday night’s viewing of POLYESTER, and they’re sweetening the deal with their usual variety show of burlesque performance and contests. The Dreamlanders would be proud.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

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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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30 Days of Plaza Theatre: Day One, The Beginning

Posted on: May 7th, 2012 By:

The Plaza Theatre is Atlanta’s oldest continually operating cinema, but this art-deco treasure is in serious danger of closing. In recent years, under the stewardship of the amazing Jonny and Gayle Rej, the Plaza has been undergoing a renaissance with edgy bookings of cult and classic movies, often accompanied by stage shows. It’s home to the Silver Scream Spookshow (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON IN 3D June 30), Splatter Cinema (ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST this Tues May 8), Blast-Off Burlesque‘s Taboo-La-La (BEYOND THE VALLEY OF DOLLS on Sat. June 2), monthly screenings of THE ROOM (with star Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestaro in person, May 11, 12 & 13), THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW every Friday at midnight complete with stage show led by Lips Down on Dixie, as well as all sorts of special screenings and regular first runs of art, foreign, indie and just plain cool movies. For the next 30 days, we’ll be reminding you of what’s great about The Plaza – articles, fun facts, and more – and urging you to support this amazing Atlanta institution by seeing a show or making a tax-deductible donation. It’s really come down to use it or lose it. Atlanta has lost so many great places, and we don’t want to think of an Atlanta without The Plaza.

For our first day, we asked Gayle Rej to go back to the beginning and give us a little history lesson…

[Coca-Cola tycoon family] the Candlers built the Plaza shopping center and Plaza Theatre in December 1939. It was a big deal because it was the first place in the city with off-street parking – making it the first official shopping center in Atlanta. There were giant klieg lights from the city, and Mrs. Candler-Griffith (the builder’s daughter and the mother of the current owner) was very young and was in a hotel room across the street at The Ponce de Leon Hotel looking down at all of the excitement. The first movies shown were THE WOMEN and then Frank Capra‘s MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON starring Jimmy Stewart.

Tune in tomorrow and visit ATLRetro every day for the next 30 to find out more about The Plaza!

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