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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Kool Kat of the Week: Jonathan Williams Wrestles with Pop Culture at One Rowdy, Rockin’ First Anniversary Party Wed. March 28

Posted on: Mar 21st, 2012 By:

Professor Morte puts a choke hold on Jonathan Williams. Photo courtesy of Wrestling with Pop Culture.

When our BFF blog Wrestling with Pop Culture (WPC) decided to throw a one-year anniversary party on Wed. March 28 at The Masquerade, ATLRetro couldn’t help but get excited because Jonathan Williams, the mad mastermind behind our second favorite Atlanta-based pop culture blog, is the absolute personifcation of one Kool Kat. Long before either of us took that leap of faith to pull the trigger on our own projects, we found ourselves hanging together at those media receptions, dinners and openings that us freelance writers call breakfast, lunch, dinner and happy hour – that fine line that   keeps us from being “starving” artists more often than we’d like to admit.

Now we’d support anything Jonathan & WPC did, but we’ve got to admit that he’s put together one helluva birthday party. One of the sweetest, glammest Kool Kats ever, Amber Taylor, is hosting! Death is a Dialogue and Needeep are rocking! Monstrosity Championship Wrestling hosted by our favorite Ghost Host with the Most, Professor Morte of the Silver Scream Spookshow! And it’s the official after-party of the Atlanta Film Festival‘s screening of Platinum Championship Wrestling documentary THE BOOKER! Luchador face and body-painting! Raffle! Chambers of Horror photo booth! Wrestling photographer Jay Taylor!

OK, we’d better shut up now and let Jonathan fill you in about WPC’s secret origins, more about the crazy party action and how it all came together, and what else he’s up to. All of which makes us think we need to get busy planning our own ATLRetro first birthday shindig – now that the bar has been set, stay tuned, kids…

Why did you decide to pull the trigger on Wrestling with Pop Culture?

I’ve been a freelance entertainment journalist for several years and have written for local publications like The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Creative Loafing, as well as national publications such as Gothic Beauty and Pro Wrestling Illustrated. But the most fun I ever has as a writer was when I was interning as a college student for Sideshow magazine. That was a free monthly that Jon Waterhouse did, and it covered all aspects of pop culture, from music and movies to pro wrestling and comic books. While I have had the opportunity to write about some cool stuff since Sideshow folded up its tent, I’ve never found another publication that covers the kookier side of pop culture the way that magazine did.

A couple of years ago, when the economy started to tank and freelance work became more and more scarce, I started thinking about starting my own publication. With online media taking over much of the readership that used to rely on print publications, I thought starting a website would be the cheapest and easiest way to go. I also knew that I wanted to focus on professional wrestling in a way that I had never seen any other publication do. It seems like most mainstream publications usually poke fun at wrestling, and traditional wrestling magazines focus solely on what happens in the wrestling world without exploring wrestling’s connections to other forms of entertainment.

From its earliest days as a carnival sideshow attraction through its territorial days, when wrestling made a name for itself across the country with regional TV shows, to the current WWE-dominated scene that allows wrestlers to cross over into the mainstream as action heroes, musicians and other forms of entertainment, pro wrestling has been embedded in Americana and pop culture for decades. Wrestling with Pop Culture covers all these aspects of wrestling, as well as other forms of entertainment that appeal to people who are as fascinated with luchadores and the pageantry of this form of performance art as they are with B horror movies, rock ‘n’ roll, comic books and other like-minded aspects of pop culture.

Jonathan Williams with Stephanie Anderson from Neon Armour Body Painting. Photo courtesy of Wrestling with Pop Culture.

Who else is involved with Wrestling with Pop Culture?

I’ve had a lot of help getting WPC off the ground. Tessa Horehled from DriveaFasterCar.com really helped me with all the technical aspects of getting a website running. KRK Ryden, the artist best known for his work with Devo, designed the black-and-white version of the logo, which I think illustrates the wacky world I envisioned perfectly. Amber Taylor, who will be the host of my show, has provided continued technical support. And I have a few guest writers, including “The Human Hand Grenade” dany only, who also co-hosts Georgia Wrestling Now, to do movie reviews and things like that. Other than that, a large majority of the interviews and reviews you see on WPC are done by me. I’m also working on a comic strip, which will hopefully debut in the next few months, that will further explore the world Ryden helped create with his image.

It sounds like this party is going to be pretty awesome. How did everything fall into place?

I initially wanted to do something last August that incorporated live wrestling and a few rock bands, and concluded with a viewing of a WWE pay-per-view. That never materialized for various reasons, but as the first anniversary of WPC approached I thought about how I could try to pull off something like that again. I first contacted some potential sponsors and, thankfully, found some good ones early on. Pabst Blue Ribbon has been very supportive; then media outlets Creative Loafing and Scoutmob got involved. Things really started falling into place just a few weeks ago as the Atlanta Film Festival announced its screening of the Platinum Championship Wrestling documentary THE BOOKER on March 28. Since the Masquerade is right down the street from the Midtown Art Cinema, and since PCW runs shows there every month or so, I thought it would be a great venue for an event with wrestling and bands.

Can you tell us more about the bands and wrestling activities?

Death is a Dialogue and Needeep, [two] great bands who are also great at getting their names out there, both agreed to do the show. Although I wanted to take advantage of PCW’s fans being in the area that night, I actually wanted to do something a little different with the wrestling portion of the show. Last October, the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse set up a wrestling ring in its parking lot to provide entertainment for the people waiting in the long lines to get in. I didn’t get to see either of those shows, but I heard from some of the PCW wrestlers that were involved that the promotion was Monstrosity Championship Wrestling and there were matches that included actual monsters, as well as a match that pitted a Bible-thumping Jesus freak against Satan himself. It turns out Prof. Morte from the Silver Scream SpookShow is somehow involved in this promotion, so I contacted him, and he agreed to do some monster wrestling matches at my event.

Also, Amber Taylor, whose band the Sexual Side Effects is playing another Atlanta Film Festival event at the Goat Farm the following night, where their new video will be premiering, also wanted to be part of the action. So since she’s sort of walking freak show unto herself, I decided to let her be the host of the whole thing. With additional sponsors like Criminal Records, Adrenaline Fitness and Ox’s Wrestling Ring Rentals, I feel like the event covers Atlanta’s pop culture scene in much the same way the website covers various aspects of pop culture. The Atlanta Film Festival has also made this event one of its official after-parties and PCW recently put out a challenge to MCW, so things just get more and more interesting by the day. And the Academy Theatre, where PCW has its matches every Friday night, is selling tickets for only $5 through this Friday. Otherwise, tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door or free for AFF pass holders.

And did we hear right that there’s face and body painting, artists, a raffle, something to do with those crazy maniacs from Chambers of Horror?

Other festivities include luchadore-inspired face and body painting from Neon Armour, raffle prizes from Adrenaline Fitness; Chocolate F/X; monster artist Dave Cook; Monster Joe Coffee, who also made the WPC T-shirts; and lots of other new stuff coming in each day. Chambers of Horror is also going to have a photo booth there, and local wrestling photographer Jay Taylor will be snapping pics.

Jonathan Williams of Wrestling with Pop Culture. Photo credit: Neda Abghari.

While Wrestling with Pop Culture is your big baby, what other writing projects are you up to right now?

In addition to keeping WPC from tapping out, I am also the Editor-in-Chief for The Creative Process, which is part of The Creatives Project. I still write a monthly art column for Stomp and Stammer called Sheer Art Attack, and I have weekly music contributions to Creative Loafing. I occasionally contribute to PWI and Drive a Faster Car, and I’m also working on some articles for the Miami New Times about all the WrestleMania festivities that will be taking place down there next week.

 

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