RETRO REVIEW: OBEY! Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre Command You To Witness John Carpeneter’s THEY LIVE.

Posted on: Apr 7th, 2014 By:

Splatter Cinema presents THEY LIVE (1988); Dir. John Carpenter; Starring Roddy Piper, Keith David and Meg Foster; Tuesday, April 8 @ 9:30 p.m. (photos and merch table open @ 9:00 p.m.); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Ah, THEY LIVE. It’s long been a slippery little beast. Much like 1982’s THE THING, it performed less-than-admirably at the box office when it opened. And, again like THE THING, while critical reception at the time was favorable, it has only recently come to be considered one of John Carpenter’s best films.

Me, I’ve been on board since I first saw it back in the waning days of the Reagan administration.

I mention the time frame because, by Carpenter’s own design, it’s practically impossible to look at the film outside of the realm of the political. Let’s not mince words here: for all the machismo, violence and existential horror John Carpenter’s films may tread in from time to time, the director is a hippie at heart. He took a minute to look around in the 1980s, saw the emphasis on crass commercialization and the worship of wealth encouraged by the Reagan Revolution and was pissed off. But by merging his anger and aggression with his borne-of-the-‘60s anti-right-wing politics, he created a movie that’s more of a piece with the radical political stances of hardcore punk acts like MDC, D.O.A. or the Dead Kennedys. For in this movie, it’s not just that the rich and powerful elite are evil; they are actually not even human.

The premise of the film is a simple one: a drifter named Nada (Roddy Piper) discovers that the oligarchs who rule planet Earth are in fact aliens in disguise, exploiting the planet’s resources for their own benefit before leaving it once they destroy the environment via global warming. They keep humanity in the dark, and their appearances obscured, through television signals that brainwash the public and transmit subliminal propaganda commanding the populace to “OBEY,” “SLEEP” and “CONSUME.” Faced with this knowledge (and able to see through the haze of brainwashing thanks to some specially-designed sunglasses), Nada has only one option: rip the system.

And like listening to, say, D.O.A.’s WAR ON 45 or the Dead Kennedys’ FRESH FRUIT FOR ROTTING VEGETABLES, once the movie gets going, it’s a shot of pure adrenaline. It’s fast, it’s funny, it’s violent (there’s an epic 5 ½ minute fist fight between Roddy Piper and Keith David that is both thrilling and hilarious), and its sardonic ridicule of the rich and powerful—and those who kowtow to them—as anti-human scumbags makes you wish that the Revolution would be something as easy as tearing down a TV broadcast antenna.

[Note: the utilization of a television station to promote things like a particular political ideology, rampant consumerism, stratification of the classes and glorification of material wealth should not be confused with any reality—past, present or future. OBEY.]

At the time, the casting of Roddy Piper as Nada was seen as an enormous misstep by Carpenter. This was just after the WWF (now WWE) became a pop culture phenomenon, and “Rowdy” Roddy was one of the federation’s most famous athletes. However, crossovers into mainstream media outside the ring (Hulk Hogan’s appearance in ROCKY III and his starring role in NO HOLDS BARRED, for instance) were seen as curiosities at best. So Piper’s role—which many saw as ideally meant for Carpenter’s most frequent leading man, Kurt Russell—was viewed with a jaundiced eye right from the start. But his performance is an able one. He brings a raw, brutal physicality to the part that wouldn’t suit Russell quite as well, and he comes across as a stoic “man out of place” in a way that would surprise anyone familiar only with his hyper-confident, loud-mouthed wrestling persona. He pulls this off in such a successful way that when he comes closest to the “Rowdy” attitude he was famous for—such as when he first puts on the sunglasses and sees people as they really are—it truly sells the shock his character is supposed to be feeling. His performance has simply aged well and holds up in a time where the wrestling-to-movie transition is more accepted (thanks, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson!).

Keith David, as Piper’s friend Frank Armitage (also the name Carpenter used for his writing credit; an allusion to Henry Armitage from H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”) is, as always, excellent. He brings a necessary gravitas to the film, keeping the satire and fantasy grounded in the real world. Meg Foster as Holly Thompson, Nada’s love interest, is mysterious and alluring; her motives constantly under question, her understated performance never telegraphs where her allegiances truly lie.

And, as to be expected, Carpenter’s classically-informed composition techniques further show him to be a master of the Cinemascope frame. For a meager $3,000,000 budget, Carpenter makes the most of his downtown Los Angeles locations and creates a series of visually striking setpieces and shots. Tightly edited and winningly scripted (it’s one of the best films Carpenter has ever written on his own), it never lets up.

So get your sunglasses on, stock up on bubble gum and get ready for some alien-elite-ass-kicking!

[Note: Just don’t get any fancy ideas, humans. OBEY.]

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

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kool Kat of the Week: Kickin’ It Out, Looking Tough with Jet Terror at the Star Bar’s NYC Punk Tribute Fri. July 27

Posted on: Jul 25th, 2012 By:

Jet Terror. Photo credit: Widdi Turner.

Think you are or ever were a punk rocker? The Star Bar is throwing a NYC Punk Tribute Night Fri. July 27 with some of Atlanta’s finest garage and punk bands headlined by none other than  Jayne County & The Electrick Queers and also including The Forty-Fives ( doingMC5 songs), The El CaminosRandy Micheal and the Sharp Dressed Lads and Ghost Bikini . They’ll be performing songs by the New York Dolls, Blondie, Ramones, MC5 and more that started a rock revolution in the early-mid 1970s before the Sex Pistols ever spiked their hair. Unfortunately too many  performers of that era have left this plane including a majority of Ramones and NY Dolls, but Atlanta is fortunate to be  home to the queen of Max’s Kansas City, Jayne County. Since we interviewed Jayne last October (catch up with that Kool Kat here), we decided to turn to Jet Terror, an Atlanta punk legend in his own right as one of the founding members of the recently resurrected and still refreshingly raunchy Dead Elvis (Ed. note: fellow band member Derek Yaniger designed the ATLRetro logo; read an interview with him and catch up some more on the history of Dead Elvis here.)

The last time I interviewed Jet was for Maximum Rock n Roll, the best newsprint hardcore punk zine ever (and still thriving on the Web here), along with the rest of Dead Elvis – Derek, Kevin Rej and Chris Mills, in Chris’s Grant Park living room. Let’s just say there was a lot of…er…colorful language. A few years later, Jet left Atlanta for San Francisco, so it’s great to see him back roughing up the Atlanta music scene. If you didn’t get to Greenwich Village in the 1970s, this Friday night is sure to be the next best thing…

Why a 1970s NYC Punk Tribute Night in 2012?

Well, we just want to celebrate the music of that era and give people a real taste of what it was like. It was really Jayne’s idea, and I put it together with the Star Bar’s help. We wanted to create an event, not just a show. It will be fuckin’ great.

Jayne County and the Electrick Queers. Photo credit: Jeff Shipman.

Is the show going to mostly be covers?

Yeah it will be a lot of covers of bands like, Ramones, Dead Boys, New York Dolls, MC5, Velvet Underground and so on. Each band may do an original or two.

Other than Jayne County, what are the three must-know performers/bands of that era in your opinion and why?

Iggy and the Stooges, Ramones, New York Dolls. If you have to ask why, go to YouTube.

How did you meet Jayne County?

I met her through my girlfriend’s business partner Tim Scott. She was wanting to play some shows and we clicked.

What’s the back story about the Electrick Queers? I understand they were first formed because Jayne needed a back-up band for a gig she had at a PAWS Atlanta fundraiser?

Basically we formed to support her on that gig, but always had planned to move forward as her current band. Here we are four years later. It’s been a blast and getting better all the time.

Any chance of a Jayne County and the Electrick Queers recording in the future?

We just recorded two brand new songs that we wrote with Jayne, and they came out very strong. She and I are always throwing around ideas and are working on more new songs currently with the band. She’s the most dynamic person I’ve ever played with.

Jet Terror. Photo credit: Jeff Shipman.

What’s up with Dead Elvis? Any more gigs planned this summer/fall?

Hey, Dead Elvis has been around for 27 years now. We never expected we would still be playing in 2012. To answer your question, I don’t know. We don’t plan it; usually some show is presented to us, and we figure we can go onstage and destroy it one more time for fun. It’s all about having fun acting like immature beer-swilling punks.

You relocated to San Francisco for a long time. What made you return to Atlanta?

Yep, I lived in San Francisco for most of the Nineties. SF is still just as much home to me as Atlanta is. I came back to Atlanta in 2000, mainly because of some family health issues, and I was also looking to form my dream band. Luckily I did meet the right guitar player (Jim Wright) and the right guys and formed The Evils.  We’re playing The Star Bar on August 24.

I hear you’re doing some work with WWE. Can you tell us about that?

I work full time for the WWE world television tour for the show’s MONDAY NIGHT RAW and SMACKDOWN. I’m the Stage Manager. I’m responsible for getting our show built, run and loaded out. I manage about 150 people a day and 14 semi trucks of gear. It’s a big crazy job. I’m on a plane twice a week to somewhere in the U.S., Canada or Mexico.

What else are you up to?

I have a wonderful girlfriend (Jen [Belgard of Libertine, and ATLRetro contributing writer]), a German shepherd, a crazy terrier and three cats. They keep me pretty busy when I’m home. Also, I’m working on buying a bar with my business partner.

Any other personal interests of note?

Yes, I love my 1947 Chevy Rat Rod truck and my Triumph Bonneville motorcycle. My favorite bands: Elvis, The Stooges, MC5, Motörhead, Eddie Cochran, Hank Williams Sr., The Kinks, etc. etc…

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

 

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

© 2014 ATLRetro. All Rights Reserved. This blog is powered by Wordpress