Kool Kat of the Week: Cult-Film Fanatic and Queen of the TCM Underground Millie De Chirico Bloodies it Up with the Buried Alive Film Festival Family at 7 Stages

Posted on: Nov 14th, 2016 By:

by Melanie Crewuse
Managing Editor

Millie De Chirico, co-creator and exclusive Programmer for Turner Classic Movies’ (TCM) weekly late-night cult movie showcase, “TCM Underground,” returns to Buried Alive Film Festival’s (BAFF) bloody ranks as a hand-picked and well-sought after  juror for BAFF’s Sinema Challenge, a horrorific and spooktacular extra added to this year’s festival! Competitors’ films for the 13-day filmmaking competition will screen Nov. 16 at 7 Stages (7 p.m./ 9 p.m.), kicking off the 11th Annual Buried Alive Film Festival (Thursday, November 17, 7:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.; Friday, November 18, 6:00 p.m. – 2:05 a.m.; Saturday, November 19, 12:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.; Sunday, November 20, 12:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.;  7 Stages; Tickets $12 per screening block / $120 all access pass [includes film blocks and special events]; Schedule for each screening block here; Tickets here)!

De Chirico, a Georgia State University (GSU) film major and cult-classic connoisseur has been a member of TCM’s Programming Department for over a decade. While TCM Underground is her cult-film love-child, she’s also spearheaded several successful TCM initiatives, including TCM’s Summer of Darkness featuring films of the noir persuasion; Condemned, “A festival of films Condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency”; and the TCM Imports Showcase. De Chirico is no fledgling when it comes to independent film, as she’s sat on juries for Austin’s Fantastic Fest and Buried Alive. Recently, she held a week-long programming residency at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. And in 2016, De Chirico was given an enviable opportunity to be involved with programming content for TCM/Criterion Collection’s new streaming service, FilmStruck!

ATLRetro caught up with Millie De Chirico for a quick interview about her cult cinema obsession, especially obscure films showcasing girl gangs and basically ladies who kick ass; being a part of the Buried Alive Film BAFF Film Challenge LogoFestival family; and exposing rare and bizarre films to the masses via “TCM Underground”!

ATLRetro: “Queen of the TCM Underground”! What a killer title! Can you tell our readers how you earned such a moniker and how you helped create TCM’s late-night cult movie franchise, “TCM Underground” in 2006, originally hosted by Rob Zombie?

Millie De Chirico: Well, becoming the “Queen” was incredibly easy because I’m the only person who works on it! There was another person involved in the very first year, a guy named Eric Weber who no longer works at TCM. We worked on it together at first. After he moved to another department at Turner, I was the only one left to do it, and that’s how it’s been for the past 10 years.

Stanley Kubrick was sort of your gateway drug into the land of cult film at the tender age of nine, with his 1971 classic, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Besides Kubrick, who influenced you the most in your love of cult cinema? And why?

Russ Meyer‘s FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!  was probably the biggest influence on me. It totally blew my mind when I first saw it. I can’t tell you how amazed I was to see Tura Satana, a half-Asian woman just like me, being such a dynamic badass. I’d never seen anything like that before. After that I really fell into the rabbit hole. John Waters and Herschell Gordon Lewis movies were also my early cult cinema education. They are canon at this point, but will always be influential to me.FasterPussycatKillKillFeb2014LCS

Your job is a dream come true for cinephiles the world over. As a kid, did you ever imagine you’d get the opportunity to educate the masses on the wonders of the most obscure films? What’s a day in the life of Millie De Chirico like?

As a kid I had no idea you could even have a job doing something like this. When I was a kid, jobs were like firefighters and whatever you learned in elementary school, and women were always secretaries. Every day I go into work and get to talk about and think about movies, so I’m very fortunate. I see what I do less about educating and more just about sharing movies with people. Anyone that gets paid to share what they love with others is a very lucky person.

Do viewers get to request films to be screened for “TCM Underground”? If so, what is the most bizarre request for programming you’ve received?

I love to hear ideas from viewers. I think everyone in the Programming Department at TCM does. I don’t know if I’ve gotten a single bizarre film request; it’s more that the people making the requests are the interesting thing. For example, I learned recently that TCM Underground has a pretty big following among prisoners. They’ve sent a lot of letters and I have to say, the requests are really interesting and a lot of times actually underground, like DEEP stuff. Also, I sat down with John Carpenter once a few years ago and he mentioned he’d seen Underground, and image1then rattled off a bunch of movies he wanted to see. My brain pretty much exploded after that.

How exciting to be a part of TCM/Criterion Collection’s new streaming service, FILMSTRUCK. Can you tell us a little about the service what it means to you to have opportunity to help with the programming and content?

I think I’m most glad I get the opportunity to flex a different programming muscle with FilmStruck. A lot of people assume I just like cult movies and that’s it. I’m actually a fan of lots of different types of films. I still program for the network and love classic Hollywood movies. With FilmStruck I get to program foreign, art house, and indie, which are all genres I greatly enjoy. Plus I get to work really closely with the folks at Criterion Collection, a company that I’ve had a crush on since I was in college when they were only making laserdiscs — it’s basically a dream come true.

You’ve been a juror for several film festivals across the country, including Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX and Atlanta’s own home-grown horror film festival, Buried Alive Film Fest (BAFF). I’m going to assume it’s nerve-wracking, but what’s it like getting to judge the creative harvest of filmmakers across the world?

It’s pretty thrilling to get to see really new movies, by people who’ve never made one before a lot of the time. You’re kind of there at the creative gun blast, which is very cool! The year I did Fantastic Fest I was on a jury that got to watch IT FOLLOWS and SPRING and a bunch of other movies that were unknown, but ended up being big hits.

What is your favorite American cult film? Foreign cult film? Favorite cult film genre?

You should know better than to ask film people about a single favorite movie! Admittedly I have about fifty and they change daily. But if I must choose, my favorite American cult film would be the aforementioned FASTER Switchblade SistersPUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! (NIGHT OF THE HUNTER is a very close second); foreign cult film would be THE ROAD WARRIOR. Favorite cult genre would be anything involving girl gangs, like SWITCHBLADE SISTERS or DARKTOWN STRUTTERS. What can I say; I love ladies who kick ass.

Can you tell us how you got involved with Buried Alive Film Festival and the killer Kool Kats running the show?

I went to film school at GSU with Blake, one of the founders, and I’m friends with most of the people who run it. Atlanta’s film community is fairly tight knit and I’m always happy when we get to work together in any way.

As one of the judges for BAFF’s Sinema Challenge, how does the competition look? Anything horrific and exciting you can tell us at this time without giving anything important away before the BAFF opening screenings on Nov. 16?

I actually haven’t seen them yet. I have no idea what to expect but I know I’m super excited!

What are you looking forward to most at BAFF 2016? Anything fangtastic we should know about?

I think everyone should see the shorts. They are always a blast and the BAFF folks always put together really great shorts programming. I’m also really looking forward to seeing SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL, the documentary about the Process Church of the Final Judgment (I will basically watch any documentary about cults or religion). And they’re doing a screening of CARRIE, an all-time favorite of mine, which I’m sure will be super fun.

image4What exciting and cinematically cultish things do you have planned in the near future?

I’d really love to do screenings in Atlanta. I’m always jealous when I go to cities like L.A. or Austin that have really cool, interesting cult or repertory film scenes, partially due to the fact that they have so many theaters that will do them. I’ve been talking to folks in town about this for a long time, so maybe something will finally happen…

What obscure piece of cult cinematic history can our readers look forward to in upcoming “TCM Underground” programming?

I’m really excited to be playing TERMINAL ISLAND by the great Stephanie Rothman, one of the only women who directed cult films and worked for Roger Corman for many years. I got the chance to meet and hang out with her last year and she is unbelievably nice with amazing stories to tell.

And last but not least, what question do you wish somebody would ask you and what’s the answer?

Question: Who my favorite cult actor or actress? My very quick answer is: Elizabeth Taylor in the 1960s and 1970s. She made some really bizarre movies during this period and I’m kind of on a quest to get everyone I know to watch them.

Photos courtesy of Millie De Chirico and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Nervous Curtains’ Sean Kirkpatrick Channels John Foxx and Magazine and Explains Why the Last Thing the World Needs Is for His Band To Be Funky

Posted on: Apr 3rd, 2012 By:

When Dallas band Nervous Curtains listed post-punk experimental synth groups Magazine and early Ultravox (John Foxx/pre-Midge Ure) as two of its biggest influences, it was enough to make us prick up our ears. They’re playing Drunken Unicorn this Thursday April 5, and after reading a bit more and listening to their cut Wired to Make Waves,” we were sold on making band founder Sean Kirkpatrick Kool Kat of the Week. Fortunately he was happy to grant a last-minute interview and open the door into the world of Fake Infinity, “where everything you know is wrong.” Read on to find out more about the band’s unique sound and influences and why you better get out Thursday night and see Nervous Curtains with us.

What’s the secret origin story behind Nervous Curtains?

I was playing piano, keyboards and samples in the band The Paper Chase for about 8 years. I wasn’t the singer or songwriter for that band,but I’d had this role in previous bands. I put out a side project solo album in 2007 so that I could get back into the pursuit of my own musical vision. I asked Ian Hamilton (synth, organ) and Robert Anderson (drums) to back me up for some local release shows in Dallas. We kept playing together and developed a sound that far surpassed what I had originally hoped to accomplish. In 2008, we named the band Nervous Curtains and recorded the material that would become our first album OUT OF SYNC WITH TIME (2010). In 2010, The Paper Chase went on hiatus, allowing me to focus on Nervous Curtains full time.

Can you tell us a bit about the world of Fake Infinity?

It’s a failed utopia, a place for all the big dreams that didn’t quite pan out. It’s the glimpses of euphoria that didn’t sustain in the long run. After the sex, drugs, and rock and roll, we’re left with a wicked hangover. This isn’t the glorious future we were promised and we thought we deserved. So what we do with it now is our own decision. It’s the end of something false but could be the beginning of something real and finite. Sonically, we attempt to capture this setting with a mix of otherworldly synthesizers and echo effects and very gritty and grounded rock and roll sounds.

Not a lot of people even know Magazine and Ultravox, especially the earlier John Foxx incarnation, nowadays. How did you discover them and why do they inspire you?

We used to do a cover of “Someone Else’s Clothes” off Ultravox’s SYSTEMS OF ROMANCE. John Foxx’s solo album METAMATIC is a big influence as well. I have been a fan of this stuff for a long time – at least 12 years. A friend let me hear the first Magazine album a few years ago. I’d been seeing the name forever but didn’t realize what they sounded like or that they had connections to all these other bands: The Buzzcocks, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Siouxsie and the Banshees. It just blew me away. It felt like a band that was made just for my tastes. The songs are incredible. The synth and piano work is stellar. The lyrics are really something special.

We are avid record collectors and enthusiasts. We keep up with a certain amount of new bands, but a lot of the music that we really love was created in the 1970s and 80s. Fifteen years ago it took a lot of work to discover this stuff. I remember hearing Television, Wire, Gang of Four, Can and La Dusseldorf. Even just discovering that Talking Heads, OMD and Gary Numan had these really dense, well-developed albums – not just singles -felt revelatory. This was always discovered through making friends that were as crazy about music as I was. Now information is much more accessible. It’s so easy to find much more obscure bands through blogs, youtube, reissue labels, rampant mp3 sharing, etc. Recently I’ve been listening to Pel Mel, The Wake, The Chills, Second Layer, Pink Industry, Scattered Order, Sort Sol, Vorgruppe, The Lines,  Modern Eon.

Nervous Curtains perform at Lola's in Dallas.

One of the words you use to describe the band is “synth-pop.” To many, that conjures up images of early ’80s Brit pop bands like Flock of Seagulls and Duran Duran, but Magazine and early Ultravox produced a darker, more gritty version. Can you describe what you’re going for those folks who might be confused?

Well, to be fair, I generally use the term “post-punk synth rock.” I don’t use the term “synth-pop” in describing Nervous Curtains to avoid the types of connotations that you allude to. We are trying to take past influences and create something new, exciting, slightly dark and dangerous with them. Too many bands that use synthesizers are just creating a purely retro pop sound, and we are not interested in this.

What other classic bands or sounds does Nervous Curtains count as influences or inspirations?

Polvo, The Minutemen, Echo and the Bunneymen, Harmonia, The Kinks, ZZ Top, Roxy Music, David Bowie, Tuxedomoon, Thin Lizzy, Slayer, Sonic Youth, early Simple Minds, Flying Lizards, early New Order, Bedhead, John Cale, The Birthday Party, Chrome. We’ve been listening to a lot of funk music and afrobeat. This is probably more inspiration than influence. It’s important to proceed with caution in these territories. The last thing the world needs is guys like us trying to be funky. That said, we love Fela Kuti, Tony Allen, Orchestra Polyrythmo de Catanou, James Brown, Stax Records, etc. Oh, we listen to a lot of metal too. Classic, doom, black, stoner, thrash.

I love the way you describe “It’s the End of Eternity” in your bio, i.e. ‘the song is a landscape
where discarded metal bakes on the broken concrete foundations of abandoned buildings and carefree summers of youth have given way to oppressive heat waves.” You obviously take time and care in composition. What’s your process like?

That song took me probably over a year to write. It’s a result of enduring the cruel and merciless Texas summers. Summers used to feel so fun and carefree. Now I associate them with doom and dread. I drive around and see everything just withering and dying in the heat. Buildings that once looked new and full of promise are collapsing in the elements. It took a while to figure out how to capture all that without getting too literal or being too much of a downer. I eventually found a pattern that worked for this and it led to a resolution that lightened up in the end. That resolution is like the first Fall morning when you walk outside and there’s a chill in the air. It’s such a relief after enduring the brutality of a heat wave. I write the music and lyrics and bring them to the band. We arrange the songs together and work extensively in getting our parts and the dynamics to come together as a whole. Then, sometimes things change and evolve in the studio or through playing live. It’s the nature of the creative process.

What song have you done that most encapsulates the band’s vision and why?

I can’t narrow it down to one song. Fake Infinity as a whole encapsulates our vision. It touches on a wide range of styles and influences while maintaining what I see as a singular vision.

What’s the alt music scene like in Dallas right now? Is Nervous Curtains one of a kind or part of a movement?

We don’t see ourselves as part of a scene. We do what we do and have a decent following for it. Sometimes we fall between the cracks. We’re too synth-y for some of the rock crowd and too pop/rock for the art/synth/electronic crowd. But that allows us to appeal to a wider range of folks. There are some interesting acts using keyboards in the Dallas [area] that we fit well with such as Pinkish Black, New FumesDarktown Strutters, and Diamond Age. But there are plenty of good bands, and we like to play with all types of acts.

Nervous Curtains at City Tavern in Hampton, TX.

What do you have planned for your gig this Thursday at Drunken Unicorn?

We’re very excited for our first Atlanta show. I always had great experiences at the Drunken Unicorn with my old band. We’ll be playing most of the new album and maybe a song or two off our first album.

What’s next for Nervous Curtains?

We’ve been so consumed with supporting this album and will continue to do that for quite a while. We’ve got this two-week East Coast/ Midwest tour, then some shows in Texas and the surrounding states throughout the following months. We’re making a lot of videos and doing whatever we can to get people to hear this record. Doing all this plus booking the shows handling everything else is so consuming that I have not had time to write any new songs. At some point, we’ll have some time to work on some new stuff, I’m sure.

NOTE: All photos are courtesy of Nervous Curtains.


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