Kool Kat of the Week: Film is NOT Dead! Ben Ruder of Enjoy the Film, Dishes out a Series of Retro Creature Features this Halloween Season, with “Monsters in Black and White”

Posted on: Oct 21st, 2014 By:

BRuder - archive - Resized
Enjoy the Film presents Monsters in Black and White; Cinevision Screening Room (visit the event page for address and directions); All tickets $10 (Atlanta Film Festival members save 20%).

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951); Dir. Robert Wise; Starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal and Hugh Marlowe; Thursday, Oct 23 @ 7:30 p.m.; Tickets here; Trailer here.

DRACULA (1931); Dir. TodBrowning; Starring Bela Lugosi, HelenChandler and David Manners; Thursday, Oct 30 @ 7:30 p.m.; Tickets here; Trailer here.

CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (in 3-D) (1954); Dir. JackArnold; Starring Richard Carlson, Julie Adams and Richard Denning; Saturday, Nov 1 @ 7:30 p.m.; Tickets here; Trailer here.

by Aleck Bennett,
Contributing Writer

Halloween has once again swept in, carrying along with it a nostalgia that evokes childhood memories of ghost stories, trick-or-treating, dressing like monsters or simply watching them on the screen. It’s the perfect time for projectionist extraordinaire Ben Ruder to team up with the Cinevision Screening Room to bring us Monsters in Black and White: a series of films celebrating not only the monsters of old, but the formats that brought them to us. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and DRACULA will be presented in gorgeous 35mm, and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON will screen in a restored Dolby Digital 3-D projection. All three will, of course, unspool on the screen in glorious black and white! the-day-the-earth-stood-still-1951-everettEach screening will be introduced by a very special guest (check the Enjoy the Film website for up-to-date listings), but the night before Halloween will see Kool Kat Shane Morton, also known as, Ghost Host with the Most—Professor Morté of the Silver Scream Spookshow—materialize with a bevy of bloodsuckers to deliver Bela Lugosi in DRACULA!

Ben Ruder has been a constant fixture of Atlanta film screenings for close to a decade now. A former projectionist and manager at the Plaza Theatre, he now runs free 35mm screenings for Emory University’s Cinematheque (which sources its pristine prints from the UCLA Film & Television Archive) and hosts special film events at the Cinevision Screening Room through RuderMedia and Enjoy the Film. I recently asked him about this month’s film series, the importance of presentation, and the futures of both film and digital as media.

ATLRetro:Celebrating the 35mm format is certainly bucking the trend in Atlanta, with so many venues converting to digital projection. But at the same time, it’s a huge topic of conversation in the nationwide film community, especially this month with Quentin Tarantino‘s recent takeover of management of the draculaNew Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles. What fuels your passion for the format, and your efforts to keep it alive?

Ben Ruder: I really enjoyed showing movies and running theaters in the mid ‘90s in St. Louis. When I returned to the world of movies in the mid-2000s, running film and then managing the Plaza Theatre for Jonny & Gayle Rej, the bug really stuck and I have been involved in it ever since. Both analog and digital formats have their place and it’s really the quality of the product and presentation that’s important. The film prints that were exhibited should still be seen if they can be done well, but for many reasons they no longer exist or the quality is bad. New prints happen on occasion, but are very expensive and rarely see much of a run. Movies can be accessed in countless forms these days, but they are really intended to be seen on a large screen with an audience.

On a related note, what are your thoughts on the push for digital archiving? There are currently a lot of back-and-forth talks between Kodak, Fujifilm and the major studios about keeping archival film in use, with the studios pushing for digital.

It’s extremely complicated, of course, and it comes down to business decisions as funds are limited. The US has produced so much great film art and puts so little behind the preservation of it in comparison to countries like France, Germany, Norway just to name a few. Here, a lot of the work is up to private organizations and institutes such as the UCLA Film & creature_from_the_black_lagoon_xlgTelevision Archive.

What went into choosing which films you were going to showcase at these screenings? Were they personal choices, or technical ones?

These films were chosen because of the Halloween season, of course, but also because they have all screened in that room before and we know how amazing they look and sound. The presentations will be in a room designed for technical performance, and unfortunately mass audiences don’t get the showmanship or quality that they deserve in many venues. I want to show how much the presentation factors in to seeing a movie. The multiplexes are no longer filled with scratched & dirty film prints, but still can suffer from dim bulbs and misaligned 3-D equipment. The Dolby Digital 3D that will be shown is not seen in very many venues, but will really show off how well 3D can look when done right.

What do you think the future holds for film in the motion picture world? Do you see a developing backlash against digital or will film be largely relegated to repertory screenings and the like? Or do we face a future where digital becomes the accepted new format?

Digital is the accepted new format. I wouldn’t want to see a new action blockbuster on film that was shot and processed with digital in mind. Special films like the upcoming INTERSTELLAR 35mm & 70mm shows may lead the way for unique events. We just need to make sure that passionate and educated staff are taking care of the presentations and equipment.

Are there any other screenings or projects in the works for RuderMedia and Enjoy the Film? Any future stuff we oughta know about?BRuder - emory-205

I am working with the team at Cinevision on a four-feature series for January and we are seeking out groups that want to see all kind of genres on the big screen. Whether it’s horror, foreign, film noir, action or just titles that don’t get an Atlanta date. We want to show people movies in the best possible way and make each show special. During the winter months, I’ll be focusing efforts on producing a documentary series about the passionate exhibitors & preservationists that I love talking to and heading to Germany to interview some film veterans there. I can also be seen this fall up in the booth projecting 35mm at the free Emory University screenings.

So there you have it. Come out to the Cinevision Screening Room to catch three retro creature features the way they should be seen: on the screen, with an audience and with experts handling the projection for the best possible viewing experience. For a film geek like me, it’s a means of presentation that has yet to be bettered.

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

All photos courtesy of Ben Ruder and used with permission.

 

 

 

 

 

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RETRO REVIEW: MARK OF THE VAMPIRE! An Alluring But Controversial Lugosi/Browning Classic Haunts the Big Screen Once More the Plaza Theatre

Posted on: May 26th, 2014 By:

MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935); Dir. Tod Browning; Starring Bela Lugosi, Carroll Borland, Lionel Barrymore and Elizabeth Allan; Friday, May 30 (8:00 p.m., 9:45 p.m. and 11:00 p.m.), Saturday, May 31 (8:45 p.m.) and Sunday, June 1 (5:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.); Plaza Theatre; Tickets $5.00; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

As part of the Plaza Theatre’s week-long celebration of Bela Lugosi starting Friday May 30 (full preview here), one of his greatest—and most controversial—motion pictures gets a rare screening: his final collaboration with director Tod Browning, 1935’s MARK OF THE VAMPIRE!

Prague, 1935. An aristocrat is found dead, drained of blood, with two puncture wounds on his neck. The locals believe that vampires—in the form of Count Mora (Bela Lugosi) and his daughter Luna (Carroll Borland), whom they believe haunt the nearby castle—are responsible for the murder. Police inspector Professor Zeren (Lionel Barrymore) is skeptical, however, and is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery behind the mark of the vampire.

Tod Browning was in need of some luck. He’d had a stellar career making deliciously twisted silent features, most notably starring the incredible Lon Chaney. He was hired by Universal Studios to direct 1931’s DRACULA starring Bela Lugosi (with whom he’d worked on 1929’s THE THIRTEENTH CHAIR). Despite the film’s success, Universal was unhappy with Browning’s work, and he moved to MGM to direct 1932’s FREAKS. That film proved so scandalous and controversial (and commercially unsuccessful) at the time that Browning’s career came to a screeching halt. So, when MGM accepted his proposal to helm a remake of his 1927 silent LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (now considered a lost film, with the last known print destroyed in a 1967 fire), he was determined to make the most of it.

And he nearly pulled it off. Despite the film’s more unsavory aspects being removed (implications of incest between Mora and Luna, which resulted in Mora’s suicide and the pair condemned to an eternity of living death) and the film’s trimming from 75 to 61 minutes, the film works like gangbusters. Up to a point, that is.

You see, in the realm of classic horror, few films are as debated as hotly as MARK OF THE VAMPIRE. All of the ingredients of a Golden Age classic are there: a menacing, wordless performance by Bela Lugosi as Count Mora; Carroll Borland as his daughter, Luna, establishing a visual template followed by Maila “Vampira” Nurmi and Morticia Addams; and the deft, atmospheric direction of Tod Browning.

So, what’s the deal?

It’s the twist ending that provides the film’s payoff. It’s an ending that negates everything that came before. Things we have seen with our own eyes are now established as having been impossible. It’s a cheat. Even Bela thought it was ridiculous and pleaded with Tod Browning to change it. A much better ending (that even kept the light tone of the original’s) was suggested, and Browning refused to change course. I’m not going to spill the beans by detailing what happens, but it’s really impossible to talk about MARK OF THE VAMPIRE without bringing up the fact that many see the twist as a crushing disappointment.

And I’m right there with them. It’s such a blow to the film because the rest of it is so good. It’s largely the film that DRACULA could have been if Browning hadn’t been hamstrung by Universal’s budget-pinching measures. (The studio had recently sunk a lot of money into THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, and was facing financial difficulties due to the Great Depression. Unconvinced that the horror thing would pay off, DRACULA had many elaborate scenes scrapped and wound up hewing closely to the play in staging the film.) MARK OF THE VAMPIRE’s sets are sumptuous. The effects scenes are brilliantly pulled off, with Luna soaring on bat’s wings and Count Mora materializing out of mist. The photography by legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe is glorious. The performances of stage/screen legend Lionel Barrymore and Elizabeth Allan are rock-solid and ground the film firmly. The supporting cast (especially Lionel Atwill as Inspector Neumann and Donald Meek as the timid Dr. Doskil) is delightful. It all comes together so beautifully, only to be sold so short by an ending that aims for cleverness and lands in clunkiness.

If you can forgive the film its ending, there is so much there to enjoy. Just discount what you see happen on screen after the mystery has been solved, and imagine that Lionel Barrymore’s Professor Zelen receives a telegram saying something like “Sorry, can’t make it. Train held up at the station. Hope everything works out,” and you’ll walk out of the theater a happier person. But to miss the film on the big screen is to miss one of the best—yet one of the most unheralded—vampire pictures ever to come out of Hollywood’s classic era. Or at least 90 percent of one.

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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Something Wicked This Way Comes to Avondale Estates; Step Right Up to the Nightmare Circus of the Dark Harvest Haunted House, Masquerade Ball and Festival!

Posted on: Oct 23rd, 2012 By:

Pull back the tent flap and see what happens when the Devil himself brings the circus to town at the Dark Harvest Haunted House at the Academy Theatre in Avondale Estates! Step right up and brave the cornfields of Bradbury Farm, where the souls of a dead town grow right out of the corn, and Mr. Dark’s Nightshade Odditorium, inhabited by the spirits of long dead sideshow freaks. Oh, and did we mention the Killer Clown Maze?

Another example of Atlanta’s talent in designing homegrown haunts, Dark Harvest runs Fri. Oct. 26 through Halloween (Oct. 31), with an opening night Masquerade Ball featuring some spooktacular entertainment on Fri. night and a family-friendly street carnival on Sat. Oct. 27 from noon to 5 p.m. And as an extra treat, proceeds from all the tricks will benefit local charities such as The Academy Theatre, Lifeline Animal Project and The South Dekalb Senior Center.

From Ray Bradbury’s SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES to Erin Morgenstern’s recent bestselling THE NIGHT CIRCUS and countless carnival-themed horror movies (Hammer’s VAMPIRE CIRCUS [1972] is one of our favorites and recently remastered on bluray), it’s well-established in horror fiction that circuses and carnivals can be creepy places. We caught up with Angelo Ritz, the mastermind of the entire mad affair, to find out more about his haunting Halloween history, Retro influences and the Dark Harvest experience.

ATLRetro: What’s the first Halloween haunt that you remember going to as a kid and what about it scared you the most or stayed with you?

When I was about eight years old, The Lake Worth Jaycees put together a charity haunted house at The Palm Beach Mall in West Palm Beach, Fla. The only thing I really remember of that first visit is seeing an 8-foot tall vampire – he seemed that big to an 8-year-old – appear out of nowhere in a strobe room and running all the way to the exit screaming like a Catholic school girl in trouble the entire way!

When did you first become interested in designing your own haunt and when/what was it? 

After that first haunt, I was hooked on horror films – anything from UniversalFamous Monsters of Filmland and anything else I could get my hot little hands on related to monsters. The next Halloween – 1972 to be exact – I built my first haunted house in my living room for the neighborhood Trick or Treaters. It wasn’t much, but I did make one little girl wet herself!

Dark Harvest has a circus/carnival theme and there’s even a Bradbury Farm area and Mr. Dark’s Nightshade Odditorium. How much of an influence was SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES by Ray Bradbury on the design? Was that story particularly scary for you as a child?

I’m thrilled that you picked up on the reference! As a child, I don’t think any other piece of genre literature had a more profound effect on me than SOMETHING WICKED. It wasn’t particularly scary to me, but for the first time I think I finally understood the human side to horror literature, that the true nature of an individual can be more monstrous than any zombie or vampire I had seen up to that point.

What other classic horror stories or movies provided inspiration for Dark Harvest?

I would say Tod Browning’s FREAKS (1932) and a little dash of David Lynch‘s ERASERHEAD (1977).

Clowns are supposed to be funny, but creepy clowns have become a special trope in horror movies and fiction (Stephen King’s IT comes immediately to mind). Who are some of your favorite killer clowns and why do you think clowns are so scary to so many people?

Stephen King’s IT, hands down! All others pale in comparison. The book kept me up nights for about a month! The miniseries may not have been great, but Tim Curry as Pennywise haunted my dreams for a good while after. I think people are frightened by clowns for a very simple reason – you never know what’s really under that white make-up and painted-on smile!

Without giving away any spoilers, is there anything else you’d like to point out that’s different about Dark Harvest compared to Atlanta’s other haunted attractions?

The one big difference is the absence of gore. Don’t get me wrong, gore is very effective in the right context, but considering the source material the show is based on, I felt classic scare techniques were more appropriate.

Tim Curry plays Pennywise in the ABC-TV miniseries of Stephen King's IT (1990).

On Friday night, there’s a masquerade ball. The Artifice Club’s Doctor Q will be spinning, but what else will be going on and will there be costume prizes?

We have a great line-up of live entertainment for the ball. Gwen Hughes and The Retro Jazz Kats, The City Gate Dance Theatre Company, Thimblerig Circusand the incomparable Aqualencia Litre. Everyone who attends also gets a VIP (no waiting in line) ticket to the haunt. For the costume contest, there will be trophies in a few categories. I want to keep those under my hat for now!

The family festival on the weekend reminds me of the Halloween school and church carnivals when we were kids. Do you have a favorite childhood Halloween carnival memory and is that the idea – to bring back that tradition?

I think you hit the nail on the head. After my first living room haunt, I built two houses for middle school fundraisers, and I wanted younger children to be able to have as much fun as I did at that age. We are going to have a few different scare levels during the festival to accommodate all ages, including “ The Trick or Treat Haunted House” for the very young (3 to 5 years old) where the actors will give out candy.

Can you talk briefly about the charities that the haunt will benefit?

The haunt will benefit Lifeline Animal Project – a no-kill shelter and pet-fostering facility. The South Dekalb Senior Center – they are greatly in need of art supplies and an instructor for their senior activity program. And The Academy Theatre’s Theater for Youth outreach program.

Advance tickets for all Dark Harvest festivities, including group discounts, are available at https://www.brownpapertickets.com 

All artwork courtesy of Dark Harvest and provided by Angelo Ritz.

 

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