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DIARY OF A MARATHOID: THE 30th ANNUAL BOSTON SCIENCE FICTION FILM FESTIVAL

SF/30
by Jay Seaver

Everyone knows about The Boston Marathon. It takes place in mid-April and involves thousands of people voluntarily making the commute from the suburbs to the city on foot. Despite that, it's still the worst day of the year to take the green line. Less well-known is Boston's OTHER marathon, an annual President's Day weekend gathering of sci-fi film fans to watch movies new and old for twenty-four hours straight. For nearly the past twenty years, it has cleverly been disguised as a "film festival" in the hopes that it will persuade studios to supply sneak previews, and because its original name, "It Came From The Orson Welles", became somewhat dated after Cambridge's Orson Welles theater where it was held burnt down.

I was not yet living in Cambridge at the time; I'm a relative newbie, having started attending during 2001's SF/26. SF/30 would be my fifth marathon, and I decided to keep a diary. It would, I figured, make for an easy feature article which would get me attention and perhaps result in my getting a free pass next year. I figured it also might be useful to science, as a study of the effect of sleep deprivation on a writer. Also, comments on movies completely without context? Funny. Well, maybe funny.

As to why it's not showing up until now, 28 days later? Hey, I've got a day job (which actually had wanted me to be on call for that weekend!), and the reviews that I planned to link to weren't going to write themselves. But, hey, if you're reading this in the archives, it's no big deal, so without further ado...

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 18 - Opening night.

(As part of an attempt to celebrate the marathon's 30th anniversary, and look more like a film festival SF/30 is having opening and closing night events. There had been a lot of speculation of what these might be - the east-coast premiere of Godzilla: Final Wars? A preview of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy? Even, dare we say it, Serenity?

Instead, we got the movie a guy from Waltham made with his kids for the close and a movie from one of the less-well-known members of the Coppola clan for the opener)

7:30pm - The Creature of the Sunnyside-Up Trailer Park begins.

7:42pm - Hey! You know what would make a great HBS/EFC article? A running diary of my marathon experience. Man, if I'd thought of that this morning, I would have brought some kind of small light source so I could see my writing, and maybe stolen a pad of paper from work. Guess the back of this envelope will have to do.

7:51pm - I'd better add something about the movie starting to the top. To catch the people reading the diary up, it's about two half-brothers, one white and one black, who find out that they've inherited their mother's trailer park, only there's something sinister there!

7:59pm - First really incomprehensible, out-of-nowhere line of the movie: "I've got some beef jerky".

8:10pm - Ooh! A cult!

8:20pm - It's not for me to tell a Coppola how to make movies, but that Confederate flag is sort of coming out of nowhere. The guy hasn't acted like a rascist yet, just a jerk.

8:33pm - What kind of a cult sacrifices wallets?

8:40pm - Heh. There'd been a big kerfuffle on the message board about not being able to book certain movies because the studios wouldn't let theaters with platters (like the Somerville) rather than dual projectors show them. The drive-in in the movie has the dual projectors.

8:43pm - "Cover your eyes, Bailey!" (Before the film, director Christopher Coppola had told us his wife played a drive-in projectionist who gets killed, so we should warn his son to cover his eyes when it happened.)

(Note that Adrienne Stout-Coppola died at 8:42pm)

8:47pm - Actual dialogue: "I just listen to the voices, I don't ask why!"

8:50pm - It's a marathon tradition to clap along with every punch/kick/head-butt during a fight scene. But if CC thinks we just like his movie, that's OK.

8:55pm - Oh, man... A car chase with go-karts!

8:58pm - Please let that electric go-kart explode, and let it be excessive.

8:59pm - Thank you god.

9:06pm - That's right, Chris... We really like the fight scenes.

9:12pm - The "Spyder-Cam Technician" is credited as "Hammer". Man, that guy used to be a HUGE star, and now...

9:15pm - Director Q&A: Coppola says that what was planned as a 24-day shoot stretched to 76 - during the hottest summer ever recorded in the Mojave Desert. With the nearest town occupied by skinheads who objected to the equal-opportunity crew.

9:22pm - There's something inherently funny about Christopher Coppola. He looks like a biker, including wearing leather pants to come to a movie, and has a stogie at all times even though we've been told that a lighter, let alone a cigarette will set of the theater's smoke detector. He sounds like a biker, too, except that every once in a while, some random word will sound EXACTLY like his brother Nicolas Cage.

9:26pm - Description of future projects: "Duck Duck Goose", which involves Professor Moriarty reincarnated as a talking matzoh ball; "MacBeth on bikes"; and "The Biker Chef", which apparently would be a TV series involving him traveling cross-country on his bike and cooking for people.

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19 - SUNDAY FEBRUARY 20 - The Marathon

11:35am - All good seats in the main level taken, I head up to the balcony. Sure, I could have gotten here earlier and waited outside the theater to stake out a good seat, but it's February in Boston, which means it's cold.

11:41am - The marathon's first "Rice Chex! / Wheat Chex!" chants dissolve into a mess, amid people calling out "Corn Chex!", "Bran Chex!", "Muselix!" and "Cap'n Crunch!"

(The Chex Thing, and some of the other odd marathon traditions, are explained here. Basically, a few "Star Patrol" episodes ran during SF/18. These were live TV paid for with product placement, so one scene had Wheat Chex and Rice Chex on a turntable; people would chant as one came forward. Somehow the two sides of the theater glommed onto different cereals. Now, twelve years later, we chant this without most of us quite knowing why.)

11:47am - "Major Tom" will be our host for the evening. Major Tom belongs to a marathon auxiliary group called the "Martian Liberation Organization", and as such always comes to the event dressed in red camouflage.

11:59am - Stand if you were at the Orson Welles. I wish the Orson Welles were still around. The location is so close to my apartment that I'd be able to use my own bathroom.

12:01pm - Everyone downs their Atomic Fireballs as "Duck Dodgers, in the Twenty-Fifth-and-a-Half CENTURY" starts.

12:07pm - ::sigh:: The first projection issue happens during the opening titles for Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

12:16pm - Audience shushes Gwynneth Paltrow. Folks either love her (me) or hate her in this role.

12:47pm - We helpfully call for Dex with Joe and Polly.

1:02pm - At this moment, the color scheme changes from grainy almost-B&W to technicolor. Strange, I'd thought it was more subtle when I saw it in September.

1:06pm - Kind of early for the people behind me to be snoring.

1:20pm - That Scene still gets applause. If you like nothing else about this movie, you've got to love the ejection seat.

1:33pm - Wow, how did I forget the creepy statue?

1:53pm - End of closing credits. My hands are already a bit sore from the tradition of applauding each name individually (well, each name before they start scrolling). I do love the Sky Captain credits, though, acknowledging that Bazooka supplied their chewing gum.

1:55pm - Music: "We've Only Just Begun."

1:57pm - Yeah, we get it, an undubbed Raymond Burr-free version of Godzilla played SF/8, so the restoration that toured last year wasn't really the first time it's played America. You guys have only mentioned that fifty thousand times. Oh, what's this? The one we're about to see includes footage that wasn't at SF/8? So LET IT GO.

2:01pm - Gojira!. The audience applauds credits we can't read.

2:05pm - The goobers in front of me decide NOW would be a good time to change their seating arrangements.

2:15pm - You know, by the end of this marathon, I'm going to envy those Japanese folks who only have tatamis to sleep on.

2:24pm - The big guy's first appearance.

2:30pm - You sense they really want to get the science right. Also, FORESHADOWING: "What would happen if it attacked Tokyo?"

2:45pm - Dr. Serizawa has an eyepatch, so some folks in the audience yell out "Arrrr!" That's funny once.

2:52pm - Greatest. Movie. Theme. Ever.

2:58pm - The wax electric towers melted by Godzilla's radioactive breath are one of my favorite bits of practical effects in any movie.

3:10pm - You have to wonder how the War in the Pacific lasted so long if so many Japanese missiles couldn't hit a Godzilla-sized target.

3:37pm - Move fast - bathroom break time.

3:44pm - Hardware Wars! (No place for an actual review, but this is one of the few times in recent memory I've really been amused by a Mad Magazine-style "change-one-letter-of-the-names-and-basically-retell-the-story" parody. "Wookiee Monster" is just funny.)

3:57pm - Hmm, we're starting to fall behind already. Maybe they'll skip Primer?

4:02pm - No such luck.

4:08pm - First call of "ENGLISH!" from the audience.

4:27pm - By now, technobabble is just making people laugh.

4:33pm - People applaud at a fade-out. No such luck.

4:39pm - Classic line: "I can imagine no way this can be considered anything close to safe."

5:00pm - It's at this point that the movie completely stops making sense.

5:18pm - Audience applauds. To be honest, I thought this would be as big a disaster as Demonlover was last year.

5:28pm - Turned in my survey; time for Superman.

5:30pm - I really hate people who yell "Focus!" or "Volume!" right at the beginning of a movie. Like the projectionist doesn't know, especially at an event like this where they're probably sticking around the booth more.

5:41pm - First time Superman's "S" was shown as coming from Krypton.

5:51pm - If Kryptonians have an afterlife, Jor-El must be the most insufferable bastard there.

6:07pm - Ooh, when you get something bright like that, you can trace the path of the projection, especially up here in the balcony. In related news, I may be getting funny from not eating anything since that Atomic Fireball.

6:19pm - So much for my bid to stay awake during the whole thon. I must have drifted during one of the Fortress sequences.

6:57pm - This is a classic movie, but it's also one that demonstrates the difference between "classic", "perfect", and "untouchable". The fealty I keep hearing about Bryan Singer paying to this movie worries me. Make your own version.

7:05pm - See? Great movie, but that "can you read my mind" bit really needs to go.

7:25pm - Wow, it smells like someone popped all of Iowa in here.

7:34pm - Honestly, you'd think Lex Luthor could do better, henchperson-wise. He is, after all, Lex friggin' Luthor.

7:48pm - This part has never made sense.

7:53pm - I'm not usually one to bail on credits, but there's cold pizza to buy and eat. I get back before the credits are over, though, after some kid got the last two slices of pepperoni.

8:01pm - Playing Star Wars music right after Superman just sort of emphasizes how much and for how long John Williams's scores have sounded the same.

8:04pm - Trivia contest winners announced. I think this would have been harder if the ballots hadn't been handed out before last night's movie, giving everyone who went a chance to hit Google.

8:12pm - "The Chubbchubbs!" Eh.

8:18pm - At last, a movie I haven't seen (THX 1138)!

8:23pm - Don't hiss at George Lucas's name. I mean, really, the only reason you're doing that is because he gave you Star Wars in the first place.

8:51pm - Ah, THX has creepy roommate issues. I feel that. It's part of why I'm so happy to spend the whole weekend here: No going home.

8:55pm - Man, when the guys behind me don't sleep (and snore), they talk.

9:06pm - In Robert Duvall's long and distinguished career, I wouldn't be surprised if this was the day he remembered most vividly - naked in a big empty white room while robot cops poke him with sticks.

9:32pm - Did they even have the word "cybernetics" when this was released in 1971?

9:38pm - I wonder what this is like without CGI.

9:48pm - Memo to self: Buy DVD if-and-only-if it has commentary.

9:57pm - The Three Stooges. Ugh. Take my license to be a man away, but they've never been funny.

10:13pm - That was fifteen laugh-free minutes. Everyone says the like the Stooges, but I didn't here much actual evidence of amusement.

10:17pm - Looks like it's the SuperScope version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I forget whether this or the Academy ratio version is the one the director preferred.

10:29pm - Hmm, the INNUENDO! count is surprisingly low, other than slapping.

10:34pm - Never mind - the doctor just had his "bedside manner" criticized. INNUENDO! is starting to get extra-special funny.

10:45pm - Writing sci-fi in the fifties must have been so easy. People would actually buy "I had a hunch" for why people performed specific bizarre activities.

11:11pm - Ironic dialogue: "Take two of these - they'll help you stay awake."

11:12pm - Ah, ashtrays in the doctor's office. What dates a movie better?

11:21pm - I love the "we just kicked ass - how'd that happen?" look.

11:35pm - "They're here already! You're next!"

11:37pm - Music: "Whoooooooooooooo are you?" Cuz, you see, we just saw Invasion of the Body Snatchers...

11:40pm - The local Fox station is taping some sort of "Alien Mating Cry" contest. It's judged by audience applause, so you know the kid can't lose.

11:53pm - "The Flight of the Osiris"; I'm still waiting for apologies from everyone who, in 1999, said that the Matrix movies were all about the story and weren't just F/X to look cool like the Star Wars prequels.

12:04am - Huge applause. I'll bet you're the same guys who were hissing George Lucas's credits in THX 1138. I'm clearly starting to get punchy as Planet of the Apes starts.

12:21am - Chuck Heston laughs maniacally. And he's the picture's hero.

12:22am - "You broke the film, you damn dirty apes!". Which means, of course, it's time for the Rice Chex and Wheat Chex people to go at it for a couple of minutes.

12:29am - "Life." "Let's Kill It!" (I may have paraphrased in my notes)

12:35am - INNUENDO!: "Taylor, look at this!" Cuz, see, they're naked...

12:41am - ....and there goes the black guy.

12:56am - Someday, I'd like to be in a situation where I can use a paper airplane as sarcasm.

1:06am - Classic line: "Take your stinking paws off me..." (Aside: Heston spoke at some college here in Boston a couple years ago. It's a good thing I didn't know ahead of time, because I would have gone just on the off chance that there'd be a Q&A session, where I would have asked him to request that the damn dirty apes remove their stinking paws.)

1:35am - Gotta love the jungle women who shave their legs and brush their teeth. Somehow.

1:51am - Don't trust anyone over 30. (I have no idea why I wrote this down, especially since I turned 31 last October. It must be said near the end of the movie.)

1:57am - No music on that classic last shot.

2:04am - "Hare-Way to the Stars". Everyone likes Bugs Bunny.

2:11am - Half an hour behind already. I bet I wouldn't be awake if I weren't keeping this diary.

2:14am - The Apple starts.

2:16am - Already, it's clearly an awful thing of beauty.

2:21am - The duo which the Eurovision audience in the movie roundly boos is the one that looks and sounds normal. It's not yet clear whether this is supposed to mean that the musicians suck or that the audience does.

2:26am - Funniest "automobiles of the future" ever.

2:30am - INNUENDO!: "I've never been so high in my life!" Cuz, see, he's a straight-edge in a tall building...

2:40am - Gayest. Movie. Ever.

2:45am - INNUENDO!: "Taste it!"

2:56am - Hang on... Was that an entire musical number about speed?

2:59am - Wow. Those look less like women pushing baby strollers than the Hot Dog Vendors of Tomorrow.

3:03am - The guy in front of me has either been drinking, is hugely fatigued, or just has very strong feelings on the subject of Bim.

3:10am - "Jump! Jump! Jump!" (Note: We generally don't chant this if someone is standing on a ledge in a good movie.)

3:25am - Dude - close your bathrobe, brush your teeth, and, I don't know, be just a little less mincingly gay? Mainly the first two. Please.

3:31am - No, don't you sing too!

3:35am - Clunking sounds from the booth as the movie stops prematurely.

3:41am - Major Tom: "Just when you think it couldn't get any worse... you're going to have to sit through the rest of the picture." Audience: "You'll pay for this, Tom!"

3:54am - Picture starts back up.

3:57am - Picture ends. And, are you kidding me?. Audience: "That sucked! That sucked! That sucked!..." (At previous thons, this refrain has actually gone up with a filmmaker in attendance. Carnosaur, I think it was.)

4:04am - Early AM Twizzlers & Sprite. Healthy.

4:08am - Starship Troopers 2. A premiere of some sort, though it's already shown up on video and cable.

4:27am - Man, slow down a bit. At least tell us some character names.

4:35am - A word about this cast: It's people who will work for less than Casper Van Dien.

5:04am - Huh? No, really, I'm awake! (I don't think I slept for the entire half-hour between entries, but if you want to disregard my one-star review of this turd because of this, go right ahead. It's your money.)

5:10am - I'd say Heinlein would be ticked at this, but RAH could get pretty weird.

5:23am - Oh, OK, now we're just going for icky.

5:31am - Normally, I'd say this scene is a reference to the end of Harry Harrison's Bill The Galactic Hero, but that's giving this movie FAR too much credit.

5:45am - Supposedly, this print of Charly is some sort of 1968 Russian Technicolor print. Or I'm just making up whatever the guy in red camo way down on the stage is saying.

6:17am - Charly + Early AM = invitation to sleep. But I'll stay strong!

6:30am - Congratulations, Charly. You just beat a mouse in a test of brainpower. Let's go drinking to celebrate.

6:57am - Ugh. You, Mr. Director, have just lost your montage priveliges.

7:12am - That's a suddenly cynical outlook you've got on life there, Charly.

7:15am - My city has changed a lot in 37 years. This movie was not only set in Boston, but shot here, and I don't recognize any exteriors.

7:31am - ...and nobody applauds the Boston institutions in the credits. Maybe we're just exhausted.

7:39am - Major Tom points out the two guys who have been to all 30 Marathons. That's a month out of their lives.

7:41am - Mr. Magoo. "Destination: Magoo", to be precise. I didn't realize that Jim Backus actually wrote these, as well as performing Magoo's voice.

7:47am - I don't think Magoo has ever been funny. Did anyone ever like these? Anyway, time for Earth vs. The Flying Saucers.

7:53am - INNUENDO!: "Today I've got a hot date with a three-stage rocket."

8:07am - The folks are awfully blasť about those giant-ass saucers.

8:09am - I'm just guessing here, but firing that first shot may not have been the brightest of ideas.

8:24am - Wow. Zero to obsessed in three days.

8:31am - "What team has won the most World Series?" "New York." Audience: "Boo!"

8:44am - Remember, people: Any alien with the technology to reach earth probably has the technology to kick our asses. Hard.

8:52am - Somewhere in the audience: "The helmet gives me drunk-vision!"

8:58am - I have reached the point where the picture viewed with one eye closed looks significantly different than the picture viewed with both eyes open. In related news, I am starting to seriously believe that watching with one eye open is a practical way to both watch the movie and get needed rest.

9:08am - Ah, applause at the destruction of national landmarks.

9:12am - That's a wacky epilogue.

9:27am - Missed the first few minutes of The Forsaken (sic); needed a bagel. I had to cross two streets to get to a Dunkin Donuts, which is unheard of in the Greater Boston Area. (Yes, even with food and OJ in my system, I wrote down the wrong name for "The Forgotten")

9:41am - There's a woman, not unattractive, sitting behind me and to the right, by herself. That I have not once in the past 22 hours made some attempt to talk to her illustrates why I am single.

9:50am - At this point of the movie, we learn for sure that Julianne Moore is not nuts, and I wonder if it would have been a more interesting movie if she was.

9:58am - Ah, the euphemisms start, because apparently the critics won't take you seriously if you just come out and say that you're dealing with aliens.

10:31am - A pretty weak movie otherwise, but it's got some damn good jump moments.

10:41am - Crowd applauds despite the movie not making a lick of sense.

10:50am - The dudes behind me sleep through pretty much the entire freakin' marathon, but they're awake when someone comes up to hand around door prizes. Do I get any swag? Uh-uh.

10:55am - Give Coppola credit - he went the distance. A lot of guys coming out to support their movie wouldn't do that.

11:05am - "Wheat Chex!" "Rice Chex!" "Wheat Chex!" "Rice Chex!" I'd like to start this chant at random sometime. Maybe while the ads are playing in a movie theater.

11:10am - The Time Machine starts. Looks like we're goin' long.

11:15am - Heh, the Time Traveler looks like we feel.

11:50am - Man, how depressing is it that a movie made in 1960 shows World War III taking place in 1966. Between this and The Apple's 1994, it looks like the future's better than we expected.

12:01pm - Applause for "all knowledge of work/hardship forgotten."

12:08pm - INNUENDO!: "Yes, they do tell me all about you." That probably wasn't really INNUENDO!, but I'm just seeing it everywhere now.

12:26pm - Cow: "Mooooo..." Audience: "Mooo..."

12:29pm - Ironically appropriate line: "You should get some rest."

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 20 - Closing night.

I'm going to be honest here - I don't know how much of this I was awake for. I tried, I really did, but imagine you'd just stayed up for 35 hours, and someone decided to show you their home movies of their kids... To which they'd added some sort of rudimentary plot (written by the kid who was eight years old at the time) and digital effects. And ten minutes of credits, which keeps referencing the same five people in some kind of insane loop of self-congratulation.

Now, imagine that they spent several times more on 35mm film alone than what Primer cost in total, six figures in total production costs, and had spent something like seven years in post-production. Then they bring up the kids who had acted in it (the director's children) for questions and answers - one of whom is nine NOW. What can he possibly have to say? "Well, it was kind of difficult to remember lines while dealing with potty training at the same time..." (And now I've probably just mortified him further.)

That's how bizarre the screening of The Adventures of Space Baby & Mental Man was to my fatigue-addled brain. I'm not sure whether to praise director Rex Dean for being a true independent maverick underground-type filmmaker or wonder if he's completely delusional for talking about trying to get this crazy thing on the festival circuit. Probably a little of both.

So, anyway, that's SF/30. Who knows what SF/31 will bring?


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1418
originally posted: 03/21/05 16:37:21
last updated: 03/21/05 16:55:58
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