by Jay Seaver
The Boston Science Fiction Film Festival is a thirty-one year tradition that, despite its name, has never actually taken place in Boston, and inverts the usual festival format to mainly feature retrospective with the occasional premiere thrown in. It is more properly called “The Marathon” to its fans, many of whom have followed it from Cambridge to Somerville to Brookline to Dedham back to Somerville and now to West Newton. This year, it returned to its traditional Sunday-Monday schedule after a brief dalliance with Friday-Sunday last year.
This marathon would be my sixth, and its fourth location in four years. I will not get into the politics involved in the continuing moves, except in just noting that they do exist. In terms of being accessible via public transportation, the West Newton Cinema does beat out the Dedham Community Theatre, but finishes below the Coolidge Corner and Somerville theatres. In terms of presentation, it’s in roughly the same category, though much closer to Somerville than Dedham, even with the group being split into two again (regular “marathoids” have been spoiled by the large rooms in Brookline and Somerville). The West Newton village is a pleasant area, populated mostly by local businesses.
But enough about the facilities – what was the marathon like this year?
(Spoilers are very likely indeed)
10:42am – Having taken the red line away from West Newton, I board the commuter rail in Boston’s South Station. Several other people get on at the same time, a few apparently sharing a common destination. You can tell from the pillows and the picnic baskets. I feel somewhat under-prepared with my plain canvas bag containing my digital camera, one package of Dots, two packets of Hershey’s Kissables, a notepad, and a magazine of Cross Sums (I refuse to call them kakaru, much like my using Number Place instead of sudoku).
10:55am – People next to me are discussing their D&D campaigns. I’m in no position to mock, as I am tut-tutting myself over not spotting that three-digit 23 crossing that seven digit 28 earlier.
10:57am – Sounded pretty nerdy, didn’t that? However, I’m obviously no longer on the cutting wave of nerdliness, as I obviously was still thinking in terms of table-top role-playing rather than MMORPGs.
11:08am – We arrive at West Newton Station. The first time I turn left while others go right pays off, but the second does not, and I must backtrack to find the theater.
11:20am – I settle into my seat, in the second row of theater 2, close to the center. Theater 2 is chosen because I find the order of the line-up more conducive to skipping out for a meal; the center is chosen because that’s where I sit. I set a little to the left, not just to avoid sitting directly in front of someone, but also because the rows are not quite parallel to the screen (an indication of one theater having been divided into two sometime in the past). I stow my bag in my seat, not yet ready to use up two.
11:35am – I do a quick scouting walk around the neighborhood, identifying potential spots to get dinner and taking a picture of the theater for a long-overdue article surveying local theaters.
11:43am – I return to my seat with “Mad Life” playing in the background. Probably not a likely choice for marathon background music pre-Donnie Darko.
11:55am – Someone is shouting “we want mo-vie!”. Have I mentioned that talking back to the screen is, to a certain extent, encouraged? When that activity is and isn’t proper is a fine line, and this guy is probably an early favorite to cross it at some point.
11:58am – Our host organism Major Tom of the Martian Liberation Organization, in his red camouflage, warns us that no smoking of any kind is allowed in the theater, and that if we go outside, we are to remember that the police department is across the street.
12:02pm – 200 people place atomic fireballs in their mouths for the opening cartoon (usually “Duck Dodgers in the 24th and a half CENTURY”, but Theater 1 has that right now. We get “Bambi vs. Godzilla”, since there is no Godzilla film scheduled for this year (a first in recent memory).
12:04pm – Serenity starts, with a few kinks in the sound.
12:11pm – Serenity finishes up its first batch of exposition.
12:22pm – Despite the fact that everything in the Serenity/Firefly universe is bilingual, the characters swear in Mandarin, and the backstory claims that the Alliance is made up of China and the United States from “Earth that was”, we seldom see any ethnically Chinese people. Here, we get our first glimpse of one. She does not have a line.
12:34pm – A second Chinese guy glides by on a hoverboard. He does not have a line.
12:40pm – A Chinese guy makes an inarticulate grunt after being kicked by River. I decide to stop running with this joke because, really, how much further can I go with it?
12:44pm – I bet people who didn’t watch Firefly thought this Mr. Universe guy was a regular or recurring character from how the movie treats him. He’s not. He’s lame, and the recurrent “can’t stop the signal” thing that was made part of the film’s tagline probably didn’t help the film succeed at all.
1:18pm – The characters actually wear spacesuits when landing on an alien planet. I wish more sci-fi crews did.
1:23pm – Some people find Sarah Paulson’s lisp annoying. I find it as cute as the rest of her.
1:30pm – Sound in space, after the series showed how well the silence could crank the suspense.
1:34pm – Dammit! Mr. Universe being offed, I barely noticed, but Steve the Pirate? That ticks me off.
1:57pm – Hunger is starting to make itself known.
2:12pm – Time for Konga to start. Apropos of nothing, people yelling “focus!” and “sound!” from frame one suck.
2:15pm – That is one lame looking explosion.
2:17pm – Michael Gough is playing Vincent Price playing Dr. Charles Decker in this film.
2:24pm – INNUENDO!: “A little rest is what we both need.”
(Okay, not really INNUENDO!. I’m just ready to jump on anything.)
2:26pm – Oh my god, he shot the kitty cat! And then they showed the corpse!
2:27pm – Some production designers would just give carnivorous plants tongues. Others would make them phallic. This guy decided to give his penis-shaped plants tongues, but he painted them to look all veiny, too. It’s disquieting.
2:34pm – INNUENDO!: “I should know a thing or two about growth!”
2:36pm – Actual line: “Stop it Charles, you’re MAD!”
2:37pm – “So long as I’m Dead, you’ll do as I say!”. Note that this line is followed by the musical sting of imminent murder.
2:40pm – INNUENDO!: “Please leave, I want to be alone with Konga.” Note that Konga is a chimpanzee. Also: “We know each other much better than the world suspects!”
2:51pm – Has anyone really ever heard “loud & angry voices” but not caught a single word of what they were saying? It barely seems possible.
3:05pm – From the audience: “Aziz! Light!” as someone opens the theater exit.
3:08pm – INNUENDO!: “Dr. Decker asks you to do too many things.” (male student to girlfriend)
3:13pm – INNUENDO!: “Let’s get to the truck before they wonder what happened.” (Dr. Decker to male student)
3:15pm – The projector craps out for a second. Fortunately, the folks here in West Newton are on their game. (Praise projectionists not getting tripped up by old, delicate prints)
3:17pm – The professor’s student is doing the oblivious whistling of imminent death.
3:30pm – While the professor risks putting an eye out on his student’s perky breasts (what kind of underwear did girls wear in the 1950s?), his wife formulates a plan to kill him with his own freakishly large mutant chimpanzee. As one might expect, it is not a good plan.
3:43pm – THE END? Wait, what about the girl who had her arm stuck in the mutant venus flytrap? What happened to her?
3:46pm – The style of urinal the reaches all the way to the floor always makes me worry about my shoes.
3:50pm – I decide to take an early supper break, while it’s not terribly cold.
4:05pm – Sweet Tomatoes it is. The sausage calzone is good, the clear black raspberry soda is not so great.
4:20pm – The film I’m missing is The Adventures of Buckaroom Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension. It’s the only one I’ve seen at a convenient time, and, besides, it never really connected to me. Much as I love pulp adventure, it’s always seemed a bit off. I only own the DV because it’s one of about three that has Nuon features.
4:27pm – Time to head back to the theater.
4:35pm – Awesome: The lobby has a “midget movie” thing that shows a hyper-condensed version of Murnau’s Nosferatu if you feed it a dime and put your eyes to the viewer. I want one for my home.
4:42pm – I re-enter the theater just as a rasta guy is hatched from some sort of space egg ship.
4:50pm – I love old technology in sci-fi movies. One of the Blue Blazers just used an acoustic modem.
5:00pm – The combination of really good production values and really crappy ones in this movie drives me nuts. The spaceship scenes and the alien makeup are pretty darn good, but the rest of the film looks like it was shot in the director’s mom’s house. Also, it evidently is in fact possible to be too deadpan.
5:09pm – John Lithgow is not deadpan at all, though, and it’s hilarious. “Use more honey!”
5:15pm – “Where are we going?” “PLANET TEN!” “When are we going?” “REAL SOON!”
(Marathoids shouldn’t take this the wrong way – they’re one of the best audiences with which to see a film (just ask them) (rimshot) – but the time I saw this at the Brattle, the Cambridge snobs kicked your ass with enthusiasm, especially right there)
5:23pm – I really want one of those “NOBUDY CUMZ IN HEAR – SEKRET” signs.
5:31pm – As I said, some of the effects are very cool. Was anyone in America doing organic-looking technology before this? Alien, I guess, but that was about it. It’s a really European type of design.
5:41pm – Time for that bizarre walking over the end credits thing.
5:42pm – Heh. There’s a credit for “John Lithgow’s Dialect Coach”
5:45pm – To cinema 1 for the trivia conest!
5:54pm – You started The Tingler while I was over there? You bast—
5:55pm – “Not many old theaters like that left.” Nope. –sigh—
5:58pm – The audience boos the phrase “deaf and dumb”. It kind of has fallen out of circulation, hasn’t it?
6:17pm – Hey, you just left a dog locked in a closed car! And you’re suppose to be the good guy!
6:22pm – INNUENDO!: “I want to personally experience the power of the tingler!”
6:25pm – Both the SF/31 and Brattle programs mention that this is one of the first times a film showed someone tripping on LSD. I must say, I sort of expected we’d see it from Vincent Price’s point of view.
6:37pm – Man, the print quality just goes straight to hell for the “B&W picture with red blood” sequence. Is it a different kind of film or something? Seriously, it looks really bad.
6:44pm – Dude, you should at least send him out of the room before autopsying his wife.
6:46pm – “Oh, and I just happen to have an animal transport cage the size and the shape of the lizard I pulled out of your wife’s spine!”
6:50pm – Ooooh, that’s a cool plot twist. Well done.
6:58pm – “The tingler is in the theater!”
7:02pm – After the film temporarily stops, we are told that “dee flim ist okey-dokey”.
7:04pm - “Scream for your lives!”
7:05pm – Now, part of this film takes place in a 1959 theater that shows silent movies. I have never seen a can for a thirty-year-old film that looks as pristine and spotless as that one. Usually, you want some iodine just looking at them.
7:08pm – Now, that made no sense.
7:14pm – It’s time for the tinfoil hat contest! Much easier to pull together in a couple weeks than a full costume.
7:17pm – It’s Bat-Serial time! Episode I: The Electrical Brain!
7:20pm – INNUENDO!: “I have a nice little package for you!” (Batman to cops)
7:27pm – “Gotham’s Little Tokyo… a ghost town… since a wise government rounded up all the shifty-eyed Japs…”
Yeah, I know, context, but wow. Even if now isn’t the best point to say we’re a better culture than that now, the nakedness of that racism in family entertainment is damn shocking.
7:38pm – INNUENDO: “Alfred, drive into that alley and put the top up!”
7:43pm – Aw, may, someone’s got his shoeless feet on the next armrest over.
7:44pm – Right into Steamboy.
7:49pm – Is this video (later answer: no)? The picture doesn’t look right.
7:53pm – Aw, looks like we got the short, dubbed cut. Man, in this cut you’d think the girl next door was Ray’s sister.
8:02pm – Attack blimps! Attack blimps rock.
8:05pm – Kind of surprised they kept Scarlett hitting her little dog in this version.
8:10pm – You know, Australian Anna Paquin does a better job of voicing English boy Ray than American Kari Wahlgren does voicing an American girl.
8:13pm – I love this movie. One of the things I love about it is how Scarlett so believably alternates between hugely arrogant/bratty and childlike/lovable.
8:25pm – Patrick Stewart is just spouting philosophical gibberish here.
8:34pm – On the occasions when the print is bright enough, this film is just gorgeous.
8:48pm – Heh. Guys in power armor tripping and falling down stairs.
9:00pm – How does one not love this movie? The city extrudes dirigibles as escape vessels!
9:15pm – “Ooh, it’s a huge, city-destroying carnival!”
9:25pm – Note to self: Watch unobscured credits on the DVD.
9:34pm – There’s something vaguely perverse about peeing and buying a large soda on the same trip to the lobby.
9:38pm – It’s (finally) time for DUCK DODGERS, IN THE TWENTY-FOURTH-AND-A-HALF CEN! TURY!
9:46pm – Mmm. Eatin’ Dots and watching classic King Kong.
9:57pm – I love what Jackson did with this scene in his version. It’s not just a reference, but demonstrating how that sort of “I’m manly and girls are icky” dialog is terribly silly but still of the period.
10:06pm – Audience: “Scream! Scream for your life!”
10:12pm – This was the first movie with a full orchestral score, or at least one of the first. Can you imagine what an innovation that was at a small-town theater?
10:15pm – INNUENDO!: “Bayoo! Naka yenu wanno sola!”
10:19pm – “All right! I don’t even have to search the boat for the girl!”
10:26pm – You, behind me. Stop chattering, you jackass.
10:40pm – Seriously, I should have availed myself of the opportunity to see this at another theater last week, since apparently only violence will shut these two or three people up.
10:46pm – Applause at Kong kicking T-Rex ass.
10:54pm – For an ape born thousands of miles away from western civilization, he really gets how to play with a Barbie.
11:04pm – The first time I saw this, I don’t remember Kong grinding the natives into the ground with his foot. Kong is badass in these uncut prints.
11:12pm – On the plus side, Kong is ridding the world of a bunch of Yankees fans.
11:23pm – There’s something very sad about that shot of the mortally wounded Kong. We seldom see him as much but a monster in this version, but he gets our hearts right here.
11:32pm – I considered digging into the Chinese buffet delivered at 11, but I wasn’t $12 hungry. Besides, it’s a big box of Dots and it’s still open.
11:35pm – Bat-Serial part VIII: “Lured by Radium”
11:38pm – You know, on black & white film, those costumes both look very true to the comics and not really stupid at all. Weird how that works. Oh, and speaking of the costumes…
INNUENDO!: “We don’t want the police finding us in these outfits!”
11:44pm – Oh, look, obnoxious American Indian stereotypes to go along with the Japanese ones!
11:50pm – The audience makes grossed-out sounds as someone makes comments about INNUENDO! between pre-teen brother and sister at the start of The Crazies.
12:04am – Dots are a great movie snack, but the only size available at the supermarket is HUGE – twice the size of the usually oversized thing you get at the movies.
12:11am – Here at the midpoint, one of the guys behind me is just making continuous, monotone comments to stay awake.
12:19am - You know, Romero was doing some cool shit with quick cuts twenty years before the technique was really popular here.
12:27am – Lots of frayed U.S. flags in the background. SYMBOLISM!
12:36am – I’m yawning. I may be starting to hit a wall.
1:13am – I’m pretty sure I nodded off, if only because the group of people fleeing the military was five before and now it’s three. Darn. I bet I missed a of couple good kills.
1:32am – That was surprisingly excellent. I’ll have to catch the whole thing on video sometime.
1:40am – Video? Uh-oh.
1:48am – The Naked Monster is starting out with Titanic jokes? Oy. Now, what would be really funny is if those were the scenes filmed 20-odd years ago.
2:10am – INNUENDO! isn’t nearly as funny when it’s that obviously deliberate.
2:48am – I’ve got to say, Brinke Stevens stayed in great shape. She filmed two groups of scenes ten years apart, and I have no idea which is which.
3:21am – Oof. It just went on and on. All the love and affection in the world can’t keep it from dragging after a while.
3:29am – This theater is very warm. I’ll be it’s markedly different outside.
3:30am – Eight-Legged Freaks starts out both out of frame and out of focus. But it’s fixed quick.
3:32am – Scarlett Johansson is in this? Damn, I’d forgotten.
3:37am – Is it me, or does the main kid in this look just like Criminy from Sinfest?
3:50am – Cat-head shaped impressions in the wall – classic.
4:01am – No keeping the monsters in the shadows until late for this movie.
4:08am – Do I lose geek cred for recognizing someone from Gilmore Girls?
4:14am – This movie is single-handedly making up for every pet that somehow survives in other movies.
4:45am – I fear Doug E. Doug’s comment about anal probes is setting up something ironic and nasty.
4:49am – Is there a joke in the scoreboard reading “75-61”? There are people laughing and I don’t get it.
5:05am – Time to see if there’s breakfast stuff at the concession stand beyond yesterday’s bagels!
5:15am – Mm, OJ too!
5:17am – We’re 20 minutes behind the printed schedule and we’re doing a King Kong/Planet of the Apes trailer reel. I’m missing my bus.
5:33am – Yeah, just showing one second of the Tim Burton one’s trailer is enough.
5:36am – Why is The Last Man on Earth being called The Damned Walk at Midnight on this print?
5:48am – Does garlic really keep for three years? He doesn’t seem to be growing it.
6:28am – That was one long-ass flashback. I may have slept.
6:59am – The neck, it is not feeling so good. It’s one of those theaters that requires looking up from the second row.
7:11am – What, no Episode XV of the Bat-serial? How will I ever find out if Batman wins World War II?
7:13am – Weak applause on Android’s opening credits, but nice use of “Searching for my Baby” on the soundtrack.
7:16am – Heh. 2036 and they’re still playing Vectrex.
7:31am – What the heck is with the random exploding animatronic bird in the carden?
7:36am – Ah, good to see that even on space stations in the future, guys are reliably pervy.
7:40am – See, Klaus Kinski character whose name I don’t remember because it won’t be more memorable than “the guy Klaus Kinski played”, this is why you TYPE rather than SPEAK the log entries that may anger the other person in the station should he overhear it.
7:47am – Ooh, clever use of both a cool old movie (Metropolis) and a cool old song (“It’s A Man’s World”).
7:55am – Well, of course the girl’s crimes aren’t as violent as the two guys’.
8:01am – I’m willing to be that display screen is being driven by an Atari 400/800.
8:09am – See, you can tell it’s the future of luggage from the wonky texture.
8:24am – What the hell? That wasn’t foreshadowed at all!
8:30am – Ha! The credits do say that was a Vectrex (yes, this sort of thing amuses me).
8:37am – Remember how before this (12 Monkeys) and Seven, people thought of Brad Pitt as the long-haired pretty boy in Legends of the Fall? Yeah, me neither.
8:44am – Bruce Willis’s character sees a bear. I once had an idea for a movie with a bear. It would involve a bear having to stay at the ranger’s station when he should be hibernating, and learning to shoot a basketball into the hoop. Eventually, word gets out, and somehow the bear winds up in the NBA. And it has jokes like Shaq bricking his foul shot just before Bear sinks his, and people laught because Shaq can’t even sink free throws as good as a bear. And then, later, one of the opposing coaches tells one of his players that he’s got Bear, and the player’s all like, heck no. He’s a bear. Eventually, Bear’s NBA salary pays for his habitat to be preserved and everyone’s happy, including the pretty girl ranger who falls in love with the coach who was so desperate for his team to win that he agreed to have a bear on his team.
By the way, I’m very tired. Where was I? Oh, yeah. 12 Monkeys.
9:03am – Bruce Willis is good when he’s not in complete crap (a sentence usually started with “Reese Witherspoon”). Be in less crap, Bruce.
9:23am – That 1917 segment is just weird.
9:27am – “I’m sure I smell bad.” Yeah, it’s been nearly 24 hours without deodrant and stuff for us, too.
9:40am – FUNNY BECAUSE BRUCE WILLIS SAYS IT: “All I see are dead people.”
9:43am – A brief primer in how to handle sound/focus problems: Do not yell “sound!” or “focus”. If the projectionist is in a position to hear you, he is already working on it. Look over your shoulder, and if someone behind you or closer to the aisle is not getting up to inform an usher, who can tell the projectionist, quietly do so yourself.
See, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Can you remember that?
10:20am – Ah-ha! It’s ouroboros time!
10:24am – Remember: Just because Bruce Willis and Madeline Stowe are talking in a theater during Vertigo doesn’t mean that you can.
10:34am – This ending is beautiful. I can’t believe there are people who don’t get it.
10:47am – Last snack run. Supposedly, this is the best popcorn in the Boston Metro Area.
10:49am - It is, in fact, really good.
10:52am – REALLY good. If I’d gotten it salted, I’d probably be pouring it down my throat.
10:54am – Fire Maidens from Outer Space starts. Let’s be a short movie, since the next train after 12.15 is at 3.15.
10:55am – The opening credits are weirdly laid out. It’s a marathon thing to clap once for each name, but some people at this hour are having trouble figuring out just how many names are on each “page”.
10:57am – When I worked in a theater, we called this situation “a giant bee living behind the screen”.
11:00am – One guy in the audience half-heartedly yells “Wheat Chex!” The dueling cries of “Wheat Chex” and “Rice Chex” are also a marathon tradition, but somehow it just never happened this year.
11:01am – “The countdown will begin in one minute.”
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. (camera starts panning right) Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. (having reached the right edge of the room, it starts panning left) Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. (camera stops on the clock) Tick. Tick. (camera starts panning right again) Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. (having reached the right edge of the room, it starts panning left) Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. (Camera stops on the clock) Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
11:02am – Audience joins in countdown from ten, greatly relieved. A minute can be a long time.
11:03am – No dialog of note in this screen, but a well-placed “Have a Coke” sign.
11:04am – “If all goes according to schedule, we’ll contact the 13th moon of Jupiter in three weeks.” We are all terrified that this will play out in real time, since the writers are being what you might call really stingy with dialog.
11:06am – Those meteors look like popcorn…
11:09am – The entire crew of an interplanetary spaceship with highly explosive fuel and a limited oxygen supply lights cigarettes.
11:11am – The landing is the takeoff footage run in reverse. I start to realize that not only will there be no nudity, but there likely won’t be enough dialog for INNUENDO!
11:16am – “It’s a woman!” (crewman snaps picture as though he has never seen one before. This would explain a great deal of the movie)
11:18am – INNUENDO!: “Doc, you’re in charge of the rear guard.”
(Yeah, it’s lame. This movie is TORTURE.)
11:25am – I guarantee that at some point during the development of this script, the wine that knocked the astronauts out also transformed them into docile, silent, beautiful women. Because looking at pretty girls who occasionally try to dance but can’t is about all the work that went into this screenplay.
Or maybe that’s just where my mind goes after twenty-eight hours awake, watching these movies.
11:30am – AUDIENCE: “What she lacks in conversational skills, she makes up for in.. uh… breasts.”
11:40am – I’ve gotta say, these gals on New Atlantis aren’t ashamed to have hips.
11:41am – “Hold you’re fire, we’ll scare him away!” BLAM! This crew sucks.
11:50am – Pagan ritual, or sorority initiation? We’re not sure.
11:52am – GIRLS: “Sacrifice!” AUDIENCE: “And then the oral sex!”
(Honest, there is not enough dialog or plot to talk about here. And believe me, Castle Anthrax jokes were coming fast and furious here)
11:58am – Add cinematography to the list of things that outright suck about this movie. There’s a big old branch between the audience and what they’re supposed to see here.
11:59am – “This movie would be so much better if the sacrifice room had a trampoline.”
12:03am – So, the other girls tried to sacrifice the one with lines by burning her, but apparently there are no hard feelings.
12:04am – The movie’s last line: “Just your names, I have the facts!” The hell? This is SUPPOSED to be INNUENDO!, but we don’t get it.
12:06am – And it’s a run to the train…
As always, the marathon was a great time, with even the bad films getting some entertainment value (although don’t get me wrong – Fire Maidens was not in any way worth it). But now I am very tired and will go to bed.
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1732
originally posted: 02/21/06 11:48:24
last updated: 02/21/06 11:51:39