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FILM FESTIVALS OF THE WORLD #6: Mods & Rockers Film Festival
by The Ultimate Dancing Machine

This week, we turn to blandly sunny Los Angeles, and a nifty little fest you probably haven't heard of. If you’re like me—God help you—you’d usually rather watch older films than whatever overhyped product is playing on 3000-odd screens across the land. Lucky for me, I live in L.A., which may be a shamelessly frivolous town (and that’s what we out here LIKE about it), but it can’t be topped if you’re into watching movies of all kinds. L.A. has the coolest theatres, the coolest video stores, the coolest revival houses. And since 1999, it has been the site of the uber-nostalgia parade known as the Mods & Rockers Film Festival.

This isn’t really a film festival in the Sundance sense of the word. Hosted by the American Cinematheque (http://www.americancinematheque.com), it is merely an unabashed annual celebration of the best and the worst of Sixties cinema, held at the “historic” Egyptian Theatre (http://www.egyptiantheatre.com) on Hollywood Blvd. If you’re looking for a distributor to take your DV documentary about gay graffiti artists, you need to be anywhere but here.

Your host for the screenings is a stocky, garrulous, charmingly funny British import named Martin Lewis, one of those guys with a website (http://www.martinlewis.com) containing far more information about him than you could ever want to know. Back in the day, he produced a couple Monty Python projects. He’s also responsible for the fest’s official website (http://www.modsandrockers.com), whose Austin Powers theme should tell you exactly what inspired the fest.

M&RFF: THE DETAILS:

Where it be at: Hollywood, California

When it be at: Begins in late June or early July for about two weeks.

How expensive it be: $9 per ticket, $6 if you become a member of the American Cinematheque ($50 annual). There is no festival pass. They have a fax line where you can use your credit card to get advance tix ($1 service charge for non-members).

Incidentally, the Cinematheque is a non-profit organization dedicated to reviving old films. They have that “good cause” cachet.

Number of films screened: 20-30. As they show only one movie at a time, it's certainly possible to catch everything they play.

Value for money: Most of the screenings are double-features, so we’re talking $4.50 a movie at the non-member rate.

What you’ll see: Paradise, if you’re really into Sixties films. With few exceptions, the movies screened come from the years 1964-1970. The organizers' taste is impeccable. Past films have included everything from well-known period staples like A Hard Day’s Night and The Wild Angels to totally unknown movies that nobody saw even back then (Captain Milkshake???). I have no idea what kind of legwork goes into locating some of these films, but you have to hand it to the Cinematheque for doing their part to rescue them from obscurity. Sometimes, they’ve shown the only existing print of a given film; they’ve even “premiered” a couple never-released movies.

Keep in mind that the prints can look scratchy and washed-out—that’s only to be expected, though, given the scarcity of the materials in question. Occasionally, films are dropped from the program at the last minute due to difficulties with the prints. Also, the fest audience is largely composed of nostalgic baby boomers who, irritatingly, feel obliged to clap and cheer whenever they see a recognizable face onscreen. Some of them also insist on wearing ridiculous 60s-style outfits. But you’re not here to hang with the in-crowd, remember?

Celebrity-spotting: Celebrities are routinely invited over to reminisce about the fest films they appeared in. Please note that, due to the nature of the fest, any “celebrity” you will encounter will be on the other side of fifty. Past celebrity moments include Michelle Phillips confessing that she got the idea for the Monterey Pop festival from her pot dealer; and singer Barry McGuire (who looks frighteningly like G. Gordon Liddy nowadays) trying to croon “The City of New Orleans” and royally screwing up the words. Roger Daltrey showed up for the last fest. Olivia Newton-John once appeared to discuss her forgotten 1970 film Toomorrow. Don't forget that the Egyptian Theatre frowns upon picture taking and things like that. They have signs posted to that effect.

Accommodation: I live here. Ask somebody else. Or how about this: Get a hotel room somewhere along Ventura Blvd (Encino, Sherman Oaks, North Hollywood), and you’ll be (1) in a decent area, (2) within reasonable driving distance of the fest. No, you can’t sleep on my couch.

Transport: It can be a trial navigating around Hollywood: Street parking is scarce, and the intersection of Hollywood and Highland is a nightmare. They have all-day parking at various garages along Hollywood Blvd. for $5 a pop. Nobody likes the L.A. bus system. Rent a car.

Venue: All screenings are at the 616-seat Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre inside the Egyptian (6712 Hollywood Blvd.). The screen is huge. I saw an early U.S. showing of Irreversible here with director Gaspar Noé in attendance, and he told the crowd that the screen was the best he’d ever laid eyes upon. You can believe Gaspar on that one. (BTW, I’m referring to the infamous Irreversible screening in which Noé made the projectionist crank up the sound to an infernal level. Everybody left the theatre afterward looking frazzled.) Screenings occasionally sell out, but usually there are plenty of seats.

Places to hang out: This is L.A., all right? You don’t need to worry about being bored on a Saturday night. Pick up a copy of the L.A. Weekly (http://www.laweekly.com), a free “alternative” paper you can grab anywhere; it’ll give you plenty of ideas. I can offer a few general pieces of advice: (1) Avoid the area known as “South Central” L.A. at all costs; (2) avoid the 405 freeway if you can.

Be warned that Hollywood Blvd. isn’t nearly as glamorous as the postcards suggest; they pick up the trash and shoo away the homeless people before snapping the photos. The area is essentially one long tourist trap, populated 24/7 by Japanese sightseers milling about in dumb amazement. It can be tough just walking down the sidewalk.

The famed Knitting Factory (7021 Hollywood Boulevard; http://www.knittingfactory.com) is within walking distance of the Egyptian; last time this was the site of the festival-sponsored, free-admission English Tea Party, which among other things saw a (pretty good) live performance by Spencer Davis. If you’re into SF/horror films and related memorabilia, you can drop in at the Hollywood Book and Poster Co. (6562 Hollywood Blvd.).

Traps for young players: This year they had a little problem with some guy selling bogus tickets outside the theatre. Go directly to the box office. If you’re going to remain in L.A. for any length of time, read The Day of the Locust.

The Hollywood Bitchslap final grade for the M&R Film Fest: A-minus. A darn worthy project. I don’t know if it’s worth traveling great distances to see the Fest, but if you happen to be in L.A. around early July, it’s something to put on the itinerary.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=848
originally posted: 11/06/03 09:14:59
last updated: 01/02/04 17:23:21
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