Five Days. Two venues. Programs beginning from noon running past midnight. I had my work cut out for me.
In November of '98 I had the honor of being one of four judges at Baltimore's second successful MicroCineFest. The hours were long but the great movies, nice folks, and cool judges prizestalking Darth Vadar pensmade it all worthwhile.
Some of the prizes awarded got their names from the "Way Cool Sounds" touted on the pens' packages. The "Way Cool Feature" award went to Kevin DiNovis' SURRENDER DOROTHY, the "Way Cool Video" to Bill Hardy's AKA THE CONVERSATION and we talked about naming Aaron Lubarsky's WAYNE FREEDMAN'S NOTEBOOK as the "Way Cool Documentary." (We never gave this award away, I think it was that we forgot about itthe result of our lack of sleep catching up to us).
One of my favorite programs of the festival was the noon on Sunday selection of STAR WAR-related flicks. The admission price (FREE) was an incentive to get folks to come in early since no one expected such an early showing to garner a large crowd. Yet, it ended up being one of the most populated screenings in the entire festival!
The program spanned twenty years from Ernie "Ford" Fosselius' HARDWARE WARS: THE SPECIAL EDITION to Kevin Rubio's TROOPS and ranged from balls out parody (the aforementioned, along with Pewter Joe Flynn's THE ODD STAR WARS COUPLE) to stop-motion animation (Evan Mather's QUENTIN TARANTINO'S STAR WARS) to documentary (Jason Wishnow's TATOOINE OR BUST) to biographical narrative (AKA THE CONVERSATION) with a special added bonus of a STAR WARS skit from the old Donny & Marie variety show (with Donnie as Luke, Marie as Princess Leia - did these siblings know the secret of RETURN OF THE JEDI?Paul Lynn as Grand Moff Tarkin, Kris Kristofferson as Han Solo, Thurl Ravenscroft (the voice of Tony The Tiger) as the voice of Darth Vadar and Red Foxx making a pitch for his son-less show "Sanford" as the spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi).
I was afraid that like George Lucas, Ernie Fosselius had been burning for twenty years to remaster and screw-up his classic parody, HARDWARE WARS. Luckily, the changes were minimal and the film maintained its integrity. It's been a few years since I've seen the original HARDWARE WARS and I may not remember it perfectly but it seems that the "Special Edition" wasn't overly different except for a few cheap video effects that appeared to mock the crude special effects used in the original version: instead of Ham Salad's "ship" (an iron) merely swinging off screen it now exits with a computer-generated twirl. The only scene that I regretted seeing changed was the ship's jump to hyperspace, which used to look incredibly cheap and Atari 2600 inspired. Now, however, it looks much more "high tech." Despite the changes, though, HARDWARE WARS remains a classic!
Another film that, with good distribution, is destined to be a classic is TROOPSa mix of TV's "COPS," FARGO, and STAR WARS wherein we see a group of Stormtroopers doing their daily routine on Tatooine. They apprehend a few Jawas on suspicion of stolen droids and try to defuse a volatile domestic situation over at the Lars' place. It's not just that TROOPS is a great parody of "COPS," in it's camera work and editing; TROOPS also boasts amazing special effects and great costumes which really aids in its "believability." The brusque, self-important tone of the men and women of U.S. law enforcement is captured in the Stormtroopers' voices, along with a good hint of Minnesotan accent which helps to enhance the outlandish and clever premise. TROOPS is to STAR WARS as ROSENCRANTZ & GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD's is to HAMLET: minor characters and their struggles are highlighted, giving life to what could have gone on "behind the scenes" with the Imperial Forces. Check out TROOPS online at www.theforce.net.
Meanwhile, Pewter Joe Flynn's THE ODD STAR WARS COUPLE is another parody that uses STAR WARS characters to act out a classic television show: "The Odd Couple." My only complaint about this short is that it seems to stop where it needs to begin, being limited to a brief introduction and then a scene in which we get to see the opening of "The Odd Couple" acted out with Darth Vadar and Chewbacca. This is also available at www.theforce.net.
One other short in the program attempted to fuse STAR WARS with another bit of pop culture: the films of Quentin Tarantino. However, Evan Mather's QUENTIN TARANTINO'S STAR WARS really misses the mark, feeling more influenced by SWINGERS' interpretation of Tarantino than really mixing the two disparate ideas together. If anything, this list of "The Top Ten Things You Won't Hear Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) Say In THE PHANTOM MENACE" does the job much better:
10. You don't need to see my goddamn identification, 'cause these ain't the motherfuckin' droids you're looking for.
9. Womp rat may taste like pumpkin pie, but I'll never know, 'cause even if it did I wouldn't eat the filthy motherfucker.
8. This is your father's lightsaber. When you absolutely, positively, have to kill every motherfuckin' Stormtrooper in the room...accept no substitutes.
7. If Obi-wan ain't home then I don't know what the fuck we're gonna do. I ain't got no other connections on Tatooine.
6. Feel the Force, motherfucker.
5. "What" ain't no planet I've ever heard of! Do they speak Bocce on What?
4. You sendin' the Fett? Shit, Hutt, that's all you had to say!
3. Yeah Chewie Rocky Horror's got a hair problem. What's a brother gonna do? He's a wookie.
2. Does Jabba the Hutt look like a bitch?
1. Hand me my lightsaber... it's the one that says, "Bad-Ass Mother Fucker."
It was very refreshing then that Evan Mather's other piece, GODZILLA VERSUS DISCO LANDO, which also used STAR WARS as a story basis, was so original and amusing. Created using old and new Kenner STAR WARS action figures and lots of Adobe Premiere and PhotoShop magic, GVDL stars Lando Calrissian as a real ladies (and other humanoid species) man who's called on to defeat a boxing, fire-breathing Godzilla, all set to a Meco-influenced soundtrack. The dialogue is sparse and cleverly culled from the STAR WARS films with most of the story effectively being told without words. I don't know how difficult it is to find video copies of the film but it's available online at Evan's website as either QuickTime or Real Video movies.
In contrast to the aforementioned films' light tone, Bill Hardy's AKA THE CONVERSATION is slightly more serious. The film is a dialogue by Hardy about a film project he wanted to do wherein Harrison Ford as Han Solo would have a "conversation" with Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones via pieced together shots from each of the trilogies these characters were in. Hardy really captures the process by which projects are created, are attempted, and, usually, fail miserably by relating to the audience everything that happened on the day that he tried to bring his idea to fruition. He describes the excitement of having such a clever idea, the dedication it took to write down every line of dialogue that Harrison Ford has in the six films and trying to piece them together. He also captures the daunting task at hand and the subsequent apathy and distraction that follows.
AKA THE CONVERSATION reminded me of a great short story that one might hear on NPR on the way home from work. I particularly loved the way the storyline changed from simply outlining the activities of Hardy's day to focusing on issues of friendship, family, and personality. He takes the story out of a purely auditory experience with his great use of visuals. At first glance it may seem that Hardy is simply taking shots from the films he needs to complete his project but as the story progresses it becomes apparent that the visuals serve to accentuate the audio. When talking about his sister, one is presented with a series of shots of Princess Leia and when speaking of his relationship with his father, family photos are juxtaposed with shots of Professor Jones.
Perhaps it's a result of the subject matter but what I find fun about all of the aforementioned films is their timelessness. I can see myself enjoying HARDWARE WARS twenty years from now as much as I enjoyed it twenty years ago. One film that I really look forward to watching in another decade or two is Jason Wishnow's TATOOINE OR BUST; a highly ambitious project that documents the night before and day of the release of the STAR WARS: SPECIAL EDITION in January of '97. Shot at five theaters across the country, TATOOINE OR BUST not only highlights the universality of the STAR WARS films but really captures some hard core freaky fans. These are the kind of fans that I would feel more comfortable seeing in Spock ears than Princess Leia hair buns: I hate admitting that STAR WARS attracts just as many nerds as STAR TREK but I know that there are some scary STAR WARS fans out theresomeone has to be responsible for coming up with Dr. Evazan's† name and someone out there has gotten bent out of shape about Han and Chewie being on Kyyshyk for the life day ceremony and that they couldn't have been on Bestine to meet IG-88††. If for nothing else, I admire TATOOINE OR BUST for capturing these freaks on film! Check out the video on www.wishnow.com (Jason's www.newvenue.com is pretty cool too).
In contrast to the special shown on CBS the night STAR WARS premiered on television that spotlighted how pervasive the film had become, TATOOINE OR BUST captures how influential the film is by spotlighting my peers who share their memories of the film and the role it played in their childhood as well as adult lives.
As I sat on the couch at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Baltimore, marking the list of films we saw, indicating my favorites and discussing which of the films should get what awards it suddenly dawned on me that of the twelve accolades we dispensed, a third of them were STAR WARS-related. I looked at the pen in my hand; the miniature Darth Vadar's cold eyes met my glance. I pushed a button on the shaft of the pen to hear one of the "Way Cool Sounds."
I heard Darth say, with a tinny, distant voice, "Don't underestimate the Force."
† For you not entirely obsessive folks, Dr. Evazan is that guy who confronts Luke in the Mos Eisley Cantina ("You just watch yourself, I've got the death sentence on twelve systems!"). I don't know where or when he got his doctorate but I know that that's the name of his new action figure. He was known as RooFoo in the Star Wars radio drama and it was probably changed in the book, Star Wars: Tales From The Mos Eisley Cantina edited by Kevin J. Anderson.
†† Special thanks to Andrew Haupt for that insane tidbit! Hail Baron Von Nerdhausen!