Photo by Joel Charlebois/Torontoist.
As anyone who’s ever gone to film school can tell you, the whole thing can get dreadfully boring. All the dusty facts, careerist professors, and hopelessly complex theories (if you’ve never read Gilles Deleuze on the “time image,” you should count your blessings) tend to distract from cinema’s principal appeal: the experience of seeing films with other fans, of consuming them communally, and the sheer pleasure the moving image tenders. Toronto film critic Chris Alexander hopes to bring the whole film school model back to its most uncorrupted roots.
Last month, Alexander (film lecturer, critic for Metro, regular contributor to Fangoria, and the John Oakley Show’s Friday Film Guy on Toronto’s AM640) launched his Film School Confidential series at the Bloor Cinema. Mixing a lecture, a screening, and prize giveaways, Film School Confidential jazzes up the often dull film school formula. In November, Alexander curated screenings of Eugenio Martino’s 1972 Eurotrash cult classic Horror Express and 1978’s KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, an animated rock ‘n’ roll fantasia that’s as bad as anything Ed Wood ever churned out. In short, it’s no run-of-the-mill master class in cinema.
The fun continues this week, when Alexander presents Jesus “Jess” Franco’s 1981 German slasher, Bloody Moon, at the Bloor on Wednesday. While not likely to show up on any AFI “Best Of” list or “Intro to Film Studies” syllabus, Bloody Moon is a fun, gory movie, dripping wet with guilty pleasures. Combined with Alexander’s unbridled enthusiasm for cinema—trash, horror, and cult films especially—the next installment in Film School Confidential is bound to please the Bloor’s audience of seasoned cult cineastes.
Torontoist: Tell me a bit about Film School Confidential. How did you come up with the idea?
Chris Alexander: Ever since I was a little boy, movies have literally been my life. And I don’t mean that I just sit on my ass and watch movies all day. I mean that they’re the way I’ve always understood the world, and people. And you know as a film fan that when you see a movie that not a lot of people know about that just blows you away you want to get up and you want to talk about it. I could have been a great lawyer, because I always find myself defending movies that I love. So that was ground zero for why I got into anything related to film, even criticism or journalism. It was an excuse to meet people that I really admired and talk to them about films I admired. So now I’m conveying this passion that’s pumping through my veins. A lot of kids nowadays think any movie made pre-1980 is their grandmother’s movie. So I like a peeling back the layers on even early pre-Code movies of the 1920s and 1930s and showing how dangerous and lively movies were.
Where I work part-time people often come in looking for older movies and I’ll show them some classic stuff and then realize that by “older” they really mean stuff like Jaws or even Last of the Mohicans.
And that’s common. “Black-and-white” is a dirty word to a lot of kids. I used to write for Rue Morgue and I had a column there where I would dig up great exploitation horror films that I remembered watching at 3 a.m. on TV, and these were like gateway drugs for me. And Film School Confidential is kind of my fourth kick at the public-screening can.
What happened to the other ones?
One of note was a programme I did with Atom Egoyan at Camera Bar, where we only did European exploitation films. High calibre, high gloss, arthouse, that kind of stuff.
Argento and Bava and all that?
Absolutely. And that was great. But it belly-flopped ‘cause Egoyan never wanted to advertise. He wanted it to be this secret handshake thing. Except nobody really came because it was so far, and anyone going that far west on Queen Street on a Friday night is going to the Drake. And the other thing is, when you put a movie theatre in the back of a bar, and you don’t have a licence for people to bring booze back there, everyone stays up front. So it didn’t really work out.
How does this new programme at the Bloor differ?
This is the way I’ve always wanted to do it. There’s a half-hour lecture at the beginning. It’s not like a “get up there with a bunch of notes.” It’s more like a monologue. And the goal is to entertain the shit out of [the audience] and to make learning fun…So you sit down, I get up on stage and talk for about half an hour, and hopefully entertain you, make you laugh, and tell some stories. But I beg you to pay attention. So after there’s a test. And people who pay attention will win stuff. And you get to see a cool movie with a bunch of people. It’s less a “school” and more of an enthusiastic film club.
How has the turnout been so far?
We’ve only done two so far. We got more people for KISS Meets The Phantom, but I don’t know if that’s just because it’s KISS Meets The Phantom. There was some drunk guy at that screening who kept yelling. I walked back to the lobby to get a drink of water within the first forty-five minutes and he’s passed out in his seat with a KISS shirt on. You get all kinds of weird people.
It’s an ideal venue, though. The Bloor tends to cater to fans of cult films.
I think their motto is “From Cult to Culture,” which is kind of what I’m doing with this series.
Tell me a bit about the film you’re showing this week, Bloody Moon. I’ve never heard of it. I’ve seen some weird Australian horror movie called Blood Moon, and I looked it up to see if it’s the same thing, but apparently it’s not.
Is that the one with Tim Curry that was made for TV?
No. There’s nobody in it that even approaches Tim Curry’s level of celebrity. It’s like some townies-meet-city-kids star-crossed romance that turns into a slasher where a weird high school teacher is killing students using a scythe or something like that.
Well that’s not the same thing. Bloody Moon was directed by Jess Franco, made in ’81. It came riding on the tails of Friday the 13th and the American slasher cycle. Mixed with a bit of giallo horror too, with the black gloved killer and the melted crayon blood. But again, Franco is one of those secret handshakes of cinema who unfairly gets a bad rap. Do you know anything about Franco?
Only that he made that Vampyros Lesbos movie.
Yeah, well, his whole thing was that he was really into jazz. He knew everything there was to know about jazz. And he just kind of entered cinema by default. His movies are very much like jazz: they’re loose, they’re rough, they’re usually very cheap. Not cheap by his own wishes, but because he got caught in that European horror/porn underground.
Right. Wasn’t he groomed in arthouse cinema circles?
He studied under Orson Welles. Welles kind of got the same rough deal in Hollywood, where he couldn’t get funding for his movies so he went to Europe to get the money. He had seen a few of Franco’s movies, and really dug them, and took Franco under his wing, kind of as a protégé. The thing with Franco, too, was that he lived and breathed movies. If he wasn’t making movies, he’d be dead. So whether the budget was two or three million or two or three dollars, he’d be out there making them, which kind of explains why the quality of his films is all over the place. He’s a fascinating guy. A serious intellectual and a lover of all the liberal arts who just happened to make horror and porn.
So where does Bloody Moon fit in?
Bloody Moon is not the best Franco movie. But it’s a great party movie to see with an audience. It’s just filled with crappy gore effects. It’s also a chance to explore the Video Nasty, where in the U.K. in the ‘80s a lot of films containing objectionable elements ended up on a blacklist. But of course the powers that be didn’t know that by putting them on a list they were making them notorious. Bloody Moon was one of the most notorious on that list. There are just so many decapitations. In fact, the German title translates into something like “The Saw of the Death.” It’s also an example of how when Franco got a bigger budget, he could make something with competence and make something that’s stylish, which also has those earmarks of European cinema. It’s an American-style slasher movie with a distinct European bent.
Another interesting fact is that Franco was a music enthusiast, and he loved Pink Floyd. And the producers told him they got Pink Floyd to do the soundtrack. And this was in the beginning of the 1980s, when The Wall had made Pink Floyd the biggest band in the world. So Franco signs on to direct, and lo and behold, no Floyd. So instead they get this David Gilmour rip-off guy who does this crappy, disco, prog-rock shit on it. There’s a lot of pleasure. Guilty pleasure.
What do you think audiences are responding to with this series? As you’ve said, you tried to get things like this off the ground before, and it’s a bit of a hard sell. I know the Toronto Film Critics Association tried to do a screening series with an audience Q&A. I went to the first one where they showed Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control.
And it flopped.
It flopped big time. Few people showed up for the screening, and even fewer stuck around for the talk afterward. And I mean it was fine, people had very intelligent things to say, but it couldn’t sustain an audience.
Well when it comes to this kind of crap, you have the hardcore people who like Bloody Moon, but they already own Bloody Moon. They don’t want to spend money to watch it in theatres. But, again, with Film School Confidential, the goal is a bit different. It doesn’t matter, if you’re at home in your mom’s basement on some online film forum, or who’s watching these movies at home, or who knows what. People are genuinely interested in getting together to talk about these movies. People like to debate and argue and feel like they’re part of the fabric of something. And with Film School Confidential, they can be. I want it to be a cool little film club where people come out—and we’re getting regulars already—and they have fun. At the end we sit around and we talk about the movie for half an hour at the Bloor, and then if we need to we can go across the street to Paupers and continue it there, and then it’ll continue on the internet, on the Facebook page, and whatever else. It’s an excuse for people with busy schedules and busy lives to get together with a bunch of other miscreants and enjoy the road less travelled by in cinema.
Bloody Moon screens at the Bloor Cinema (506 Bloor Street West) this Wednesday, December 9, at 9:30 p.m.