Monday, August 1, 2011

Interview: Coolidge Corner's Mark Anastasio

Despite the comforts of home, there's nothing like watching a cult movie in the theater. The crowd is supportive of the absurd plot lines, and thin acting. They cheer, laugh and in some instances throw things. Slowly, this is becoming a lost experience as most theaters will a) not show cult movies, and b) not show 35mm. I understand the want to go digital. It's cheaper, allowing for more copies to be released for a fraction of the cost. All the while providing audiences with the most advanced picture and audio. That's a bunch of horse-shit.

Thankfully, there are places like The Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, MA. From foreign films to current art-house the Coolidge caters to a diverse crowd of viewers. Before a viewing of the cult classic 'Street Trash' (read the review here), Trash Pile contributor Jason and I were able to get some time to talk with assistant program manger Mark Anastasio.

Chris: Describe what you do on a daily basis to find these films.

Mark: Well, the programing process happens between me and a couple of other guys in this office. Program Manager Jessie Hassinger and the Operations Director Andrew Thompson and I sort of sit here and fire ideas back and forth. It works really well to have checks and balances, so if I yell out something stupid those guys are quick to tell me that it's a great film, but might not draw a crowd. We have to strike that balance between playing something awesome, but also play something that keeps the series going as far as our audience is concerned.

Then it's a little bit of investigative work to actually track down prints. A lot of these old cult movies that we love so much don't exist anymore on film. A lot of them have been junked, or no one thought to preserve them because they were considered "crap" movies by a mainstream sense. It can be tough. We work with a network of private collectors that have their own 35mm archives, and those guys are really instrumental in bringing these films to us on film. Sometimes I know right where to go. I know this person has a print of 'Hellraiser', or this person has 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'. We call them up, and ask if we can borrow it. Then we go about about getting the rights, if there are rights. So it's two different things; you have to spend a lot of time tracking down who owns the rights, and who owns a copy of the print.

In this case for 'Street Trash' I didn't see any copies of a print available with any of our collectors that we knew of. Then I saw that Synapse films, they put out a lot of cool cult DVDs, they had done a double-disc edition that they had struck from the original negative. I called up the president of Synapse and asked him straight up where he got the print to do that, or if he knew of a print holder. He said that the writer/producer Roy Frumkes has the rights, and has one of the only existing prints. He gave me that contact info, and it took awhile to hear back from him because he was in Germany touring 'Document of the Dead', so he wasn't there to get emails or check his home phone. I didn't think I'd hear back form him, but when he got back he called me and said he was stoked that Boston would be interested in the print. He wanted to know about the venue in general. How many kids we get coming out to make sure it was a worth while thing, and that we were a reputable house that would take care of his film. We do run reel to reel here, and our projectionists are highly skilled, some of the best in the business. Roy was cool with loaning us the print, and that's how we tracked down 'Street Trash'. When it arrived the print was actually kind of shoddy condition. Whoever had shown it last did not give it any kind of love, which is surprising. It came in, our head projectionist graded it at maybe a C, and by the time it leaves here it's gonna be in better shape than it came in.

Chris: Does that happen often?

Mark: No, it's not a normal thing but it's also not unusual for something to come in sort of messed up. A lot of places are going to digital, 2k and 4k projection, so the art of 35mm projection is unfortunately a dying one.

Chris: And it's only places like this, the Brattle, small indie theaters that will really do it anymore.

Mark: Lowe's, Boston Common we just heard this week...

Chris: Yeah they're all digital.

Mark: Yeah they phased out 35mm completely, and that's going be coming more and more the norm over the next couple of years. That's how we tracked down that particular print. That's pretty much average. Investigative...

Chris: All the legal work.

Mark: Yeah, the toughest one we came across this year was, I really wanted to do 'Sleepaway Camp' on film. We spent six months trying to get a print of 'Sleepaway Camp', and it just didn't work out. Once we found the rights holder, it's with the director.

Chris: Robert Hiltzik, right?

Mark: Yeah, we got in touch with Hiltzik. At first we tried his old law firms. Just googling the guy, finding his linked in. Calling places where he used to be a lawyer, getting forwarding numbers. Someone suggested that we try, I think his name is Jeff, that runs the Sleepaway Camp fansite. That's where most of the screenings, if you don't have the backing of that website your screening really can't happen. So we had to reach out to that guy, and when we finally got a hold of everything we were gonna play it the some month that we did 'The Burning'. We were told the film was booked in Cleavland for the the entire summer. That was a disappointing one, so it can be tough.

Chris: What is the personal favorite film you've been able to get?

Mark: Tonight ('Street Trash') is one of them. This is one that everyone was immediately behind. It was one of those where in talking about what to book we were all excited, but we didn't think the audience would be there. We've been in a place where we're getting good numbers every weekend for the last few months, and we've been sort of building a following, so we were able to say let's take a hit in order to play 'Street Trash'. I was actually surprised by the turn out last night. It was well over one hundred, and that really excited me and I stayed to watch the film, and I'm going to stay and watch it again tonight. It's really great on the big screen.

Let's see, what's another one. 'Night of the Creeps' was one I was really stoked to get for the Halloween marathon in 2009. That's probably one of my proudest programming moments. The sign is back there.

Chris: I see 'The Blob' on there too. The Chuck Russell version is so underrated.

Mark: Yeah, that's the one we did, and I got resistance!

Chris: That's bullshit! That's some of the best special effects next to 'The Thing', in terms of practical effects.

Mark: Dude gets pulled down a drain.

Chris: The fucking kid getting killed, you never see that.

Jason: That VHS cover was terrifying.

Mark: Oh, with the guy just getting pulled back surrounded by...

Jason: The pink ooze around him. Terrifying.

Mark: The best experience I've seen an audience have with one of the titles we've programmed, and I always talk about this as now it's rule in our programming. I forget what year it was, might have been the year before 'Night of the Creeps' and 'The Blob'. We did a double feature of 'Pumpkinhead' and 'Prom Night', and one of the secret films, I mean, for the remainder of the marathon we don't tell people what we're playing, so we don't have to get rights to show those films. Cause no one has bought a ticket thinking they're seeing that, so no one can get upset at us for cheating them.

Chris: Loopholes are fucking awesome.

Mark: Right, so we book rights for two and do the double feature, and the rest are all secrets. The best secret title we ever did was Lamberto Bava's 'Demons'. We got 'Demons' on film, and I was unfamiliar with it. All I knew was that I wanted to play it, and I love the trailer and I've never seen it. Watching it in an audience, I mean you're familiar with it, the demons breakout in a movie theater. Watching that, in a movie theater while people were delirious and in a marathon setting, the crowd was just so wild, and throwing shit and freaking out. From then on out we instituted something called 'Demons' rule. Whereas that was the high water mark. That's where the bar got set for how to give an audience a good time. You give them gore, actual scares and shit to laugh at. Trying to give them the perfect...

Chris: The perfect cult experience.

Mark: The perfect cult film experience, yeah. We do hard horror sometimes...

Chris: We came for 'Dream Home'.

Jason: That was really cool.

Mark: We try to do new stuff. We're branching out into different little sub-tags for our series. 'Dream Home' was under our Fresh Blood banner. Coolidge Cult Cuts is a series that we do for things like 'Street Trash' where it was a hard to find print, and it's something that is on film that is kinda rare that people should come out for. Those are some of my favorites.

Chris: Besides 'Sleepaway Camp' what are some other titles you've had a real hard time getting?

Mark: I mean 'Sleepaway Camp' was the toughest. There's always rights issues up in the air for things like 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'.

Chris: Yeah, that's passed through so many different companies.

Mark: Yeah

Chris: Isn't it at Lionsgate now?

Mark: No one really has it now. A company called MCI I thought had it, but they actually don't know where the rights are at. It's owned by a lawyer at this point, and when that happens you don't play it. Another print that's been hard to find has been Argento's 'Suspiria'.

Chris: We caught the print last year at the Brattle.

Mark: Was that just last year?

(Hindsight: it was actually two years ago.)

Chris: Yeah, we went out for my birthday. It was a print by some U.K. collector.

Mark: Yeah they got it from the U.K., so I called that guy who said the print was booked for Halloween. He was really nice, and said any other time. That's one where it seems to me that are probably only two to three prints of that film left in existence. That print was no dice, found a collector who wasn't willing to lend, and then we tracked a print to Criterion in the US.

Chris: Oh wow, they have a print?

Mark: Yeah, but they had decommissioned it and it can't run. Then I tracked a print to Fox Canada, which normally we don't do because we deal with American distributors. We called them, and there initial response was no. We wrote back, and they said no. This week we tried again asking why, and they said we can have it. So the headliner for this year's marathon is Argento's 'Suspiria', and a new print of 'Return of the Living Dead'.

Chris: That's awesome.

Mark: Usually we do six films, but this year we're going to try to do seven because everything is about ninety minutes.

Chris: What are some titles that you have no interest in going after.

Mark: Well, I had a conversation last night with our projectionist Thomas, and Thomas is always on me to show 'Leprechaun', Leprechaun in Da Hood', and things like 'Killer Klowns from Outer Space'.

Chris: You don't like 'Killer Klowns'.

Mark: I got something against 'Killer Klowns'. I don't know what it is. I've only seen it once or twice.

Jason: I feel like people would come out to see that.

Mark: People probably would, but for some reason those types of movies turn me off.

Jason: No 'Rumpelstiltskin'?

Mark: Yeah, shit like 'Rumpelstiltskin'. I guess it's little humanoid creatures that smile real big just don't scare me, so I'm not interested in playing it. 'Critters' on the other hand we're doing this weekend. I'd do 'Critters', I'd do stuff like 'Child's Play' but yeah, 'Killer Klowns' I would stay away from. 'Leprechaun' I'm resistant to. I don't know, I think that stuff is kinda easy. There are lots of theaters when March roles around, and gets to be St. Patty's Day and someone is doing a midnight screening of 'Leprechaun'. It just seems kinda uninspired.

Jason: That movie also isn't even that old.

Mark: It's few and far between that we play shit from the '90s in this series, so yeah the goofier shit I stay away from.

Chris: What movie started your interest in the genre?

Mark: My interest was sparked by my cousin Joan, who passed away young. She was my babysitter when I was kid, and we weren't too far apart I was probably twelve to her sixteen. While babysitting us, and I can't fucking remember specifics, and even when I was younger I must have been like seven or eight, she was probably too young to be watching us. I remember a horror show hosted by Gilbert Godfrey.

Chris: Yeah, one of the USA ones.

Mark: Yeah! Is that what it was?

Chris: Yeah, it was USA Up All Night.

Mark: Yes!

Jason: Yeah they used to play Troma.

Mark: Right, and that's exactly where I was going with it. It was USA Up All Night hosted by Gilbert Godfrey, and it was 'Class of Nuke 'Em High'. That's what I trace it all back to.

Chris: Yeah, we're big Troma enthusiasts.

Jason: I remember seeing Toxie, and getting a copy of Toxie II on tape that I got at Ames.

Mark: She used to let me watch that, and it would scar me for life. And I remember when I used to go to her house she had an original 'Nightmare on Elm St.' poster on her wall. Also, there was this video store called Video Express in my hometown, and it's not there anymore, of course. But they had an iguana in the display case, and it was real gross and I used to get my comic books there. Anyways it must have been when 'Texas Chainsaw II' came out they had a stand-up that was 6' tall, and in the doorway. I remember when my dad would return tapes I would stand there looking up at this thing peeing my pants, and I just had to see it. So the images of Leatherface, and Freddy, and sitting there watching 'Class of Nuke 'em High' and having fun with a fucking disgusting film like that is what got me into this, and it stuck.

Chris: What recent film do you feel captured the essence of the video boom?

Mark: Not so much 'Machete', not even 'Grindhouse'. I think the best of these recent exploitation, neo-grindhouse films is 'Hobo With a Shotgun', I think it's the better of the three.

Chris: I fucking love that movie.

Mark: It doesn't ever wink at you. It's fucking balls to the walls.

Chris: It is an exploitation movie.

Mark: It's got something to say, and I think it right on par with the old shit. that movies right on my shelf next to some of those perfect video titles next to 'Class of Nuke 'em High' and 'Toxic Avenger'.

Chris: I wish someone like Gorgon, who released 'House of the Devil' on VHS. I wish they'd do one for 'Hobo'. It's screaming for a VHS release.

Mark: That would be really sweet. Some places have be re-releasing them.

Chris: Yeah, Mondo just did 'Things' and 'Sledgehammer'. They're always on sale mid pay-week, and then...

Mark: They're gone. There's been talk of us getting a VHS series off the ground.

Chris: If you need any help I have hundreds of VHS tapes.

Mark: Do you really? Oh Chris, you're going to help us curate a series.

Chris: I'd love to help! There's one film I'd love to have people see on the big screen which is 'TerrorVision' (read the review here).

Mark: 'TerrorVision' rules, my projectionist, he wanted me to find a print of it.

Chris: It's hard as hell to find one apparently.

Mark: Yeah, I couldn't do it. I don't get stumped that often. I didn't give up on 'Suspiria', I didn't give up on fucking 'Sleepaway Camp', but 'TerrorVision' is proving to be too elusive. But that would be a perfect screening. We're gonna host a series, set up a VCR and do video on the big screen and see if kids will come out.

Chris: I think they will. There's a big market for video collectors; being one myself I have to put up with a lot of assholes on eBay. Only got a couple more questions here. What is the rarest 35mm film you've shown?

Mark: (pause) I don't know. I never really know how few prints are left of any given thing. I was talking to guys last night who seem to think that multiple prints of 'Street Trash' are available. I'm not so sure that's the case. I think that Roy has one, and director Jim Muro might have one but that's it. That's two prints. There are none on a collector's level at all. I can tell you for a fact that 'Sleepaway Camp' only has the one print available.

Jason: Now do you think you'd be able to acquire it at some time down the line?

Mark: I'll probably do it next summer. I wanna do it on film, and I want to do it when it's appropriate. We've been doing this summer camp series in June for few years. But that's probably the rarest. I know that certain shit is gone. I know that there's no 35mm copies of 'Predator'.

Chris: Such a waste. Last two, pretty quick. Favorite directors?

Mark: Carpenter. Definitely John Carpenter. I mean, I don't know where else to go from there.

Chris: He's one of my favorites too.

Mark: 'The Thing' is probably my favorite film, and that's one that I've played before.

Chris: I was here one of the last times you did it. Looked awesome.

Mark: Yeah, in my five years here I think I've played it three times. Between 'The Thing' and 'Halloween' those two are such milestone films. I'm pretty big on Cronenberg too.

Chris: Besides 'The Thing' any other favorite movies?

Mark: 'The Thing' is my favorite. I just love everything so much I never know where to go with this question. I love zombie films. You look at my horror shelves, and there's like two full shelves of just zombies films. 'Day of the Dead'.

Chris: Such an underrated movie. My favorite of the series.

Mark: 'The Thing' is my all time favorite film in any genre.

Jason: What did you think of the remake/prequel trailer?

Mark: I'm not too pissed yet.

Jason: Trailer looks all right.

Chris: From what I hear it's 70% practical effects.

Mark: As long as that's true, I'm fine. I've said that the first scene of shitty CGI will kill it for me, being such a fan of 'The Thing' I always wanted to know what happened at that Norwegian camp.

Chris: I'm a big fan of the Howard Hawks version as well.

Mark: And 'The Thing' itself is a remake, so we can't be too upset about doing a prequel to a remake. I'm pretty easy. I don't get too pissed over these sorts of things.

I want to thank Mark for taking time out of his schedule to give us the background on how much work goes into tracking down these prints. Please visit The Coolidge Corner Theater, and any local theater that is willing to show films that are a little outside the norm.

Coolidge Corner Theater

1 comment:

Holly said...

Great interview! His job sounds exhausting. And you guys are a bunch of nerds. ;)