Alamo Blog-a-Thon: An Alamo story 40 years in the making

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[Nick Robinson's Alamo Downtown Blog-a-Thon entry follows.]

I began collecting 16mm because of the absolutely fantastic experiences I've had at the Alamo Drafthouse. Mostly because of Weird Wednesday and QT-Fest. So many twisted, bizarre, wrong and wonderful movies that nobody's ever heard of - I had to start getting my own.­

Once I bought my 16mm projector (an Eiki self threader), I had to go home and visit my parents for a while. I told them about what I was up to, and after my dad got finished telling how stupid I was for starting this, he mentioned that he had a 35mm trailer in the attic that I could have if I wanted. Naturally, I did.

He explained that when he was in college at North Texas (then called ... something else, I can't remember) he knew this guy, Bob, who was a total scam artist (he's since run for mayor of Denton a couple of times, so some things never change). The kind of guy who knew when they'd visit their parents and have money and ask them for cash as soon as they got back home again. Bob always had a get-quick-rich scheme and could hustle pretty well. He told me about watching the guy talk to somebody, work his magic and get them involved in the scheme, while my dad was watching he couldn't believe that somebody would fall for such lines. As soon as he was finished, Bob turned to my dad, started working it and my dad paid up. His schemes would soon lead to my parents financing one of the earliest gay bars in Austin - the Griffin (maybe spelled Gryphon) on Guadalupe where the ATT parking structure is now, across from Clay Pit. Like all the other ventures they put their money into, it seemed like a good idea at the time and even met some initial success, but quickly failed.

One day Bob decided there was a lot of money in sex films. He worked my dad over for backing, got some 35mm equipment, some black-and-white film stock, went to Dallas, got some hookers, some pot and some friends and went to town (Rumor had it that the guy who was chosen as the lead actor for this had syphilis and refused to use condoms citing that when a woman took him on, she took all of him on). Shooting a weekend's worth of footage to create a trailer for "Pot Party Perversion". My dad insists that he was only a part of the financial side, and that he was angry that he wasn't allowed to supervise the shooting of the film. He was allowed to watch Bob edit the thing, whenever I mention editing, he always talks about the steambeck process and watching Bob figure out the optimal amount of black and white frames to use to create a strobing effect. Bob cut the trailer until he got bored with it and moved onto his next scheme, I don't know if he ever tried to shop it to theatre owners to get funds to make the feature film or just quit. Whatever happened, the feature was never shot (as least to my dad's knowledge), and Bob felt enough guilt to give the trailer to my dad so that he at least got something for his money.

The trailer would follow my dad for every move my parents made, eventually finding a home in the 120-degree attic of my childhood home. Not the ideal conditions for the original copy of any film. Years and years pass, and then my dad fishes it out of the attic for me. Oddly enough, he knew right where it was, had it down in three minutes from pulling down the ladder. It was dusty, warm, and if you pressed your nose right up to it (which wasn't a good idea considering the dust) gave off a slight vinegar smell. From what I could tell, which wasn't much, it was in pretty decent shape. But, I couldn't tell much because I didn't have the means to project 35mm, and even if I could afford it, the idea of having a 35mm setup in my apartment is beyond ridiculous.

I head back to Austin and hit-up Weird Wednesday (which after a stay in the Dallas area is severely needed), and I tell the story to Lars, and he says that he'll give it a shot. Awesome, especially since Open Screen Night won't screen it (of course, given the format and the trouble of screening a couple of film prints, I can't blame them). Next week, I brought the film up to the Drafthouse and Shawn the projectionist checked it out - in the 30-some-odd years that the film had been traveling from attic-to-attic and kept in less-than-ideal conditions, it only lost four frames to sprocket damage. Everything else was fine.

Shawn respooled it and I handed it to Lars who asked me if I wanted it to run next week, or, if I'd rather, have it be a better fit with the movie in two weeks when he scheduled the second Choose Your Own Weird Wednesday. I told him that he was the programmer and it was his call to make. He opted for the later option.

Two weeks go by and the premiere night comes. I let all my friends know, sending out MySpace messages and emails and whatnot. The promise of audience participation attracted a lot of people out, the line was out the door when I got there, with some friends of mine peppered in. I got in, got some seats for me and my friends and get ready for it. Lars tells me that because there wasn't an audio track for the film (didn't know that...) that he put it in the preshow at the end and put some music over it. Cool. So, I watch the swanky preshows of 1950s strippers and such, Bettie Page, etc. when I hear a loud, distinctive laugh from the back of the theatre, I turn my head and it's none other than Quentin Tarantino himself. In the midst of shooting Grindhouse, he decided to stop in and catch the movie. So, now I'm even more excited because it's a packed house, with pretty much everyone who got me into print collecting attending, and then it comes on ...

A black and white strobing background over alternating black and white text reading "A SHOCKING TALE OF COLLEGE LIFE AND THE DRUG SCENE" it flickers on there and then a guy in a 70's mustache rolls a joint and begins to smoke it, then random people start having sex. It goes on with strobing titles and random, but not explicit, sex acts occurring freely. The film had held up beautifully, the picture was great, you couldn't tell it was nearly 40 years old. At the beginning of the trailer the audience was pretty loud, a packed house with the lights still up, people are talking to their friends, but as it progressed, the audience got quieter and quieter except for loud reactions to the content of the film. You see, as the trailer goes on, it adds more and more gay content to its sex acts (at the time Bob made this he was a closeted homosexual). Lars came over to me and asked, "So, Nick, is this what your dad was up to in college?" I could only respond that I didn't know - I really, really didn't.

The trailer ends and was met with applause. Lars took the mic and gave a quick version of this story and began the choosing procedures, which led us to Black Agent, a pretty crazy blaxploitation film, but had been jumbled up so much over the years that scenes were in a completely random order and making heads or tails of any of it was difficult to say the least. It was a lot of fun. But the highlight of the night for me was getting to show off a movie that had come from nowhere, had never been seen by anybody and had it met with open arms and be embraced by people who seemed to really enjoy it. Try that at your local Cinemark.

With the loss of the original Alamo, I really can't tell you how sad I am about it. I'm there anywhere from 1-23 times a week (BoQT marathon), and I probably learned as much there as I did in film school. I know we're going to have a lot of fun at the Ritz, but, I'm going to miss this place.

­Thank you Lars, Thank you Tim, Thank you Alamo.