Nick's Last Night at the Alamo

­ Alamo sign comes down

If I don't write about it, it didn't happen, right?

If I don't make a big deal about it, next week, I'll stroll up those steps and see all the regulars and we'll all go back into our little attic theatre and watch some messed-up exploitation film and have a blast, right? Then we'll come back the next night for Terror Thursday, right?

Ever since a Weird Wednesday midnight showing of Drum with Warren Oates, the Original Alamo Drafthouse has been a big part of my life. Most Wednesdays you could find me catching the free show having a blast, hanging out with the regulars and having all sorts of fun. Weird Wednesday will continue on at Alamo South Lamar, but most of the regular programs are on hiatus until we get the Ritz going, along with the specialty programming. No Terror Thursdays, Music Mondays, sing-alongs, Foleyvision, etc. Too many shows to list.

It still doesn't feel real. I was at the last show, I watched the sign come down (Pics here), but it still doesn't feel like it was something that happened. I haven't been back to 409 Colorado and seen the empty building yet, so that helps.

As for the night itself ... During a bathroom break I told Tim League that this night was the happiest sad time I'd ever had. I really can't sum it up any better than that, the night was one of the most fun I've had at the Alamo, but there was always that twinge of sadness in everything we did because we'd never be able to do it again.

My night began like so many other nights at the Alamo, struggling to find parking in downtown Austin, then running to the theatre hoping that I wasn't too late. Fortunately Big Night was running a little late (actually about 40 minutes) so everything was okay. The former Mondo Tees area was filled with Alamo regulars in a somewhat melancholy mood, sharing favorite Alamo memories and rumors of how development of The Ritz is coming along.

Once the theatre was clean, the audience was let in and everybody scrambled to grab chairs that they were hoping to take home for the night. I got held up buying the Last Night t-shirt, so for Earthquake I sat on the back couches with a lot of the Weird Wednesday crew. (The t-shirt was worth it, they were nearly gone, if I had hesitated, I wouldn't have one.)

After we were all seated, we were treated to the first surprise of the night (for the double feature people, at least), as we were issued official Alamo hard hats. At first I thought it was just a novelty item, but as Alamo employee Tim Doyle gave thorough instructions on how to assemble the safety harness inside the helmet, the need quickly became apparent. Tim League then explained how he personally installed the ceiling and could not vouch for its safety at all and thanked us for signing the safety waiver (which, actually, I didn't sign).

Tim introduced the Earthquake show by telling us about the last time they brought 50,000 watts of subwoofers into the Alamo -- they received noise complaints from over three blocks away, and it took the police quite some time to find the source and to shut it down. Tim then went on record to say that he hates Cuba Libre, he hates the owners who promised the landlord that it would be a low-key club and never have loud or live music, and that this was his revenge for them adding their own crappy techno music soundtracks to the Alamo's movies.

For the preshow trailers they had no upcoming shows to really sell us on, so they showed some of their classic show advertisements, ranging from Blanks on a Blank to the classic gaming show, to others. I'd forgotten a lot of these and they brought lots of memories rushing back.

Then in a seemingly extended amount of black between the trailers and the movie somebody's cell phone went off. A wall of boos and yells met the offender as I quietly thought about how I can't remember the last time I heard a phone go off at the Alamo. Seems like the trailers threatening the lives of the patrons has worked wonders.

I had never seen Earthquake before, and it really surprised me. If you go to Universal Studios and go on the Earthquake ride, they make you think it's a pretty straight cut-and-dry disaster film like any other. However, it's really quite ridiculous, even for the time. It felt more like an earthquakesploitation film (if there is such a thing) with an A-list cast that was released by Universal, it didn't feel like a studio film at all. It begins with Charlton Heston and his wife having an incredibly melodramatic fight where she fakes suicide to try to win his sympathy. Then George Kennedy goes on an over-the-top car chase through the middle of LA which ends with the perp crashing into a hedge and then being reprimanded by another policeman, "Do you know whose hedge that is, I'll tell you who, ZSA ZSA GABOR." The film plays like a Hollywood B-version of Altman's Short Cuts, with a survivalist last act.

Watching the film in the context of having incredible large subs all around you completely changes it, it becomes a game of anticipation. When is the quake coming? You know it can hit any minute (heightened by the subplot of earthquake prediction) and you really want it, so you can feel the rumble. At the end of the first reel a tremor hit and the subs kicked in and everything became a rumble. Everything. You couldn't hear the actors speaking, everything was a pure oscillation that ran through your body and into your head, you shook and you felt that you were in a worse tremor than the characters in the movie. It was awesome. The tremor subsides after a minute in the film, but when you experience it, it feels longer.

Afterwards the audience broke out into hugely enthusiastic applause, then quickly went back into anticipation mode. I wish I could've been in two places at once to see what it was like over at Cuba Libre during all of this, they seemed to have an all-right number of people in there when we all entered the Alamo, I wonder if the vibrations pushed them away.

After the tremor, Earthquake tones down the melodramaticness and pushes up the over-the-topness. Oddly enough, Mario Puzo of The Godfather was one of the writers of the script, but if he wasn't in the credits, you'd never be able to tell. I also have to point out that in a movie led by Charlton Heston, who is widely considered to be one of the greatest actors of all time, it is amazing how much he is outdone by George Kennedy. George Kennedy puts on a powerhouse performance as Sgt. Lew Slade, a suspended police officer who shows that compassion is more important than doing things by the book.

Soon enough, the Earthquake hits, the big one. Waves of bass filled the Alamo and began to rock it apart. Dust fell from the ceiling, everything began to start shaking apart. There were a lot of sounds of steel girders being twisted and stretched to their breaking point, and you couldn't tell if they were in the movie or the Alamo's supports about to break. Glasses shook off of their tables and broke, a ceiling tile nearly dislodged itself and fell on Harry Knowles, a lighting fixture fell and smashed on the ground. Nobody was watching the film, but more watching the theatre to make sure that nothing fell on them, and that if something collapsed, they'd get to see it. Whenever you have a screening where you have people wearing something, you always have one or two of those people who will put it on initially, chuckle, maybe pose for the photo, and then take it off. Not one person was without their hard hat, not for participation's sake, but for safety's sake.

I don't know if I can really say that I've seen Earthquake now, because it was just a part of a much larger experience. The print was red, warped, and scratched -- everything you could want in a print at the Alamo. The audience was into the flick, everything was a blast -- that's what I can remember. I remember some of Earthquake, but the movie really wasn't the focal point at all. It was all about being at the Alamo in a screening that only the Alamo could give. That was more important than the movie. The experience I can remember crystal clear, the movie, not so much.

After a brief intermission came the last film that would ever show at the Alamo Drafthouse downtown, Night Warning.

Night Warning is a messed up movie on its own, but to have the eccentric actress Susan Tyrrell there takes it to unprecedented heights. Susan is not doing so well, she lost her legs due to a blood disease and she's not quite stable. Lars took the stage to introduce the movie with Susan wheeled onto the stage by Alamo regular David Strong (who's quite a character himself). Susan was snappy and just wouldn't tolerate too much. If Lars asked a question that she didn't like, she'd let him know. Susan revealed her method of choosing a film -- she wouldn't read the script, just her part. If she liked it, she was in. From there she'd just read the daily sides given to her. She had never seen Night Warning, she only knew that she didn't like it ... but still didn't know anything about the scenes she wasn't in. Susan (who goes by SuSu) described most of the on-set process would be reading the sides with her hairdresser and make-up, complain about how utterly awful it was and then smoking a lot of pot trying to figure out how to make it work only to have most of their ideas tossed out by the director. SuSu has maintained a sense of humor about her plight in life, she told everyone that she had to go pee adding that she'd nearly filled up both of her artificial legs. She'd end the introduction by just getting fed up with Lars and asking David Strong to "do his thing" and said that she'd be getting a drink next door.

The trailers before Night Warning featured all of the Alamo's ads encouraging people not to talk during the movie, including the classic Ann Richards (former Texas Governor) ad. Ann died last year, prompting her fans in the audience to cheer very loudly for her ad. We were also treated to this video from Peter Jackson and Edgar Wright giving the Alamo a very funny sendoff.

Night Warning is a fantastically creepy film about an woman (SuSu) obsessed with her nephew that she adopted and wanted to keep with her. Tyrrell gives an amazing performance as her character murders a plumber for being professional and not coming onto her sexual advances. She then claims that it was attempted rape and only her nephew believes her. Her nephew tries to advance his life by applying for an out-of-state college much to the dismay of Tyrrell's character, which leads her to great feats of insanity. SuSu explained that she hated her co-star Jimmy McNichol with a passion during the making of this film, but you'd never know it. During the film the Alamo staff passed out cartons of milk and lead us in a milk toast to Tyrrell during a scene where she licks milk off of her nephew's face. Only at the Alamo.

After the film Tyrrell came back for a brief Q&A (supposedly she was not too keen on the idea at first). She gave no leeway to any question she didn't like. There was a large amount of awkwardness in the room as it quickly became apparent that Tyrrell was the most insane guest the Alamo had ever brought on stage (a difficult and commendable feat). Tyrrell once again stormed off the stage (with David Strong's assistance) once Lars began to ask about other directors that she had worked with, particularly John Huston (which seems to be a sore subject with her). She left the stage saying that she'd had enough of his silliness.

Tim League got back on the mic and thanked everyone and then lead the crowd in a shot of Dewar's as a final toast to the theater that we'd all had so many fun times with. He then let the triple-feature holders put their wrenches to work and start uprooting the seats. The people who left at this point missed out on a whole other show, a large group of people disassembling the theatre to get whatever souvenir they could from it. Some took groups of chairs, some took table tops, some just left with memories.

Then came the moment when it all became real. The process of removing the neon sign from the front of the building. Only a few stayed for this part because it was going well into the morning, and it was about an hourlong process. But it was a solemn end to something that has been a large part of us all.

I left the Alamo at about 8:30 in the morning to go get breakfast with some of the staff and some of the regulars. I haven't been back since.

I don't think I can take it.­

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