Regular readers of this blog know that I’m unrepentant fan of the Cinefamily, LA’s rough-edged little shrine to movies high and low. This is not a place with the history of the Cinémathèque Française, the manners of the Film Society of Lincoln Center or the glamour of Sundance. What it does have is an agenda-free love of movies and the people who make them. It’s a place that’s managed to capture that rush you got when you saw that first mind-blowing movie (“2001″ for me – I was 6 – dad, what were you thinking?), and a community of people who’ve figured out a way to celebrate that joy in absolutely unique ways.
Take, for instance, their 24-hour Fantastic Elastic Telethon (yes a telethon, though technically it’s a webathon, since you can only pledge on-line) that took place this weekend. Imagine Jerry Lewis’ Labor Day cavalcade of maudlin - only 1,000 percent more fun, 1,000 percent less polished and 1,000 times more interesting (the kitsch level is about the same). I stopped by at about 1AM Saturday night and, though no description of what I experienced will do it justice, I’ll try to summon my inner Hunter S. Thompson.
I thought I’d show my support during a slow period, but when I arrived the street outside the Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax was buzzing with activity; inside, the little theater was packed – the seats filled and hipsters young and old holding up the walls along the aisles. The theater’s stage was dressed like a ’70′s public access talk show, with a manned bar behind the guest couches and a DJ to the right. Beautiful, well-dressed people randomly dotted the “set” which was accented by a big, lighted, circus-style “CINEFAMILY TELETHON” sign. Alas, there was no tote board.
The lights were down when I walked in; a scene from a Cheech & Chong movie was being video-scratched and uber-DJ Cut Chemist was matching it beat for beat. I swear I went to the bathroom for a minute, but when I reemerged CC and C&C were gone and Cinefamily director Hadrian Belove was holding court in his thrift store smoking robe with actor Udo Kier and director Guy Maddin. Kier – the obscure yet famous, enigmatic and ageless (his word, though I agree) featured player of the films of Fassbinder, Borowczyk, Argento and Von Trier has also worked extensively with Maddin, my favorite avante-Canadienne filmmaker. The audience was rapt by their riffing, even though it was sometimes hard to hear over the hum of the low-rent wireless mikes. Personally, I missed a lot of what they said because I just couldn’t stop thinking about cool the whole scene was and how deeply ensconced the Cinefamily people mist be in the community of film lovers to have even come up with the idea of bringing Kier and Maddin in, let alone manage to pull it off in the wee hours of the morning. I kind of felt that way about everything I saw.
From time to time, the lights would dim and we’d see one of Maddin’s mind-blowing one-minute movies; if I recall correctly, one featured a scene with Kier and a gorilla. They also showed a segment of Stefanie Schneider’s polaroid slideshow “The Girl Behind the White Picket Fence” featuring Kier. The whole scene had a fever-dream sense to it; everything made perfect sense though it was hard to imagine how it had all come together and what it actually meant. And yes, I know it sounds a little pretentious, but let me assure you know one was taking the whole thing too seriously.
At some point, it all became a tad too much for my tiny little brain and I escaped to the patio for a drink and a smoke. In one corner, a small group worked with great focus constructing what I believe was a LEGO Star Wars Super Star Destroyer. I talked with bartender Damien Ober – a volunteer like most everyone at Cinefamily – about his movies (“Where History and Science-Fiction Meet”) and a very cool girl who clearly knew a lot about film herself but who is, by trade, a dog walker (www.groovytails.com). I also met Michelle, a woman with a Cheshire Cat smile, who’d been there since 4:30. It was two-something by this time, and she didn’t look the worse for wear.
Refreshed by the cool night air and human interaction, I felt strong enough to go back inside. On the stage were two musicians happily playing away. The surrealness alert level turned to orange a couple of minutes in when I realized one of them was actor John Hawkes (“The Sessions”). In some ways, it was like you were invited to a party where someone decided to whip out his guitar and play a few songs. It just so happens that that someone is about to be nominated for an Oscar.
I didn’t stick around long enough to see if a sing-along ensued. I am old, Father William and at some point I had to take my ancient carcass home.
Take my two-hour experience and multiply it by 12 and you get a tiny inkling of what the telethon was like. But what you can’t get from my creaky writing was the deep sense of common purpose I could feel emanating from the people flowing in and out of the event: This was a party with a cause, with a deeply connected group of like-minded strangers (a rarity in LA) equally committed to movies and having a damn good time.
I always thought the Cinefamily name was kind of earnest for such a hip organization, but after Saturday night I feel like it really captures what’s going on there. I’m proud to be a part of it in my own small way. You should check it out, too!
See more pics of the telethon HERE.
SUPPORT THE CINEFAMILY’S KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN TODAY.
They’re raising much-needed funds to upgrade their ridiculously low-tech theater. Give a buck, give a $1,000, but just know that if you love movies, this place deserves your support.