Author Archives: William Ham

About William Ham

Writer, performer, broadcaster, hero to the downtrodden, inspiration to the youth of America, beacon of hope in days of darkness and fear, and never ever sick at sea.

Reelism: Kill Bev?

photo-mainposted by William Ham

Biocarbon Amalgamate is pleased to welcome you to the first of several regular features we hope to introduce over the next few weeks. Reelism is the umbrella beneath which we will point you in the direction of interesting real-life tales of one of the many different facets of cinema (particularly the less-glamorous stations along the path) from elsewhere on the Internet.  No regular schedule as yet; frequency will be determined by how often we stumble upon something of note. Which could potentially be quite often, as there are, by our count, upwards of a dozen sites devoted to movies out there.  And watch for more new features in the days and weeks to come.

This serves as kind of an addendum to yesterday’s review of Razing the Bar.  Like Ryan Worley’s documentary, it is about the struggle for the soul of a beloved local landmark with a devout following; unfortunately, there’s precious little uplift to be had here.  Julia Marchese was employed at Los Angeles’ New Beverly Cinema since 2001.  The New Beverly (or The New Bev, as it’s known by people who can only handle three syllables at a time), for those unfamiliar with it, is sort of the cinephile’s analogue to the Funhouse – funky, a little low-rent, but dripping with charm and love of film.  Or it was, perhaps.  Quentin Tarantino, star of Destiny Turns on the Radio, stirred up a lot of chatter back in 2007 when, to rescue it from impending revelopment, he purchased the place using money he salted away from his residuals from the “Sophia’s Wedding: Part 1” episode of The Golden Girls.  Big-name status notwithstanding, he mostly kept out of the day-to-day workings of le Bev Nouveauapart from making the occasional suggestion and regularly lending titles from his vast personal collection.  It was clear that the beloved production assistant for the 1987 Dolph Lundgren personal training classic Maximum Potential was first and foremost a fan of el Nuevo Bev‘s double features, loyalty to the dying tradition of 35 mm projection, and slightly run-down ambience – the same aspects that attracted like-minded cinemaniacs like Marchese to work there, less-than-competitive wages be damned – and sought to be the kind of patron every independent dreams of: the kind that fronts the money, then steps aside to let them do what they do.

Which is why some raised their eyebrows when the Love Birds in Bondage auteur announced he was taking over as The N’w B’v’r’ly’s head programmer, and abruptly shut it down for the entire month of September for renovations with a grand re-opening scheduled for October 1.  But few seemed to worry too much – this was QT (short for “Quentin Tarantino”), champion of the celluloid underdog and rescuer of the forgotten and the semi-obscure.  There were plenty of possibilities; excitement overruled trepidation.  Marchese certainly had reason to be excited, because… well, let her tell you the tale of what went down (and down, and down…).

Now, we’re not going to editorialize here – this is, after all, only one side of the story and we shouldn’t assume that the utter silence from the other end constitutes a tacit admission of guilt and/or a sneering disdain on the part of management towards those lower on the celluloid food chain and their gall at expecting their accusations or questions worthy of acknowledgement, much less response.  This would seem to be behavior more befitting a faceless, impersonal conglomerate and quite out of character for a (once-literally) mom and pop operation like the New ‘erly.  And there is as yet no indication that Tarantino, loved by millions as the voice of “Jack Cavello” in the videogame Steven Spielberg’s Director’s Chair, is even aware, much less approves, of any untoward behavior on the part of those appointed to do the day-to-day work of running the theater.  But, if there is any truth to all this, it would prove an absolutely appalling example of the abuse of wealth and power and a pretty ugly betrayal of the vision theaters like The Nuh Buh were founded upon – to preserve a small part of an American moviegoing experience rapidly dwindling towards extinction.  We hope that Quentin Tarantino steps forward soon and sets the situation right, or at least the record straight – we would hate to lose faith in the man once awarded the honor of “thanks” in the credits of the short subject Snails!

(The bitterest irony of all in this sad tale: Marchese had just completed her first documentary, Out of Print, an encomium to the irreplaceable virtues of pre-digital projection, with a particular focus on one theater whose identity I think you can probably guess.  She has cancelled the premiere of the film, but has made it available to all via Vimeo: you can see it here; the password’s down at the end of her post.  And – personally – I’d steer clear of the comments thread directly below that.)

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Reel Music Review: Razing The Bar: A Documentary About the Funhouse (2014, dir. Ryan Worsley)

I just want to know how he keeps his hat on.

Review by William Ham

Punk nearly died in Seattle; it only seems appropriate that it should be saved there, too. Ryan Worsley’s Razing the Bar: A Documentary About the Funhouse, a labor of love about a labor of love, ends in tragedy as love stories tend to do; in the end, the Seattle dive bar/punk club that serves as its subject gets cut down in its prime, the victim of forces beyond its control.  But ultimately, its death is far less significant than its life, as unlikely as its demise was foreordained. In the end, it may be the most uplifting film you’ll see all year, even when it’s  throwing up its hands and crying out, “What good will it profit a city, if it shall gain a seven-story condo complex, and lose its own soul?”

With a high-energy mixture of concert footage, photo montage and interviews with its performers, patrons and employees, Worsley whips up a filmic action painting of the rude, raucous but celebratory spirit that bubbled and spattered all over a heretofore nondescript aluminum cuboid at 260 5th Avenue North, noteworthy only in that it stood its funky, low-rent ground there since 1930 while the expensive expanse of Seattle Center sprung up and gradually closed in around it. From 2003 until 2012, the Funhouse managed to do what no one – including its owner, Bobby Kuckelberg – thought possible: gather up the dissipated energies and enthusiasms of punk, or more specifically the regional variant thereof known for the ill-hidden dose of warmth within its typical crudity and noisiness  before accidentally catching on and shriveling under the spotlight, and give it a venue to strengthen and thrive again. Re-branding the Space Needle and expecting the ’62 World’s Fair to break out again would seem more likely.

And yet it happened, thanks in no small part to two additions quickly established its personality and gave it its heart and soul. One was the creepy clown head hoisted to the roof “to scare off the people that shouldn’t be there and to entice people that wanted to be there,” in his words. The other, painted in such glowing terms by nearly every interviewee you half-expect him to walk to work across Puget Sound, was house booker and eventual co-owner Brian Foss.

Foss is clearly the hero of this tale; his scrupulous ethics and boundless enthusiasm run so counter to the standard adversarial club owner-performer dynamic that even the most hardened scene veterans speak of him with a trace of childlike awe. (At one point, a musician waves $300 at the camera, almost stunned to have gotten her promised cut from the door.) And his belief in the long-lost core values of punk as a venue for creative expression, impervious to commerce or competition, over the black-leather-straitjacket orthodoxy that trudges joylessly under its name nowadays compelled him to give the stage to dancers, performance artists and genre-jumping combos unwelcome in other clubs, as well as some inspired to take to the stage for the first time, emboldened by his den mother/Zen master demeanor and his punk koan and accidental motto: “embrace failure.”

Which makes the Funhouse’s ultimate fate – closed for good nine years to the day of its birth and crushed by the prerogatives of gentrification – not quite the tragedy it might have been. A beloved venue is gone, true. But a venue is just a venue. The spirit that animated the funky little dive at the base of Queen Anne Hill remains at large, from the thriving cabaret, burlesque and roller derby scenes first exposed within those walls to a scrappy young documentarian who surmounted her limited resources and committed the short but triumphant life of her favorite club to film for a mere $8000, from whence it should continue to inspire for years to come. The creepy clown head will rise again.

[Razing the Bar screens at 7:00pm on Oct 16 at Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park; director Ryan Worsley will be in attendance. click here for tickets. Also available to rent or buy via Vimeo On Demand – https://vimeo.com/ondemand/razingthebar]