Relatively new to Tacoma, sometimes I feel that I have wandered unintentionally into a cult.
In San Diego, from whence I hail, you might see people wearing the “SD” Padres hats or the occasional faded blood drive t-shirt emblazoned with the name of the city; only tourists would wear city swag. In Tacoma, however, every local seems to have a wardrobe filled with their 253 shirts, their “Tacoma: love it or leave it” tanks, their Tacoma Runners jerseys, Tacoma/brass knuckles sweaters, and Amocat gear.
The other day, a group of us dropped over to Galen “Bike Jump” McCarty Turner’s studio to see how the screen printing preparations for Tacoma’s own “Maltoberfest” were progressing. He wouldn’t let us leave until he had tagged my companion’s virginal black hoodie with his newest “Tacoma will crush you” design.
Having never before been expected, or encouraged, to show pride for a city, I was inspired and became involved with Post Defiance to develop a sense of connectedness and insight.
How appropriate that my first interview would find me talking to one of Tacoma’s more prominent resident characters, Colin No-last-name-necessary, about the Tacoma Cult Movie Club he organizes.
Like the exploitation film genre Colin screens, Tacoma has its fantastical personalities, its unsavory elements, violent bombshell dames on wheels, and a loyal following in spite of a lack of mainstream appeal.For a writer given to unnecessarily florid and exaggerated prose such as myself, any effort to describe Colin is liable to descend into the realm of superficial caricature.
Using terms like “colorful” and “larger than life” to describe the karaoke host-cum-reverend-cum-“gun-for-hire” would be, although truthful, giving in to my slothful side. In an effort to honor Colin’s own uniquely communal creativity with my own, I will attempt a more circuitous study.
Five minutes on the phone with the man and he had me singing like a mob informant. Ensnared by his warm charisma, I was soon testifying how happy I would be to interview him at his convenience. In reality, this prospect found me reclined on a mental fainting couch moaning “but I’m no Terry Gross.”
Colin proposed Malarkey’s Bar as our meeting place. For those who haven’t experienced it, Malarkey’s pool hall is a regulars kind of joint with the atmosphere and design aesthetic of an interrogation room. Laughing nervously, I naively reasoned “well, at least I can be sure you’ll give me straight answers.” In retrospect, I realize I’d been had.
Having arrived unfashionably early, I sipped furiously at my beer while ineptly deflecting questions about my skirt and fresh-faced appearance. After Colin arrived and I had provided him the requisite beer for inducement, I cottoned on to the fact that Colin was regarded as something of a jovial dignitary in the place.
I hadn’t managed to eke out a single question before a stream of people were passing with pleasantries and pantomiming suggestions that he cut his profuse beard. Colin entertained both these advances and my questions with the same measure of engagement and good-natured enthusiasm, managing to offer considerate and encyclopedic responses to even my most feeble questions.
Trying to situate myself into the realm of cult movies, I volunteered that I had screened John Carpenter’s cult scifi film They Live as part of a “working class heroes” film series. Without any hesitation Colin quoted Roddy Piper’s robust tagline: “I’m here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all out of bubblegum.” He was even willing to entertain my speculation that artist Shepard Fairey might have drawn from the subliminal capitalist messages shown in the film for his Andre the Giant “Obey” campaign (a Wikipedia search later confirmed this).
“When we first set this thing up, we were looking to do all exploitation like grindhouse but we decided to call it Cult Movie Club so we didn’t necessarily pigeon hole ourselves just in case the exploitation thing didn’t take off. We could say, okay, let’s show A Clockwork Orange.”
I plumbed the depths of facebook to decode the other Cult Movie Club cohorts–the “we” and “ourselves” Colin mentioned–and determined there are three individuals at the helm: “The Reverend” Colin, Tobin Ropes, and Holland Hume. If the artfully photoshopped profile photo is any indication, Colin is the public face of the organization.
To pay homage to the independent, often seedy, grindhouse theaters of old where b-films and exploitation flicks were shown, Colin programs a triple feature with vintage shorts, trailer reels, and an intermission.
Rightfully discerning my thinly-veiled dazed expression, Colin generously gave me an impromptu primer on the advent of exploitation films. (Note here that I assured Colin my interview would do him and Messers Ropes and Hume every manner of disservice, so please, readers, allocate any incompetence to myself, the pitiable intermediary.)
Beginning ostensibly as morality plays, films like Reefer Madness (1936) and Mom and Dad (1945) traveled the country as roadshows, titillating audiences with warnings of adult-content and nudity under the guise of educational purposes.
Exploitation films even presented themselves as anthropological: nudist “documentaries” followed daily life at a nudist colony, and featured beach volleyball and other innocuous activities, cleverly avoided illicit so-called “pickle or beaver” cameos with strategic props and foliage. Nudie-cuties, such as The Immoral Mr. Teas (1965), even attempted to imbue a semblance of plot to nudist exploitation films, as did the short-lived, violent, Roughie sub-genre which included The Defilers (1965).
For a more comprehensive history, Colin suggests Nightmare, USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents by Stephen Thrower; Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Films 1956-1984 by Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs; The Sleaze Merchants: Adventures in Exploitation Filmmaking by John McCarty; and finally, he mentioned the online resource Mondo Macabro: The Wild Side of World Cinema. Should anyone like to join a book group and help me sound less like a “newb,” please contact my fleet of overworked editors.
When asked to consider the ability of exploitation films to confront challenging taboo and politicaltopics many years before the mainstream, Colin reminded me that independent films operated outside the Hays Code which restricted what could be said and shown in Hollywood pictures. With films like Ed Wood’s 1953 Glen or Glenda, which concerns gender and transvestism, Colin surmises they could get away with more because they weren’t taken seriously.
The 1970s were far more permissive and film makers could take a script then shoot and edit the thing within a month. Without “auteurs,” films could be made quickly and confront current events in a timely matter. Filmmakers could read something in the newspaper, call up a script writer and start shooting a movie the next day. Producer/Director Roger Corman, according to Colin, notoriously among them.
I asked Colin whether he chose Acme Grub Cage Tavern because the “cage” element of the title gives it the grindhouse and exploitation vibe? Or, did the stripper-pole-and-Grim-Reaper decor really clinch the deal? My dual attempt at the mien of an experienced journalist/joking camaraderie was betrayed by the girlish quaver in my voice.
[laughter inserted retroactively for novice reporter’s self esteem]
“Actually that was a complete fluke. I had started talking with someone about two-and-a-half years ago and she was familiar with this thing they do in Seattle which is very similar, Kung Fu Grindhouse. I lent her Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!,” and realized, in a cinematic flash of destiny, “why don’t we try to start something like this in Tacoma?”
A few months later, a prescient friend of Colin’s suggested they meet up at Grub Cage where they would exchange belated Christmas presents. In festive good cheer, Colin produced a box set of 20 exploitation films and slid it across the bar, piquing the interest of benevolent Mr. Barkeep, Steve, who asked to take a look at the collection.
Fascinated, Steve asked Colin where he could find a set of his own. Colin jumped on the opportunity to share his planned endeavor with a fellow enthusiast, and asked Steve whether he would be willing to host a cult movie night in his well-attuned bar. With a can-do attitude ideal for origin stories, Steve responded emphatically with a pithy “oh, hell yeah!”
Colin says he had intended having Tacoma Cult Movie Club at a bar as the 21+ age gauntlet would allow them uninhibited screenings of more risque fare. Colin revealed gleefully that next month’s theme for TCMC will be called “Something to Offend Almost Everyone!” Laughing, he said: “yes, I’m going to do that! We will be warning people.”
By contrast, his Seattle counterpart, Kung Fu Grindhouse has been fettered by their host-bar becoming all-ages until eight, forcing them to be extremely careful what they show for their first feature.
This Halloween , Colin will be presenting “mainly the more classic stuff, strictly horror… it’s more a question of what I can dig out of my unorganized collection right now.” When pressed, Colin name-dropped Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff as potential participants and indicated he is considering showing a silent film among the night’s fare.
Halloween Monday is a special departure from their bi-monthly events; having an early 5pm start time, potluck, and on-going films until either Colin or the audience show signs of fatigue. So, drop in with your potluck offering, a buck or two to drop on raffle prizes, as well as a healthy appetite for classic cult films, community, and alcohol. Friend “TacomaCult MovieClub” on facebook for further developments.