Saturday, September 17, 2016

Camera 12 Cinema Closes - They (Don't) Live

It was with sadness that I read that Camera 12 Cinemas in Downtown San Jose closed last week.  Camera Cinemas announced "the staggering costs of maintaining a large, aging, poorly designed building has led us to this decision to close."  I've noticed that vacancies in the area around Camera 12 have been increasing and long standing.  The space that held the Blackbird Tavern (on the same block as Camera 12) has been vacant for two years.

I did not visit Camera 12 often.  Excluding Cinequest screenings, I have seen more films at Camera 3 than Camera 12.

Speaking of Cinequest, I wonder what they will do now.  Cinequest has become my favorite film festival largely because of the close proximity of venues.  They simultaneously screen six films at three venues within a two square block area.  Four of the six films typically screen at Camera 12.  If you have a festival pass, the proximity of venues makes it easy to change your viewing schedule to take advantage of word-of-mouth film recommendations.  With Camera 12's closure, I wonder how Cinequest will maintain their screening schedule much less keep everything within walking distance.  Cinequest assures everyone that they are up to the least w.r.t. venue capacity.

I actually learned of Camera 12's closing via an email from Cinequest.  Cinequest CEO Halfdan Hussey sent an email on September 8 stating that Cinequest has "been working successfully to insure that your next Cinequest Film & VR Festival has expanded (not decreased) venue capacity to meet the excitement of the burgeoning live event. We will announce venues along with our finest, biggest and most electrifying lineup on Jan. 26th.  Cinequest Film & VR Festival occurs February 28 - March 12, 2017."


Last night/this morning, I went to the Landmark Clay to see the midnight screening of They Live.

They Live starring Roddy Piper, Keith David & Meg Foster; directed by John Carpenter, (1988) - Official Website

I didn't count during the film but as I was leaving, I counted 8 people in the theater.

I'm still not sure why there have been so many San Francisco screenings of John Carpenter films this year.

I saw They Live when it came out in 1988.  I thought then (as I do now) that WWE wrestler Roddy Piper is an odd choice for the lead role.  "Rowdy" Roddy was at the height of his WWE popularity (he was a heel so maybe notoriety is more appropriate) so it may have been a marketing issue.  The role feels like one tailor-made for Kurt Russell who worked extensively with Carpenter.

Piper is flat in his role but he ad-libbed a classic line - "I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass...and I'm all out of bubble gum."

They Live is not the kind of film where you quibble over the performance of the lead actor.  The plot involves a covert alien invasion of earth whereby the aliens communicate with each other via messages that are invisible to humans except those who wear the special sunglasses.  Heavy and heavy-handed on social commentary about class warfare and consumerism, the film nicely posits that the aliens are responsible for most of the social ills that bedevil us.  As an added bonus for modern times, in the film the LAPD are aliens who practice old-fashioned "shoot first, ask questions later" form of policing.  Actually, watching their tactics in the film, I was surprised when contrasting it to the response such tactics would elicit today.

Piper plays an unnamed construction worker/drifter who falls in with a homeless encampment.  It's denizens are fed by a soup kitchen run out of a church across the street.  The church is just a front.  It's actually the headquarters of the human revolutionaries who have uncovered the alien plot.  They transmit signals to jam the subliminal messages sent over television.  They also mass produce the aforementioned sunglasses.  After the cops raze the homeless camp in order to capture the insurgents, Piper and a fellow homeless construction worker (Keith David) take up the fight.

Meg Foster is an actress who is always memorable because of her piercing blue eyes; her eyes are hypnotic to me.  As a quick aside, there is a film called Stepfather II with Terry O'Quinn and Foster that I recall enjoying in the late 1980s.  I would love to see that film get a revival screening.  In They Live, Foster portrays the ersatz love interest for Piper's character.

Carpenter's direction of They Live is somewhat plodding but he peppers it with a lot of cheeky humor and frequent gunfights.  He switches from color to black-and-white when the protagonists put on the sunglasses.  He also gives the aliens a 1950s look.  Late 1980s make-up techniques could have made more elaborate aliens but Carpenter decides to keep the aliens just on this side of humorous.

There is no way I can call They Live a great film but it is very entertaining and richly deserves its cult film status.  It is certainly several cuts above the typical 1980s horror film.

Alien disguised as LAPD officer from They Live

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