Prior to Saturday night's West Coast premiere of his new starring vehicle Best F(r)iends (a buddy dramedy/heist movie, I guess you'd call it?), Tommy Wiseau joined screenwriter and collaborator Greg Sestero in front of a sold-out crowd at the Egyptian Theatre to briefly introduce the film.
Wearing a vest, Terminator 2 sunglasses, a bondage belt and, curiously, a second belt across his crotch and down below his butt, the filmmaker behind beloved "worst movie ever made" The Room was every bit the charming, confounding weirdo who's become an icon of cult cinema, particularly among audiences at events like Beyond Fest. Wiseau was about to take his seat for the double-feature screening, but then one of the festival's organizers produced a pneumatic gun to launch T-shirts into the crowd. Wiseau asked if he could give it a go, and euphoria spread across his face as he pulled the trigger. There's joy — like wedding-day joy or birth-of-a-first-child joy — and then there's Tommy-Wiseau-shooting-a-T-shirt-out-of-a-T-shirt-cannon joy.
It was a moment that felt tailor-made for Beyond Fest, American Cinematheque's annual festival of horror and action films that have achieved cult status, as well as new films with similar appeal, many of which are screened with their creators and stars in attendance. This year's fest kicked off on Friday with a screening of S. Craig Zahler's new prison picture Brawl in Cell Block 99 — with Zahler and stars Vince Vaughn and Don Johnson in person — and continues through next Wednesday.
It's a fan's fan festival, and as the lineup has expanded, attendance has soared. According to the L.A. Times, "This year, the festival broke a single-day attendance record at its home venue, the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, and will see close to 13,000 people pass through its doors."
The talent the fest attracts has expanded, too. It's a chance for filmmakers and actors to discuss in earnest a movie that might've been a critical and/or box office failure before finding its audience, sometimes decades later. On Sunday, Paul Williams attended an afternoon screening of Brian De Palma's 1974 rock opera Phantom of the Paradise. Besides starring as manipulative music mogul Swan, Williams composed all the music for the film, including the rock opera within a rock opera, Faust.
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Williams was nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for the film's music, but Phantom was a flop in almost every other regard. But in front of Beyond Fest's adoring crowd — at least a handful wearing Death Records T-shirts — Williams could wax nostalgic about a movie he obviously loves and loved making.
In a week when we lost a great American songwriter, it should bring everyone a little comfort that Williams is still kicking. Besides representing fellow songwriters as the president of ASCAP, he's currently working on a Pan's Labyrinth musical with Guillermo del Toro.
Beyond Fest screenings that aren't already sold out include a Jackie Chan triple feature with Chan in person, a double feature of Hellraiser in 35mm and a restoration of Rawhead Rex, and a free screening of My Friend Dahmer, all at the Egyptian.