It's somewhere on the wrong side of 4 a.m., John Hawkes is casually smoking cigarettes on an outdoor couch, the German actor Udo Kier just went back to the coffin he likely sleeps in, and Cinefamily's back patio looks like the early morning lull after a biker-gang Christmas party. There are beercans, red cups full of curdling eggnog, errant piles of tinsel, and a few passed out humans…oh, and another L.A. Weekly has been used to stoke a waning and smoky firepit. We're considering a classic Claude Rains exit, but y'know, we told someone that we were going to go the full 24 hours and, shit, there's a spoon-bending demonstration coming up. Would that it were a trepanning demonstration…we've got a headache that needs drilling-out.
This is what the beginning of the latter third of Cinefamily's Fantastic Elastic 24 Hour Holiday Telethon looks like.
It all started when Robert Downey, Jr. helped crack open a half-assed time-capsule dedicated to him at the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax, the home of the nonprofit cinephile-friendly film presenting organization. Sure, it was meant to be opened in 2017 but “We don't give a shit,” explained Cinefamily high priest Hadrian Belove right before he clipped the lock. Inside, as expected, were neatly organized selections of RD, Jr. ephemera. The capsule was found in the theater by Cinefamily and created by a group calling themselves “Robert Downey, Jr. Feathers.” Don't ask. We didn't want to know.
That was roughly 3 p.m. Saturday. The objective was to hinge the middle point of a month-long Kickstarter Campaign with a 24-hour extravaganza, Cinefamily-style. Last year its first one-day marathon worked swimmingly. The event paid the organization's bills and kept alive its one-of-a-kind L.A.-tethered spacestation of cinematic exploration. This year, Cinefamily aimed higher — it wanted to update the theater's aging facilities, fix its uncomfortable seats and replace its projector with an industry standard machine, and again, like any other non-profit, cover its 2013 operating costs.
Less than one hour in, while perusing his branded capsule of crap to a packed house, Downey, Jr. might as well have ended the whole thing with his first pledge. He interrupted Belove's description of the much-needed projector with the question, “How much does one of those things go for?” Belove responded, “About sixty to a hundred thousand dollars?” Downey, Jr.: “Sure, I'll cover that.”
Boom. Mouths agape. A few light gasps. We saw one Cinefamilian visibly overcome with emotion. At that point, the rest of the telethon was mostly going to be a victory lap.
And it sure was.
Including Downey, Jr., any one of the guests and events that follow could have been a single article. Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh Skyped in from New Zealand to chit-chat and casually flash selected bizarro drawings. Legendary film title designer Pablo Ferro came in to show more of his ground-breaking animation. The folks from the cult film trailer website Trailers from Hell did their whole Trailers from Hell thing, with screenwriter Josh Olson and a cadre of special guests that included Girlfight director Karyn Kusama and Rock and Roll High School director Allan Arkush. Comedian Neil Hamburger's performance and his “Stars of Tomorrow” footage made us all pine for a shower. Nick Offerman ate meatballs.
At about 10 p.m., the second major and possibly the most epic head assplosion came. David Silverman, a writer, producer, director and animator of The Simpsons since the beginning, and the director of the venerated franchise's movie, came out playing a custom-made flaming tuba. As Silverman's tuba spouted hot flames and warm brass notes, a break-dancing Santa acrobatically popped, locked and spun in front of him. What the fucking fuck, indeed. Merry Surreal X-mas; all of us present will surely be asking Santa for new minds, 'cuz ours were compleley blown right then.
Post prime-time, at the 1 a.m. mark, Kier came out an chatted with artist and filmmaker Guy Madden. Kier chatted blithely about trying to make films about transsexual midgets and whatnot. “One day I vill make zem,” he said in his indifferent Teutonic accent, “because I am ageless.” He then showed us his batshit insane Polaroid photomontage film. Again, don't ask.
Hawkes showed up just after that to play us some sweet and twangy tunes. For even a casual cinephile, the thought of an indie veteran actor like Hawkes performing musical Americana for a legend like Kier is one that might only come after swallowing a handful of psilocybin. And yet, that's exactly what you can expect from a place like Cinefamily.
Despite the tech hiccups and the mess that ensued, the inner workings of Cinefamily were revealed to be the phalanxes of hard working volunteers. From desk-jockeys taking donations, to sound folks, go-fers, and even Lego builders.
Yes, Legos. Earlier in the evening, Chris Miller and Phil Lord, directors of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street and an upcoming feature Lego movie, donated an absolutely massive Lego Super Star Destroyer from Return of the Jedi. The only problem was the matter of the three-foot model's construction. Handed off to volunteers, what was supposed to take two people one week to build was constructed in just under eleven hours. Volunteers Ulla Keto and Charles Constantine directed most of the Lego-behemoth's building process and carried it before the Cinefamily congregation in a high moment of volunteer victory.
We got to know most of those volunteers so well, they gave us a friendship bracelet. Time embedded in the trenches does funny things to people. But it was making those bracelets that helped get us all through the arduous slog.
Daniel Soto, a programmer for the Skirball Cultural Center, rode out the bulk of the 24 hours manning the front sidewalk donation center. He watched cops chase off drunken lunatics and even witnessed a homeless man use leftover cotton candy syrup in his free coffee. Why was he out on that sidewalk in the wee hours making stringy bracelets? “I just wanted to be here for this. Like, I know I'm not going to win anything when it's all over, but I'll just feel better knowing that I did it,” he told us.
By 7 a.m., the inside of the Silent Movie Theater smelled something like an overcrowded hobo camp crossed with a late 1970s porno theater immediately after a premiere. There was popcorn, booziness and sweaty human bodies. Belove's mom had taught us all how to bend spoons with our willpower, Hawkes had disappeared, comic genius Ron Lynch showed us the comedy of the future, and a morning yoga session just wrapped up when everyone ran out to greet the sun.
The morning had more of that signature Cinefamily awesomeness wrapped in surreal and deep-fried in pleasantly insane. Between a conversation with Lil Bub the internet kitten sensation and a full pot luck lunch My Dinner With Andre-style with Jason Schwartzman, The Adventures of Pete & Pete creators Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi came by to chat a bit. The Oz-like face of screenwriting guru Robert McKee even showed up via Skype for a session of ornery priggishness and grumpy-as-fuck blathering with Arbitrage director Nicholas Jarecki.
The whole shebang ended after the Schwartzman lunch with an old-tymey sidewalk hootenanny, including a brass and washboard band being led by a guy named “Erv” Schwartzman danced a bit, too. And why should it end any other way?
“How the holy fuck are these people dancing after such an event?” you ask. Well, there's that whole endorphin boost that comes from successfully keeping alive a singular institution amid sleep deprivation, repeated sugar and caffeine crashes and a persistent waking hangover. We were right there for all of it, but we had nothing left and were starting to smell barnyard-y. At 2 p.m. on Sunday, an hour past the 24-hour mark, we pull that Irish Goodbye we'd been thinking about since 4 a.m.
Thanks, Cinefamily, for nothin'…
No really, though. Thanks. That was fucking earthshatteringly amazing.
Cinefamily's Kickstarter Campaign officially ends Jan. 2, so there's still time to help them along. If you're into that sort of thing.
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