Remember the Alamoo!
Joe Bob at the Alamo Drafthouse cinema
The beginning of each November, the Texas Book Fair is held in Austin. This event brings together several hundred authors, several dozen publishers, and twenty or thirty thousand citizens. The writers read. The readers hear. The readers buy. The writers sign. The public libraries of Texas get a percentage of the take from book sales. More books and librarians become available to the citizenry. All's right with the word.
We go to the Book Fair every year to hear about new books, to hear particular authors speak, that sort of thing. And a couple friends come in for the event from out of town.
Digression on the Book Fair. The event takes over most of the Texas state capital building here in Austin. They use the House and Senate chambers and a dozen-ish hearing rooms in the new underground wing. Outside the capital grounds, they put up tents on three blocks of the surrounding streets. The tents hold small and large booths for small and large publishing houses; two tents for authors to sign books, one adult books and one children's books; several reading tents for novels and poetry; a music tent with bands all day; and a half dozen booths selling various foods you can walk with.
The booths in the tents are really, well, interesting. All the Texas college publishers -- more books on Texas history, birds and bugs, chili and cactus than you can shake a mesquite branch at -- some local stores, lots of legitimate small publishing houses with wonderfully idiosyncratic products -- example: an incredibly strange book on the art of painting cats, I am not making this up, with dozens of color photos, people actually airbrush dyes into their cat's fur in geometric designs, theatrical faces, otherworldly colors, nutso, that almost pried that twenty dollar bill out of my grasp. I should have bought it, I suppose, just to prove that such a thing exists, more the fool I -- and then the truly crackpot publishers with lines of you-name-it new-age nonsense and vanity printings of someone's great prison novel. Some booths do a land-office business. Some are lonely amid the hubbub. End of digression.
Digression on the people who attend the book fair. The audience is 100% minorities: they can all *read*. How's that for a splinter group. End of digression.
This year we took part in a particularly weird special event. Joe Bob Briggs was in town reading from and otherwise promoting his new book, "Profoundly Disturbing."
Digression on Joe Bob. So who is Joe Bob Briggs? Joe Bob is an expert on the topic of and frequent reviewer of drive-in movies. Since there are so few drive-in theaters anymore, I suppose the specialty is more horror films, slasher films, bad sci-fi films, general B and C movies. He burst on the scene as a drive-in movie expert in 1982. The first newspaper editor who hired him at the Dallas Times-Herald called him "the avatar of popular culture, the personification of the Drive-In Everyman." Rolling Stone said, "the redneck Hunter Thompson." I first heard of him when one of his reviews went around the net in 83 or 84: "Mary Crosby Tries to Remember Her Lines in 'Ice Pirates' Epic." It was hilarious. It went through DEC like wildfire. Within a week there was an automated email distribution list for all his reviews that were published. Just like Dave Barry and later Scott Adams (Dilbert).
Digression on "the net in 83 or 84." Yes, Virginia, there was email even back in the dark ages of the eighties. We first got email inside the company (I was working for DEC then) in late 1978. By 1982 there was a well-developed system of (manual) forwarding lists for the distribution of humor, news extracts. Dave Barry was probably the first humor column to get wide distribution inside the company with his classic column, "How to Make a Board." News -- daily, incredibly -- came from the "Vogon News Service" (VNS) put together in our offices in Reading, England and distributed by company email to several thousand subscribers. Short extracts of articles from other news agencies, contributed (retyped) by various people in the Europe and the US. It was sort of like the President's daily briefing, only missing the CIA and NSA sections, and it had a distinct computer-industry bent. In any case, the engineering groups in the company became addicted to email almost instantly and came to depend heavily on it because it was so much faster than paper.
Digression on email versus paper. Despite the extreme computerization of modern businesses, paper has not disappeared. All through the eighties and nineties the consumption of printer-copier paper by American businesses increased. Haven't seen figures for the last several years, but I doubt that the trend has changed. The office I now work in is so heavily dependent on instant electronic communications and data access that work stops dead if one router fails. If the network is down for two hours, the parking lot empties. But the end of every aisle still has a printer and a sorting table and two or three cases of paper. Jonathan Seybold, an electronic publishing guru, opined some years ago that "The paperless office will arrive just after the paperless bathroom." Despite some recent high-tech hygiene advances in Japan, I'm not selling my stock in Georgia Pacific anytime soon. End of digression.
Email in the old days was crude, to be sure: no pictures, no fancy attachments, no pop-up windows. Twenty years of progress have not improved it that much. And it had more content in the old days. When you got a message, you probably wanted it, very much unlike today. Having to separate the real mail from the chaff of 97% spam has really reduced the efficiency of the medium. And my delight at receiving email. End of digression.
His style is unique, and his ratings. For example, at the end of the aforementioned review of "Ice Pirates," we find the following tirade: "We're talking the most underrated and unappreciated Outer Space Bestiality and Mindless Violence Flick of the last two months. Four complete breasts and quite a few see-throughs. One gallon blood. Four motor vehicle chases. Human kung fu, robot fu, bimbo fu. Seven beasts, including Drive-In Academy Award nominations for the space herpy and the frog lady. Fourteen dead bodies. Three heads roll. Eye rolls. Four stars. Joe Bob says check it out."
Physically, he's about six foot six or seven, rail-thin, forty-ish, hatchet nose. Texas good-ole-boy accent, but don't let that fool you. He writes like a boy who has had more than a passing acquaintance with freshman comp, vocabulary builders, and good editors. And articulate and glib, too, not an um, er, or aw shucks all day long. End of digression.
So Joe Bob was in town promoting his book, "Profoundly Disturbing." Part of this promotion was a special midnight show event at the Alamo Draft House Cinema.
Digression on the Alamo Drafthouse. There are three Alamo theaters in Austin and one in Houston. They take old movie theaters and remove every other rows of seats, replacing them with tables. Tables for food and drink. Beer, soda, pizza, burgers, salads, desserts. If you're going to watch a bad movie, you might as well do it with a beer in your hand. They actually used exactly that reasoning in their advertising for the third Matrix flick. "You know you're going to see it. Wouldn't you rather see it with a cold beer in your hand?" The Alamos play first-run movies, too, and indies, not just bad movies or drive-in refugees. Cool place. We try to patronize it whenever possible. One of the staff T-shirts refers to it as the Alamoo with a picture of a cow, hence the title here. They also do crazy events, especially on weekends like the "Mr. Sinus Theater" version of Mystery Science Theater, and strange-o midnight shows like Robotrix, which I reviewed here some months ago in the style of Joe Bob, sort of. Recently we missed a midnight show that was probably a winner: the hundred greatest sex scenes in the movies. Rats. End of digression.
So Joe Bob was in town promoting his book, "Profoundly Disturbing." The book is about fifteen movies that changed moviedom forever in some way. Some of them we all know: "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," "Creature from the Black Lagoon," "The Wild Bunch," "Reservoir Dogs," "Shaft," "Deep Throat," "The Exorcist." Some of them are somewhat more obscure: "Mom and Dad," "Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS," "Crash." All of these movies did something to the industry or a major studio, or to public perception, or to the acceptable level of violence in movies, the acceptable level of sex in movies, and so forth.
The special event was a midnight show of commentary by Joe Bob and clips from most of the movies. How could one pass up an opportunity like this? Joe Bob talked, we listened, we watched, we drank. Wonderful. The only problem was that it went until almost 4 AM. You couldn't run this type of show in an ordinary theater. Can you imagine sitting there through most of the night without food and drink? We managed to stay awake but we were wrecked. Fortunately, someone had had the foresight to suggest that we all take naps in the early evening so we wouldn't be comatose during the show.
The commentary and the book that it came from seem very well researched, with details of the personalities, the companies, the industry at the time, even the particular drive-in theaters and cars in some cases. Really very interesting. Entertaining. Much sex. Much violence. Much blood. Highly recommended. Rick Bob says check it out.