Back in March I was invited to what I consider the world’s most badass movie theater, the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX, to a double feature of my movie PLAGUE TOWN and arguably Severin’s sleaziest offering THE SINFUL DWARF. Not only is Austin oozing with rabid film fans who will pack the theater for pretty much anything they show, often trusting the unwieldy tastes of the programmers despite the obscurity of some of the titles, but also because they have the opportunity to munch on drafthouse grub and guzzle a wide selection of ales during the movie — a practice that amazingly has yet to catch on in Los Angeles. While dining prior to the screenings with Drafthouse key players Lars Nilson and Matt Kiernan we nattered about the idea of bringing unrivaled eurocult master Jess Franco to the US for the 2009 Fantastic Fest.
Every time I’ve been in the company of Jess and longtime partner, now (as of six months ago) wife, Lina Romay, I’ve tried to persuade them to make a criminally overdue American appearance. The last time they were stateside was before DVD had really taken off and mondo Franco has undoubtedly become a global concern amongst fans of strange cinema in the subsequent years so the time was right for a return to these shores. They always had the stipulation that if they were to make the trip the weather had to be hot and most importantly as anyone who has seen but a minute of interview footage with Uncle Jess knows, that they could smoke. And smoke a lot. When I proposed the Fantastic Fest to them, amazingly they agreed. But this wasn’t the first time I’d got them to agree to come over here. In the past six years they’ve agreed to attend a convention twice and for one reason or another the plans fell through.
It wasn’t until Lars and I were at the airport and the elevator doors opened to reveal the jetlagged couple that we knew for sure they’d actually made it this time. Jess is physically frail these days, requiring a wheelchair, but his mind is as sharp as ever and the both of them were genuinely happy to be there. The next four days were a rollicking Texas time as the fest’s special guests from Spain enjoyed Barbeque, Mexican, chicken fried steak and guzzled plenty of wine and beer. They hung out at the Highball, the newly opened bar/bowling alley/karaoke palace adjacent to the drafthouse prior to and post screenings. They held court with fans and answered questions after the big screen showings of VENUS IN FURS, SUCCUBUS and BARE BREASTED COUNTESS.
The main event of their visit however was the awarding of the first Fantastic Fest lifetime achievement award under the sponsorship of Aint It Cool News (Harry Knowles was responsible for bankrolling the Francos’ trip) on September 28th. Of course Jess’ star of “respectability” has risen in the last year having been the honorary recipient of a Goya award and the subject of a retrospective at the prestigious Cinematheque Francais so this could have been no big deal to the elder statesman of sleaze. However his joy was certainly in evidence as Lars bestowed Jess with a big fuck off engraved sword and declared: “Good luck getting that on the plane”. Jess held the razor sharp trophy aloft, Lina proudly looked on, the audience gleefully applauded and Lars punched his fists in the air triumphantly.
On the last night Jess stated that this was the best film festival he’d attended due to it being populated by great people who had a genuine love for film but also had none of the airs and graces that often accompany such events. Severin’s very proud to have had a hand in making this monumentous event in the history of cinematic cultdom happen.
Pictures Courtesy of Steve Rogers & Eugene Hsu (heuge.com)
Video Courtey of Anne Heller Tage