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Friday, 20 August 2010

The Most Essential Cult Movies of the 1970's

The Mike over at From Midnight, With Love has unleashed a meme that has pulled me out of hibernation for all but a brief moment of time. I couldn't let this meme go untouched without adding my 2 cents worth to the deal for the simple fact that in The Mike's own blog post "Hey, Midnight Warriors! Wanna talk about some '70s Cult Films?" he states that a large number of bloggers out there weren't around during the 70's to actually enjoy these cult films on the silver screen when first released.

Well guess what boppers? I was....

Soooooo... not only am I more than qualified to spruik on my soap box about the glory of cult films from the 1970's, being the smartass that I am, my own TOP 5 list will only comprise of both "true" 1970's cult films that I personally got to "spy with my little eye" up there on the big screen AND have in my own movie collection. See. Told you I'm a smartass....

So, before I kick into my Top 5 list, let's set ourselves a half decent benchmark. Firstly, how the hell do we define a "Cult" film?

A cult film (also known as a cult movie/picture or a cult classic) is a film that has acquired a highly devoted but specific group of fans. Often, cult movies have failed to achieve fame outside the small fanbases; however, there have been exceptions that have managed to gain fame among mainstream audiences. Many cult movies have gone on to transcend their original cult status and have become recognized as classics; others are of the "so bad it's good" variety and are destined to remain in obscurity. Cult films often become the source of a thriving, obsessive, and elaborate subculture of fandom, hence the analogy to cults. However, not every film with a devoted fanbase is necessarily a cult film. Usually, cult films have limited but very special, noted appeal.

Cult films are often known to be eccentric, often do not follow traditional standards of mainstream cinema and usually explore topics not considered in any way mainstream—yet there are examples that are relatively normal. Many are often considered controversial because they step outside standard narrative and technical conventions. (1)

So with that thought in mind boppers, let's take "a jump to the left, and then a step to the right" back into the 70's and kick out a list of -




The Lowdown

Logan's Run is a 1976 science fiction film based on the novel of the same name by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. It depicts a dystopian  future society in which population and the consumption of resources are managed and maintained in equilibrium by the simple expediency of killing everyone who reaches the age of thirty, preventing overpopulation. The story follows the actions of Logan 5, a "Sandman," as he "runs" from society's lethal demand.

The film version, directed by Michael Anderson and starring Michael York, Richard Jordan, and Jenny Agutter, was shot primarily in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex (including locations such as the Fort Worth Water Gardens and the Dallas Market Center) between June and September 1975. The film only uses the basic premise from the novel (everyone must die at a specific age, Logan runs with Jessica as his companion while being chased by Francis). The motivations of the characters are quite different in the film. It was the first film made using Dolby Stereo.

Since 1994, there have been several unsuccessful attempts to remake the film. (Thank fuck for that....Ed.)

The Story

Sometime in the 23rd century...the survivors of war, overpopulation and pollution are living in a great domed city, sealed away from the forgotten world outside. Here, in an ecologically balanced world, mankind lives only for pleasure, freed by the servo-mechanisms which provide everything. There's just one catch: Life must end at thirty unless reborn in the fiery ritual of Carousel.

The Really Cool Shit

The movie is often eclipsed by science fiction movies which came after it, such as Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner, and Alien. However, for a few years following the film, science fiction conventions sometimes featured "Runs" (either organized by the convention or done ad-hoc by fans of the film); these were a chase game similar to Tag, in which the Runners (most in costume) fled from a handful of Sandmen (also in costume). These decreased in popularity following several occasions in which police responded to frantic calls made by observers who mistook them for real chases.



The Low down

Westworld is a 1973 science fiction / thriller film written and directed by novelist Michael Crichton and produced by Paul Lazarus III. It stars Yul Brynner as a lifelike robot in a futuristic Western-themed amusement park, and Richard Benjamin and James Brolin as customers who are attacked by the park's robots when they malfunction.

Westworld was the last movie MGM produced before dissolving its releasing company, and was the first theatrical feature directed by Crichton. It was also the first feature film to use digital image processing to pixellate photography to simulate an android point of view. The film was nominated for Hugo, Nebula and Golden Scroll (a.k.a. Saturn) awards, and was followed by a sequel film, Futureworld, and a short-lived television series, Beyond Westworld.

The Story

The story is set sometime in the near future, in Delos, a high-tech, highly realistic fictional adult amusement park featuring androids  that are almost indistinguishable from human beings. For a price of $1,000 per day, guests may indulge in any fantasy, including killing or having sex with the androids. The androids are programmed to act in character for each of the park's three themed zones: WesternWorld (the American Old West), MedievalWorld (medieval Europe), and RomanWorld (pre-Christian Rome). One of the main attractions in WesternWorld is the Gunslinger  (Brynner), a robot programmed to start duels. Thanks to its programming, humans can always outdraw the Gunslinger and kill it. The guns issued to the guests also have temperature sensors that prevent them from shooting each other or anything else living but allow them to 'kill' the room-temperature androids.

The Really Cool Shit

Westworld was the first feature film to use digital image processing. John Whitney Jr. and Gary Demos at Information International Inc. (aka "Triple I") digitally processed motion picture photography to appear pixelized in order to portray the Gunslinger android's point of view. The approximately 2 minutes and 31 seconds worth of cinegraphic block portraiture was accomplished by color-separating (3 basic color separations plus black mask) each frame of source 70mm footage, scanning each of these elements to convert into rectangular blocks, then adding basic color according to the tone values developed. The resulting coarse pixel matrix was output back to film. The process was covered in the American Cinematographer article Behind the scenes of Westworld.



The Low Down

Harold and Maude is a 1971 American comedy film directed by Hal Ashby. It incorporates elements of dark humor and existentialist drama, with a plot that revolves around the exploits of a young man intrigued with death, Harold (played by Bud Cort). Harold drifts away from the life that his detached mother prescribes for him, and develops a relationship with an elderly woman named Maude (played by Ruth Gordon).

The film is ranked number 45 on the American Film Institute's list of 100 Funniest Movies of all Time, and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1997 for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." The film was a commercial flop in its original release, and critical reception was extremely mixed. However, it has since developed a large cult following.

The Story

Harold Chasen (Bud Cort) is a 19-year-old boy obsessed with death. He regularly stages elaborate suicides, attends funerals, and drives a hearse, all to the chagrin of his mother, socialite Mrs. Chasen (Vivian Pickles). At services for a total stranger, Harold meets Maude (Ruth Gordon), a 79-year-old woman who shares Harold's hobby of attending funerals for fun. He is entranced by her quirky outlook on life, which is bright and excessively carefree in contrast with his own morbidity. The pair form a bond, and Maude slowly shows Harold the pleasures of art and music (Harold is taught to play banjo), and teaches him how to "[make] the most of his time on earth."  Meanwhile, Harold's mother determines, much against Harold's wishes, to find him a wife to settle down with. One by one, Harold frightens and horrifies each of his appointed dates by appearing to commit gruesome acts such as self-immolation, self-mutilation, and seppuku.

As they become closer, Harold announces that he will marry Maude, resulting in disgusted outbursts from his family. Maude's 80th birthday arrives, and Harold throws a surprise party for her. As the couple dance, Maude tells Harold that she "couldn't imagine a lovelier farewell." He immediately questions Maude as to her meaning, and she reveals that she has purposely taken an overdose of sleeping pills and will be dead by midnight. She restates her firm belief that 80 is the proper age to die.

Harold rushes Maude to the hospital, where she is treated unsuccessfully and dies. In the final sequence, Harold's car is seen going off a seaside cliff, but after the crash, the final shot reveals Harold standing quite calmly atop the cliff, holding his banjo. After gazing down at the wreckage, he dances away, picking out on his banjo Cat Stevens' "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out".

The Really Cool Shit

Harold and Maude is #45 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Years... 100 Laughs, the list of the top 100 films in American comedy. The list was released in 2000. Two years later, AFI released the list AFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions honoring the most romantic films for the past 100 years, Harold and Maude ranked #69. Entertainment Weekly ranked the film #4 on their list of “The Top 50 Cult Films.”

In June 2008, AFI revealed its "Ten Top Ten" - the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres - after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Harold and Maude was acknowledged as the ninth best film in the romantic comedy genre.



The Low Down

The Warriors is a 1979 American cult action/thriller film directed by Walter Hill and based on Sol Yurick's 1965 novel of the same name. Like the novel, the film borrows elements from the Anabasis by Xenophon.

The Story

Cyrus (Roger Hill), leader of the Gramercy Riffs, the most powerful gang in New York City, calls a midnight summit of all New York area gangs, all of them asked to send nine unarmed representatives to Van Cortlandt Park. The Warriors, from Coney Island, Brooklyn, are one such gang.

Cyrus tells the assembled crowd that a permanent citywide truce would allow the gangs to control the city, pointing out there are 60,000 of them and only 20,000 officers in the NYPD. Most of the gangs laud his idea, but Luther (David Patrick Kelly), leader of the Rogues uses a smuggled gun to shoot Cyrus. Panic ensues and the NYPD rushes in. Fox (Thomas G. Waites) one of the Warriors, sees Luther commit the shooting, but in the chaos, Luther screams that the Warriors are responsible. While the Riffs beat their leader Cleon (Dorsey Wright), the other eight Warriors escape the melee and debate their next move, knowing they are deep in enemy territory.

Meanwhile, Masai, second-in-command of the Riffs, takes charge, and declares a bounty on the Warriors. This sets the city's gang population out hunting for them, with a seemingly omniscient radio DJ (Lynne Thigpen) reporting on the events.

The Really Cool Shit

Over the years, The Warriors has developed a significant cult following. At Seattle’s Grand Illusion Cinema, programmer Zack Carlson remembers, “people were squeezed in, lying on the floor, cheering". Entertainment Weekly named The Warriors the 16th greatest cult film on their "Top 50 Greatest Cult Films" list. The magazine also ranked it 14th in the list of the "25 Most Controversial Movies Ever".


The Low Down

Stone is a 1974 Australian film, produced and directed by Sandy Harbutt. It was a low budget movie, written by Sandy Harbutt and Michael Robinson.

Police officer Stone goes undercover with the Gravediggers outlaw motorcycle gang, to find out who is murdering their members, one by one.

The film stars Ken Shorter and features Rebecca Gilling, Bill Hunter and Helen Morse. The film's soundtrack was composed by Billy Green and featured some members of his group Sanctuary. Motorcycles featured include the legendary Kawasaki Z1(900). Stone initially rides a Norton.

The promotional trailer clip on YouTube features narration by radio and media personality John Laws. The film was featured in the documentary, Not Quite Hollywood about Australian exploitation films.

The Story

When several members of the GraveDiggers outlaw motorcycle club are murdered, Sydney detective Stone (Ken Shorter) is sent to investigate. Led by the Undertaker (Sandy Harbutt), a Vietnam war veteran, the GraveDiggers allow Stone to pose as a gang member. Leaving behind society girlfriend Amanda (Helen Morse), Stone begins to identify with the Undertaker and his comrades Hooks (Roger Ward), Toad (Hugh Keays-Byrne), Dr Death (Vincent Gil), Captain Midnight (Bindi Williams), Septic (Dewey Hungerford) and Vanessa (Rebecca Gilling), the Undertaker’s girlfriend. Amid violent confrontations with the Black Hawks, a rival gang the GraveDiggers hold responsible, Stone uncovers a political conspiracy behind the killings. When the truth is revealed, Stone must choose between his job and his loyalty to the GraveDiggers.

The Really Cool Shit

I was lucky enough to have a really cool dad who would take me to see alternative and off-beat cinema all through the 70's. But Stone stood as being 'different' for a number of reasons, not only because it's a piece of Australian iconic underground and alternative cinema from the 70's. For me, even at an early age, Stone was a life changing viewing experience. It was the first time I had ever heard the word "cunt" in any movie, let alone any movie outside of a pornographic film. Stone was almost the Australian equivalent of the American "Easy Rider", but with a cultural flavour unique to the "Down Under" life style and experience in the 1970's. It was a film that captured a piece of our alternative and underground lifestyle, it showcased upcoming Australian acting talent, and remains as it was then, a confronting visual and thought provoking cinematic story. It took me ages to find a copy of it as I hit my teenage years, because it became one of those 'forgotten' movies that only a handful of people knew or cared about. Even today, it's still hard to locate a decent transfer copy of the film onto DVD. I only have it on VHS!!!

The title of this piece is "The Most Essential Cult Movies of the 1970's", and although we've kinda focused on the 'Cult' aspect, really, the key word in the meme for me is actually 'essential'. Movies you owe yourself to check out before the bucket list checks in. You may have seen The Warriors, hell, you might even have seen a few others in my list. But I can guarantee that whilst none of the movies falls into my preferred genre of Horror, all of my Top 5 Most Essential Cult Movies of the 1970's are indeed exactly that. Essential. Worth making the effort to hunt down and lose yourself in for an hour or so with the damn cell phone turned off, in homage to the fact we didn't have them annoying fuckers in the 70's to ruin our movie viewing experience anyway...


Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Farewell Trash Video

It's with a heavy heart that I officially report on the permanent closure of a Brisbane cultural institution: Trash Video.

Below is a copy of the last mail-out from Andrew Leavold, co-owner and manager.


You couldn't sell? Sadly, no. We had one serious offer on the table but it didn't work out. Our only choice is now to liquidate our entire collection and organize for new tenants to take over the lease as quickly as possible.

When's the final day? Sunday 29th August. This Friday night is the Official Wrap Party: a screening at Tribal Theatre, followed by a rock'n'roll extravaganza at the Step Inn (details are a little further along this email).

What happens to the left-over stock? We will continue to do what we have always done with excess stock – sell them via email lists and Ebay. Trash will continue as an internet presence, but without the public store front, and by selling rather than renting. So PLEASE stay on our email list, there's a lot more good stuff to come. To paraphrase the words of Fu Manchu, “The world shall hear from Trash again!”

What will you do with all of your spare time? WHAT spare time? Ha...but seriously, not running the store means more time to finish off the PhD, work on more film projects, and perhaps do some freelance stuff here and there. I'll keep programming Tribal Theatre screenings and our Schlock Treatment TV show on Briz 31 until I drop dead of exhaustion. Ultimately, though, life will be about new creative challenges, and I'll keep my eyes and ears wide open for new opportunities. If anyone's in need of the services of a scruffy ex-counter monkey, please drop me a line.

So...how are you feeling about the last fifteen years of your life drawing to a close? Weird beyond words. It's like being forced to make the decision to turn off the life support system on your fifteen year old child. But, as so many of our loyal readers have pointed out, it's about endings and new beginnings, and despite appearances I'm a born optimist, though Lord knows why...

And so, my friends, I ask you all to join us over the nest 13 days to drop by, pay your last respects, take a piece of Trash with you, and hope to see you this Friday night, at Tribal or the Step In or both venues, for a good old fashioned Irish style wake. 

Viva! Andrew (co-owner, manager)

  • DVDs
  • VHS tapes
  • Posters, books, magazines
  • Shelves and shop fittings (even our couch is up for auction!)

EVERYTHING IS NEGOTIABLE but please be mindful that we are selling off our fifteen year collection reluctantly, and that many items are long out of print and considered quite valuable.


After fifteen years of unapologetic cultural terrorism, Trash Video finally closes its doors on Sunday 22nd August, and they're having the wrap party to end all wrap parties...

#1: Trash Video’s ARTHOUSE 101 presents the OFFICIAL TRASH VIDEO WRAP PARTY! Tickets only $8

8pm FRIDAY 20th AUGUST at TRIBAL THEATRE, 346 George St Brisbane

ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE TAPES (dir. Anthony Mullins & Kris Kneen, 2003)

Half-hour SBS documentary by husband-and-wife team, BAFTA-winning director Mullins and acclaimed author Kris Kneen, filmed during Trash Video’s turbulent evolution in 2000 from Valley hole in the wall to its current West End home.

“Reality and fantasy crash head on in this innovative documentary about Andrew Leavold, Australia’s leading cult video collector and his desperate attempt to save his life’s work. Andrew's alternative video store will close unless he can find an investor and move to a bigger premises. But will this expansion mean selling his soul to the corporate devil? Escape from the Planet of the Tapes tracks this crucial time in the history of Trash Video as Andrew wrestles with the future of his dream store. Gritty documentary realism melds seamlessly with elaborate ‘film noir’ style dramatisations of key events to capture Andrew’s unbridled passion for film and fun. This is a unique documentary experience, as stimulating as it is inspiring.”

LESBO-A-GO-GO (dir. Andrew Leavold, 2003) Trash Video’s feature film debut!

Review by Lachlan Huddy: “2003’s Lesbo-A-Go-Go, Leavold’s no-budget homage to 60s sexploitation icon Doris Wishman (a woman oft-referred to as the female Ed Wood) is ‘porn without porn’, a cheap, tawdry faux-morality play that propels hapless heroine Sugar from one hideous travail—cemetery rape, drug addiction, rape-during-abortion—to the next before having her stabbed with a syringe and condemned by a priest as she’s dying on the footpath. Shot in grainy black and white and featuring no sync sound, Lesbo is as trashy in its delivery as it is vile in its content, and leaves you in need of a shower and a good stiff drink—right on the money, in other words. It’s elevated by a soundtrack just this side of kick-ass and a frankly awesome psychadelic colour sequence, and is a tremendously fun, sustained in-joke for Wishman fans.”

Lesbo features a stunning array of underground film and music identities: a terrifying-looking Geoff Corbett (Sixfthick), Melbourne’s Fred Negro as the Vision from Hell, Richard (MUFF/Bloodlust) Wolstencroft as a backyard abortionist, Gazoonga Attack as an all-girl gang, and The Aampirellas (featuring Evil Dick from HITS!) as drag act.

“…more entertainment value in its miniscule budget than a hundred Matrix Reloadeds” (Boris Lugosi, Girls, Guns and Ghouls)

 “Ugly, reprehensible and morally repugnant. And I MADE the film.” (Andrew Leavold)


7.30pm til late, FRIDAY 20th AUGUST at STEP INN, Fortitude Valley

BANDS! Featuring
  • HITS
  • 1.1.1.
  • and emcee WAYNE KEYS


Brisbane readers can find articles this week in the Courier Mail (Tuesday) and 3D World (a Sydney magazine only recently launched here). One of the most comprehensive pieces ever on the shop, however, is by Lachlan Huddy for a new e-magazine soon to be launched by former Empire Magazine and SBS Movie Show scribe Michael Adams:

“Schlockbuster” was one title jockeying for the prize. “I Spit On Your Video” and “Video Sleazy” were all in contention, too. In the end, though, simplicity carried the day, and Brisbane’s first, finest and filthiest alternative video store was baptised Trash Video.

“It’s a good filter,” says owner-manager Andrew Leavold of the evocative moniker. “That kind of passive, mindless consumption that categorises most movie-watchers. It’s a good filter to scare them off.”

Since 1995, Trash has been the proud purveyor of everything beyond the flow of cinema’s mainstream. Shock, schlock, art, grunge, indie, cult, foreign, rare, grotesque or sublime—if it exists outside the realm of casual moviegoing, Trash is the place to find it. Burning to take in Microwave Massacre, the self-declared worst horror movie ever made? It’s in the Trash stash. Can’t track down Leni Reifenstahl’s 1930s Nazi propaganda Triumph of the Will for that modern history essay? Pick it out of the Trash. And while you’re there, why not indulge some nostalgia and plump for the Twin Peaks Season Three double-VHS pack? Yes indeed, Trash is everything the modern video shop isn’t: cluttered with obscurity, disorganised, and bursting with character.

But to speak of Trash is to speak of Leavold, its indefatigable founder; the store is but an extension of the man himself, for whom the creation and consumption of culture—popular and otherwise—is more than a business or pleasure: it is a way of life. And has been for a long, long while. 

“Basically this was an idea that I had when I was ten,” Leavold says. It’s a July afternoon and we’re talking over the counter of Trash’s current store in Brisbane’s West End. To the left sit neat piles of rental DVDs stacked thirty and forty high; to the right the store computer is near-buried under posters and VHS and other bric-a-brac your local Civic would’ve sold off by now. There’s a touch of gloom in the air, but we’ll get to that later—for now there’s only Leavold in a Coney Island T-shirt, with his errant blonde hair framing a wild-eyed face, telling Trash’s tale. It is, he says, “a story of childhood obsession taken to ludicrous extremes.”

The son of a civil engineer, Leavold spent his early years globetrotting with a father who tended to accept “filthy overseas jobs” throughout the Middle East. Starved of pop culture care of the slim pickings on Arabic television, Leavold took his first step along the road to Trashy treasure with the advent of betamax (a videotape format, for all you post-Gen X-ers). Late-night gems like “old Vincent Price films” and “the most grotesque horror films that were just coming out as part of the Italian New Wave” infiltrated the Middle East through pirate video networks, the “betamax grapevine”—and found a spellbound audience in ten-year-old Leavold.

“The Indian guys who used to run the local video store used to wait for me to come in,” he recalls fondly. “I’d pedal up on my bicycle and they’d go, ‘Ah! We have a new zombie film for you. But don’t tell your mother!’ And they would feed me vile garbage… It got to the point where my mother had written to every one of the video shops I was a member of saying, ‘Do not give my son any more horror films’.”

But it was too late for little Andrew: an idea had taken root. “All the time, I kept dreaming about having a video shop that had all these movies that I loved in it. This kind of anal obsession as a ten-year-old to control culture.” 

It was an obsession anal enough to persist throughout high school and into his first job, during which he was “blowing every paycheck on a pile of VHS.” When his trove hit critical mass—at somewhere around 2000 tapes—Leavold went public and Trash Video was born, its first home a little walk-up over indie music club The Zoo in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. It was a fine neighbourhood to raise an alternative video store: grungy, unpretentious and not quite suitable for the under-twelve set. But time waits for no cult film fan, and after five years, when Trash’s stock had more than tripled, the Valley had mutated.

“Trendy fuckheads on bad drugs,” Leavold laments. “When all of a sudden you find yourself surrounded by stores that sell $80 can openers, it’s time to go. The lease was up; we thought it was either sink or swim time. We either try to do this somewhere else on a larger scale or give up. And luckily one of our readers on our email said, ‘Why don’t we try West End?’ That was ten years ago.”

And what a decade it’s been. Trash’s stock has swollen to a horde of more than 16,000; a silent partner has come onboard as co-owner; a 2003 documentary—Escape From the Planet of the Tapes—has been made about the store and about Leavold; and a loyal, close-knit community of renters has entered Trash’s orbit. In the few hours I’m here, Leavold greets every walk-in with a smile, easy conversation or a few flicks reserved just for them: “Have I got something for you?” is a regular refrain. No clinical efficiency here; just a shared love of the movies, a gentle reminder of how unifying a force cinema can be.

Still, this is retail. It can’t all have been sugar and spice and everything nice. Can it? 

“I’ve seen you rip up someone’s membership,” a friend and regular customer says to Leavold, smirking, before quoting, “‘Just get out!  No! No, I don’t care what you say! Just get out!’”
Leavold is reflective. “Yeah. There have been a number of those public meltdowns...I hate a lot of people for years. I carry grudges. Anyone who transgresses the rules of politeness here.”

And what are those, I wonder?

“It’s based on ever-changing brain chemistry,” Leavold grins, with a good-natured twitch of the nostril.

Outside Trash’s hallowed aisles, meanwhile, the past decade saw Leavold cement both himself and his store as cult cinema icons with Film Club, weekly screening nights across Brisbane that ran until 2006 showcasing the best, worst and weirdest of Trash’s back catalogue. He also launched Schlock Treatment, his weekly cult film TV show on Brisbane’s Channel 31—and added his own cult curios to the world of cinema.

2003’s Lesbo-A-Go-Go, Leavold’s no-budget homage to 60s sexploitation icon Doris Wishman (a woman oft-referred to as the female Ed Wood) is “porn without porn”, a cheap, tawdry faux-morality play that propels hapless heroine Sugar from one hideous travail—cemetery rape, drug addiction, rape-during-abortion—to the next before having her stabbed with a syringe and condemned by a priest as she’s dying on the footpath. Shot in grainy black and white and featuring no sync sound, Lesbo is as trashy in its delivery as it is vile in its content, and leaves you in need of a shower and a good stiff drink—right on the money, in other words. It’s elevated by a soundtrack just this side of kick-ass and a frankly awesome psychadelic colour sequence, and is a tremendously fun, sustained in-joke for Wishman fans.

Like any cult film worth its salt, Lesbo offended audience sensibilities and ignited a riot of ire amongst the moral majority—particularly when a drunken interview that Leavold gave to Brisbane newspaper The Courier Mail left the mistaken impression that there’d been more than just simulated sex going on during a shoot at Toowong Cemetery.

“The article basically said we were filming gangbangs on open graves,” Leavold deadpans. “And immediately there was a shitstorm.” Quite sensational for a film which, Leavold thinks, could have scraped in with a PG-rating. “None of what you see on the screen is explicit. There’s no profanity whatsoever. There’s no onscreen salaciousness. It’s all implied.”

After three years the shitstorm had slackened enough to allow Leavold back behind the camera for 2006’s Bluebirds of Peace and Destruction, a fictionalisation of the lesbian vampire killing in Brisbane’s Orleigh Park in 1989. With $2000 from a generous Trash customer, Leavold set about crafting the tale of three damaged women who abduct a family man and murder him to drink of his blood. 

“I thought, right, the only way to do this is to totally improvise it,” Leavold says. “Get two genuine…” He pauses, selecting his words.

“Crack whores?” offers the teenage work experience girl, familiar with the story.

“I wouldn’t say crack whores,” Leavold replies. “No, I would say two girls who are no strangers to the sex industry.” He cackles infectiously.

The girls may be no strangers to the sex industry, but they’re no strangers to credible emotion, either; Bluebirds’s documentary aesthetic is complimented by engaging naturalistic performances from its lead actresses—friends of Leavold’s then and still—and a fantastically foreboding score. Assembled with taut editing, it’s a snappy, authentic and brutally effective ride into Brisbane’s seamy underworld.

Then there’s the upcoming The Search For Weng Weng. If there’s a magnum opus in Leavold’s life so far, this is it: a guerilla doco about Weng Weng, star of For Y’ur Height Only, a Filipino spy thriller about a kung fu-kicking midget James Bond. 

“Weng Weng was, I think, was one of those catalytic moments where cinema changes forever,” Leavold says. “Literally a bolt from the sky. I’d never come across a film that was so inadvertantly a masterpiece… Somehow that absurd image of a kung fu-kicking midget had a weird kind of humanity about it and I wanted to know where he came from, what his real name was, I wondered if there were other Weng Weng films.”

Filmed over four years and as many trips to the Philippines, Search is now in post-production, Leavold struggling to “get across the surreal nature of the Philippines and the bizarre way that things just literally fell out of the sky during the search for Weng Weng in order to piece that story together… that layer of weirdness and serendipity that covers everything.” 

In the meantime, his work on Search gave birth to Machete Maidens Unleashed!, the new documentary from  Not Quite Hollywood’s Mark Hartley, which had its premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival on July 24. 

“I signed [Search] over to a producer here,” Leavold explains. “She approached ABC. ABC went, ‘We’d rather have a more conventional, essay-based documentary on B-filmmaking in the Philippines, like Not Quite Hollywood, so why don’t we get that nice chap who made Not Quite Hollywood to make it?’ And I went, [sighs] ‘Fine’, graciously stepped aside, and Mark came onboard.”

Leavold’s time in the Philippines also seeded the idea for a fittingly spun-out feature film, which is now at second draft stage and has secured partial funding. “It’s about an Australian who goes to the Phillipines to try and make a dwarf kung fu remake of The Harder They Come, the Jamaican Spaghetti Western. Ends up losing his shit, you know, Francis Ford Coppolla-style.”

And is there any better way to lose one’s shit?

Amid it all, his exhaustive research into Weng Weng caught the eye of Brisbane academia, and landed him a place in—of all things—a doctorate. “Griffith University said, ‘Why don’t you just turn it into a thesis? You’ve done all your research. Now just write the damn thing.’” So the directorial credit for The Search for Weng Weng just might read Dr Andrew Leavold…

With so many balls to juggle, it’s a miracle that Leavold can keep them all in the air and still have time for the store that started it all.

But can he? 

“You know,” he says, gesturing around the shop, “you spend seven to ten hours here, you have very little enthusiasm for anything else.”

Ah. Remember the touch of gloom in the air we were speaking about earlier? Here it is. 

According to Andrew Leavold, digital’s killed the video shop. After fifteen years as Brisbane’s—and Australia’s—largest cult video store, Trash Video is closing its doors against the harsh light of a changing media landscape, in which the likes of Foxtel IQ, Netflix and Bigpond Movies are rendering quaint local video stores, with their physical contraints and limited stock, all but obsolete.

“The idea of an old-fashioned video shop has well and truly had its day,” Leavold says, and it isn’t the voice of bitterness, nor defeat, but the voice of a man content to move on. “The onus now is on ownership.  It just means that we’re consuming culture in a different way now. Much more immediate. And, I think, with the switchover of technology, that’s our cue to exit as gracefully as we can.”

With the day winding down, I finally take my leave from Trash. I’ve stayed far longer than I’d planned, but it’s an easy place to get lost in. I pause, peering down the aisles at the rows and rows of VHS and DVD, thinking of the films inside each, the weird, the enchanting, the scandalous. Somewhere here is the mutant fish baby from Corman’s Humanoids from the Deep; the mad, murderous, Buddhist Jew-burner from the nutso Czechoslovakian horror The Cremator; the prehistoric stop-motion wonders from dino-western The Valley of Gwangi. Soon they’ll need to find new shelves from which to ply their strange nightmares and stranger dreams—and perhaps no-one will take them in. It’s a mournful thought, and I almost feel that words should be said, some goodbye prayer.

TRASH VIDEO: “We all thought the end of the world was 2012, and for Trash at least it comes two years early!”

1/73 Vulture St , West End Qld 4101, Australia
ph: 07 3844 7844 end_of_the_skype_highlighting (or intl code + 61 + 7 + 38447844)


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