Gimmicks! – Polyester Introduction

 

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This is a transcription of the introduction given by Darrell Buxton before the Fringe Cinema presents screening of Polyester – Scratch And Sniff.

The history of motion pictures has seen innovation and desperate measures alike introduced by filmmakers and exhibitors, some of whom will do anything to get audiences to fork over a few quid to see their latest production. King of the gimmicks was undoubtedly William Castle, the frightmaster who pepped up his movies with interactive additions galore  – Castle’s 1958 thriller MACABRE insured every member of the audience for $10,000 in case they died of fright watching the picture. HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL later the same year featured the spectacular ‘Emergo’ process  – in reality a tatty-looking skeleton trundled out on a pulley over the heads of the unsuspecting audience at a strategic moment in the proceedings. 1959’s THE TINGLER was perhaps Castle’s crowning glory  – a film about a centipede-like creature that materialises on your spine whenever you feel fear, Castle’s ‘Percepto’ process attempted to replicate and boost the effect by actually wiring up cinema seats and giving electric jolts to selected patrons. You could watch Castle’s 1960 supernatural shocker 13 GHOSTS using your own eyes, or you could see it through the tatty cardboard and paste ‘Ghost Viewer’ if you wanted to actually see the title stars! The director’s entertaining PSYCHO ripoff HOMICIDAL featured something called a ‘Fright Break’, a minute-long countdown near the end of the picture where anyone too scared to carry on could get their ticket money back – at the demeaning price of having to stand in a spotlit area called ‘Coward’s Corner’ while the rest of the audience watched the movie’s climax.

homicidalposterFright break
You’ll all be very familiar with 3D, of course, from the barker batting a paddle-ball on a piece of elastic right out into your face in 1953’s HOUSE OF WAX, to the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON waggling a webbed and clawed hand in your startled direction, to Udo Kier’s liver flopping around on a pole two inches away from your eyes at the end of FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN, masked psycho Jason Voorhees firing a spear gun across a lake straight at you in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3, and the rather more highbrow and intellectual presentation of the 32,000 year old animal designs and motifs etched on to the walls of the hidden Chauvet Caves in Werner Herzog’s enlightening documentary CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS.

photo friday-the-13th-part-3 CAROUSEL

What of other, less familiar tricks and novelties? Remember ‘Sensurround’? The 1970s precursor to Dolby Atmos, used on disaster epics such as EARTHQUAKE and ROLLERCOASTER as well as MIDWAY and the two BATTLESTAR GALACTICA movies, emphasizing bass notes and rumbles in order to convince the viewer that the theatre they were in was about to collapse around their ears. Though, given the state of some U.K. picture houses at that time, most audiences probably expected that to happen anyway! Or how about split screen, used as a cool effect in several classic films as far back as Abel Gance’s epic NAPOLEON in 1927, brilliantly and indulgently utilised in 1968’s THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, frequently employed by Brian de Palma in his stylish horrors and psychothrillers, and even used throughout the entire running time of the film WICKED, WICKED in 1973. Mike Figgis’ TIMECODE went even further by continuously showing four separate images on one single screen in 2000, depicting four different stories; what’s more, each was shot in a single uninterrupted take.

Screenshot-Timecode
Restaging that same ‘unbroken continuous shot’ gimmick, films like the drama shot in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, RUSSIAN ARK, and both the Uruguayan original and American remake of the film THE SILENT HOUSE have achieved this particular technical miracle. So too did a movie directed by Derby’s own filmmaking ace Dominic Burns  – Dom has become a good friend of QUAD and a familiar presence in the building over the years, and allowed us the privilege of screening his film CUT here four or five years ago, even bringing the movie’s star Zach Galligan, of GREMLINS fame, along with him on the night. CUT told of a houseful of potential victims menaced by a gang of masked killers, and what it lacked in script originality it more than made up for in awe-inspiring technical wizardry as the camera zipped along corridors and through doorways, from room to room, following the action as the cast did their best to keep the dialogue flowing, hit their marks, and not knock any props or furniture over.

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How about live monsters bursting into the cinema audience? In 1964 the outlandishly titled movies THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES and MONSTERS CRASH THE PAJAMA PARTY both offered exactly that! INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES was advertised at drive-in cinemas in the States with the strapline “MONSTERS COME REAL! CRASH OUT OF SCREEN! INVADE AUDIENCE! ABDUCT GIRLS FROM THEIR SEATS! NOT 3-D! DON’T MISS IT!”, while MONSTERS CRASH THE PAJAMA PARTY challenged “WE DARE YOU TO SEE THE WORLD’S WEIRDEST MOVIE – MONSTERS COME OUT OF SCREEN! INVADE AUDIENCE! CARRY GIRL VICTIMS BACK INTO PICTURE TO BECOME PART OF MOVIE, NEVER SEEN ALIVE AGAIN! BEWARE! IT MIGHT BE YOU!”. We seriously need to stage this at QUAD sometime, although possibly not during the next Judi Dench movie or French costume drama…

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One of the most notorious gimmicks accompanied the 1960 Mike Todd movie SCENT OF MYSTERY. Yes  – Smell-O-Vision! As early as 1906, a theatre in Pennsylvania had wafted aromas from a wad of cotton wool soaked in rose water into the nostrils of the audience, to enhance a newsreel that reports suggest was either about the annual Rose Bowl college football game or the flower-decorated floats of the Pasadena Rose Parade. When the film THE BROADWAY MELODY was released in 1929, one New York cinema sprayed perfume from the ceiling during a performance. Walt Disney considered adding scents as part of the FANTASIA experience in 1940, but the groundbreaking animated marvel was ultimately released odour-free.

Producer Mike Todd was looking for something special to follow up the success of his hit 1956 movie AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, and was aware that various attempts were being made to create a process by which motion pictures could be experienced nasally as well as with one’s eyes and ears. He teamed up with Hans Laube, a Swiss pioneer in the field who had exhibited a system of scent-filled pipes attached to seats at the 1939 World’s Fair, and developed Laube’s technology as an addition to Todd’s new comedy-thriller movie SCENT OF MYSTERY, starring Denholm Elliott, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Lorre. In one scene, a loaf of bread is taken from an oven, in another a few casks of wine topple from a wagon, roll down a hill, and smash against a wall, and the film’s main villain is known to smoke pipe tobacco. Each of these aspects and more are enhanced by the smells of baking dough, grapes, pipe smoke, etc., but the film proved unsuccessful and the release of the various aromas was often mistimed, arriving among the audience too long after the scene in question had played.
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A rival production, a documentary filmed in China entitled BEHIND THE GREAT WALL, beat SCENT OF MYSTERY into cinemas by about three weeks and also attempted the whiffy gimmick, but this film’s so-called ‘AromaRama’ process worked even less well than Todd’s.

And that was that. Until John Waters, the king of sleazy cinema and a huge admirer of the most trashy, crazy ideas old Hollywood had to offer, revived the concept of the smelly movie for his 1981 picture POLYESTER. Starring Waters legends Divine, Mink Stole and Edith Massey, and also including fifties heartthrob Tab Hunter as the male lead, POLYESTER is a Douglas Sirk-style soap opera drama with adultery, abortion, foot fetishism, and various other typical Waters concerns at its heart. On its original release in the early eighties, the film came equipped with scratch and sniff cards, and was released in ‘Odorama’. Whenever a number from one to ten appeared on screen, the audience scratched off the appropriate patch on their card and breathed in whatever surprise they’d been presented with. Some nice. Some not so nice. And for this September’s special revival of POLYESTER, courtesy of the good people at Scalarama, cinemas around the U.K. – including QUAD here in Derby this weekend  – are being given the opportunity to relive those perfumed or pungent, pleasant or noxious assaults on your sense of smell once again. So enjoy the film, watch out for those numbers flashing up on screen, have your cards ready. Prepare for POLYESTER, and take the advice of former President Bill Clinton. Try not to inhale, at least not too deeply…

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Our next Fringe Cinema screening will be on Friday 21st October and is HOWARD….A NEW BREED OF HERO (aka Howard The Duck).

Trapped in a world he never made!!

 

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