”The Greatest Summer of Movies… Ever”
When it comes to “Summer of 1982,” the mission for Alamo’s cinema-obsessed staff is straightforward: give each and every one of their Summer of 1982 customers a full-blown nostalgic ride like none others. “We’re trying to make it the complete experience,” says Carlson. “I wish that we could throw away everybody’s cell phones and make it a thing where we announce, ‘You are now in 1982! We shall relinquish all of your modern possessions!’”
As incredible as the Summer of 1982 series sounds to outsiders, the Drafthouse’s regular visitors know that it’s simply one-of-a-kind business as usual. First opened in May of 1997 by the husband-and-wife team of Tim and Karrie League, the Alamo Drafthouse is one of those rare venues where movie ardent fans of everything from big-deal Hollywood productions to obscure genre time capsules are welcomed with open arms, hot food, and cold brews. It’s also the location of the annual Fantastic Fest, a massive festival held every September in which the latest and greatest in horror, science fiction, and other sick genre fare either debuts (last year saw the premiere of Tom Six’s The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)) or continue their fest circuit runs; the Drafthouse’s six Austin-located theaters also play host to many of the flicks shown as part of March’s yearly SXSW Film Festival, particularly the always popular Midnight selections.
For Carlson, the Drafthouse is a meeting ground for people who measure a film’s worth on scales that have nothing to do with money or mainstream popularity. “The thing is, we show all of that stuff but there’s no irony to it,” says Carlson, a Seattle native who’s been with the Drafthouse team for seven years and counting. “That’s the company-wide motto: If something entertains you, it’s good, and if it doesn’t entertain you, then it’s bad. We’re not like,'Look at these cheesy movies!' Or, 'Remember how dumb the ’80s were?' These movies were fun, so we’re going to have fun.” As the company’s most enthusiastic programmer, Carlson travels around often to various multiplexes nationwide to scout movies and scope the competition, and those trips can sometimes flirt with soul-crushing emotions. “A lot of theaters will have something like ‘Shitty Movie Night,’ and they’ll show my favorite movies. I’ll be like, ‘What the fuck is this? How is Robocop a shitty movie? What’s wrong with you?’”
Applying that same embrace-the-fun mentality to all of their functions and programs, the Drafthouse crew routinely present films that would otherwise be relegated to VHS bins and late night cable airings, at best. Two of the coolest weekly events are “Terror Tuesdays,” Carlson’s self-programmed and ongoing series of 35mm prints of old horror movies, and “Weird Wednesdays,” which uses a similar model but for schlocky exploitation flicks.
Every night of the week, ticket-buyers can sip on frosty bottles of Monty Python’s Holy Grail Ale while enjoying the types of pictures most other theater owners wouldn’t screen even unless they had guns pressed against their faces. “I like to think that the biggest difference is that we’re a movie theater run by and for movie fans,” says Tim League, 42, Drafthouse founder/CEO. “I think that’s reflected in the Summer of 1982 programming, too.”
Look no further than the Summer of 1982 series’ “extended lineup” inclusions, comprised of 12 lesser-celebrated genre flicks released in ’82 that may not have achieved the same degrees of widespread notoriety as E.T., Poltergeist, The Road Warrior, and the slate’s five other headliners, but, in the eyes of the Drafthouse staff, they’re just as memorable. Films like Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the infamous horror sequel that has nothing to do with Michael Myers yet still holds a special place in open-minded, camp-loving horror fans’ hearts; Q: The Winged Serpent, director Larry Cohen’s low-budget creature feature about a flying stop-motion lizard that bites pedestrians heads off in New York City; Class of 1984, a youth-gone-bad action-thriller notable for its ’80s punk aesthetic, rocking Alice Cooper theme song (“I am the Future”), and an early, pre-fame performance from Michael J. Fox; and, League’s personal favorite, Vice Squad, an exploitation gem in which a hooker (Season Hubley) becomes a cop accessory and has to apprehend a homicidal pimp named, awesomely, Ramrod (Wings Hauser).
The first movie to screen as part of the Summer of 1982 series, Vice Squad, which played to a packed house last Wednesday, is indicative of the Drafthouse spirit. “Even though [Vice Squad] is made for a much grimier audience than the other Hollywood blockbusters we have in the program, people came out to it who are just curious about seeing it, and probably heard about it through this Summer of ’82 thing, and that’s great,” says Carlson. “If some 22-year-old is going to see a movie that’s that good, but it’s one that he wouldn’t have seen otherwise, that makes the world a better place.”
Though the series’ main attractions are unquestionably classics like TRON, The Thing, and Star Trek II, the quirkier offerings—which will screen during the week, leaving the weekends for the bigger films—also provide an opportunity for audience discovery that’s all but forgotten in today’s age of bombarding marketing tactics. Think about the countless number of Prometheus images already available online (there’s still nearly a month until the June 8th debut of Ridley Scott’s Alien-related showstopper), or the on-set paparazzi shots of Tom Hardy in his “secretive” Bane costume that leaked to the Internet months before the first The Dark Knight Rises Trailerever surfaced.
Back in 1982, before the cyber world turned cinephiles into spoiler-seekers, the summer movie season was more about a film’s mysteries, not whether it features everything that’s been seen online in advance. “In ’82, my awareness of the big summer movies was built on 30-second spots seen on TV, for the most part, and maybe a few fan magazines, too,” says League, who was a 12-year-old living in St. Clairsville, Ohio, in 1982. “There was also actual word-of-mouth—not Internet-based word-of-mouth, but actually your friends hearing something or seeing a poster and then telling you about all excitedly.”
“For example, I was very much into computers at that age, and TRON was probably my favorite movie of that summer,” continues League. “I had known about it through some magazines, and had been counting the days until I could see this movie, but I honestly didn’t really know anything about it. So there’s definitely a sense that it was fresher and more exciting because of that. Nowadays, if you want to, you can spoil a lot of movies before you even get to the cinema.”
So, has the summer movie experience been completely tainted as a result? The recent $200 million opening weekend posted by The Avengers answers that question in the negative connotation. Let’s be clear, though: Just because director Joss Whedon’s multi-superhero Marvel extravaganza is a history-making smash, and just because the forthcoming releases of The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man hint at the strong likelihood that the summer of 2012 will go down as the most lucrative of all time, that doesn’t mean that the Alamo Drafthouse team’s proclamation that the summer of 1982 is “the greatest” one for movies ever is about to be proven as a premature miscalculation.
Carlson, for one, couldn’t give a damn less about the monetary angles. “Let’s go with an ugly analogy: Criss Angel is probably more wealthy than Harry Houdini ever was, but are you going to say that Criss Angel is a better magician or entertainer than Harry Houdini?” he reasons. “No, he’s a complete douchebag. Just because he’s rich doesn’t mean he’s the greatest magician of all time. This whole [“Summer of 1982”] series is about movies that have persevered in people’s hearts, how many movies have done that lately? Look at this way: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides made a ton a money, but how many people are going to look back on that movie in 30 years and go, ‘Man, those were the days! Watching that digital pirate ship bounce along on that digital sea!’ No one is going to say that in a month.”
League, for his part, is a bit more optimistic. “I think the importance of the influence of the summer of ’82 is bigger than whatever amount of money this summer’s movies might make,” says the Drafthouse’s head honcho. “Just look at the movies we’re showing and dwell on how many subsequent movies they’ve influenced. They stand as titans of all time. You’re not going to be able to judge the summer of 2012 until at least a decade from now. But, at this point in time, the summer of ’82 is definitely the greatest ever, and I invite any and everyone to visit our theater to see why.”
For more information: Summer of 1982
Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)