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DVD SAVANT

The Movie Orgy
Savant Screening Revival Notes


The Movie Orgy
Not on DVD. Why, why? Tell me why, Doctor.
1968 and on to infinity / B&W and various flavors of faded Color / 1:33 flat, and don't crowd me / 4.5 hours
By Joe Dante and Jon Davison
Screened April 22, 2008 at the
New Beverly Cinema

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Adapted from The
Savant Main Page Column,

April 26, 2008

It's time to discuss the event of the week, Joe Dante and Jon Davison's The Movie Orgy, a wild show that resurrects the once-in-a-lifetime, blink-and-you'll-miss-it fun of cult moviegoing before the advent of home video. In college in 1968, rabid film collectors Joe and Jon began holding wild movie nights, mixing and matching 16mm feature films with gems from their own collection. Like audio-visual disc jockeys, they'd stop a feature when it showed signs of becoming boring and switch over to weird instructional films, TV commercials or bits of historical idiocy like the Nixon Checkers Speech. Student audiences went nuts over the anti-establishment irony of juxtaposing a gung-ho recruiting film with, say, a piece about training dogs, or a commercial with kids opening cereal boxes containing collector cards celebrating America's nuclear arsenal.

This free-form eclecticism smacks of the old saw about French surrealists, who supposedly ran from theater to theater, watching bits of movies. As soon as a show began to make narrative sense, they'd split for the show next door. Joe and John had hundreds of 16mm film prints in their collections, and could orchestrate their own personal phantasmagoria. Instead of killing themselves threading projectors all night, they soon began splicing bits of their prints together. The resulting Movie Orgy never had a final shape. It once lasted seven and a half hours; kids wandered in and out in a party atmosphere. At some point a Beer company stepped in to sponsor the 'movie happening', paying Joe and John to tour the one spliced print to various campuses, where students would grok the movie while chugging free beer (which Joe claims greatly improved the experience).

Joe decided to screen his Movie Orgy as the final offering (April 22) in his string of double bills as this month's guest programmer at Los Angeles' New Beverly Cinema . As 80% of what's been butchered to produce the Orgy is under copyright, no admission was charged. The night was something of a tribal event. All the regulars were there along with some noted cult celebs to juice up the general feeling of excitement. Like the minister of a church, Joe greeted his audience one by one at the door, and introduced the Orgy by telling us that it was 4.5 hours long. Sane people were encouraged to walk out when they couldn't take any more.

Hardly anybody left ... we were all there until after midnight. The Orgy unfolded in slow motion like an unending gag reel; one could never tell what a sudden splice would bring. 'The good parts' of at least three movies were 'serialized' throughout the evening, along with nostalgic glimpses of dozens of 50s TV shows. Those things have an eerie significance to us early baby boomers. Bushels of twisted TV commercials featured disgusting delights, like the use of animated plumbing to represent one's bowels in action. Glimpses of army training films collided with political coverage of the late 1960s, sex hygiene movies and ancient stag pictures. When reduced to their highlights, bad movies become irresistibly funny. One serialized feature about a psychotic teen repeats variations on his snarl, "I don't like people crowding me!" twenty times, and Dante exploits it as a killer running gag.

The resulting psychological profile of Dante and Davison proves that their wicked sense of humor and sarcastic outlook began long before their association with Roger Corman: this explains where Airplane! came from. The orgy also seems a mirror of our own minds, our collective past. Here are Ozzie and Harriet, Sky King, Commando Cody, Groucho Marx, Art Linkletter and Wyatt Earp; most TV shows are represented by a full title sequence, complete with songs we haven't heard for 50 years but can still sing by heart. Show content is reduced to a single outrageous moment, as when the sensitive Mom on Lassie comforts the distraught Timmy. The next moment she calls Timmy's chubby friend 'Porky', as if the kid were one of the livestock.

Associative cuts have W.C. Fields doing double takes at movie monsters and little kids peering curiously at belly dancers or nude bathers -- we never know when the screen will be hijacked by yet another film clip from left field. Some of the best material in The Movie Orgy is in the worst taste, but this viewer was strongly impacted by its cumulative image: the collage displays the twisted, often hypocritical roots of our TV & movie-driven consumer culture. In Westerns, every issue seems to be solved by clubbing someone over the head or decking them with a punch to the jaw. TV personalities are so pleasantly bland that they appear to be on drugs. Science Fiction movies dissolve into an endless treadmill of explosions, burning monsters and crashing spaceships.

Finally, one can't forget the power of the shared audience experience. Words can't express the lunacy of the TV show Andy's Gang, in which the demented host Andy Devine ("Hi, Kids!") reads Bible stories. His captive pets (a cat and a rodent) play Jesus Loves Me on drum and organ while a thousand kids sing along. They just don't make 'em like that any more. We shudder at the realization that we TV kids were raised on a steady diet of this stuff -- breakfast cereal pumped full of nutritious sugar! 1

The New Beverly Cinema plans to continue with its guest programmers; next in line is screenwriter Diablo Cody.


Reviewed: April 25, 2008


Footnote:

1. Some fun feedback from long-time Savant correspondent "B", who remembers seeing The Movie Orgy at college! (4.26.08):

"Many years ago I saw a later incarnation of this -- billed as The Schlitz Movie Orgy -- and I recall it having many of the details and attributes that you and Variety's Peter Debruge describe. I recall this version as being even longer than 4 1/2 hours, and including most of the narrative of Albert Zugsmith's priceless College Confidential, a perfect ingredient for a university screening. It's a thrill to learn that Dante and Davison were warping my mind years before I ever heard of them!"

Joe Dante verified that College Confidential had at one time indeed been part of The Movie Orgy's mix, when the touring movie collage marathon was nearly eight hours long.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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