The young guy in front of me was wearing a fake afro, a wide belt and bell-bottoms as I queued up for tickets to Wednesday's Central Florida Film & Video Festival program. Spotting his distinctive attire, Frameworks Alliance's Melodie Malfa called to him from across the promenade.
"Are you here for ‘Avenging Disco Godfather?'" she pleasantly inquired.
If he wasn't, she had just committed a major faux pas. Fortunately, he had indeed shown up for the CFFVF screening of the 1976 camp classic. I followed him inside, making a mental note not to sit directly behind his enormous fright wig.
It's debatable, though, whether an obstructed view of this blaxploitation "classic" would necessarily have been a bad thing. Starring Mr. Dolemite himself, Rudy Ray Moore, it told the story of an inner-city DJ who wages war on the drugs running rampant in his community, whenever he isn't exhorting his dance-floor disciples to "Put your weight on it!" Wearing an increasingly gaudy series of outfits even Bootsy Collins wouldn't touch, he rescues his nephew from the clutches of angel dust by initiating a civilian crime-busting campaign that mostly relies on assault, battery and illegal search and seizure for its effectiveness.
If the plot sounds familiar, it may not be because you harbor dim memories of "Godfather" from your heck-I'll-see-anything youth. It's the story arc of 90 percent of the black action films of the 1970s, and 100 percent of the ones that starred Pam Grier. Who could forget their inimitable trailers? "The pushers killed her little brother ... now she's going after the pushers!" "The pushers killed her niece ... now she's going after the pushers!" "The pushers killed her third cousin twice removed ... now she's going after the pushers' cousins!"
The inherent ridiculousness of the material was well met by Moore's hysterically over-the-top performance, a feast of bug-eyed overplaying that rivaled the best work of Chris Tucker. No one else in the cast came out of it much better, not even the team of disco dancers on roller skates that arrived midway through for a few minutes of senseless distraction.
The entire production was terrible, but so entertaining in its wretchedness that all of us in the audience had the time of our lives watching it. It was full of sound and fury, and signified absolutely nothing. I wanted to shake the hand of everyone who had anything to do with getting it made.
Outside the theater, more Frameworks people and their friends showed off their own retro, super-fly threads as they piled into a white stretch limo they had rented for the occasion, the cameras rolling to capture the action for a future episode of "Ballyhoo." Avenging disco godmother Anne Deason had poured herself into in a hip-hugging, one-piece number that must have required a paint scraper to take off later.
Watching from the sidelines, I was introduced to Eric Graeff, the young director of Letters to Vermont, who had arrived from California a few days ahead of his film's Thursday showing. In the meantime, he had been partaking of the other films on the schedule, lavishing particular praise on "that thing with the gay guys" -- i.e. the previous day's "The Boys in the Band."
"I'm not particularly interested in that sort of thing, though," he quickly clarified. I attempted to change the subject, asking him what else he was interested in catching while he was here.
"‘Catching?'" he positively sputtered. "What do you mean?"
I was referring to future screenings, but I guess it's going to take him a few more film festivals to get such arcane, show-biz lingo down pat. God knows what he thought I meant.
Braving the wilds
Downtown at the Blue Room, the limo had let out its charges for a "Bally-sploitation" party that continued the theme of wide-brimmed, booty-bumping glory. It was the perfect locale for such a soiree, one where the staff dresses as if it's 1976 every day of the year. Over drinks, Deason informed me that her outfit had been borrowed from one of her drag-queen friends (make that a unisex paint scraper).
Next to us at the bar was Christopher Stringfield, writer of Jesse's Girl (Toilet Paper Tales), which will debut Thursday afternoon. He was more than ready to talk about the film, his philosophy of life, his years growing up in Tennessee, and just about anything else we could think of. His recent exploits, he told me, had included screening his feature (in which, he assured me, one character issues a string of anti-homosexual slurs) before an audience that included Olympic star Greg Louganis. In the meantime, he's putting the finishing touches on his first book, "Observations of a Dude."? He paused only to hand one of the stunning barmaids a business card that had the showing times of his movie scrawled on the back. He's handling this festival thing like a pro already.
In one corner of the room, Deason taped interview segments for "Ballyhoo," taking to the couch for a round of dialogues with attending directors and other luminaries. I was even granted my own spot, and the two of us enjoyed a freewheeling few minutes of chat whose content veered from impressions of the festival thus far to the finer points of tattoo removal. Look for it in November.
After the cameraman stopped rolling, Deason made her way back to the dance floor to get down to the Curtis Mayfield hits that were pumping from the sound system. The party invitation had told us to "shake yo' funky ass," but I took mine home, leaving the less-tired to put their weight on it.
Watch out: 7:40 p.m. Thursday at Fashion Village 8, David Zeiger's The Band pays tribute to the misunderstood world of high-school music programs; the steamy, 1946 seduction epic The Postman Always Rings Twice follows at 9:30 p.m.. And if you can get off work early, you can probably make it to the 5:15 p.m. showing of Graeff's Letters to Vermont.
For a festival overview, read Steve Schneider's preview story.
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