There was one other mild surprise in the Hugo Awards balloting besides the win by
Dave Langford's Ansible. The movie The Truman Show won as Best
Dramatic Presentation, beating out the episode of Babylon 5 that had been
nominated, much to the disappointment of B5 creator J. Michael Straczynski,
who attended Aussiecon as their 'Special Guest'. We're mostly known as fanzine
publishers, but we've always enjoyed the media part of science fiction. And as you
can see from the following article (which originally appeared in Tracy Benton's
fanzine Cazbah), some entertaining things can happen...
I don't want to sound like I'm ancient, but I remember a time when film programming at conventions was not an all-three-days, 24-hours-a-day event. Cons showed actual movies, either 16mm or 35mm, and video tapes were limited to professional productions.
Rich and I began our fannish life in the South. While much of the country had been giving cons for a while, the South started its convention circuit in the `60s. In the early `70s, Southern cons were still very small, and a movie was a special event that most people attended, if they could either stay up that late or if there were few parties.
The convention that usually had the best movie event was Kubla Khan, given by Ken Moore and the Nashville crowd. Ken had a movie projector and, through his connections, could usually come up with a good SF film that had seen life on the airlines. The movie room was the banquet/main hall converted into a theater by adding a standalone screen. Late Saturday night, we would assemble and the movie would began. And then about half way though the film, the snoring would start. At the end, the lights would come on and there would be Ken sound asleep on the floor.
The Kubla Khan film that sticks in my mind was the silent, black and white, Lon Chaney version of The Phantom of the Opera. It was on small reels and had the special addition of red coloring in the masked ball sequence. The first reel had only the clack-clack of the projector as accompaniment. While reels were changed (there was only one projector), people commented on the film so far. During the second reel, people suddenly realized there was no dialogue and began whispering to each other. The buzz slowly built up. Suddenly, someone piped up and said, "Hey, keep it down! I can't hear the projector clacking!" That broke the dam. From then on, people filled in the dialogue out loud and had a great time in general. It wasn't quite on the level of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but it was fun.
With the advent of VCRs, showing of actual films at conventions has lessened in favor of videotapes of TV shows and movies. While this is a great way to see shows that you haven't seen before (I'm still waiting to see Sapphire and Steel played at a decent hour at a con), seeing a movie at a con is less of an event. I've been pleased to see that at recent worldcons and some regional conventions, actual theater-like places are being used to show movies.
So that leaves actual movie theaters for fannish movie memories. While seeing Star Wars the first time stands out in my mind as a truly sensawonder experience, it was a lesser movie -- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom -- that made a fannish impression on me.
I loved Raiders of the Lost Ark and saw it a number of times at the theater. Rich even bought the video tape for my birthday. So, when the next installment of the series came out, I was ready to enjoy. Unfortunately, it wasn't as good as the first and I was disappointed. However, this didn't stop me from suggesting to see it when a group of fans descended on our house a few weeks after it opened.
Our friend Guy Lillian, from New Orleans, had come to Chattanooga (where we then lived) with the masters for the current issue of the Southern Fandom Confederation Newsletter. Since we had both an electrostenciler and a mimeo, Guy had persuaded us to run off the issue. But when an out-of-town fan visits, the local fans of course gather. Our little house was soon filled with people and Rich found getting any work done difficult. To cut down on the congestion, I suggested we all go out to a movie. While this would mean fewer people to help, there wasn't much for them to do at the moment. Collating would take place in a few hours. So, stuffing as many people as possible into the available cars, we headed off for the theater to see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I think that of the ten or so people going, I was the only one who had previously seen it.
We arrived and got in the long Saturday night line. When we got into the theater, we managed to find seats together in a row near the front. Quickly the room packed to capacity and the movie started. Being a full house and a Saturday night, the crowd was a bit noisy -- crunching popcorn, slurping drinks and whispering in general -- but not so bad that one couldn't hear the film.
As the movie played, it became apparent that the crowd was restless with this not-as-good-as-the-last-one production. I was sitting next to Guy and we exchanged a few words to that effect. And then it happened...
Part way though the film, Indy and friends are in an airplane without a pilot, and are trying to figure out how to fly it. Indy was sitting at the wheel and said something to the effect that it probably wasn't too hard to fly, when the plane suddenly goes into a nosedive. At that point, the movie obviously became too much for Guy. He got to his feet and yelled, "Pull back on the wheel!" as if he were a pilot instead of an avid moviegoer. There was a long moment of silence in the theater, and I was sure we were going to be tossed out of there.
However, like the earlier Phantom of the Opera film, this lapse in theater etiquette seemed to break the dam, and people loved it. The theater was then filled with comments on the action, with probably better dialogue than had been written. The fun continued until the end credits began to roll. As we left, I wondered if we had started something. After all, The Rocky Horror Picture Show's fame started with a humble fan shouting out a response to a line of movie dialogue. But, it was not to be...
Anyway, the next time you sit down to watch the latest SF or fantasy movie, remember that at cons they used to be a big event. With a group of fans watching, they could still be!
Title illustration by Julia Morgan-Scott