His Beard, Pointy and Luciferian

I was driving back home from a trip to the grocery store early Saturday evening. On Roosevelt there is an iconic gritty neighborhood beer joint called Vaqueros. In the parking-lot every Friday they set up a wrestling ring and have lucha libre matches. I really should check it out. And as I was passing Vaqueros I saw a middle-aged guy on a beautiful Harley with those fringed saddle bags festooned with buckles and ornaments in silver. He was waiting for me to pass before he pulled out of the parking-lot. As I passed, he nodded my way. He wore a black jockey style helmet, black leather chaps, and a denim jacket. The white reflection of my pickup truck wiped across the mirrored surface of his shades. And not half a block further, I passed a man waiting for a bus. He was lean as a racehorse in a leather jacket, jeans, and close-cropped grey hair. He wore black horn-rimmed glasses and a van dyke with the beard pointy and luciferian. He stood patient and with perfect military posture. I saw a flash of light off him that made me think of the cyclist with the silver on the saddlebags and the high polish of the bike's chromework. But on the mexicano waiting for the bus, the gleam came from the prosthetic hook at the end of his left arm.

I think I have an idea to push through development. Though this is getting me into the Barnstromian territory. But put the one-armed guy in a sidecar, slap the UFW logo on our intrepid duo, and call them La Huelga Brothers. They're “striking” out against crime. Yeah, something like that. Hell, lace them up in Lucha Libre masks and they're ready for a tag-team match Friday night in Vaquero's parking-lot.

Hmmm, maybe I've careened too far into that Tom of Finland territory….

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Friday night I took the bus downtown for the opening night of the San Antonio Underground Film Festival. The problem when events are held downtown is that parking is hard to find. Sure, there are parking-lots and a few parking garages, but they tend to be pretty steep. One of the things Fort Worth did right when revitalizing their downtown was to create a huge parking garage which was free in the evenings. And the parking meters are also free after five or six. Even on weekends. I guess the differences is that downtown San Antonio has always been active. But I live close enough to walk. Or I can take the buses or trolleys.

When I climbed on the bus, I asked the driver how much the fare was. I get confused. It's either 80 or 85 cents. But I was prepared — I had three quarters, a dime, and a nickel in my hand. “A dollar,” he said.

“What? I thought it was eighty-something.”

“Not anymore.”

Okay …. I dug out another quarter and ran four quarters into the coin contraption. The driver handed me a transfer and he pulled away from the curb.

Perplexed, I took a seat in the back. I didn't ask for a transfer. Maybe they're forcing everyone to take a 15 cent transfer, even if they don't need it. I'll have to look into this. I knew I'd not be able to use a transfer. The buses wouldn't be running when I got out of the theater.

But I'm glad I didn't drive — the bus took me to one block from the Aztec Theater. There are at least four old theaters in downtown San Antonio that have been renovated or are in the process of such: the Majestic, the Empire, the Alameda, and the Aztec (I've also heard of the Texas Theater, but I don't know if the building is still in existence). The Aztec opened for business last year. It's incredible. I had my camera with me, but I only took one picture. The chandelier. I had hoped to meet some people I knew, and photograph them with the place as a backdrop, but I never got around to it.

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I'd bought my ticket online (this seemed to confuse the volunteers working the box office), but I made it inside. Because the bus was so dependable, I found myself twenty minutes early. The screenings are broken into blocks. There was an afternoon block still screening. So I had to wait for them to exit. I was there to see the second block, 7 to 11.

This gave me ample opportunity to tour the huge lobby, complete with an encircling mezzanine. I over-heard one of the guys who works for the Aztec gushingly tell an impressed cute girl that: “We opened last year. Yeah, this is all renovated from the original look of the place which was built back in the '40s. It's all authentic Aztec, Mayan, and Toltec.”

I smiled to myself, glad I hadn't been drinking a refreshing beverage at the moment he said that. However, I distinctly felt the subterranean tremors of thousands of Mesoamerican archeologists spinning wildly in their graves (wrap 'em in wire and place supermagnets around their corpses, we may indeed solve our energy needs). Calling the decor of the Aztec authentic anything is to grossly diminish the wonderful corny fantasy of the whole place. You gotta check it out.

Before the doors opened for the 7 p.m. screenings, I saw Brant Bumpers. He is one of the reasons I decided that if I only attended one block of screenings for the festivals, it'd be the one that featured his work. He was with his mother. She excitedly told me that Brant has just posted a music video on YouTube for the band Type O Negative. I tracked it down today. Not bad. I'm not a fan of the band. I find their music flat and samey. It's a sort of dark metal with enough of a punk underbelly to keep it from being too tiresome. Anyway, I'm not sure what Brant did on the video, but he's playing Rasputin (which, for anyone who's seen Brant, is an obvious casting choice — he agreed with me when I told him that he as the Mad Monk was just a matter of time).

The evening started off with “Broken.” I'd seen this (or part of it) before. The Seguin Film Fest? I don't care for it. It's pretty slick and well-produced. Good acting. But it's a pompous, formulaic action piece. The surprise ending is far from original. I hope the folks involved in this production are able to use it as a launchpad to go on to making large budget Hollywood action films. They have oodles of talent. Just very little inspiration.

“Ghosts of New York” screened next. I loved the concept from the start. Yuppies who have freshly moved to New York City are haunted by the ghost of GG Allin (punk's great self-destructive shock-rocker). It's a very fun short. The filmmaker had traveled to San Antonio. She surprised me when, in response to a question as to what sort of camera she used, answered, “An Arri BL.” I had assumed she shot the piece on digital video. It sure didn't look like film. The problem was that the piece was flatly lit. Oh, well, it was a student film.

“Teen Queen” was a great music video of the band Triple Creme. A busy rock-and-roll-high-school kind of thing with gender ambiguity and a killer art department.

“Cheap Date” was a short film with puppets masturbating. Need I say more? I loved it.

“Boxcar Satan's: No One At the Wheel.” This was a block of, I believe, three music video's of the sadly defunct band, Boxcar Satan. (They were somewhat psychobilly in the Birthday Party or Beasts of Bourbon kind of sound.) It was nice to see them on such a large screen. I love Brant's editing. Especially “Pig in a Dress.” He answered a few questions. Apparently the El Montan Motor Hotel is film-friendly. “They never ask questions. Never!” A great endorsement.

“Pillow Girl” was an 8 minute series of cheesecake covers of dime novels and pulp magazines depicting disheveled women as seductresses or victims. The images dissolved one to the next, but the point at with the pictures would morph was always the women's faces. Because the music that accompanied the film possessed something of a dark trance-like quality, I assumed that this was a film deriding the commodification of women. If so, the point seemed to be lost on a lesbian couple I saw get up and walk out. But maybe it was my interpretation that was wrong. But I really like the film. I'm a sucker for those sorts of book covers.

“Zombie Love.” This is when the night took a grim turn for me. I'm looking at the festival's website, and I've having a hard time believing that this film was only 37 minutes. I could have sworn it was an hour. First off, it's a zombie film. I'm fucking sick of this glut of zombification! The second strike it had was that it's a musical. My violent disdain for musicals is second only to my unbounded contempt for sports. And I'm beginning to find camp fairly tiresome. “Zombie Love.” Hmm? “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” it ain't. But it was shot and lit well; the editing and audio, spot on. Great acting. Praises et cetera. But what a tedious little waste of time.

Followed by a much longer tedious waste of time. “Love Hollywood Style.” Four vaguely interconnected shorts about, um, love? This is far from “underground.” It's packed with Hollywood stalwarts. Faye Dunaway, Andy Dick, Stephen Tobolowsky, Robert Picardo, and Coolio (as, no surprise here, himself). The writing struck me as what would happen is Bruce Wagner were given a prefrontal lobotomy and the resulting screenplay were then turned over to one of the Hallmark Card stringers for re-writes.

I have to come clean here. I was so put off by the tripe of “Zombie Love” and “Love Hollywood Style,” that I made good my escape before the final film screened. It was Ya’Ke Smith's excellent short, “The Second Coming.” But in my defense, I'd already seen it twice. Also, I really didn't want to see another film — good or bad — because there was a speaker in the theater that was poorly connected and spiting static throughout the whole damn night. And if the Aztec didn't have someone on staff for a major film festival who could fix that intolerable audio issue, I can't imagine anyone feeling good about forking over the shitload of $$$$ that the venue charges.

But the place looks great ….

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