Monday, January 22, 2007

Peacock, Proud, Asking the Dust

In April 1993, my friend Tino and I were driving to San Diego to celebrate Passover with my family. We both were marginally involved in the entertainment industry. Tino was an actor and an aspiring screenwriter. I similarly wanted to be a screenwriter but didn't progress very far. I did work several years in outer-ring independent television production. My IMDB resume is here, in case you're interested. I was involved with everything under "Miscellaneous Crew - Filmography". Everything else is another Bill Cohen, as much as I would have loved to have done special effects on Amadeus, visual effects on a show called "Play for Today," and the adapted screenplay for 1933's Private Jones.

Yet again, I digress. Tino and I were talking about films, and which ones we hadn't seen. We came up with a novel idea: gather our friends every week, Sunday night, we figured, and everyone can come over to a predesignated host's home. The host will bring a video for everyone to watch, preferably with the hope that very few people had seen the film in question, and with the result that we had further expanded the horizons of the guests.

We came up with a name "PCOC," pronounced "peacock," that stood for Pasadena Connoisseurs of the Cinema. Not too pretentious, but it was catchy, and since everyone we thought of inviting lived in Pasadena, it seemed like a great idea.

I volunteered for the first film and brought a film I had remembered seeing ten years earlier in Hawaii at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, Physical Science Auditorium, where most kids growing up in Hawaii in the early '80s were exposed to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

That venue was where I first saw that cult classic, along with

The Decline of Western Civilization,

Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same,

my first Russ Meyer's film, Up! (co-written by Roger Ebert),

the Black Sabbath-Blue Oyster Cult concert film

Black and Blue, and the inaugural PCOC film, Ralph Bakshi's Wizards.

Legend has it, that despite the reception to Wizards, we decided to keep going. The Ralph Bakshi film didn't translate well to April 18, 1993, the night that PCOC began. It appealed more to the early-80's teenager, I guess. Bakshi peaked in the Seventies. By 1993 he was past cool.

The amazing thing, however, is that PCOC still exists. Melanie and I may have moved away, but the beat goes on. The first group consisted of Me, Tino, Melanie, Chris, Colin, Tracy, Sharla, Larry, and Lanya. At least that was the first "rotation," before I showed my second film, On July 5, 1993, John Sayles' Brother from Another Planet.

Of that first wave of nine people, only Tino, Chris, Colin, and Tracy remain as core regulars. The rule was you had to attend three times before you could join the rotation. Over the years, PCOC was subsequently attended and hosted by Cristina, Tony (first film 9/19/93, currently a member and BillyBlog reader), Crissy, Jill (another member of BillyBlog Nation), Laurie, Kurt (first film 1/17/96, currently a member), Nathan, Nicki (first film 5/19/96, current), Rich, Karen, Cyndee (currently of Brooklyn, honorary member and BillyBlogMomInLaw), Michelle (first film 12/21/97, current member), Jason (first film 9/26/99, current member), Van (first film 10/24/99, current member), Alicia (first film 12/12/99, current member and BillyBlogSister), Sarah (first film 7/16/2000, current member), Brian (current member, first film 8/20/2000), Michael, (first film 12/10/2000, current member), Ruth (current member, first film 8/17/2003, and last "new" member), and honorary attendees, Leon and Donna and Seth, all Cohanim. I'll throw in my old chum Erin, who attended a few, and I would surely be remiss in not mentioning what I am sure are a speckling of others who have visited but not merged since I left Los Angeles in 1997. That's 32 names in all, with a core group of 15, many of whom are couples, with offspring, who, by sheer nature of their being children, limit the number of folk that actually sit and watch the movies.

I thought it would be cool to show the posters of every PCOC film, but listen here, you strangers to the concept. This entity still has a beating heart, as they approach their fourteenth year of congregation. A conservative estimate, according to the document known as "The List," (not of the NBC Heroes variety, mind you, shows that we (that is PCOC members, old, new, honorary, and in exile) screened our 575th film last November 5, 2006.

The number is higher, as they have shown films since then, and in fact, what this post originally started out being, I returned to Southern California last week (ye readers of regularity doth know) and a special Saturday session of PCOC was convened to allow me to see everyone (I missed Chris, Kurt and Ruth), and screen a movie, thirteen years, eight months, and twenty-six days after launching this venture with an under appreciated (hah) Bakshi film.

I brought and screened for a handful of PCOC faithful, Robert Towne's adaptation of John Fante's Ask the Dust.

This may seem familiar, at least in title, because Fante's novel is ranked #16 on BillyBlog's favorite books of all time.

To me, this was a quintessential PCOC film, in that it was crafted by a master filmmaker, Robert "I wrote a film called Chinatown" Towne, and I guessed a lot of people had not seen it in theaters (it grossed less than a million bucks).

However, it was still, in my opinion, a fine film. Roger Ebert wrote:

"Ask the Dust" requires an audience with a special love for film noir, with a feeling for the loneliness and misery of the writer, and with an understanding that any woman he meets will be beautiful. Such stories are never about understanding landladies. I am not sure the film achieves great things, but it achieves its smaller things perfectly.

It was very true to the spirit of the novel, one that I was surprised could be converted to the big screen. The acting is superb and the film is shot beautifully. While writing this up, I learned it was shot in part, in Capetown, South Africa. It rang so true of Los Angeles, however, that I did not feel this foreign location intruding in the story.

I strongly recommend this to anyone who may have read the book, and thought it captured a mood and spirit of Depression-era Los Angeles very well.

We tried, in 1997, to create a sister group in Brooklyn, called BCOC. After three films, it folded. We started with a core group of friends and that friendship has provided a solid foundation over the years. I will most likely do another post about my run of films in PCOC. Ask the Dust was my twenty-second contribution. The last was John Waters' Pecker,

which I showed in June 2001.

I like to think about how core groups of people end up being friends. I'll end with an anecdote of one of the current members, Nicki, who came to PCOC in the mid-90's after Melanie ran into her during jury duty in downtown L.A. Nicki had gone to Occidental College with us, a year behind Tino and me. I know she is an essential part of the group. She's shown 36 films. And I realize that I am a fringe member now, in absentia. What if Melanie hadn't seen her at jury duty? What if Tino and I hadn't driven to San Diego together that Passover in 1993? How many lives would be different, how many friendships would have never been formed? It's an interesting thing to think about, from time to time.

I am proud of many things I have done in my life. And even though I haven't really been a part of the core group for many years, I still feel like a proud parent, every time I hear that the group has convened yet again for another Sunday, to add one more film to the list that has grown beyond my wildest expectations.

1 comment:

Cristina said...

Wow! I was mentioned in BillyBlog.