So the folks behind Comedy Death Ray started a CDR film series at the Silent Movie Theater in Los Angeles over the summer. The premise is simple – a notable comedian presents one of his or her favorite comedies and a smattering of related material, with some live interview segments before and after. It happens once a month, and the ticket price is $14. I went on September 6th, when Paul F Tompkins was presenting Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.
I’ll be straight here – Paul F Tompkins is one of my absolute favorite comics and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure is one of my all-time favorite movies (as it should be one of yours unless you're some kind of soulless monster), so perhaps the deck was stacked for me at this particular event, but this whole thing is a great concept that is being executed beautifully.
First and foremost, the audience is immaculate. If you’ve ever been to one of those horrible midnight screenings they do at every struggling cineplex where they show the same 10 movies every Friday or Saturday at midnight – where they offer you the same tired-ass recycled cafeteria menu of overexposed 80’s movies like The Goonies, The Princess Bride, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Back to the Future, complete with totally fucked up reels that usually break or burn during the show – then you know about the people that show up for those things. It’s a bunch of asshole college kids who are there to fuck around and be annoying and call attention to themselves in the douchiest possible manner. They are not there to enjoy the film at all nor do most of them give a shit about what’s on screen, they’re there to take celphone photos of themselves watching a movie and then talk to their friends later about how CRAZY it was that they took celphone photos of themselves watching a movie they didn’t pay any attention to.
The Comedy Death Ray series at the Silent Movie Theatre is the antithesis of that. What you have here is a nice 8pm screening time with an audience that’s there to enjoy both the film and the talent that’s there to present it. It’s respectful and refreshingly sincere; people were there to laugh and enjoy themselves, not to be snarky assholes or try and make it about them. This is a huge rarity among filmgoing audiences; a bunch of appreciative people who just want to have a good time and not be dicks about it. Not a single phone went off during the entire event, if you can believe it.
Obviously, you get more than just the film, too; at this particular event, host Scott Aukerman interviewed Tompkins about why he chose this film, what it meant to him and how it’s impacted his career (although it was much funnier than that sounds). Tompkins then presented some classic Letterman Pee-Wee bits from the 80s, and then went straight into the film. The reel was a little beat-up, but in surprisingly good condition, and it’s clear the projectionist there really knows what he’s doing because it looked fantastic.
After the film there was another brief chat with Tompkins about just how well the film has aged and how amazing it is that it ever got made in the first place.
All in all, this is a great film series that is obviously bringing in the right crowd and is a great way to spend a Sunday evening. They schedule these things months in advance so check the schedule and pick a movie you’ve either never seen before or love to death. Either way you’ll enjoy yourself.
Some tips and recommendations:
The theater is a restored Los Angeles landmark without stadium seating, so if you aren’t a tall person, sit on the aisle seats and prepare to tilt if you want an unobstructed view of the screen.
You absolutely will have difficulty finding parking as it’s located in Fairfax Village, and the entire surrounding neighborhood is a maddening labyrinth of clandestine residential parking signs that resemble old Ziggy cartoons in which Ziggy is instructed to “keep left” and also “keep right” at the same time. I can’t tell you where to park because right now I’m still trying to figure out how I managed to get a parking spot without having to fight the Minotaur, beast of legend.
Next month the featured film is Top Secret! and the curator is Weird Al Yankovic. Click here for tickets. Show up if you like the film, the curator, or have never seen either.