Underground Press Conference 2000 By Mike White. I didn’t go to the Underground Press Conference to make money hand over fist but that’s what I ended up doing...

I didn’t go to the Underground Press Conference to make money hand over fist but that’s what I ended up doing. It’s not “cool” to sell your stuff for too high a price-and don’t think I did. Most of the stuff on our table was there for free-go ahead and take it! Oddly, the “free stuff” didn’t move much. The “pay stuff” didn’t fly off the table either. What made Andrea and me enough cash to buy us lunch and dinner was the box overflowing with compact discs stowed under our table.

“You mean all of these are fifty cents a piece? That’s it?” Sure thing, bro. I’d not listened to a handful of the discs, and the others I either disliked or knew I’d never get around to reviewing (as they all sounded just about the same). Folks were leaving the table with their arms full of discs. Good bye Mustard Plug, we hardly knew ye.

The strangest question asked of me several times at the conference was, “Do you do anything else?” This apparently went back to some outmoded preconception of punk rock. The “true” punk can live by means unknown while producing their zines. To admit that I worked at a cushy job felt close to an admission of guilt. Yes, I’m a pawn in The Man’s game. Yes, I’m a cog in the corporate world you’d like to overthrow. Yes, I’m comfortable with that fact.

Yeah, some of the young punks there felt compelled to wear their politics on their sleeves (or skin). Between some of the geeky guys pushing their comic books and the dreadlocked anarchists, at times I felt like I had wandered into some kind of Marxist Star Trek convention. Mostly being around these youngsters just made my bones feel brittle-even when sitting at the table next to a white-haired guy selling “anarchist literature.” “What are you, fifty? Why don’t you get over this “anarchy phase” and go run a bookmobile or something, would you?”

I managed to meet a few fun folks throughout the day. My best introduction had to be the morning of the first day as I was lugging in another box of zines. Wearing my way-cool Cashiers du Cinemart T-shirt, a friendly young chap accosted me.

“Are you Mike White?” he asked. I probably flinched when I admitted I was, afraid that he was one of my more boisterous non-fans.

“Well, you’re a bad motherfucker!” Out shot his hand for a big hearty shake. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Rusty Nails.

I had e-mailed Rusty a few times. A mutual acquaintance turned me on to Rusty’s film, Acne. Rusty sent a copy of his film to me a few weeks before the conference but I had yet to watch it when I met the gregarious auteur outside the UPC hall.

Rusty didn’t let me down. After that stellar introduction we shot the shit quite a bit during the day. I discovered that Rusty knew his stuff when it came to movies and couldn’t wait to see Acne later that night.

Acne was one of three films scheduled to show at the UPC, courtesy of Scott Beibin’s travelling show for his Lost Film Festival. Scott came all the way down from Philly with filmmaker Esther Bell in tow. Bell’s Godass was the perfect flick for the UPC crowd, capturing the trials of zinedom within its narrative.

Set in the 1980s, Godass is the story of Terry (Nika Feldman), a zinester who publishes the punk fanzine, Skid Marks. After graduating from high school, Terry takes a trip from South Carolina to New York with her zine pals, Kevin (Arik Roper) and Skank (Preston Miller). While the trio stock stores in the East Village with Skid Marks, the authorities tow their car. Stranded in the big city, Kevin and Skank finally convince Terry to visit her biological dad, Henry (George Crowley)

When the film opens, Terry’s attempting to come to terms with the death of her stepfather, which only intensifies Terry’s misgivings about seeing Henry. Terry is uncomfortable with her father-not only is he a stranger in her life, but he’s also gay. Fred Schneider of the B-52s plays Roland, Henry’s long-time flame. Roland has recently reentered Henry’s life, taking care of Henry after homophobic thugs beat him up.

Hanging out in New York and enjoying the scene, Terry runs into her old buddy Nancy (Julianne Nicholson), who’s enthralled with the excesses of NYC. Nancy used to help Terry write a comic about a Goddess (the inspiration for the title) but now she helps turn Terry on to cocaine. Luckily, Godass avoids dishing out a heavy-handed anti-drug message.

Likewise, Godass doesn’t get goofy with the poignant topic of Terry’s dad. If Bell were a mainstream director, her film could have easily turned into an After-School Special with a name like “My Real Dad’s Gay.” Instead, Bell sticks true to her sights and delivers a finished movie with a mature narrative and strong DIY ethics.

Sure, some of the acting in Godass could be better, but Preston Miller and George Crowley give standout performances. Meanwhile, Milton Kam’s cinematography kicks ass. Shot on digital video, Godass is a great looking movie with carefully composed shots and naturalistic lighting. I look forward to seeing future projects from Bell.

In the world of indie film, cheap-o horror movies are a dime a dozen. Add some nudity and gallons of fake blood and-voilá-you have any number of interchangeable trashy titles cranked out by bottom-rung auteurs. I’m not complaining about indie films, but, moreover, the lack of inspiration behind the myriad mindless movies that do little to push creative envelopes or propagate intellectual discussion. They do wonders for the Karo Syrup market, however.

Directed by and starring Rusty Nails, Acne is a smart film that plays on the universal theme of teenage alienation, with teenagers transforming into adolescent monsters. The teens are victims of an insidious plague on their own bodies. An apparent collusion between Shale Oil and Mershey Chocolate company results in a toxin tainting Barrington’s city water supply. Combined with the high lipidic levels of the teenagers’ blood, the contagion results in teens sprouting gigantic zits on the tops of their heads.

The film’s protagonists, Franny (Tracey Hayes) and Zooey (Nails), are the first victims of the plague. They struggle to maintain their sanity, occasionally falling into a grease-fueled stupor as they search for the origin of their infection. Meanwhile, two Army officers, Glenn Diver (Timothy Hutchings) and Tina Catastrophe (Mary Lurchritz), search for clues only to be impeded by their superior officers.

While sharing thematic elements with classic horror films such as Teenagers from Outer Space and Night of the Living Dead, the stylistic origins of Acne are steeped in the French Nouvelle Vague. Apart from its literary nods (most notably to J. D. Salinger), Acne has a terrific sense of cinema (listen for violin strains reminiscent of the theme from Frankenstein when Zooey meets an old gypsy woman while travelling the countryside).

Shot in crisp black and white, Acne has a terrific look. Director Nails does a fantastic job of creating an atmosphere of dread while keeping pretension in check. Acne also has a great sense of warped humor, making it a cinematic experience that only gets better upon repeated viewings.

It was quite a culture shock going from Godass to Acne, but Nails’ short Santiago Vs. Wigface and music video for Tilt’s song “Animated Corpse” helped bridge the gap between the two filmmakers’ styles. There was also quite a gap in the post-film Q&A session with Esther Bell and Rusty Nails. Poor Esther was road worn and highly out of it. While Rusty was full on the auteur tip, Esther was stuck on the ease of digital video. Someone get her a DV sponsorship! She should be a spokesperson!

Initially, I was somewhat bummed by the cancellation of the third screening of the evening, Kung Fu Jew. But, after watching the video later I was rather glad...

Kung Fu Jew
Somewhere in the Dead Sea Scrolls is the lost legend of the Kung Fu Jew. Its origin dates back centuries before the birth of Christ. With a mindset based in Zen Judaism, the ancient art of Jewdo is the militant equivalent of kabbala. Trade in your tallas for a gi and kick some goyim butt...

Jon Fine and Michael Schiller’s Kung Fu Jew is Farrakhan’s worst nightmare. A story in three parts, the middle sequence resembles a classic blaxploitation film with the exception that African-Americans and Jews work in conjunction, armed with kick-ass Jewdo skills. This section is the highlight of the short film that is heavy on concept, bloated with ideas, and light on resolution. Complete with bad dubbing and “wide screen” cinematography, Kung Fu Jew is a fun, if ultimately unsatisfying, homage to classic karate films.

I felt a lot more comfortable at the second and final day at the UPC. I met some nice zinesters who freely traded their wares with mine. I met and chewed the fat with Jason from Micro-Film, possibly the hippest indie film mag going in the US today. I met Brent from Zine Guide and stuffed his ballot box with surveys filled out with my favorite film zines. And I generally chilled out with my insecurities about not being visibly punk enough and just had a good time people-watching.

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