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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Sunday, May 19

Gapers Block

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Recently, I attended an event that I relish; it's a shame it only happens, at most, once a month. It's called Movie Dictator Night.

Well, that's what our group calls it. No doubt the many other groups getting together in living rooms across the city and nation call it by other names. There's even a book about the concept: "Screening Party" by Dennis Hensley. Take two movies. Invite some friends over -- you could tell them what they'll be watching ahead of time, but the Movie Dictators prefer to keep it a secret. Have some drinks and apps, then pop the first flick into the VCR or DVD player and start talking.

Yes, talking. The point of Movie Dictator is not to be quiet and watch the movies. It's to be loud and snarky and make fun of the movies.

For instance, last fall I was the dictator. Providing only the theme "Just the Boys, or Come Out and Play the Piano" in advance, I invited the group over for the unlikely double feature of "The Warriors" and "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T." (My theme played off the near lack of female characters in both films -- in Dr. T, literally the only woman in the movie is the protagonist's mom, who is under a spell most of the time.)

The Warriors, a gang from Coney Island, attend a congress of all New York's gangs called by a gang leader named Cyrus. When Cyrus is assassinated by a crazy gangster, the Warriors are framed and have to battle their way across New York, against gangs and cops, to home turf. The 1979 film is analogous to a porno -- but instead of sex, the flimsy plot and stilted dialogue serve to move things along from fight scene to fight scene. Believe it or not, this movie is infamous for the huge gang fights it instigated in theaters when it came out.

The crowd howled at the cheesy lines and outlandish gangs -- the local punk band Baseball Furies take their name from a group of pinstriped, face-painted toughies who take on the unarmed Warriors with baseball bats and still lose. Everyone was surprised to learn that this was Mercedes Ruehl's feature debut.

We took a break for some coney dogs, then popped in "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T," the first live-action Dr. Seuss movie, and the only one made while he was alive. The majority of this film is a dream, which at least partly explains the lack of women but not the rampant homoeroticism. Young Bart Collins hates practicing the piano almost as much as he dislikes his teacher, Dr. Terwilliker. He falls asleep while practicing, and has a nightmare in which he's the first student at Dr. Terwilliker's Happy Fingers Institute, run by Dr T and Bart's mom (his dad died in The War.) The plumber, Mr. Zabladowski, is Bart's male role model and only friend, and he helps foil Dr. T's plot to force 500 kids (all boys) play a gigantic piano 24/7. Imagine a classic Fifties musical film gone incredibly haywire, and you've got this movie. The set design is pure Seuss, and the story is appropriately surreal. While this one was the more enjoyable movie, we laughed a little louder at it, at least partly because it was also the lighter movie.

So, do you have to show terrible movies? No, but it's more fun. Most recently, we were subjected to a Movie Dictator trifecta: "Glitter," "Crossroads" and "From Justin to Kelly." Another time we saw "The Maltese Falcon" and "Casablanca," which was a great combo but didn't give us much to make fun of; we mostly discussed 1940s film trivia.

Try it out some weekend soon; pick a couple cheesy movies, invite some friends over, rip open a bag of chips and rip into the flicks. You'll have a blast, and chances are one of your friends will volunteer to host the next one.

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