In 2003, I was invited to come down to Austin, Texas to join the team at the original Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. There was no company office and I worked out of Tim and Karrie League’s kitchen as Tim and I programmed the downtown single-screen location collaboratively, with support from Lars Nilsen who curated the Weird Wednesday series and Henri Mazza, who was then still a server but quickly rising through the ranks with his gonzo interactive programming ideas.
I was a programmer at the Alamo from 2003-2007 and at some point I started being referred to as “head programmer” but I’m not sure why, other than maybe my iron grip on the booking calendar and some sort of tentative seniority (but I’ll take it). During that time the theatre transformed from a scrappy mom n’ pop joint to one of the most respected cultural ventures in the country. I left before it got too big, as I tend to do. But in my time there I got to do a few things.
One of them was starting a series called Music Monday. Music docs and music-related films for a dollar every Monday night at 9pm. It was a dead slot. Tim only gave it to me because there was no way anything I would do would be any worse than it already was. But I was able to turn it around and get a loyal audience of music nerds who supported what I was doing. I have many favourites of the screenings I put on as part of this series, but I still say the Zoom (yes, the WGBH kids show Zoom) A/V show with first season cast member Tommy White is up there for me. Director Gandulf Hennig coming with Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel. “Face Time” with Ian McLagan of the Small Faces/Faces. Or Radio On with Wreckless Eric. Weasel Walter doing his live No Wave Tutorial and the Flying Luttenbachers playing live. Tracy & the Plastics! Population One (everyone hated it). I also remember feeling that I was going to be stoned to death when I played the Gun Club movie and it had no music in it. But I got to hang out with Texacala Jones after, so it was all worth it. Since the admission was only $1 we couldn’t afford to book bigger studio titles so I was able to give a lot of screen time to emerging directors and even started making “Alamo originals” using my own collection of bootleg tapes (and many donated by Mike Mariconda, who’s a friend of mine) to manufacture compilations somewhat resembling documentaries. My friend Hope Peterson called them “bibliodocs”. Krautrock, harsh noise, Glam rock, Harry Nilsson, Lee Hazlewood – that one was pretty infamous, since I got Boyd Rice to narrate it and Lee Hazlewood himself sent me a fax threatening to sue me. That fax was my most prized possession in the world til some Alamo cleaning person threw it out. The Austin Chronicle gave me an award for the series and an article about it still survives HERE >>
I booked and did the contracts for appearances by Tab Hunter, Farley Granger, Neil Hagerty, Joe Dallesandro, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Chuck Norris, Traci Lords, Ann Savage, Howard Kaylan, Joe Swanberg, The Barbarian Brothers, James Duval, John Saxon, Jon Gries, Susan Tyrrell, Paul Williams, the cast of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, Eric Bogosian, Eli Wallach, James Ellroy, The Mentors, Curtis Armstrong, Irvine Welsh, the cast of THE WARRIORS, the cast of DEGRASSI, Jorg Buttgereit, Jean Rollin, Alex Cox and the cast of REPO MAN, the casts of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, FREAKS AND GEEKS, and VERONICA MARS. I may have also done the contract for the Tron Suit Guy but I’m not sure.
But my favourite Alamo event of all time was the Extreme Schoolbus Adventure, hosted by visiting programmer/collector Skip Elsheimer of AV Geeks. We had a moving schoolbus full of people, with a keg in the middle, Skip operating a 16mm projector connected to the bus battery, projecting schoolbus safety/accident films on a screen mounted precariously at the front of the bus, and the driver stopping every time we hit a place where a real schoolbus accident happened to tell us the gruesome story. And one of the films was about a little girl so obsessed with buses that she had a bright yellow T-shirt that said “Bus Nut”, so Skip gave out a “Bus Nut” T shirt to some lucky winner. Clearly not winning the Bus Nut shirt stung enough that I still remember it all these years later.
I was there for the founding of Fantastic Fest, and was a programmer for the first two years. Until Tim wouldn’t let me play Pop Skull and I quit in indignation. Yes, I quit my job over Pop Skull. So in 2007 I left to go back to Canada. There are a lot more stories in between 2003-2007. Someone should ask me about them before I’m too old to remember.