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June 17, 2005

Ultimate Film Fanatic

Ultimate Film Fanatic
Independent Film Channel series

Time for a rant.

Lumena and I periodically watch the Independent Film Channel because most of the film we agree on are the type that are shown on the channel, foreign, classic or independent. Lumena told me about a new show that was looking for contestants, and figured that with my knowledge of film, I was already the Ultimate Film Fanatic.

I appeared on the Mountain States episode of the first season, 2004. Based on both my experience as well as the responses I have read about the show, I felt a few notes were needed.

The written exam to be on the show indicated a bit more film scholarship than the questions on the actual show. The odds were very much in my favor as there were only about thirty-six people who auditioned. Because of my score, I ended up taking two written exams. Questions I recall include identifying the body part discovered on the ground in the beginning of Blue Velvet, and naming Brian Cox as the other actor to portray Hannibal Lector (see Manhunter immediately if you haven't). I stumbled a bit, having remembered everthing about Ghost World except for the title. In general, the questions seemed appropriate for a show that would air on IFC, covering aspects of classic, foreign and independent film.

I scored well enough to be in the video audition. Lumena made sure I was dressed to be camera friendly. I was asked about to name my favorite movie (Suspiria), and do a little show and tell about some of my personal items that indicated my love of movies. I showed my copy of a book on Vincente Minnelli by Stephen Harvey, and talked a little bit about being a student volunteer at the Museum of Modern Art Film Department where I knew Steve. I also showed my DVDs of Tears of the Black Tiger and The Leopard (this was months before I knew the Criterion version was coming), to show that I would get films that were only available as foreign DVDs. In retrospect I should have said that these two films constitute a great animal theme double feature.

About a week after the audition, I got a call letting me know that I would be on the show. Frankly, the odds were in my favor as they needed six contestants and only thirty-six people auditioned. I had to fill out a questionnaire where I had to name favorite and disliked actors and directors. There were also more questions. One I recall asked if movies were better thirty years ago.

The actual show turned out to be different than what the auditions seemed to prepare me for. The actual UFF seems to be made by and for people who believe film history begins with Star Wars. Most of the questions were about mainstream films made in the last twenty-five years. Many of the categories were designed for entertaining an audience with at best, a casual interest in film.

The first part paired off two people to answer questions in a category such as films of Quentin Tarantino or documentaries. By my turn the category choices included Drunks on film and Animated Badasses. Lost Weekend is not a favorite Billy Wilder film, and Harvey and Arthur rate even lower, so I chose Animated Badasses. Clay Fong, my opponent in this round turned down Horror Films as he was sure I would beat him easily.

Because of the questions and categories, some viewers of the show have questioned whether the participants truly are film fanatics. What the viewers weren't aware of was the challenge of the audition questions, which I have indicated a love of film that is wider and deeper than that covered in the series. The bunch that I was with was generally a bit older, with people who know about the Nouvelle Vague, Akira Kurosawa, and Orson Welles, among others. So for those of you who have seen the show and think we were undeserving to be contestants, don't blame us for the questions or categories.

Now it should be mentioned that the difficulty of some of the questions seemed abitrary. The second set of questions on Tarantino included one on who played the ghost of Elvis in True Romance. I saw the film and couldn't remember that it was Val Kilmer. It's a much harder question than knowing the title of the film where the characters are named after colors.

I lucked out as I had seen all the films I was asked about. Clay was asked about Watership Downs and Aladdin, two I hadn't seen. Still, when the category is Animated Badasses, I would think there would be a question on Yosemite Sam or the Tazmanian Devil, not Toy Story or Yellow Submarine. I'm also not certain that Fritz the Cat was a badass, although he may have thought of himself as one.

The debate and personal items sections were even more abitrary being up to the whims of the judges. In my case, they were Traci Lords, Richard Roundtree and Jason Mewes. Only Mewes appearance made some sense by virtue of his appearance in Kevin Smith's films, but otherwise it felt like a gathering of C list names who needed some pocket money. You figure that if the show was going to be on IFC, the judges would be people whose films appear on IFC.

Three people remain for the debate portion. This is very problematic. The loser of the first debate gets a second chance to debate. Debating the merits of Kubrick's Lolita versus Lyne's Lolita was probably a stupid idea that Vince proposed, and I agreed to. But the format of allowing one of the three people in the debate round two chances is both poorly thought out and plainly unfair. Sure, the winner of the debate is up to the whim of the judges, but the format allowing one person to debate twice is wrong, wrong, wrong.

I lost the debate because the consensus was that Vince was improved over the first round. Ah well, I was never exactly a fan of any of the judges, although Traci Lord's autobiography was more entertaining than than some of her movies.I simply figured I would win because more people have actually seen Kubrick's version of Lolita and remember the image of Sue Lyon in the heart shaped sunglasses with the lollipop in her mouth.

Since I didn't make it to the final round, the show and tell section, the audience was denied the opportunity to see my autographed Sam Fuller novel, or my copy of Robert Benayoun's study of Jerry Lewis, written in French, or my copy of the screenplay to the never to be filmed Adventures of Augie March.

Watching the finals, I saw people quickly eliminated trying to name films starring Tom Hanks or Gene Hackman. You would think this would be easy, but you got people not paying attention to titles previously mentioned or simply staring at the camera like the proverbial deer facing the headlights. There were also categories combining names, like James Cameron Crowe.

So how to improve things if there is a third season?

Season one had one question on Citizen Kane and one question on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There should be more categories involving classic, foreign and independent films.
They can be entertaining, but here are a couple of suggestions:

Henry King Vidor

Who's the Mann? (Films by Anthony, Delbert and Daniel Mann)

Lon Chaney (the real film fanatic knows there's more than Phantom of the Opera and Hunchback of Notre Dame)

The Original Gangster - Scarface (1932)

Made in USA (American films by European directors)

I would encourage the producers to either drop the debate portion or change the format so that you do not have one person getting two opportunities. This is the only time a loser gets a second chance and is inconsistent with the rest of the show because of that particular rule. Maybe it would make more sense to have two sets of rounds with people naming film titles to eliminate two players quickly, followed by two pairs debating, followed by the two winning debaters showing off their prized possessions.

Just my thoughts on improving a show, and showing that the true film fanatic sees more than what's shown up at the multiplex.

Posted by peter at June 17, 2005 05:05 PM