It’s a Wonderful, Mad Future

I’ve often studied the way smart people are portrayed in movies.  There are trends.  In the 1920s-40s, we had the frizzy-haired mad scientist who dreamed up amazing inventions in his Ken Strickfaden-charged laboratory.  In the 1950s, we had the manly macho scientist (often Richard Carlson or John Agar) who was calm, visionary, and took control of the situation.

Since the 1960s, it’s been Jerry Lewis-style geeks.  Eddie Deezen has made a career out of playing this stock character.  He’s loud, socially inept, smart, and no one likes him.  This isn’t to trash Eddie: he does a great job of playing a stock character, but what are you gonna do with a stock character?  Lon Chaney Jr. was great as Lennie, but they asked him to do variations on it for the rest of his life.  Same with Eddie.

This is why I particularly love a film called Real Genius (1985), which is one of the few movies since the 1950s to depict smart kids as smart kids.  The smart boys get the girls, and the girls are smart, too.  There is social ineptitude, but it’s real, not cartoonish.  The characters are all well-drawn.  But Real Genius was an anomaly, and we went back to the loud geek cliche.

So I came with trepidation to this new movie, Welcome to the Future.  It’s an indie film, and Sturgeon’s Law applies: 90% of everything is junk. In the world of indie films, 99% of them are junk.  And this is about smart people who go to conventions.  So I expected the worst.  I expected to last 5 minutes and have to turn it off.

But one thing saved it: Larry Blamire liked it.  Larry, for those of you who read here often, is one of those guys who makes indie films that are in that 1/2 of 1% that are very good indeed.  So I thought, well, if Larry liked it, I’ll give it a shot.

Now, I know that a lot of you rib me that I don’t like any movie made after 1934.  Some will rib me that I don’t like any movie shot in color.  A lot of you don’t think I will see modern films at all.

And I like modern films.  I just don’t like films that suck.  I don’t like films that are the same old thing.  And yes, I don’t like comic book movies these days because THERE ARE JUST TOO MANY OF THEM.

I’m happy to report that Welcome to the Future does not suck.  In fact, it extra strongly does not suck.  It’s got some of the cleverest screenwriting I’ve seen in several years.  Really.  And it’s about smart people, geeks, and there’s not a single Eddie Deezen-style stock character in it.  Well, maybe one.

Welcome to the Future was actually shot at a Comic Con.  The logistics of doing such a thing are so daunting that I would never attempt it.  How they got a usable soundtrack and intelligible dialogue are beyond me.  It doesn’t look like much of it is overdubbed, and if it is, it’s amazingly well done.  But enough about the technical stuff.  I know it’s my favorite part, but not yours.

The movie is essentially about Gene (Leon Morgan) and his pal Mike (Frank Bonacci, also the screenwriter and director).  Mike’s girlfriend Taylor (Concetta Rose) is frustrated with him because he keeps ignoring her, and Mike seems to think Taylor is, well, it’s a plot point.

Gene is prone to panic attacks for some strange reason and has trouble dealing with certain topics.  We eventually learn why.  Enter Angry Cliff (Christopher Ryan) and Rod (Mike Bocchetti), and we’ve rounded out the main cast.

Rod is the most Eddie Deezen-like in the cast, but he’s much more believable than the stock character.  Rod simply is so deep into his fandom and his own little world that he can’t really cope with other people.  He can have conversations, but he obsesses about characters like Boba Fett and has few contact points with reality.  Mostly he just sits silently.  I’ve met people like Rod.

Angry Cliff is upset that people and things aren’t going his way.  He’s nearly as obsessed as Rod, but he feels alienated from mainstream culture and hates the newbies that have invaded his world of geekdom.  I’ve met people like Angry Cliff.

Gene looks at it a different way: the mainstream has invaded geek culture because the geeks won.  Mike isn’t so sure.  He especially hates the fact that some people are dressed as characters from the film Xanadu, a position I find completely defensible, but you all know I hate disco.

Welcome to the Future hits all of these notes and still captures the love and joy that these characters get from their fandom.  It also touches on some other stock characters: the drunken, out-of-work actor (Craig Geraghty) who’s been in some movies that the fans like but doesn’t get the whole fan thing.  The classic-era artist (Jack Piccinni) who’s too old and out of it to care anymore, only egged on by his wife, who seems to be holding on to their last source of income.

These characters are all real, and they resonate well here.  Bonacci’s script doesn’t talk down to us or condescend to his characters.  It’s talky: there’s a lot of discussion, but there needs to be.  

Gene’s character gets a good story arc and has some redemption toward the end.  He doesn’t reject geek culture but rather learns to share it and distance a little.  Rod is beyond any sort of redemption, and Angry Cliff probably is, but Mike doesn’t seem to be.  

I get the feeling that there is more to the story of Mike and Taylor after the end of this film.  Sequel?  I’d watch it.  I think Mike has some more character growth in him.

I guess one of the reasons I like this so much is that I relate to the characters so much, and there seems to be very little of these kinds of people in regular media.  The only note Bonacci seems to miss is a typical person I seem to find at every convention.

I’m speaking of the people who are so obsessed with fan culture that they wrote their own book/screenplay/comic book about something.  At Star Trek conventions, this person is almost always female and has a story about Mr. Spock.

If someone up to you and says, “I wrote this story about Mr. Spock,” you should always politely run in the other direction.  It will save you an hour of discussion.

This is a manifestation of the fact that a great number of these people are actually closeted artists who can’t quite get to their own art.  They express it by over-loving others’ work.  They may be too untalented, too antisocial, too unlucky, or just plain too scared to succeed at creating their own works.

I think most of the characters in Welcome to the Future are frustrated artists and creators, if they’d admit it to themselves.  They’re archetypes that I believe.  And that makes this all the more real.  I recommend it.

After all, I wrote this story about Mr. Spock.

The Canonical List of What’s Going on with Kongo 11/6/21

I have every frame of film the Library of Congress has scanned.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other reels of clips.

I have an entire reel of clips from a second archive .

There’s a reel of material from Bob Monkhouse in England that I do not have scanned yet.  It contains some footage I can use.

I have a complete 16mm print in my collection, but the quality is iffy.  All of the 16mm prints are like this.

The goal is to have as much of this sourced from 35mm as possible.

Chapter 1 R1:

The sound version is completely missing in 35mm.

We have the sound version in 16mm.  I have scanned this.

We have the camera negative for the silent version, and we have the credits and tag from other materials.  

About 2/3 of the reel can be found in the silent version in identical shots.

A bit of the sound footage in the clip reel we just had scanned.

We do not have sound for this reel.  We have the script for the two dialogue scenes and will have to have lip readers help out.

Restoration just started.

Chapter 1 R2:

We have camera negative on this.  It’s in fair shape.  Bruce Lawton is helping me go through it now.

We do not have sound for this reel.  We have the script for the two dialogue scenes and will have to have lip readers help out.

Restoration not started.

Chapter 1 R3:

We have a print and negative on this.  Bruce Lawton is helping me go through it now.

We do not have sound for this reel.  We have the script for the two dialogue scenes and will have to have lip readers help out.

Restoration not started.

Chapter 2 R1:

This is missing the cliffhanger resolution from the previous chapter, but the previous chapter is using footage from a different camera.  Replacement footage has  been scanned from 16mm.

Some footage from Bob Monkhouse in 35mm will cover this better.

Restoration only barely started.

Chapter 2 R2:

Have print and negative.  Print is a little short in end tag.  Two brief sequences removed that exist in negative.  Long goofy piece in beginning of reel set in Africa has insert sequences rotted in negative.  Sequence in here can be used to fix a damaged section in Chapter 10. Lots of film and camera jitter.  Looks like it was shot this way.

Restoration only barely started.

Chapter 3 R1:

Not examined closely yet.

Chapter 4 R1: 

Have print and neg,  mostly looks in good shape.  Not examined too closely yet.

Chapter 4 R2:

Tinting starts last half of R2.   Tint has caused rot in print.  Focusing on this because it’s got a lot of issues and it’s going to cause problems.  We have no backup except 16mm.

Chapter 5 R1:

Graded and awaiting stabilized.

Chapter 5 R2: Awaiting grading and stabilization.

Chapter 6 R1: Awaiting grading and stabilization

Chapter 6 R2 graded and stabilized.  Awaiting de-dirting.

Chapter 7 R1: graded and stabilized.  De-dirting in progress.

Chapter 8 R1: Pretty well finished; needs some touch-up, but we just found more footage, which needs to be replaced.  Yet more footage in Monkhouse.

Chapter 8 R2: Pretty well finished.  Maybe a little bit more to be done on ending.

Chapter 9 R1: Pretty well finished.

Chapter 9 R2: Pretty well finished, found more footage in LoC reel.  Needs to be replaced.

Chapter 10 R1: Nearly finished, but found footage in Monkhouse, LoC Reel.  Needs to be replaced.

Chapter 10 R2: De-dirted, extensive line removal and de-flicker in progress.  Stabilization upgrade running now.

General comments:

The negatives in this are usually rotting and starting to mottle. Location footage is almost always going in the negatives.  Fortunately, there’s a lot of repetition and a lot of backup.

The prints are almost always edited, with little bits that were found to be exciting that got excised.  For example, the entire opening of Chapter 7 was excised from the print and put into Robert Youngson’s Days of Thrills and Laughter, so that had to be rescued from the negative, which isn’t in wonderful shape.  The dinosaur scenes in several chapters were cut out.  I’ve managed to find all of them except Chapter 10, which we had to rescue from 16mm.

I keep finding better footage of a lot of stuff, particularly Chapter 10.  I had originally had about a 3 minute section that was replaced from 16mm.  Then a piece showed up that was cut into Chapter 9… why, I don’t know.  In August, the Library of Congress shipped me a clip reel that had another minute in it.  In mid-September, I got reel from another archive with still more footage in it.  I think we’re going to end up with just the dinosaur scene from Chapter 10 replaced.

Here are the questions I keep being asked—

  1. When is this going to be finished?

I don’t know.  I’d like to think we’re about at the halfway point.  It may not seem like that but because of the pandemic and my needing to get upgraded computers, we were slowed immensely.  The fact I’ve now been through every chapter but 3 is a nice fact, and I’ve identified pretty well what needs to be done.

I was hoping for end of this year but maybe early-mid next year.

2) Why is it taking so long?

The film is in bad shape. As you see, bits are missing and need to be replaced.  It’s not a simple process.  We’re doing this at 4K which takes longer.

We’ve also had 2021 be the year of bad health for everyone.  Amongst my family and the people who are helping me do this, we’ve had one death, three cases of cancer, a case of sepsis and gangrene, and a broken leg.  

I’m having trouble getting people to do dirt removal.  Two of my assistants hate it so much as to almost refuse to do it, taking forever to get it done.  One other guy is so overbooked that he can’t do it.  Two other people are on the docket for doing it, but one just had an apartment fire.  

Yes, I can do it myself, but I’m busy sorting out bits of what parts of the film go where.  This is stuff only I can do.  Others can do de-dirting.  Almost every day I set up a render in the morning that takes all day, then head out to a coffee house and do correspondence, mostly on this project, for the rest of the day, sometimes a second render, sometimes visiting some of the guys helping me.  There ain’t room for more.

3) Didn’t you get a grant to do this?

Yes, I did, from the Efroymson fund.  We blew through the money by having to buy new computers.  I don’t regret that; they were needed, and they are being used, but I’m out of cash and frankly my helpers are all telling me that their trade for “new computers in exchange for work” isn’t really working out in their favor.

4) I thought you got an NFPF grant to restore this.

I got two NFPF grants to restore chapters on 16mm and I did do those.  The negatives are on file at Library of Congress.  But we discovered that there were 35mms after those were done.  When I did the NFPF grants, the 16mms were the best we knew of.  Let’s be clear: there was the negative in the camera, then there were master prints, and the 16mms were badly copied onto a 16mm dupe negative and then printed.  The 16mm negative also has clunky splices in it (particularly in Chapter 8 for some reason)

5) Are you just being anal retentive to get every frame?

No.  Most of the time that stuff is missing, it’s a good hunk of at least a minute. In chapter 10, almost 3 minutes are missing and were replaced from 16mm, but we’ve found nearly all of it from 35mm at this point.  Bear in mind that when we have sound, it’s best to have every frame because that keeps things in sync.