JOURNAL OF INTERSTITIAL CINEMA #7: On The Road To Cultish Cinema Obscura

Cult cinema ‘zines have enjoyed a recent resurgence in the last few years, with savvy publishers taking advantage of how print-on-demand publishing makes it easier and less costly to get their musings out to the world. You can also publicize your work via a variety of online platforms, most notably Facebook and Twitter. As a result, there’s a whole new crop of publishers out there, looking to become personalities in the world of fandom.

And then you’ve got Journal Of Interstitial Cinema. They take the same print-on-demand route favored by their fellow ‘zinesters but otherwise do things in a way designed to keep themselves out of fandom’s spotlight. The publishers pen their work psuedonymously and there’s no Facebook or Twitter pages to communicate with readers. One could argue they’re trying to keep their publication as cultishly obscure as the films they cover.

Thus, it slipped Schlockmania’s mind that the JOIC crew put out another issue last year: #7, subtitled the “Special Summer Travel Issue.” As that subtitle suggests, there’s a loose theme of travel integrated throughout the issue’s contents: it contains both articles about films with travel themes and cinema-themed travels on the part of the contributors. Also included are some fun articles that stick to the magazine’s traditional focus on cinema’s roads less traveled, covering everything from the arthouse to the grindhouse. The result is another distinctive, often witty read from this secretive set of writers.

As has become the standard with the last few issues, the contents are divided between founders R.J. Wheatpenny and Grog Ziklore with newer recruit The Po Man. Wheatpenny offers a mixture of reviews and pieces that deliver factual info with an element of literary whimsy. On the former tip, he starts with a fascinating piece on how the concept of “interstitial cinema” is hard to define in a world where massive changes in film distribution have disrupted all levels of cinema. He then clarifies his newer, more conceptual definition of the phrase with a dozen capsule reviews of films that didn’t find traction in the current commercial marketplace. By the end, you’re reminded of just how much new cinema is out there today and how hard it is to get noticed.

Wheatpenny also contributes a poignant look at Photographic Memory, the last and most overlooked work from cinematic diarist Ross McElwee, and an overview of a series of short films produced by the U.S. Postal Service about mail fraud. The latter sound like fun viewing, a kind of modern, mail-centric update of the Crime Does Not Pay short subjects from the ’30s.

Elsewhere in the issue, he writes some clever essays: one is a history of home video piracy methods that plays like a comic battle of one-upsmanship between tech developers and determined pirates and a tale about a theater robbery from Hollywood’s early days, written in the style of late-period James Ellroy. The latter offers a pretty dead-on channeling of Ellroy’s terse “tough guy” writing style. He rounds all this work out with another installment of “The Screamproof Coffin,” the ‘zine’s regular horror review column, that is cleverly subverted to show just how much indistinguishable genre product there is out there today.

Ziklore divides his time between straightforward reviews and diary style pieces that run with the issue’s travel theme.  The first of his travel pieces covers four different trips (two in New Jersey, one each to Delaware and California). He looks for landmarks, hunts for books, trades DVDs and muses on the short-lived supernova of Moviepass as he visits an obscure theater. A separate piece delves into a Texas trip that began with looking for Texas Chainsaw Massacre locations and turned up megalodon teeth(!). His trio of reviews focus on fascinating Alan Rudolph thriller Endangered Species and two t.v. movies with real-life origins, porn star suicide drama Shattered Innocence and proto-X-Files sci-fi piece Mysterious Two. The latter is fascinating because it covers the beginnings of what would ultimately become the Heaven’s Gate cult.

Between the work of the ‘zine’s two founders, there are three excellent pieces by the Po Man. The first is a bit of Wheatpenny-esque whimsy in which a little daydream about going back in time to an old drive-in weaves in a clever, judiciously timed reference to a beloved cult film.

The other two are interview pieces. The first is a kind of oral history of the live promotions that producer/distributor Joe Solomon did for his drive-in faves like The Losers  and The Savage Seven. The commentary is woven from chats with actors John Garwood, Randee Lynn Jensen and Gene Cornelius: they fondly remember how Solomon could use his saleman’s chops to get the red carpet treatment in little Midwest towns and also how the locals would get starry-eyed at the chance to be near someone involved in making movies. Solomon made a lot of biker movies so there are also a few choice tales involving biker gangs.

The final interview piece is a one-on-one chat with Ferde Grofe, Jr., a self-taught filmmaker who pioneered the use of the Philippines as a filmmaking location as he cranked out a string of war-themed action flicks between the mid-’60s and the late ’80s. It’s a fun, candid interview where Grofe Jr. discusses the challenges of working with eager but untrained crews, his love/hate relationship with fading star and sometime producer George Montgomery and the challenges of selling independently-produced work to major studios. And this is just the first half of the interview (the remainder will appear in the next issue)!

In short, this is another read packed with distinctive wit and insights from its press-shy crew. Don’t let the ‘zine’s obscure nature faze you: it’s some of the best, most unique cult film writing out there so you should join its intrepid writers on the cinematic road less taken.

For all issues of Journal Of Interstitial Cinema, click here.

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