On Culture

On Culture: 1970s grindhouse, revisited

CorrespondentMay 10, 2014 

Craig D. Lindsey

JULI LEONARD — jleonard@newsobserver.com

  • Details

    What: Cinema Overdrive presents “Keoma”

    Where: Colony Theatre, 5438 Six Forks Road, Raleigh

    When: 8 p.m. Wednesday

    Cost: $5

    Info: 919-847-5677 or ambassadorcinemas.com

Correction: This story incorrectly reported that the Raleigh film society Cinema Inc. has monthly showings at the Colony Theatre. The monthly showings are at the Rialto Theatre in Raleigh.

For going on five years now, the Rialto Theatre in Raleigh has been home to an unusual moviegoing experience.

On the second Wednesday of every month, film nerds descend on the arthouse for Cinema Overdrive, a repertory movie series that can best be described as the closest thing to a ’70s grindhouse experience you’ll get around here. While there are local revival showings, like the Friday-night films shown at the N.C. Museum of Art or the monthly Cinema, Inc. movie club at the Rialto Theatre that specialize in classic, sophisticated, respectable films, the films of Cinema Overdrive are often low-budget and low-down.

The series specializes in the obscure and the offbeat, the kind of trashy, bizarre fare that run-down Times Square theaters and drive-ins around the country trafficked in back in the day. Basically, anything exploitation-related – blaxploitation, teensploitation, sexploitation, hicksploitation, even Ozploitation (that’s exploitation from Australia, folks!) – has a home at Cinema Overdrive. Because of that, the films are often extreme and morally unrepentant in nature. (A film critic and I once discussed how several films Overdrive has played tended to be “very rape-y.”)

Greensboro-based filmmaker and co-founder Adam Hulin says audiences have accepted that that’s just how cinema rolled back then.

“I’ve personally never had any complaints from anybody about that,” he says. “And we have plenty of females who show up at every single show. … I don’t think we’ve ever had any sort of show that was anywhere near as being an all-male audience.”

The series also plays films from some down-and-dirty auteurs. This year alone, Overdrive has played titles from Italian horror master Dario Argento (“Four Flies on Grey Velvet”), acclaimed Hollywood filmmaker John Frankenheimer (“Seconds”) and legendary maverick/madman Sam Peckinpah (“Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia”).

In 2012, Overdrive hit a speed bump when co-founder Matt Pennachi parted ways with the series.

“He just got to a point where, because of his job and wanting to try some other things, he just didn’t have time to focus on this anymore,” Hulin says. “He’s still very interested in it, and he still likes to know how things are going, and we talk all the time.”

Pennachi said he felt he needed to concentrate more on himself and his family.

“After nearly 15 years of doing these types of repertory screenings in the area, I just didn’t have as much free time to focus on it as I once did,” Pennachi wrote in an email. “But, luckily, Adam has been able to keep it going very well, and he’s run some really great movies.”

After Pennachi’s departure, the series also lost another key component: custom-made movie posters. Since it started, Overdrive would commission local or national artists to design limited-edition posters specifically made for each film that was screened. (Several of these posters can be found on eBay, with prices ranging from $29.99 to $349.99.)

Hulin says it was too much of a time-crunch to book screenings and round up artists (several have formed the custom art outfit Twenty-Eyes Collective with Pennachi) to design posters in time for the screenings. But he’s not ruling out bringing the posters back.

“The audience really enjoyed that, and that’s one of the things we would’ve liked to have kept going,” he said. “But it was just difficult.”

Overdrive is sandwiched between the Rialto’s two other repertory-screening nights – Golden Age, where early 20th-century classics are played the first Wednesday of the month, and the long-running Cool Classics at the Rialto, where more popular, contemporary classics are screened on the third Wednesday. This Wednesday, Overdrive will screen Enzo G. Castellari’s 1976 spaghetti Western “Keoma,” starring Franco Nero.

While Rialto general manager Denver Hill says Overdrive is not as heavily attended as the other nights, it’s more for the daring cinephiles anyway.

“With Golden Age and Cool Classics, we can do more well-known movies, and it’s easier to promote those,” Hill says. “Cinema Overdrive is kind of ‘take a risk,’ you know. So, we’re looking for people who are up for an adventure. It’s a bit more challenging, but it’s definitely worth it.”

Lindsey: talkingfurniture@aol.com

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