Starting Wednesday July 22, Scarecrow and Northwest Film Forum are going to be co-hosting a new monthly screening series called “Not On Netflix”. Each month, someone affiliated with Scarecrow will hand-pick a rare title from our voluminous stacks to put in front of your eyeballs. We’re kicking it off with an amazing, bizarre little homemade action film, POLK COUNTY POT PLANE, which happens to come with a fascinating true behind-the-scenes story.
Peter Moran over at Film Forum interviewed our very own Matt Lynch, who will be introducing the movie next week, to find out what makes movies like this one so special, and how they can disappear without a trace if we’re not careful.
What are the origins of the Not on Netflix Series?
I had initially approached Northwest Film Forum about putting together a short series about my personal passion, exploitation films of the 60s and 70s. But there was some difficulty obtaining prints to screen as well as other logistical issues, and that didn’t work out. When it fell through, brilliant NWFF Program Director Courtney Sheehan asked if Scarecrow would be interested in co-hosting a monthy series of ultra-rare stuff that you couldn’t see anyone else, hand-picked by members of our staff or folks working closely with the store. Naturally we jumped on the opportunity.
Why is a series like this relevant in an on-demand age?
I think there’s a misconception out there that just because a lot of stuff is available to stream that somehow everything is, or at least everything you’d ever think to see. That’s simply not true. There are literally hundreds of thousands of movies and shows that will probably never make it to streaming. And it’s not just rare or esoteric stuff or tedious arthouse homework…like, as of right now you can’t stream THE GODFATHER. And with every new technological step forward in delivering media to people, massive amounts of titles get lost, often never to be heard from again. What we want to do with this series is highlight some fun, fascinating stuff that’s slipped through the cracks, stuff we think people will enjoy and that will remind them that there’s a whole other universe of stuff out there that’s in danger of disappearing.
How do some movies slip through the cracks? Can you characterize the films that disappear from the public conscious/availability?
That’s a complicated question, but mostly it boils down to money. A lot of the films that get lost are either very small films or very old ones, especially films that have tangled rights issues and a likely small audience. There’s simply not much of a financial incentive for a big studio to clean these movies up and give them a proper, expensive (or even inexpensive) release. There are still thousands and thousands of movies that run the gamut of genres and styles, really just about any sort of thing you can think of, that didn’t make the shift to DVD from VHS. Still more will be lost when blu-ray finally gives way to digital (or whatever comes next).
How do you find movies like these?
Well, of course it helps to have access to the incredible archive that is Scarecrow Video. I’ve worked there for almost 13 years, and, speaking only for myself, you find these movies by relentlessly browsing and watching. Anything that looks interesting, take it home and give it a spin. The other way to learn about strange or esoteric movies is just to listen to other cinephiles and film lovers. There are so many of them all over the world, more connected than ever thanks to the internet. We’re all scouring our respective resources looking for the weird and unusual or forgotten, and when someone turns up something they’re enthusiastic about, it’s always worth checking into.
Are they any good?
Well, we certainly think so. There’s a suspicion about stuff like that, that it falls into the “So bad it’s good” category of movies you watch only to make fun of. Personally I don’t believe in that sort of thing. On the other hand, there’s an entire universe of movies that have interesting ideas, lovely cinematography, or good performances…it’s just that those elements are living in films that are, say, made by non-professionals or people without formal training or access to funds. What makes these films so fascinating is often that nobody told the filmmakers what not to do, or that certain things are against a set of rules. The best movies, at any level of budget or talent, are the ones that their makers just had to make, just had to get out of their system, and that counts for George Lucas just as much as it does for Ed Wood.
What’s the story with POLK COUNTY POT PLANE? How did you find it?
I found out about POLK COUNTY POT PLANE from my friend Laird Jimenez, who programs a long-running weekly series for Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, called Weird Wednesdays. He found it in the vaults of Austin’s American Genre Film Archive, which happened to have a print, screened it, and loved it. I was intrigued just by the title alone, and it turned out we have a copy at Scarecrow under an alternate title, IN HOT PURSUIT.
On the surface, it’s just sort of a regional spin on a movie like SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT or GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS, a sort of southern-fried car chase movie about a couple of good old boys (hilariously named Oosh and Doosh) who are part of a moonshining outfit. There are all kinds of crazy stunts and goofy jokes, and it’s a really good time. But it turns out it’s sort of based on a real event, where some guys actually landed a real airplane full of weed on a makeshift runway dug out of a Georgia mountaintop. They all got arrested, but the government didn’t know what to do with the actual plane (they couldn’t get it down off the mountain). A local politician and entrepreneur named Jim West saw gold in them thar hills though, and he bought the plane and surrounding land, enlarged the runway, and flew it off the mountain himself. Then he figured he’d make a movie about it. He directed POT PLANE, the actual plane is featured in the film, and he plays the pilot.
What significance do you attach to POLK COUNTY? Or these other relatively unknown portions of film history? What importance/role do they have for you?
A movie like this is special to me because of this idea I keep harping on that interesting films and filmmaking doesn’t need to come from established channels. Just because something has no stars, no money, no advertising, and maybe even not much more in the way of talent than sheer doo-dah divine inspiration, that doesn’t mean it’s trash to be discarded. Nobody thought STAR WARS would work until one guy got a bunch of folks together and literally invented how you make a movie like that. I’m not saying that POLK COUNTY POT PLANE is as landmark or as historically essential a film as STAR WARS, but in it’s own way it’s just as vital and exciting.
POLK COUNTY POT PLANE screens on Wednesday, July 22 at 9pm at Northwest Film Forum.
You can get tickets right here! See you at the movie!