Given its penchant for taking local audiences back into their past on a monthly basis, Cult Classics’ decision to celebrate its second anniversary with a film about time travel and a tie to its East Valley home was both logical and a most excellent thing to do.
As the reference above alluded to, the film in question is “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” — the sneaky smart 1989 film starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter as the titular characters who go on a, well, excellent adventure through time. The epic quest to ace a history exam, and prevent poor Ted’s exportation to military school in Alaska, has the duo meet up with historical figures ranging from Joan of Arc and Genghis Kahn to Billy the Kid and the most righteous Abraham Lincoln.
It’s a beloved piece of nostalgia, and fits perfectly with Cult Classics’ mission to connect audiences with films they might have missed during their initial theatrical run, said group event organizer Victor Moreno. As he put it, there’s a huge difference between watching a film at home or after it’s been through the wringer of a TV edit to the theatrical experience; the lattermost is far more fun, especially with an engaged audience.
Over the last two years, Cult Classics has screened about movie a month in three venues, starting with a viewing of the ever-quotable “Army of Darkness” (“Klaatu, Barada, Nikto”) at the now-closed Royale located in Mesa. It was meant to be something fun to do, to provide a cult-film experience in the Valley, and the organizers weren’t sure how many people would attend the event.
It turned out to be a bit more popular than expected.
“The screening sold out instantly,” Moreno said.
Since then, Cult Classics has bounced from the Royale to Madcap in Tempe to its current home at Pollack Tempe Cinemas, which will host Saturday’s shindig. Moreno said the decision to leave the first two venues stemmed not just from their eventual closure, but from a need to find a place to seat its continuously growing audience that come to check out the wide-variety of films Cult Classics screens.
“It’s an eclectic list in some weird way; for every ‘Battle Royale’ we’ll play a ‘Labyrinth,’” he said.
That’s another of Cult Classics’ goals, to introduce audiences to movies they might not be aware of, for example the Japanese “Battle Royale” — think “Hunger Games,” but far, far bloodier — and “Zombie.” One of the ways the group accomplishes that feat is to pair obscure films with something with a wider appeal, the best example being the teaming of “Shaun of the Dead” with “Juan of the Dead” in May 2012.
Picking the film to screen is a selective process that has the Cult Classics crew — Moreno, fellow event coordinator Alison Brandt, Saul Moreno, Adam Lazlo and Ann Braton among them — come up with a list of three films each, which are then whittled down through a group discussion.
“It’s a combination of the movies we love and we think the audience will enjoy,” he said.
Two of Moreno’s favorite movies, “Big Trouble in Little China” and “Robocop,” have found their way onto the screening list. He, somehow, saw the latter as a kid, and the OCP certificate he received afterward — and still has today — became an inspiration for the gimmicks Cult Classics adds to the viewing experience.
The little extras the group provides are tied to each month’s screening; for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” it was a pizza party to acknowledge the turtles’ favorite food, and “The Shining’s” showing had a wooden door with an axe hole people could poke their face through. Cult Classics also showed the “Simpsons” “Shining” parody prior to that screening, and regularly puts on a few retro cartoons before starting a movie.
Also encompassed in the screenings are previews for older films, which harkens back to the first-run vibe the group aims for and, depending on the audience reaction, can act as inspiration for future screenings.
In the case of “Bill & Ted,” the motivation to pick it as second-year celebration stems from the film’s local connection, as most of the film was shot at landmarks around the Valley. Many of the landmarks are still open today in the East Valley: Napoleon’s trip to Waterloo was shot at Golfland Sunsplash in Mesa, and the Circle K location, the one where Reeves says “strange things are afoot,” is open for business along Southern Avenue in Tempe.
“We were trying to find something that was especially tied to the community,” Moreno said about the choice.
As was the case with the other screenings, Saturday’s screening at Tempe Pollack will have a few fun features of its own, among them a photo gallery of the local screening locations and a free soda for all attendees provided by Circle K.
Reflection is inevitable whenever a milestone is reached, and Moreno is able to look back at the adventures Cult Classics has gone through over a two-year stretch. There are the near catastrophes the group survived — viewers of the “Ninja Turtles” screening came perilously close to consuming soggy pizza — the audience reactions to the films, previews and cartoons shown before the main attraction and the trial-and-error approach to what has been a fun experiment.
What’s most notable is the audience expansion. Cult Classics now has several regulars who attend every screening, and the experience has broadened the cinema knowledge for fanatics across the Valley and, to paraphrase our 16th president, helped people be a little more excellent to one another.
“That’s what I’m proud of; bringing it from one to two people to many more,” he said.