Tough-guy character actor Robert Loggia was supposed to have been the Florida Film Festival's special guest Thursday night at Enzian Theater. But little more than a week before his appearance was to take place, word arrived that the gravelly-voiced thespian would not be coming; "unforeseen scheduling conflicts" were the proffered explanation. (Cue sarcastic take on orange-juice commercial: "Thanks, Mr. LOh-ja!)
Feverish speculation ensued about a possible replacement. Would the festival instead host Robert Rodriguez, I wondered? Minnie Driver? The wardrobe mistress from "Bride of Chucky?"
Word came down at the eleventh hour that Loggia's place would be taken by a repeat showing of But I'm a Cheerleader -- the crass, painfully unfunny comedy that's easily the most misbegotten festival feature I've seen thus far this year -- and a hastily arranged video teleconference with its director, Jamie Babitt. One of "Cheerleader's" previous screenings, it was said, had been marred when the film's second reel was placed in the projector upside-down and backward. (I can't imagine that it wasn't an improvement.)
Suddenly, the evening's second-string players had been thrust into the spotlight. Sicko animator Bill Plympton, a perennial festival participant, welcomed about 40 fans to the Barnes & Noble bookstore on East Colonial Drive, where he offered a verbal rundown of his drawing career and showed video clips from projects past, present and future.
Wearing a limited-edition bowling shirt decorated with the characters he designed for the festival's trailer, Plympton played his trump card early by repeating his often-heard, crowd-pleasing observation that the Walt Disney Company was not a "good, cop bad cop" operation, but rather "bad cop, antichrist." His amplified voice carried throughout the store as he introduced raw footage and pencil tests from his upcoming feature film, "Mutant Aliens."
The twisted shockmeister didn't tailor his presentation to the somnolent retail environment: The first scene we saw from the work-in-progress showed a naked woman soaping up her crotch in the shower. Minutes later, we were watching a marooned astronaut copulate with an alien queen who was little more than a disembodied nose. (Imagine stumbling onto that while on your way to pick up the Books on Tape version of "Angela's Ashes.")
Plympton is into the Internet these days, and he had strong words of support for Atom Films, where many of his short subjects are available for desktop viewing. He closed his seminar with some examples of his Flash animation currently featured on the site. In one blackout, an insomniac fantasized that he was mating with a sheep.
"Keep it funny and keep 'em cheap," Plympton advised the would-be cartoonists in the audience. He meant "inexpensive" ... I think.
Scott Beibin came close to following Robert Loggia's lead as a no-show. For weeks, the Philadelphia-based movie producer and record-label president had planned to bring his Lost Film Fest Road Trip Tour to the Kit Kat Club as an alternative to the Florida Film Festival -- the Slamdance to its Sundance, if you will. But that scheme was nearly scuttled when the tour pulled into Gainesville Wednesday, and Beibin and his people found themselves arrested for swimming in an apartment complex's pool without permission. (Talk about your "unforeseen scheduling conflicts.")
Released into their own custody, Beibin and crew arrived in Orlando too late to take in the festival's Thursday-afternoon showing of the documentary Naked States. Its portrait of Spencer Tunick -- a photographer who convinces regular joes and janes to pose naked en masse -- wouldn't have been news to Beibin, anyway: He himself had once posed for Tunick, as part of a group shot taken on the streets of New York City.
Giddy chaos, it appears, sticks to Beibin like glue. The Kit Kat program included a replay of a "Jerry Springer" episode in which he and three co-conspirators appeared as the members a bizarre, "totally made up" love quadrangle. Rightfully pleased with the particularly tumultuous installment (whose plot bore more twists and turns than "The Sting"), Beibin crawled excitedly across the floor of the Kit Kat, making sure that all of the seated patrons were enjoying themselves. He looked like a kid whose parents have just gifted him with first VCR and who has elected to break it in by hosting an all-night marathon of "Spawn" viewing for his closest friends.
That's your lot
Also seen was "Heavy Metal Parking Lot," director Jeff Krulik's funny, frightening documentary about Judas Priest fans in the mid-1980s. The older members of the audience (age 24, I'd estimate) laughed about metal concerts they had once attended, while the younger folks reacted with amazed hilarity to a document that held no more personal resonance for them than a National Geographic special about a vanished tribe. (Fifteen years from now, their baby brothers and sisters will feel the same way when they watch a film called "Widespread Panic Vendor Tent.")
More serious was director Esther Bell's "Godass," a fitfully paced but laudably original drama that was an award winner at the New York Underground Film Festival. In "Godass," a teen-aged punk played by Nika Feldman struggles to distribute a self-published fanzine while coming to terms with her thorny family history. Fred Schneider of the B-52's was easy to spot in a co-starring role, but only the most careful viewers could have noticed a brief cameo by -- drum roll, please -- Bill Plympton. The day had become almost Zen-like in its unplanned cohesion.
Bell was chatting with well-wishers outside the club when the session-closing short "Kung Fu Jew" was screened. The satirical orgy of Hebrew martial-arts action was about halfway finished when the crowd -- which had maintained a level of respectful quiet that was unprecedented for the Kit Kat -- groaned at a sudden loss of picture and sound. A blown fuse, someone said, had knocked out most of the club's power, including the computer system behind the bar and most of the lights. For a moment, it felt as if we were back at the Enzian, except that no one whipped out a cell phone to call for a ride home.