The highly anticipated The Blair Witch Project opened at Maitland's Enzian Theater last Friday, and for the entire day, it seemed as if you couldn't swing a dead college student without hitting someone who was going to see it. Record crowds greeted the film's official opening, with viewers reportedly coming as far away from Tampa to get the jump on a progressive national rollout that wouldn't bring the vaunted horror opus to their area for another two weeks.
Taking the Lynx 39 bus up to the Enzian to survey the early-evening mob scene, I found myself in the company of a sun-baked, blue-collar type who hadn't traveled quite so far to take part in the mania, but was equally out of his element. An Orlando boy of some years, he said he was making his first-ever trip to the Enzian to find out if "Blair Witch" lived up to all its hype. There was only one problem: He wasn't quite sure where the theater was.
Eager to help, a fellow passenger mistakenly implored him to get off near the intersection of Highway 17-92 and Lee Road. Apparently, the would-be good Samaritan had confused the Enzian with the totally dissimilar Silver Cinemas Park Eleven. I decided to intervene; the last thing "Blair Witch" needed was bad word-of-mouth from somebody who had wandered into a second-run screening of "The Thirteenth Floor" and not known the difference.
My new pal and I both arrived at the correct theater on time, and I wished him well in scoring tickets to a 7:30 p.m. showing I understood to be sold out. As luck would have it, an extra 20 or so passes had been made available at the last minute, and the happy first-timer soon bounded up to me with ticket in hand, beaming as if he had secured entry to a Streisand concert or something.
Parking in Salem's lot
It had been luck of the highest order. As staffers told me, the lines snaking from the Enzian's ticket booth to its parking lot had been the rule all day long. Early birds had queued up at an ungodly early 8:30 a.m., then played Uno in the courtyard until the first screening got under way several hours later.
For the first time in Enzian history, volunteers from the recent Florida Film Festival had been called in to help control the crowds. They chatted amicably with ticket holders and hopefuls, chuckling inwardly whenever it became clear that one of the more out-of-the-loop patrons had assumed "Blair Witch" to be a true story.
"My brother's from Maryland, and I asked him if he had ever heard of it," one woman probed.
"Well, the town changed its name," the volunteer played along. It was so much more fun than the sadistic stratagem I had earlier contemplated: accosting strangers on line with such plot "spoilers" as "They all get eaten by a bear!"
As the 7:30 p.m. show commenced, a line was already forming for the subsequent 9:45 p.m. offering. A camera crew from WFTV Channel 9 recorded the plaudits of an audience member from earlier in the day, who lauded "Blair Witch" as "the most terrifying movie I've ever seen." Missing the testimonial were filmmakers Robin Cowie and Gregg Hale, who arrived shortly thereafter to pick up tickets they had reserved for family members --and accept first-day reports and congratulations from Enzian execs.
All appeared right with the world, so I left Enzian early to check into the unofficial "Blair Witch Afterparty" being hosted at Performance Space Orlando. On the way, I again ran into my Lynx buddy, who had just emerged from his close encounter with Haxan horror.
"It sucked!" he unexpectedly bellowed, though I better understood his minority opinion when he went on to state his disappointment that the movie "didn't show nothin.'" I supposed he meant gore. But he admitted there had been many "funny parts" and acknowledged that he'd probably come to a greater appreciation of the film the more he thought about it. And he had really loved the Enzian, vowing to come back whenever the theater booked "a good surf movie." I wonder that the lines for that one will look like.
The PSO afterparty was marked by a proportionately strong turnout, with bodies crammed into the tiny Mills Avenue venue in a sardine-like manner that pushed the room's overworked air-conditioning system to the limit. Owner Winnie Wenglewick vowed that the temperature was set at a comfortable 65 degrees, but sweat nonetheless poured off the faces of the artsy insiders who had come to pay tribute to Orlando's new high watermark of cinema.
Hale was there too, and I mentally gave him due props for keeping his oars in his community's steamy cultural waters instead of laying in a hammock somewhere being fanned by Heather Donahue look-alikes.
The featured entertainment was a trio of performers whose musical repertoires outwardly had little to do with "Blair Witch," save for a shared emphasis on droning atmospherics that matched the film's mood of mounting dread.
Casio Shack's Tom Frederick coaxed some eerie sounds out of a battery of low-tech equipment, including a bank of outmoded keyboards and a well-worn acoustic guitar. After his set was over, Frederick told me that he had once been a programming junkie, but had traded in his state-of-the-art Mac setup for humbler, more aesthetically interesting tools. His aversion to technological progress had to have been reinforced during his first number of the night, when a cell phone had gone off in the crowd, breaking his concentration and forcing him to start over.
No such distractions presented themselves during a mesmerizing recital by Eyelight's Jehn Cerron, whose gorgeous voice was ably supported by an instrumental wash of theremin and occasional light brass. Segueing from Eastern-sounding chants to snippets of "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Embraceable You," Cerron proved herself a unique, major talent, and I was greatly disappointed in the rows of listeners who walked out halfway through. Apparently, her intimacies demanded too much of their attention.
A loose jam by Numb Right Thumb ended the evening, with rhythms and melodies rising and falling amid the steady tide of drums, stand-up bass, horns and atonal guitar. "Space-age coffeehouse" was the only label that seemed to suffice.
That voodoo that you do
NRT's aural stew percolated in the distance as I made my way out the front door. Cerron was hanging out with well-wishers, and I took the opportunity to thank her for sharing herself so completely with her audience. As delicately composed offstage as on, she blushed at the compliment, but allowed that the prospect of playing with backing musicians for a change had been too enticing to pass up. It was -- well, it was something new.
Her comment made me glad I had celebrated the "Blair Witch" triumph at PSO, instead of in some bar debating the movie's finer points with opening-night converts. If I had sought a spirited discussion of fictionalized pagan lore, I could merely have logged on to the Internet. It had been better by far to see the Haxan philosophy -- take chances, do it yourself, but DO IT! -- borne out in other areas. The Hales and the Cerrons are transforming Orlando from a spectator's into a creator's environment, and it won't be long before everyone with something to say dives into the pool. Surf's up.