Troma Studios multi-media mogul (and barnstorming Barnum) Lloyd Kaufman — seen here with studio mascot TOXIE on the steps of Asbury Lanes — returns to the Shore’s atom-age rec room for the 14th TromaDance Film Festival, Friday night and all day Saturday.
In an interview with Dorothy Creamer on our old Red Bank oRBit site (archived here on the upperWETside), Troma Studios‘ merry mogul Lloyd Kaufman described his ultra-underground, infra-indie empire as “the jalapeño peppers on the cultural pizza” of a fastfood entertainment industry…a resolutely outsider paragon of poverty-row pedigree, now closing in on 40 years’ worth of a decidedly vintage-vaudeville approach to “creating movies of the future.”
The film production and distribution marque that gave us The Toxic Avenger hasn’t mega-morphed too far beyond its 1980s roots as a video-age inheritor of a proud drive-in tradition; a successor to all of those sub-American International outfits that were little more than a stogie-chomping would-be mogul with a three-line phone and an art-metal desk. Under the leadership of Yale-educated businessman Kaufman and co-founder Michael Herz, the Troma brand would accrue a library of cult favorites that numbered among them Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD, Surf Nazis Must Die!, and Poultrygeist (for which our own Mike Black contributed to the score).
Armed with both a gore-drenched Herschell Gordon Lewis sensibility AND an extra edge of “strong social satire,” the “Toxie” franchise made mainstream inroads with a trio of sequels, Marvel comics adaptations, a Saturday morning kidtoon and an off-Broadway musical that boasted music by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan. And, in the tradition of Roger Corman and his various proteges, several Troma epics would see some of the earliest screen work by Samuel L. Jackson, Vincent D’Onofrio and director James Gunn.
What Kaufman and Troma appear to have done best is to remain a boil on the butt of the industry — both the one-dimensional dumbdowns of the MilkDud multiplexes, AND the predictable pretensions of the fair-trade-tea festival circuit. It’s a dynamic that inspired Kaufman and kompany to crash the annual Sundance Festival to establish the pirate-satellite celebration of all things inconveniently indie known as the Tromadance Film Festival — and it’s extended to an ongoing online crowd-funding campaign to invade the 2013 Cannes Film Festival for the purpose of producing a documentary (“about how independent art must fight corporate conglomerates to stay alive”) with the working title of Occupy Cannes.
Before anyone gets to go sunning their bikini lines away on the French Riviera, however, the time has come for TromaDance, an event that’s moved from the snowy slopes of Utah — to Asbury Park; specifically the atom-age tenpins taproom turned retro-rocking rec room that is Asbury Lanes. The fightin’ Fourth Avenue landmark — pretty much the only thing left standing on a block characterized by vacant lots, boarded-up bars and the skeletal carcasses of bankrupt condo projects — has provided snug harbor for the freakishly free of charge filmfest, and on Friday and Saturday, April 12 and 13, the center Lanes once more welcome the distinguished ambassador of the alternative arts for the 14th edition of the event that’s turned the Asbury waterfront into a “trash Cannes” for slumming cinephiles, unrepentant rockers and Fat Guys who go Nutzoid for vaudeville that remains verboten even in a post-ironic age where the concepts of the underground and the taboo have been rendered moot.
The sequel to one of the most viral cinematic punchlines of all time sees its New Jersey premiere on the late night of April 13, when BIRDEMIC 2: THE RESURRECTION screens at Asbury Lanes as the final offering of the 2013 TromaDance Festival.
It’s a fitting forum for a Jersey-centric concern that’s embraced the Garden State — home to the Toxic Avenger and many other characters within the frequent setting of Tromaville, NJ — as an appropriately “underdog” base of operations for the TromaDance trip.
Collecting dozens of D.I.Y. films out of every global corner from the USA and Canada to Iran and Lithuania, TromaDance 2013 unspools starting at 5:30 on Friday evening, with an “of the people, by the people, for the people” policy of free admission, first-come-first-served attendance and favoring only of “the filmmakers whose blood, sweat, and hard work are on the screen.”
Although the majority of the onscreen action consists of shorts with titles like “Titans of Newark,” “Sandwich Crazy,” “Space Werewolf” and “The Nazi from Beyond,” a couple of feature-length freakouts take the center Lanes — including Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie, a portrait of the nearly forgotten second-generation crooner who flared briefly and brightly as a WOR-TV right-wing talkshow wildman in the 1980s before suffering as precipitous a fall from the public eye as has ever been seen in American life. Kaufman, who famously suffered a dislocated shoulder and a physical ejection from the studio when he appeared as a guest on the program, will introduce a free screening at 6:30pm on Friday.
Saturday’s schedule of free flicks, which climaxes with an 8pm “work print screening” of the Kaufman-directed Return to Nuke ‘Em High, will be capped off at 11pm by the New Jersey premiere of Birdemic 2: The Resurrection, director James Nguyen’s follow-up to his chirpie cheapie that became a viral punchline on every clip show this side of Tosh. The screening — for which a $10 admission will be charged — should go a long way toward answering the question of just how much deadlier a Birdemic becomes, when it becomes self-aware…
“We don’t take ourselves seriously, but we take our movies seriously,” Kaufman told Red Bank oRBit in 2009. “I think that strong social satire is the reason we’re still around. Most of the Troma movies are not just hard-bodied lesbians and people getting their nuts cut off.”
A detailed schedule for the weekend’s wonderments appears below.