April 19, 2018

Screening Report: Uncle Sam at Alamo Drafthouse, Yonkers (4/17/18) w/ Bill Lustig

It must have been a year or so ago that I attended a screening at the Alamo, in Yonkers, that was hosted by Bill Lustig. I forget what movie it was, but I want to say Vigilante or Maniac Cop 2. Wait a minute, you don’t know who Bill Lustig is? For shame. He is a director and producer who has been in and around the industry for decades, and he is responsible for bringing us such classics as Maniac and Maniac Cop. Well, in any case, after the screening, there was some discussion about any possible interest in seeing his last directed film, Uncle Sam. I was the first one to say that I would be there. It is not that it is a great movie, but it is a fun one that I thought would be fun to see with an audience. Now, here we are basking in the afterglow of a screening of said movie.

Bill Lustig supplied his personal print for the screening, of which he says has only happened 3 or 4 other times (so this was a rare opportunity), and was also on hand for a Q and A and to chat with pretty much anyone looking to talk. I have to say that if you get a chance to meet him or attend a screening he is hosting, do it. The man is super friendly, will take photos and sign autographs, and is always ready with a story to tell. He is a treasure that I could listen to for hours.

As for the film, it seems that in my circle of friends I was the only one who had previously seen it. I’ve had the DVD for years and tend to watch it once a year, usually around the Fourth of July, considering it’s patriotic bend. Now, to be sure, it is not a great movie, it was shot 35mm, but never had a theatrical release. To my actual surprise, everyone seemed to enjoy it, while also recognizing its many shortcomings.

The movie itself centers on Sam Harper, the titular Uncle Sam, who was killed by friendly fire in Kuwait during Desert Storm. Turns out he wasn’t the nicest of guys, but he did have a super-patriotic heart and an adoring nephew back home. His body is shipped home just in time for the Fourth of July celebrations. Meanwhile his nephew is going around, desiring to be his uncle and criticizing the cowards around him. Somehow, the unpatriotic members of the town resurrect Sam, who puts on an Uncle Sam costume and begins to dispatch the unAmerican members of the town, of which there are many.

Me with Bill Lustig

After the film Bill Lustig had a Q and A where he freely admitted that this was a disappointment for him and felt the screenplay, by Larry Cohen, could have used a little more work. On the other hand, he also told us it was the first film he made where wasn’t afraid his car was going to be broken into. The session was fun, he told us the idea he had for the ending that wasn’t used, and when they blew up the house at the end, they blew out windows in houses for block and pretty much got kicked out of town.

It was a small crowd on hand to witness this rare screening, but everyone seemed to have a good time and it was great seeing Bill again, he is always a treat. I was present to hear a couple of cool stories before the screening. First he talked about his first films, which were of the adult variety, and have commentaries with him and Nicolas WInding Refn, and he told of how the recording was during the filming of Drive and how he was shooting late on a Saturday night and was up at noon to do the track with Bill. I hear the tacks are a lot of fun.

The other thing we learned was that the long thought lost original 16mm camera negatives for Maniac have been found within the past two weeks and were getting scanned at 4k. It turns out his producing partner had them in film storage since the 80’s. The reason no one knew they were there was because they didn’t want to use the title Maniac, believing it would hurt them getting permits and insurance and the like. All the reels and boxes were labeled On the Run. Among the footage are a couple of cut scenes and footage of Joe Spinell in Times Square back in 1979. Hopefully we get all this footage. Bill say this Maniac will look like you’ve never seen it before.

To bring this to a close, it was fun seeing Uncle Sam on the big screen with friends. It seemed a lot more serious than I thought. It also felt longer than it is. No, not a good movie by any stretch, but it is quite interesting and still fun to see. Hopefully I will get to see more screenings with him in the future.

Here is a chunk of Q and A, I know it’s dark, but they left lights down:

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