When he was 20 years old, future Saturday Night Live writer and comedian Tom Schiller was traveling and living in Europe trying desperately to be an artist ... of some kind. "It was kind of pathetic, and laughable in retrospect," said Schiller in a recent email interview. "All I knew was one of the components of being a great artist was suffering. I was truly tortured – though of course I can't remember by what, other than this preconceived, silly concept. During a train journey I must have looked so distraught that a man sitting across from me noticed my pained state, identified himself as a Swedish architect and said, 'You will get everything you want in this life, only you won't get it in the way you expect.' And, I swear, it came true." The stranger's prophecy found its way into Schiller's 1984 film Nothing Lasts Forever, which, fittingly enough, follows the journey of a young man, Adam Beckett (played by Gremlins' Zach Galligan), on a quest to become an artist ... of some kind.
Never heard of the movie? You're not alone. Despite the presence of SNL players Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray (playing a flight attendant to the moon), Schiller's funny and surreal first film was never released or distributed on VHS or DVD. "I think it just wasn't the kind of comedy film [distributor MGM] was expecting," said Schiller. "It's not exactly commercial." But with an optimism characteristic of the film's protagonist, Schiller sees a silver lining to the film being "lost" for so long.
"Perhaps it is an unexpected benefit," Schiller said. "If it had had a theatrical release when I made it, maybe it would have flopped and become more obscure than it is now. The fact that it receives a rare showing here and there, and has a limited group of fans, and is shown from time to time in neat movie houses like the Ritz, it can remain a special film seen by those for whom it was intended." And as Schiller pointed out, "It does have a cult following: my brother and a few people on South Congress."
Count Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson a member of that cult. Carlson, who will host a special screening on Dec. 23, called the film one of his top three favorites. "Nothings Lasts Forever has haunted the periphery of movie goondom for a while and was more renowned for being a 'lost film' than a great one. I was curious about it for the usual reasons that tie in with that type of thing – unseen curiosities, etc. – but I guess I never expected it to be just so goddamn good," he said. "It's smart but not cynical, heartbreaking but hilarious. It's beautifully made but constantly mocks all the pretenses of hoity-toity art. Plus it celebrates the real things that make life worth living: grandparents, hillbillies, true love, hobos, chasing unrealistic dreams – all that stuff."
A 35mm print of Nothing Lasts Forever will screen at the Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz on Sunday, Dec. 23, at 7pm. Writer/director Tom Schiller will be in attendance, and prior to the feature, a rare reel of Schiller's short films will be shown.
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