The Austin Chronicle

The Gong Show

Wooing, wowing, and grossing out the crowd at open screen night

By Sarah Hepola, May 16, 2003, Screens

It's Open Screen Night at the Alamo, and the audience is squirming. In the short documentary they are watching, a live boa has been eviscerated -- split down the center, his slick and gooey insides removed, the blood squeezed into a cup.

"This is disgusting!" someone yells.

"This is the best thing I've seen all night!" says someone else.

There are screams as the boa is beheaded with a cleaver. A neat, even slice. And yet the gore has just begun -- the boa is still alive, chomping at the air, listing to the side grotesquely.

The audience boos, hisses. The woman at the gong stands there, waiting. The boos get louder, meaner. It's impossible to hear the film -- but then, the film is only part of the entertainment here.

Onscreen, a man smiles into the camera and shows what he holds in his hand -- a still-beating heart -- before tossing it into his mouth. Gongggg. With that, the movie stops, only a few minutes after it began.

"The woman at the gong sucks!" yells a guy sitting near the back of the theatre.

The woman at the gong puts her hand on her hip. "I'm playing by the rules, fucker."

Welcome to Open Screen Night, Austin's answer to Showtime at the Apollo or The Gong Show, in which filmmakers vie for a hundred bucks and bragging rights. This brilliant, if brutal, event is the brainchild of the Alamo's director of Public Relations and Program Development, Henri Mazza (who uses the profits to fund the literary zine, Two Note Solo, he founded with a small group of friends). And though there are similar events in other cities, the Alamo -- with its randy cinephilia, anything-goes atmosphere, and most importantly, beer buckets -- makes the perfect setting.

What the woman at the gong means by "rules" is that, well, there are some: Each movie gets two minutes to prove itself, during which there should be (but rarely is) silence. After two minutes, a red dot flashes on the screen, and it's open season for the audience. Ultimately, however, the power to end the film rests with the woman holding the gong. When she hits that thing -- and it is loud, my friends -- the movie is over. Out of maybe 20 films, only six or seven make it all the way through. "Apocalypse Pooh" dubs scenes from the animated Winnie the Pooh series with the audio track from Apocalypse Now. It's hilarious and inventive, but it lacks the cultural resonance of "Faggots Rally," the evening's winner, an ingenious documentary in which a man and a woman, identified only as Alexander and Bowstring, stand outside a pro-war rally at the Capitol with anti-war signs. The real coup of "Faggots Rally" is the filmmakers' ability to simply record the responses to their protest rather than engaging in the senseless name-calling that too often besets both sides of the debate. This is the kind of film that should be seen now, and without Open Screen Night, it might not have been. Despite all the evening's mayhem and the crowd's knee-jerk boos, a deserving film won. It can almost restore your faith.

"Yeah, this is to the guy in the back who was talking shit about me," says the gong woman, grabbing the mic. "Your movie sucked!"

Almost. end story

The monthly Open Screen Night continues Saturday, May 17, 9:30pm, at Alamo Drafthouse Downtown (409 Colorado). Admission is $4, which goes toward the $100 cash prize for audience favorite. For more information, including rules of submission, see

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