Saturday, October 15, 2016

Back to the Prom: The 40th Anniversary Screening of Carrie

I had a blast at the 40th anniversary party for Carrie! The night was both illuminating and a hoot.

The Ace Hotel Theater hosted the event, which was a fundraiser for WeSpark, a cancer support charity. The event also promoted the release of Shout Factory's new collector's edition Carrie Blu-ray. Silver stars had been hung in the lobby to match the Carrie prom scene decor.  There was also a traditional prom photo opportunity. We arrived about a half-hour before the screening and waited on line at the bar, hoping to order a "Bloody Carrie" - the signature drink of the party - but they had already run out! I bought raffle tickets and we found seats in the orchestra section of the theater, which quickly filled up.

The 4K presentation of Carrie looked incredible. I hadn't seen the film on the big screen before. There was a definite crowd participation angle to the evening, as people laughed at most of Piper Laurie's lines and other classic moments. Sometimes they even shouted the lines before they were delivered, which bugged my friend who had not seen the film before (and who jumped at the ending!). At the start of the prom massacre, when Carrie shuts the doors and cuts the lights in the gym except for the red light, they flipped on some red lighting in the theater - it was very effective!

After the screening, there was a panel discussion, moderated by Bryan Fuller (writer of the 2002 Carrie TV movie). The panel featured Doug Cox (The Beak - the tuxedo T-shirt kid), Noelle North (Frieda, who was nice to Carrie at the start of the prom), Nancy Allen (WeSpark executive director and bad girl Chris), PJ Soles (Norma, who wore her red baseball cap everywhere, even to prom), Paul Hirsch (editor of many Brian De Palma films, co-editor of Star Wars, many more), and Piper Laurie (nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Carrie's mother).

Bryan did a great job moderating and involving everyone in the discussion. PJ Soles talked about her eardrum being ruptured by the fire hose during the filming of the prom massacre. She also revealed she had auditioned for Nancy's role, and De Palma offered her a small part after she didn't get it. De Palma suggested she wear the red cap. PJ's swagger, perhaps powered by the cap, convinced De Palma to put her in more scenes and create a role for her as Chris' best friend. PJ also said she drove Betty from Chateau Marmont to the set everyday because Betty didn't drive, and she thinks Betty advocated for her. She said Betty would put on eye makeup in the car each morning, although they would be getting makeup on the set, because she didn't want De Palma to see her without makeup. Nancy Allen talked about getting along great with John Travolta, despite the way they slapped each other around in the film. She said John's slaps were weak, but Betty Buckley didn't hold back.

Doug Cox said the tuxedo shopping scene was mostly improvised, and it was added at the last minute, after he had wrapped. Paul Hirsch talked about speeding up that scene and said he did it to avoid having a third jump cut in the scene.  Hirsch and several actors talked about De Palma's obsessive storyboarding. Hirsch illuminated some of the key scenes and talked about building tension. He said the rocks falling on the house at the end was meant to be an echo to an opening scene where Carrie is a child and summons flying rocks with her mind, but that scene ended up not working. PJ and Nancy disagreed about whether they were paid $625 or $604 a week. Piper Laurie said she didn't know how to interpret the script, but her husband told her that her role was comedic. When she began rehearsals, De Palma corrected this interpretation. It certainly has a campy quality and people laughed at most of her signature lines like "I can see your dirty pillows."

The actresses also talked about how they were somewhat duped into doing the nude locker room scene. De Palma had told them it would be so smoky that people wouldn't see much, yet you can see just about everything. Allen said that Amy Irving cried when it came time to shoot the scene, so she ended up not removing her bra. Hirsch said George Lucas had told him that he felt De Palma's choice to have that much nudity in the second scene of the film signaled the audience to brace themselves because anything could happen.

They also played a video message from William Katt who couldn't attend in person. He credited the film for launching his career. Without Carrie, there would be no Greatest American Hero!

After the discussion, Jackie Beat came out, looking fabulous in a sea-foam green floral gown and wearing large glasses reminiscent of Helen (Edie McClurg's character). Jackie auctioned some items including movie posters signed by all the panelists, plus John Travolta. Jackie also emceed the costume contest. My friend Scott made it to the finals in his blood-spattered suit, but eventually lost to a very credible Tommy Ross with an oversized curly blond wig and a bloody Carrie. Jackie was hilarious in dismissing people from stage, including a group of girls in matching pink bridesmaid dresses and two clever guys who wore shabby discolored pillows with a sign: "Dirty Pillows." There were a couple good PJ Soles imitators, including a drag queen who was wrapped in a fire hose. We felt dressing as Miss Collins, the gym teacher, was a missed opportunity.  The crowd was enthusiastic and many came dressed in 70s tuxes with ruffled shirts and puritanical long gowns.  The fun continued as DJs played some 70s tunes and the prom party rolled on in the lobby area.

WeSpark is a charity that provides counseling and supportive services to people who have been diagnosed with cancer. I hope they raised a lot of money with this fun event. It was one of those "Only in LA" events that keep me living here. And I have to say the bullying in the film seemed strangely appropriate for our current political climate.  I look forward to November 8 when we can plug it up!

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