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Will Viharo is on a mission to preserve the memory of B movies and midcentury Americana

Wednesday, Oct 17 2001
Honeymoon in Vegas If you find yourself at the Stardust Hotel pool in Las Vegas next week, near the original (east) tower built in 1958, give a wave to Will Viharo. You'll recognize him in his sharkskin suit as East Bay lounge lizard Will the Thrill, whose semimonthly "Thrillville" shows at Oakland's Parkway Theater pay joyous homage to pulpy American horror, noir, and other B-movie classics. The Thrill -- along with his wife, Monica Cortes, an Elvis fanatic and actress who's in the new Rob Nilsson film Scheme C6 -- will be interviewed by a French crew shooting a TV documentary on vintage Vegas culture to air in January.

"The point of "Thrillville' is to preserve the purity and the memory of midcentury pop Americana, which is much more revered in France, Germany, and Japan than it is here," Viharo explains via phone. "It makes perfect sense that I'd be approached by a French documentary crew." Viharo let the Frenchies in on cult director- turned-Vegas video store owner Ray Dennis Steckler, who will visit the Parkway in February with his gory masterpieces The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies and The Thrill Killers.

The French producers also plan to interview Steven Soderbergh, who just remade the 1960 Rat Pack caper comedy Ocean's 11. Understandably, Soderbergh is on Viharo's enemies list for pillaging the Sinatra-Dino-Sammy legacy. "It's a time capsule of an era," fumes Viharo. "They're ripping off cultural history, but they're also ripping off contemporary culture by not creating something original." Viharo's equally steamed about the proposed Ricky Martin-Jennifer Lopez remake of the Elvis vehicle Viva Las Vegas, but right now he's marshaling the forces of cool against the Dec. 7 local opening of Ocean's 11. To pledge allegiance to the "Boycott the Anti-Rat Pack" campaign, go to and click "Column."

Take the 5:10 to Dreamland Other Cinema accomplice and filmmaker Noel Lawrence just returned from a barnstorming tour of the Continent, where he screened experimental work by Bay Area notables Thad Povey, Kerry Laitala, Alfonso Alvarez, Matt McCormick, and James Hong in cafes, galleries, and bars. "You go over as a missionary with your box of films and carry them from place to place, winning converts one at a time," Lawrence says with a chuckle, still hoarse from spreading the gospel in eight cities, including London, Cologne, Rotterdam, and Brussels. "This tour was to do a little reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering in Europe, to open a grass-roots distribution channel to bring underground film culture from the Bay Area," he explains. With the groundwork laid, he plans to make the trek every six months to showcase new work.

Lawrence dubbed the program "Means of Production" to reflect the propensity of cash-strapped local filmmakers to recycle materials at hand, such as found footage, into sensual, compelling montages. (His own work, The Showdown, made under the pseudonym J.X. Williams, juxtaposes images from various S.F.-shot cop flicks.) The avant-garde cultural ambassador reports that he encountered enthusiastic audiences for his potpourri of kinetic films. "The San Francisco work has a certain joie de vivre that I don't think you can find anywhere else," he declares, with barely a wisp of bias.

About The Author

Michael Fox


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