Austin Cinematic Limits

When Austin’s very own homegrown distributor Drafthouse Films signed on to distribute the 30th anniversary re-release of Comin’ At Ya! in the United States, I really wasn’t sure what to think. I had heard that the screenings at Fantastic Fest 2011 went over like wildfire, but I suspected that those screenings were essentially just preaching to the choir. What would other audiences think?

Then I watched the fully restored Comin’ At Ya! and realized exactly what is so damn special about this film. Sure, Comin’ at Ya! is ridiculously gimmicky but that’s exactly what makes it so much fun. The first-ever 3D spaghetti-western, Comin’ at Ya! does precisely what the title promises. Rather than using 3D technology to add greater depth to the scenes — like most of the namby pamby 3D films released today — Comin’ at Ya! breaks out from the confines of the silver screen and attacks the audience with a relentless barrage of… well… everything but the kitchen sink. From the brilliantly conceived opening title sequence, it seems like there is always something jumping off of the screen and into your face. Watching Comin’ at Ya! is more like strolling around inside a wacky fun house (or a haunted house) than a traditional cinematic experience. It will rarely scare or thrill you (though the flaming arrows are pretty effective), but it never fails to conjure up laughs and cheers from the audience.

Upon its initial release in 1981, Comin’ At Ya! single-handedly ignited the resurgence of studio-produced 3D films. Thirty years later, Comin’ At Ya! is back again as the first fully restored classic 3D film utilizing state-of-the-art RealD 3D® technology. We chatted with actor-producer Tony Anthony on the eve of Drafthouse Films’ tactical Texas-wide release of Comin’ At Ya!.

What prompted you to restore and re-release Comin’ At Ya! now?

Comin’ At Ya! had the reputation of having the most natural and organic special effects of any 3D film ever made. It was about four years ago when my partner Tom Stern kept on me about doing this because Avatar was coming out and the whole world was talking about 3D again. I started getting calls from distributors and people kept asking me if Comin’ At Ya! could be restored using modern 3D technology, because they thought if we could do that the film would have a whole new life. So we went on this very long journey — it took us four years, if you could believe that?

It seems like it would be a long, tedious and labor intensive process.

Yeah, we re-edited, re-did all of the sound, scanned and animated all of the 3D effects, put it in Dolby 5.1, we did all kinds of things to bring it up to date. And I know one thing, Drafthouse Films — especially Tim League — will get the people to the theaters. Once the people get in there they are going to have a good time.

Speaking of good times… From what I have heard, the screenings of Comin’ At Ya! at Fantastic Fest 2011 were a blast.

It was a mad house with a big cocktail party going on outside. They turned away so many people that we added another screening. It was unbelievable, the reaction. Within a minute of the film starting people were clapping and carrying on like they were at a live rock concert. We had that exact same reaction at the Berlin Film Festival (2011). We had a full house. The audience was just carrying on and having a good time — and that’s the real point of this film. No pretension, you know?

I’m curious about how the deal for Drafthouse Films to distribute Comin’ At Ya! came to fruition?

Our foreign sales people were the first to talk to Tim [League] about Comin’ At Ya!. Then, after doing research on the Alamo Drafthouse, Drafthouse Films and Tim League, I knew that this was the right place for Comin’ At Ya!. You don’t open this film in thousands of theaters and spend $20 million on marketing and distribution. Comin’ At Ya! requires a new model, specifically for 3D distribution.

Tim and I had never met in person, but we developed a really good professional relationship on the phone. I was talking with a couple major studios at the time, but I had a feeling that with what Tim has done with his business, Drafthouse Films would be the perfect fit for us. And what Tim has done with Fantastic Fest — he is making a fantastic contribution to the world of cinema. Then, we got into negotiating and I have got to tell you — this guy, you have the next big thing that is going to happen in Hollywood with Tim. He is tremendous and his whole staff — I love them all. They have a terrific, tight group of young people who really have their thumb on what the market is doing and I am thrilled.

We are releasing Comin’ At Ya! the right way. When Tim and I talked, I said “Tim, this picture should stay in Texas and saturate Texas. My god, you have over 25 million people there and some of the biggest distributors.” Sure enough, as soon as they started booking the film, we broke into the Rave Cinemas and they are the sixth largest exhibitor in the United States. I don’t know if anyone has ever done anything like this before, but we are sure going to try!

I am very curious to hear your thoughts on the current explosion of 3D films — specifically on their approach to the 3D medium.

Here is the problem. They are very conscious about depth of field, and with the equipment you have today, you can have perfection with that. But that kind of 3D doesn’t deliver like Comin’ At Ya!, and we did that on purpose. Our approach was: If we are going to put the audience through this, let’s bring it home, let’s let them have a good time! Before Comin’ At Ya!, all of the 3D films only actually had a few 3D effects. We went against that. We wanted to give the audience a ride. Comin’ At Ya! — great title, huh?

Cinematic Things To Do in Austin This Week:

2/27 – Alamo South Lamar – Gearing up for the 12th annual Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards show on March 8 at ACL Live at The Moody Theater, Austin Film Society is screening films by this year’s honorees. This week is No Country For Old Men featuring Texas Film Hall of Fame Honoree Barry Corbin. (More info)

2/27 – Alamo Ritz – Everything Is Terrible! presents Doggiewoggiez! Poochiewoochiez!, which purports to be a remake of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain (1973) composed entirely out of dog-related found footage. Umm… I’m going to have to see this before I’ll actually believe it exists. (More Info)

2/29 – Alamo Village – Austin Film Society hosts a Best of the Fests screening of Better This World with the film’s two primary subjects — David McKay and Bradley Crowder — in attendance. (More info)

2/29 – Regal Metropolitan – Cine Las Americas hosts a sneak preview of 2012 Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature Film, Chico & Rita. (More info)

3/3 – Veloway – Rolling Roadshow is screening Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure at the Veloway! To attend this screening, meet at the Alamo Slaughter Lane parking lot at 6pm. Tim League will lead the bike posse to the Veloway. (Note: No foot traffic is permitted to enter the Veloway, so you must be on wheels.) (More info)

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