How the American genre film archives were born [Interview]


Author Lars Nilsen tells us about his new book, a magnificent collection of B-movies that shows how a beloved series of screenings forever changed the history of genre cinema.

Warped and faded features all of the Forgotten Movies Saved by the Alamo Drafthouse that screened during the early years of the Weird Wednesday film series. In addition to a 200-page collection of B-movies, the book, written by Lars Nilsen and friends and edited by Kier-La Janisse, chronicles how the beloved screening series helped launch the American Genre Film Archive.

Now a nationwide chain of theaters, Alamo Drafthouse’s original location at 4th and Colorado in Austin, Texas, was home to a community of moviegoers passionate about the obscure drive-through treasures overlooked over the years. . In 1999, the cinema’s owner, Tim League, drove a U-Haul to East Prairie, Missouri, to rescue a large number of forgotten movie prints. These battered coils have become the backbone of the Weird Wednesday collection. Movies like the Gem of the Nazi Aquatic Zombies of 1977 Shock waves and the photo of the satanic biker gang Werewolves On Wheels were shown to jaw-dropping customers every week. Due to the poor quality and degradation of all or most of the prints, everyone was able to enter for free. Just be sure to tip the waiters, order a beer if you like, and spread the word.

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Werewolves on Wheels directed by Michel Levesque (1971)

To add to the fun, the human film encyclopedias known as Lars Nilsen and Zack Carlson would present each film with a surprising amount of unbridled enthusiasm. Lars would write the articles for Weird Wednesday to help get some butt in the seats and Zack would focus on what ultimately became Terror Thursday. “Zack and I had sort of a paperwork battle. We were sort of competing for the best writing every week, ”Nilsen recalls. “We both have very powerful writing styles that are different but at the same time we really appreciate our ability to make the movie amazing just in our writing.”

Living in Austin at the time, I remember reading these movie descriptions that most of me had never heard of. Can these guys like those movies this a lot? Speaking with Lars, he clarified the matter. “This is not a criticism, this is madness. It was good to talk a bit about the movie, especially when a lot of those movies were pretty much unknown at the time. “When you write ballyhoo, “Nilsen continued,” which is an old word by the way, you really get wild. You are off the chain. Your only real goal is to get people to come. And then people come in and they’re disappointed because then you’ve lost your credibility. You really raise the bet, but you better not bluff too often.

Most of the time, the movies you saw on Weird Wednesday were rightfully mind blowing. Continuing our conversation below, Nilsen then went on to talk about his memories of the Drafthouse and how the stunning images in Warped and faded are taken from the actual original 35mm prints (now stocked at AGFA). He also recalled one of his favorite encounters with director Stephanie Rothman (Bloodbath, Working girls) which perfectly highlights how these underrated filmmakers ultimately found an audience that truly appreciates them.

Dread Central: I was surprised to learn from the book that you had never been a programmer before. I think getting on stage and presenting these movies to what eventually became a sold-out crowd must have been a bit nerve-racking.

Lars Nilsen: At that time, I was high enough. I would be a little stoned or even a lot stoned sometimes. It relaxed me a bit and made me feel more free. Then I just learned a few things. I still present a lot of films. I program for Austin Film Society and present films like crazy. All the time. You do it enough, I think you are learning a few things. The audience is on your side which once you figure that out takes a lot of the heat off. If you make a mistake, they feel it too. They are on your team. It’s huge. And also, the trick to writing some jokes to have something funny in your pocket. Whether you use these jokes or not, it gives you reassurance as you edit and present the movie if you know you can make audiences laugh if you absolutely have to.

DC: That’s good advice. The layout of the book is fantastic. Movie posters are so vibrant it almost looks like a pop-up book.

LN: Yeah, and it’s also a no bullshit layout. It’s not like anything looks like slanted angles or anything like that. It’s really cool the way it’s kind of introduced. One thing I really like is that besides just having the posters and photos, we also sat down with the film prints. We transported these film prints to AGFA and we went through and made the full screen image enlargements of some of the films. So in much of the book you only see gigantic full-page enlargements with all the damage that is in the print. So you can see how destroyed some of those impressions are. We talk a lot about the kind of ragged glory of what these movies look like on the big screen. We show you direct evidence by actual screenshots of the actual impressions we played. You can really appreciate and appreciate, I think, how shitty some of these movie copies look really.

DC: Talk about the whole process from Strange Wednesday to the preservation of all the fingerprints and now AGFA is all over the world. It is quite amazing.

LN: Sometimes people give me credit for AGFA and be a part of it, I’ll take advantage of it a bit. What I really helped build was a gigantic pile of footprints on the floor. Then a lot of other people like Justin Ismael and especially Sebastian del Castillo and Joe Ziemba and all the people who have come and helped set it up to make it an active working archive. We had just taken footprints wherever they were. It was sort of a golden age to acquire prints because people were getting rid of them. People didn’t know what these films were. There was no interest. Even in other types of hip movie stores, DVD companies, or theaters, they just weren’t interested in those particular movies for the most part. They were interested in other things. Usually a little more intellectual stuff. We were really able to accumulate a lot of film, sometimes for ten to thirty dollars a print.

DC: Wow.

LN: And I’m so glad we did because it was going to get a lot harder later on. A lot of those same copies of movies now, if you find them on the market, they cost four or five hundred dollars each. The people who were drawn to Drafthouse, the people who were drawn to the Weird Wednesday and Terror Tuesday series, those people ended up being really talented, dedicated people. It was sort of the next step. Take that stack of films and do an unimaginable amount of work to create an archive of copies of films that are cataloged and eventually start digitizing them and releasing them in DCP format at any theater that really wants to reserve them.

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Part of the film collection at the American Genre Film Archive. Courtesy of AGFA.

DC: Why focus only on Strange Wednesday and not on Terror Thursday as well? Have you considered making another horror-focused companion?

LN: Terror Thursday hasn’t arrived for a number of years, so it wouldn’t have covered the same kind of Old West period. It would really be Tim and Kier-la and maybe Zack if they wanted to do it. It’s a bit off of that sort of thing and it’s quite different. Really, I think part of the impetus was wanting to talk about the very early days of Drafthouse and how this community came together. And the organic growth of moving from a community of strange people to something that has structure and status in the world. And, in a way, I think, probably to show people who might be interested in leaving their mark in the world – and that their strange taste has importance and value in the world – to show these people that we were just as stoned and as stupid as you are right now. And we did. And we didn’t do it because we were geniuses, we did it because we stayed true to it and because we cared about it and because we had the conviction of our passion.

DC: It’s a textbook case to find your people. It’s not just an encyclopedia of driving movies. It’s also a record showing how much we all and all of you for the underrated actors and directors. I was wondering if you had any favorite encounters with these filmmakers when you got to meet them and let them know that these films are not forgotten.

LN: I think one of the most special moments was with Stephanie Rothman who made all of these movies – and these weren’t the movies she would have made if she had had her coworkers. If she had had the choice, she wouldn’t have made a women in prison movie and a sexy nurse movie. And she was very, I think, raw about it. When she came to the movies to show her movies I think there was a really great moment when she realized, okay, the audience knows these aren’t the movies I would have made if I could have made different genres of films. But they appreciated the touch I gave it. She went, frankly, from a nervous wreck before the screenings, to so light and happy after the screenings. Because she felt like everything in there had been communicated to this audience. I don’t know if she’s ever been at peace with that before this screening. He is the one that really stands out for me, among many others.

Warped and faded: Strange Wednesday and the birth of the American genre film archives is available now on

Tags: AGFA Alamo Drafthouse Kier-La Janisse Lars Nilsen Mondo Warped & Faded Weird Wednesday

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