by Cindy Lamb
We’ve all done it: kicked back on the sofa at a party to watch one of those so-bad-they’re-cool movies in the wee hours. After shouting out a few clever quips and irreverent comebacks, the gathering realizes that their version is more of a romp than the original script.
Banking on this social phenomenon, and seemingly paying homage to the alt-comedy ensemble “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” members of The Louisville Improvisors and jazz guru Todd Hildreth have developed a gig they call “Instant Cinema.”
Lights, DVD, antics — all were on order during last Thursday’s evening of a cinematic send-up at the Jazz Factory. There, Chris Anger, Alec Volz and Josh Lane dubbed an unintentionally hilarious old film with their twisted dialogue. Concurrently, Hildreth powered the swirling sounds of a Hammond B-3 with the melodramatic flourishes of a ballpark organist, providing an equally spontaneous soundtrack.
The big screen was lit and the microphones were hot for the feature, “Frankenstein’s Daughter Meets Jesse James,” a piece of cinematic “art” that I’d somehow managed to miss during all of those rainy Sundays or insomniac weeknights in front of the TV.
Seat-of-pants flying is what these guys do best, and Thursday they had able assistance from one of the greatest unknown casts and hapless plots in B-movie history.
During one scene, the screen flashed an image of a barrel-chested cowboy lying unconscious and vulnerable on an exam table while the bug-eyed, horny scientist, a cross between Miss Kitty of “Gunsmoke” and Magenta of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” prepped the body for monstrous transformation.
And, yes, the cowboy’s boots remained on.
“Who was that effeminate man?” Anger cooed into his microphone, his words, coinciding with the star’s twitching scarlet lips.
The ad-libbed dialogue was a definite improvement on the original screenplay. Of course, the Improvisors followed this up with several coy references to “Brokeback Mountain.”
“I shouldn’t have eaten that little kid!” murmured one of the Improvisors as a sheriff wandered away with head in hands.
“Don’t talk. A lot of dead people have guns!” said another.
The clever insertion of Louisville landmarks into the cheesy plot brought it home for the audience many times. You’d be surprised how referencing “south of the Watterson Expressway” can elicit gales of laughter from a mediocre outlaw scene.
My beer got warm as I was gripped by the inexcusable flaws in the 1966 movie, choking on one-liners from the stand-in cast providing the dialogue. Also, I do believe director William Beaudine was known for his, err, ability to edit with the camera. I got motion sickness from a few of his eerie zooms.
While these talented chaps in the Improvisors lurked in the odd shadows of Hollywood’s weird noir, their performance sparkled.
But don’t fret if you missed it. The Louisville Improvisors plan to make “Instant Cinema” into a regular offering, although they’ve yet to book subsequent shows. (Check LEO or visit the Jazz Factory Web site for future bookings.)
Hildreth, who teaches music at Bellarmine University and is a resident key tickler at the Jazz Factory, had the idea. He called Anger because he had always wanted to work with the Improvisors.
This film came from Hildreth’s personal collection, but Wild and Woolly Video will provide future films. (Hildreth surely has good taste, because I discovered online that Beaudine’s subsequent works include such twilight duds as “Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla,” “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula” and “Timmy and the Martians.”)
But wait! There was more!
The movie wasn’t shown in its entirety, and this was wise. A half-hour of dismantling a cult flick risks exhausting an audience, so the troupe moved into more familiar improv ground.
When Anger requested an historical topic to challenge the trio, I yelled out my favorite scenario — “Grassy knoll!” — to see how they could mangle the JFK assassination story. In their twist on the event, Volz and Lane were Secret Service buffoons who extinguished their cigarettes on the infamous Dallas landscape. They pulled it off and kept moving — always moving. In their next scene, they dragged an innocent audience member named Sharon into the flux and built a rock opera around the mundane occurrences of her day.
I got all this entertainment for a $5 cover charge, and the Jazz Factory offered libations, appetizers, entrées or desserts from its menu.
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