Although he’s only been at it a little over three years, Grady Hendrix’s movie marathons have become a talking point amongst genre film fanatics. Commanding a presence with his loud, boisterous voice, and often dressed in a smashing white suit, Grady was made for this. He rushes out in front of the still-adjusting eyes of the audience, pouncing on the energy of the former film and setting expectations for whatever footnote in genre history he has in store next.
Having hosted two ’80s and one ’70s marathons, next in Grady’s sights is something closest to his heart: Hong Kong cinema. The Hong Kong-A-Thon is set to run next Saturday, January 27, and, as always, will be held in the historic Anthology Film Archives. He describes the marathon as, “[his] dream”: 12 hours of Hong Kong fury and spectacle; six films from the 80s and 90s, presented on 35mm, and not a dub to be found.
Ahead of next week’s event (tickets still available here), we decided to call up Grady and see what to expect from the marathon, or at least what he could tell us, and, like a true film lover, his love and passion is brimming.
What was your introduction to the ‘movie marathon,’ the first time it clicked that this was something special?
The first movie marathon I ever went to was on Halloween 1998 at the Cinerama Dome in LA. I can’t remember if it was a 12 or a 24 hour marathon, but a friend of mine, my wife, and I went to check it out. When we got there the place was empty. There were like maybe 60 people there. So we grabbed seats in the front row, and, with us, we had sleeping bags and we brought a bunch of Thai food. About five hours in there was about 30 people left, and, then, by the end, there was us and like four people in the back row. But it was great. Sam Arkoff came in at one in the morning to talk to the remaining people. It was just this great event and, what I discovered recently, was that one of the people in the audience was Patton Oswalt [laughs].
Oh that makes sense, he’s talked about his movie addiction a lot.
He’s got that book about movie watching and, in it, he talks about being at this marathon, sitting in the back row, and being one of the only people — except for some people in the front — to make it through the whole thing…and that was us!
But, it was the Exhumed Films guys doing the 24 horror fest that really did it for me. I think I have been going to that for ten or eleven years and I really love it. It’s like when I was a kid, inviting a bunch of people to come over and stay up all night watching rented movies. It’s just the most fun way to watch something to me. I think the Exhumed guys really cracked the formula of how to do it and make it not annoying.
What was it that you think Exhumed gets right?
Exhumed does three things. First, they keep the films secret. I think that’s huge because when you are looking at 12 hours, you are like, well, I’ve seen this movie, and I can see that one. But with a marathon, you are either in or you are out. The titles shouldn’t matter. The second thing is, I really trust their taste. And that’s one thing I’ve hopefully been able to do with the marathons up here. People know what they are getting into. They know that they are going to see stuff they haven’t seen before, or, if they’ve seen it, they haven’t seen it on the big screen. It has to be a mix of some crowd-pleasures, but the majority of stuff has to be movies that no one has seen before or are really unlikely to have been seen. The fun of a marathon is that, yeah, you’ll see Alligator — and, Alligator is great, it’s a blast on the big screen — but then you see Dead Men Don’t Dance and you are like what the hell! The third thing that I think Exhumed does really, really well is that they run the crowd beautifully. I mean, they get everyone excited and enthused but they religiously enforce this no talking, no phone play stuff. You want to be focused on the movies, not worried about some idiot next to you tweeting or yelling back at the screen. So I think controlling the crowd, having taste that you like, and not telling the titles are the three essential components.
So, that brings us to the Hong Kong-A-Thon, something you’ve spoken about wanting to do for awhile. What was your entry point to the Hong Kong cinema?
Blockbuster used to have an edited version of The Killer and there was a couple of small movies that floated around, but I really became converted when I moved to New York, and Barry Long — who worked at Kim’s Video — was like, you gotta go to the Music Palace — the guy didn’t even know me but he saw me browsing the Hong Kong section. So I went down, and it was the Music Palace that sold me. I mean, going into that theater was such an experience: not knowing what the hell these movies were because a lot were first run, six bucks for a double feature, cats running loose, people smoking and drinking, families having their lunch. I remember, my wife and I went and the first two movies we saw were Always Be The Winners — which was a really off-the-wall comedy with Tony Leung — and Love on Delivery — with Stephen Chow, which blew our minds. We were in. And it was seeing them in the theater that really sold me. Hong Kong movies, more than any other movie, are designed to be seen in a theater. They are edited for an audience reaction. They used to do these midnight screenings when a movie was coming out in Hong Kong, where, if the movie was coming out on a Friday, on Thursday they’d do sneak, midnight screenings and the director (with an editor) would edit the movies to the audience reactions. Sometimes when your watching a Hong Kong movie at home, you are like, what are these gaps in this movie and why does this scene have this rhythm. But, when you see it with an audience, you realize those are gaps for the audience to react when something happens: laughing, screaming, cheering. They were put in to anticipate an audience’s response because they were cut to an audience’s response.
Hong Kong cinema can get pigeonholed but the country has an expansive, diverse output. How did you narrow down which films and of which genres? I imagine that access to prints can be a major concern?
I usually base these on what I know I can get ahold of. So there was some issues with a couple of prints that are damaged or not playable that I wanted to show, but my biggest problem was not with that.
With a marathon you want to have ups and downs. You want to have some weird, freaky movies that no one has ever seen before, that may not be [pause] objectively good but they’re wild. You want to have some stuff that are crowd pleasures and give people some room to navigate; and, then, you want something really good but completely unavailable or people have heard of but never seen. I could have loaded this thing with Jet Li movies and it would have been amazing but I really wanted it to go up and down.
One thing that happened sort of by accident is that every single movie has a kick-ass female character in it. In fact, the final two movies are both female-led action movies. I wanted to make sure there was a really good hardcore cop movie; a really great hitman movie; I only ended up doing one old-school martial arts movie — but its a great one. I wanted to make sure there was a Milkyway Image movie in there but all the Milkyway Image movies that Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai made between ’95-’99 have unknown rights holders. Even Johnnie To doesn’t know who owns the rights to these movies. The prints are incredibly hard to find, but I know someone who has some of them, so I made sure one was in there. And, then, there is one movie that is just really batshit crazy that I really want to show. And, I imagine that half the audience is going to be angry that this is screening and the other half, this is going to be their favorite movie.
Oh, I can’t wait. Those always end up being my favorite.
And, it’s funny, it’s a movie from the late 90s, when the Hong Kong film industry was really in crisis. So it looks so cheap and crummy but its so great. I mean, it’s absolutely phenomenal. I feel like you can get away with that kind of thing in a marathon. Screening this thing on its own? I don’t think people would put up with it. But as a part of a bigger story and event, I think it fits that position of being the dark horse.
How many marathons have you held now?
I did the first one in February of 2015, and they’ve kind of been every February since. So there was two ‘80s ones, a ‘70s one, and this is the Hong Kong one. I’ve been working on a ’90s marathon, but the prints are super obscure and the rights issue has been a real headache. I’ve been working with another programmer but it’s just taking forever. We were going to do it last year, but we couldn’t get everything cleared, and then this year, but we still couldn’t get everything cleared, but hopefully we are going to do it the end of this year/beginning of next. It’s going to be an amazing marathon, but the rights are so difficult.
What is your advice to someone who has never been to a marathon?
I love marathons. Seriously, the reason I do these, is because I want to see the movies. You have to police a little bit but most people are pretty awesome. They are super chill. I mean, people have a blast. One thing I hate is going to a screening where an audience thinks they are better than the movie and they laugh at it because some of the clothes are dated or the style is a cliche. Especially with Hong Kong movies, you get a lot of people laughing at the subtitles. The subtitles are ridiculous, they just got anyone off the street to subtitle them, and so you get some really creative uses of the english language. And that’s fine and fun, but it can really start to seem smarmy sometimes. But one thing that I’ve noticed with the marathon audiences is that they’ve been super chill with that stuff and I am really grateful for that. You know, that kind of laughter goes away about halfway through and, then, the audience is really in it together. You can’t laugh at the movie because the movie is going home in 90 minutes. You are there for five more movies. You’re the idiot [laughs]. That’s one thing I love about this and I’m really psyched to see the Hong Kong stuff in this context because I think it’s going to be: A). a huge leveler for the audience — just these movies one after the other, they are going to be a sweaty puddle at the end of these eleven hours — but, B). I feel like it puts these movies in such an amazing context. It’s how they were meant to be seen: in a rowdy theater, with other people who are all there to be blown away.
Final question, what is that room going to smell like at the end?
Oh, I know what it is going to smell like. It’s going to smell like sweaty ass. [laughs].
More information about Grady Hendrix, including upcoming events, can be found at his website. The Hong Kong-A-Thon runs Saturday, Jan. 27 at Anthology Film Archives in New York City and you can buy tickets here.