Thursday, October 3, 2013

Like You Were There: Adam Riske at Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3-D!

On Saturday, September 28th, I went to a screening of Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3-D with star Julie Adams in person at the beautiful Patio Theatre in Chicago. Julie Adams signed autographs and posed for pictures prior to the feature, which was followed by a Q&A. Care to relive the afternoon with me?

1:00pm: With doors opening at 1:00, I step into line in front of the theater and guess who I bumped into? Why, none other than local celebrity David "The Rock" Nelson. For those of you not from Chicago, David "The Rock" Nelson is known to some as “the Ed Wood of the 21st century,” the proverbial monster kid who has been making his own micro-budget monster movies since the 1970s. "The Rock" is a pretty fascinating guy – a former Golden Gloves boxer and US Marine – who has shot hundreds of movies often playing multiple characters himself including detectives, mad doctors and a variety of monsters. Nelson was also featured in the documentary Rewind This! I’ve never been able to get through any of his movies in their entirety, but I love his spirit and unabashed willingness to be who he is. He’s like the Ronny Woo-Woo of the Chicago monster community. While in line, he gave me props for my Creature Features t-shirt and we had a brief but very pleasant chat. Keep cranking out those movies, Rock!
1:15pm: Once we were let into the theater, I got in line to meet Julie Adams. At one of the vendor tables, I bought an 11x17 Creature from the Black Lagoon poster for Julie to sign. As I went to meet Julie (who was very friendly but not very forthcoming – more on that later), the people getting autographs in front of me asked her what it was like working with Elvis on the movie Tickle Me, to which she answered “He was very nice, very charming.” I thanked Julie for coming to Chicago and said it was the first time I was seeing Creature in a theatre (which is a lie, but I didn’t know what to talk to her about) and she said “I’m so glad that people still like the movie after all these years. Thank you for coming out to see it.” Well that was nice, I thought. I asked her what it was like to work with Jimmy Stewart, who she acted with in the movie Bend of the River, to which she answered “He was lovely, very nice, very charming.” Uh huh. I then asked her son to take a picture with me and Julie, which he completely screwed up. I’m annoyed about this because Julie grabbed my ass. She thought she was putting her hand on my shoulder. She wasn’t. It was all butt. And her son pressed the off button on the camera and not the button to snap the picture. I have the picture above as a consolation. The smile on my face is the look of a man trying to process what just happened. How’s that for some Riske Business?
2:00pm: The movie was scheduled to begin at 2 pm, but with people still in line for Julie Adams the screening was delayed by 15 awkward minutes. The event was hosted by the wonderful people at Movieside, including “The Man Behind The Massacre” Rusty Nails. I love these guys. They put on the 24-hour Massacre horror marathons every year, plus the Sci-Fi Spectacular marathon and other great special events. They are always putting in a lot of work to make these events enjoyable experiences and I’d like to take the opportunity here to thank them for that. They always have something fun up their sleeves. This break was a little rough, though, because there were no trailers or shorts prior to the feature so it was just a lot of sitting around wondering when the movie was going to start. To Rusty’s credit, he tried to liven things up by dressing as Gill-man and walking the aisles of the auditorium. I got douche chills during these 15 minutes because we had hipsters in the audience. Lucky us. When someone from Movieside asked if anyone came to the event from far away, hilarious responses included “My house”, “The jungle” and “Egypt”.

2:15pm: The feature is introduced by a film historian (who I will not name as a favor to him) who defended the original 3-D of the 1950s, specifically the one used in Creature from the Black Lagoon. He pointed out how the layered aspects the 3-D gives the cinematography a depth of shot done better 60 years ago than it is even today. The movie then begins and I put on my 3-D glasses. Unfortunately the sound is not working, so they stop the movie but not before the chorus of idiots in the audience decide to chime in. Some start providing their own score (“dun dun dun DUN”) because that’s HILARIOUS, and some just yelled “SOUND! SOUND! SOUND!” because that’s helpful.
2:25pm: Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3-D

This will not be over quickly. You will not enjoy this: I put on my paper 3-D glasses that have two lenses -- one green and one red -- and get ready to enjoy the depth of shot. Almost immediately I realize this is going to be a nightmare. I agree with the film historian that the layering of the shots is noticeable, but that’s also noticeable watching the Blu-ray in 2-D. No, what I’m noticing is that I’m going to have a migraine at the end of this movie.

I hated the 1950s 3-D. It’s even worse than present day 3-D. Where present day 3-D is dark, 1950s 3-D has this weird red hue all the time and looks like a jumbled mess whenever there is motion in a shot. For a movie that features a lot of swimming, the 3-D in Creature from the Black Lagoon is very problematic. Realizing I couldn’t watch the movie this way, I decided to do a fun blinking exercise. If I closed my left eye, the whole screen is red. If I close my right eye, the whole screen is green. This bit of fun wore off after a couple of minutes, so I decided to take my glasses off and watch it the best I could. The picture above is a representation of how well that went. For the next 75 minutes I went back and forth, glasses on and glasses off. I could not pay any attention to the movie itself, so I decided to watch it again when I got home.

7 Word Review: Better camera one or better camera two?
3:55pm: An Odd Q&A

I have to say I was disappointed with the Q&A following the movie. This is all the more surprising because Julie Adams was selling copies of her book in the lobby, so I figured she’d have some great stories about the making of Creature from the Black Lagoon. But instead, her son (far left) answered a lot of the questions for her and the film historian (middle) moderating the Q&A did a very poor job. Here are the highlights (?)

• Julie Adams mentioned that she was not thrilled to be asked to play the lead female role in Creature from the Black Lagoon. She was a contract player at Universal and she knew if she turned it down she would be on suspension, so she said “What the hey.”

• The film historian asked Julie about the sequence where she’s swimming in the lagoon and the Gill-man is trailing her underwater. He described it as a “dance in the water” and an “erotic ballet.” He then asked if Julie Adams felt the same way, and she said “No, you don’t think about these things when you’re shooting.” Okay, I have to pause here. An “erotic ballet”? Who is this guy? Who talks like that? I told my dad later in the evening about the erotic ballet comment and my dad had the funniest thing to say. “What’s that guy talking about? We used to watch that movie at camp when I was seven and it was raining outside.”

• The historian talked about the great empathy you have for the Gill-man in the movie. I’ve heard this before but I don’t agree. At the beginning of the movie, the Dr. Maia character and his team are just researching and within minutes the Creature kills one of them. Yes, they’re on his turf, but there’s no attempt at understanding, so aren't both the Creature and the humans the aggressors in this story? Are neither really victims?

• Julie Adams mentioned they called the actors in the Gill-man suits “beasty” on set and she would say “Good morning, beasty” and pat them on the mask.

• Mr. Erotic Ballet asked what happened to Julie Adams’ white bathing suit from the movie, to which she said she thought it went the way of old latex and disintegrated.

• The movie was shot on the Universal backlot with the underwater photography filmed in Florida. Adams said that the cast and crew were tight-knit and all through the production, not just treating it like it was a job.

• At the end of practically every answer, one of the three people in the Q&A would say thank you to all of us for attending the event and said how surprised they are that the movie is still being enjoyed all these years later. It got old.

• Julie Adams’ son talked about how the original Gill-man design looked more like an eel or a guy with an alien head in a leotard, so production was shut down for 6 weeks while the Creature was redesigned.

• Julie was asked if director Jack Arnold was more of an actor’s director or concerned with the technical matters. She said both. Didn’t expand upon that and the historian didn’t ask for more detail.

• The historian said he heard that Adams will not gossip or say anything negative about anybody. She said this was true. Besides being sort of a pointless thing to bring up, it annoyed me. Yes, it is an admirable trait to not talk smack about others, but it also makes everything you say less believable. For example, when she was out signing autographs and talking about Elvis or Jimmy Stewart, was that the truth? Or was she just avoiding saying anything critical?

• The Q&A was closed out awkwardly with Adams’ son talking about the legacy of the movie and how it is more popular today than even when it was released. Why her son was left with that part of the Q&A was a bit odd to me.

• No one from the audience was given the chance to ask a question.

4:20pm: The event ends. I decide to go home and watch Creature from the Black Lagoon myself and salvage this underwhelming experience.
9:50pm: Creature from the Black Lagoon in glorious 2-D on Blu-ray

I’ll be my own historian: I’ve always been a casual fan of Creature from the Black Lagoon but it’s not one of my favorite Universal monster movies. That being said, this most recent viewing made me appreciate it all the more even if one of my reasons might be far-fetched. To begin with the more obvious one, Creature from the Black Lagoon seems to have heavily inspired both Steven Spielberg and John Williams. I saw visual references (Gill-man following Julie Adams underwater) and heard music cues that would later be used in Jaws. The opening of the movie, with Antonio Moreno trying to persuade Julie Adams and Richard Carlson to join him on his expedition, is very reminiscent of the first scene between Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Richard Attenborough in Jurassic Park. Moreno is even dressed like Attenborough in the scene. Not only that, but the T-Rex roar in Jurassic Park sounds an awful lot like the growl of Gill-man in Creature from the Black Lagoon.

As for the far-fetched reason, I think the movie is more political than it is given credit for being. I’m not talking about it from an ecological standpoint, and I don’t think the movie is a riff on Beauty and the Beast as many do. I think Creature from the Black Lagoon is making a statement on 1950s race relations, most specifically from a Caucasian point of view. The movie is trying to make a statement about Caucasian attitudes toward “the other.” Perhaps the title of the movie is a clue, since no reference or reason is given to why it is the "Black Lagoon." The movie has scene after scene of curiosity about “the other,” whether it’s the Gill-man surveying the Julie Adams character or Richard Denton’s character wanting to study Gill-man. The interactions always lead to hostility and violence, which was unfortunately too common between whites and non-whites back in the 1950s. Plus, the Caucasian characters in the movie only want to retreat from the lagoon once one of their own is mauled and injured. It doesn’t matter that four non-whites have already been killed. No one wanted to leave after that. But when the white scientist is injured, Richard Carlson’s character makes the point that they must leave. Should the injured scientist die it, would be “a waste of experience and ability.” Maybe I’m Room-237ing Creature from the Black Lagoon, but I don’t know. I think I’m on to something.

7 Word Review: Is this movie secretly about race relations?

Thank you to Julie Adams for touching my butt, Rusty Nails and the people at Movieside for putting on the event, the Patio Theatre for hosting and myself for turning a lemon into some lemonade.

If you feel like you wasted your time for a while but then had your mind blown after reading this column, then I have succeeded in making you feel like you were there.

Happy Scary Movie Month everyone!


  1. I too had an interesting conversation with David "The Rock" Nelson before the evening show. He showed me the scar from his recent surgery.

  2. The most important lesson I learned from your experience is that I now want to change my name to Mr. Erotic Ballet.

  3. @JP - I picture that guy reading his conquests Film Comment magazine like it's a Harlequin novel. Or shooting the experiences to later be viewed only by Kinetoscope.

  4. I never got around to watching The Creature when I picked up the Universal Monster set last year, so I'm looking forward to making it part of my Scary Movie Month. I just have to find some hipsters.

    I wear glasses and don't swim well, so I don't see anything "erotic" about being underwater unless it's preceded by "auto" and followed by "asphyxiation." In which case, is that a minnow in your swimsuit pocket? (Did I mention the water was cold?)

    1. So many jokes. It's dense like an episode of Community. Well done sir. Good to talk to you off of Twitter :-)

  5. Fun article Adam and I'm a big fan of this series in general - except they always remind me that if there's one downside to living where I live, it's the lack of cool events like this. I have to run my fingers through my thick, luxurious head of hair just to temper my jealousy of you! :P

    The celebrity ass-touching (Hall of Touch-Ass candidate?) sounds great, but too bad the movie watching experience itself was such a bummer - I'm looking forward to, at some point this month, watching the polarized 3D version of CftBL on blu-ray and I've heard it actually looks pretty good. In any event I'm probably better off enjoying the erotic ballet, and contemplating Julie Adams' used bathing suit, in the privacy of my own home!

    1. Thanks Sol! Have fun with your hair. #Don'tKnowWhatYouGotTillIt'sGone

      The celebrity ass touching would have been better if I haven't been sick since I went to this event. I'm pretty sure Julie Adams gave me an old-timey illness.

  6. Can the Patio show movies in regular (current) 3D? I saw "Creature from the Black Lagoon" in 3D last year, and using current 3D tech (same one used for the 3D Blu-ray version) that movie looks remarkable. Can't understand why they would show the 50's blu-and-red 3D version when there's a perfectly serviceable one available, unless Rusty was going for nostalgia. This obviously affected the movie's enjoyment for Adam and I'm sure many others.

    Fun flick, though I think more of it as a creature feature than a Universal Monster Movie.

    1. Hey J.M.!

      I think the Patio can screen current 3D (they have a digital projector) but this is the first time I've ever seen a 3D movie there.

      I trust that Rusty was going for the unique experience approach with the 50s 3D, which it was. It just wasn't a good experience.