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Photo by Rishi Gandhi
I am not sure if I can truly call myself a filmmaker, but I knew that the experience I am about to recount to you could only be fully expressed through the medium of film. I am about to tell you how I came to create a film that would embody my own nostalgia, as well as the nostalgia of many people like me. Nostalgia and video are a potent duo, and the internet has made their relationship that much stronger. There are countless clips of people extolling their fondness for days pasts, of cartridges blown into, and of bosses long since defeated. A thriving second hand market makes putting that old Genesis or Turbografx back in your hands a cinch or you could just boot up an emulator. When such memories and appliances are easily regained, nostalgia is both de rigueur and dead.
It’s easy to bring back any game you used to play, but what about the space that game used to inhabit? That is where the arcade comes in. It seems distant and strange now, but arcades were the lifeblood of the gaming industry and fandom. Even through the Playstation era people tried to search for “arcade perfect” conversions of titles. Arcade games were found in pizza places, movie theaters, and just about anywhere that had a wall socket and consumers, but the true arcade, that cacophonous mecca of tokens, was where the real action was.
But as time goes on, the impermanence of pleasure becomes all too apparent. Eventually the arcade became an outmoded relic now that home consoles and PCs were providing richer and more vibrant experiences that you didn’t have to keep plugging quarters into. By the early 00’s, the arcade had practically vanished from the American landscape. Some were demolished, some converted into stores, but some were too large to sweep away with the sands of time. Some arcades dot this country like the empty carapace shed off by some mammoth insect. This film is about one such arcade.
My local arcade shut down in 2011, but had been atrophying for many years prior, as the arcade industry was dwindling. I regarded its closing as sad, but at least the place was now out of its misery. The once proud establishment still stands on a very busy stretch of road, across the street from a well patroned super market. For two years I would drive past the empty husk of a building without much thought given to it. But one summer day I noticed something unusual, there were cars and trucks outside of what I assumed to be an abandoned building. I parked my car in a lot now cracked and overrun by weeds and walked inside, not knowing what to expect (raccoons? emptiness? my own death?).
What I saw my old arcade stuck in a sort of limbo. It was now being used as storage for arcade machines in need of repair by a distributor. Not totally dilapidated, but far from good shape, the old place was fully stocked with machines, but many of them in disrepair. I was practically awestruck. I walked through the cavernous complex and it made me think of the darkened corridors of Resident Evil or the lonely island of Myst. This space was both instantly familiar to me, but now upturned and alien. I had walked these grounds actively in my childhood, and now I returned, yet saw it for the first time.
I knew this place was special. I felt like a young Bruce Wayne when he first tumbled into the cave that would become his base of operations, but my mission had not become clear to me yet. Areas that were once secret were laid bare. The once pitch black labyrinth that was the Laser Tag section was now an illuminated dumping ground for old Skee-Ball machines. The arcade machines that were once securely fastened to the wall were now mine to peer inside their silicon innards and take advantage of the Free Play mode.
I hurriedly took some pictures with my phone; savoring the site of old Neo Geo cabinets like Weegee photographing a crime scene. This was just laying the groundwork for what would come. At the time, there was no idea in my head about a film, but I knew there was something special about this place and these photos. I posted a few of the pictures on a message board dedicated to vintage gaming, not really expecting much of a reaction. I saw an outpouring of posters; some that went to that exact arcade, some that went to similar places, some that simply wanted to mourn the death of the American arcade, and remark at the machines frozen in dust. The gears started turning in my head.
I knew I had to return to the arcade and give life to a place all but forgotten that had once brought so many so much joy. While there have been films in the past about arcades, such as 100 Yen and King of Kong, I wanted this film to let the location speak for itself. The narrative arc would already be in the hearts of any person that used to go to an arcade. I knew what I had to do. I got in touch with my close friend and camera man, Rishi Gandhi, and we set out to begin our task...
Nostalgia is a strange thing. It comes and goes in waves, but it is ever present. Through much of the late 90’s and early 00’s, there was a glut of 80’s nostalgia in the form of cartoon revivals, covers of popular songs, and so on. But 90’s nostalgia has stayed somewhat low key. Until now. Alanis Morissette, that Gen-X songsmith of perfectly unkempt locks, is now treading ground on the Great White Way.
Alanis’ 1995 album, Jagged Little Pill, will become Broadway musical, in the vein of Green Day’s American Idiot (which blazed the trail for this endeavor). Let’s let the press release take it away (emphasis mine):
“Seven-time Grammy Award winner Alanis Morissette will take her 1995 hit album, Jagged Little Pill, to the Broadway stage debuting a workshop production of the piece in 2014. The musical, also called “Jagged Little Pill,” will include the full song list from the album as well as tracks from the rest of her body of work and some new, original songs that she will compose specially for the stage production. Two-time Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner Tom Kitt (“Next To Normal”, Green Day’s “American Idiot”) has signed on to provide orchestrations and arrangements.
“...Jagged Little Pill” will be produced by veteran Broadway producer Vivek J. Tiwary, who saw success with a similar venture, Green Day’s “American Idiot,” and British-Malaysian producer Arvind Ethan David.”
Now if you excuse me, I have to go pitch a musical about 4 Non Blondes.
In 1989, two very important Japanese people passed away; Emperor Hirohito and comic book author and animator Osamu Tezuka, best known for creating Astro Boy, a sort of cybernetic Pinnocchio. Anecdotally it has been said that Tezuka’s death was considered a much larger and more tragic event. While relatively unknown in the US, Osamu Tezuka has been dubbed “the god of manga” for his contribution to the sequential arts and animation. His body of work ranges wildly and includes adventure stories for kids (Metropolis), psychological thrillers (Message to Adolf), religous epics (Buddha), and even blending animation with live action footage decades before Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Vampire).
On November 7, 2013, the Japan Society (333 east 47th St.) will be looking back on Tezuka’s illustrious career. The Life & Words of Osamu Tezuka, conducted by The New Yorker contributing writer and author of Japanimerica, Roland Kelts, and moderated by cartoonist Katie Skelly ,author of Nurse Nurse, covers Tezuka’s unique creations and analyzes them in a modern cultural context.
Along with the lecture will be a reception with wine and hors d’oeuvres, and a raffle for books by Tezuka, Skelly, and Kelts.
To learn more, go to: https://www.japansociety.org/
The Life & Works of Osamu TezukaNovember 7, 2013
The Japan Society333 East 47th St.New York, NY 10017
Alamo Draft House will continue its streak of making every northern film nerd jealous, by showing films from the annual Fantastic Fest, over three weekends in November. The Fantastic Fest aspires to bring independent and cult films to a wider audience. Unless you have your finger on the pulse of global independent cinema, you are unlikely to be familiar with most of the films being screened.
Read more: Alamo Drafthouse Announces...
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