The 31st Olympia Film Festival, unspooling its onscreen delights from November 7th through the 16th, has taken over a cultural hub known for its grungy hipster vibe. Evergreen College, that infamous “liberal school that doesn’t give grades,” is nestled beneath nearby conifers. Clouds of reefer fumes waft through the air on Olympia’s chilly downtown streets, amidst flannel-clad bohemians. At King Solomon’s Reef, slackers ‘n stoners congregate for a mean chicken ‘n waffle snack. Down the street, the macabre coffee shop Burial Grounds serves java drinks with names like Rigor Mortis, Ultra-Violence, and Re-Animator (thankfully, no formaldehyde added).
You get the picture. It’s a college town.
It’s also the home of a punky, pre-Nirvana zeitgeist of musical history. Spearheaded by Bikini Kill, Olympia spawned the early nineties Riot Grrrl movement, and nurtured no-frills hometown heroes like Kill Rock Stars. No surprise, then, that the Fest’s opening night came to a concert crescendo as grunge gods Mudhoney and Girl Trouble invaded the Capitol Theater stage. Why not detonate OFF’s explosion of film with some sonic overkill?
Still standing since its grand opening on October 7, 1924, The Capitol Theater originally hosted both live performances by luminaries like Judy Garland, and movies (“Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” premiered there in 1954). More recently, this massive, grand moviehouse fused the glitz of its formative years with a funky, greenie vibe. Organic popcorn and yeast seasoning sit on a concessions counter. The theater’s erect neon logo is shaped like the Washington State Capitol building a few blocks away, but also bears a startling resemblance to a sheathed phallus (complete with receptacle tip). A fitting juxtaposition of the city’s political nobility and garish punk sensibilities.
Thus far, I’ve enjoyed several moments that reflect the Olympia Film Festival’s bratty, post-punk attitude. “Planet of the Apes” screened on Saturday. In refreshingly retro spirit, the 35 mm print was not some pristine, newly-restored version. Oh, no. Scratched and weathered, saturated in sickly diarrhea brown, the film effectively rekindled the feeling of watching movies back in the sixties era. Its celluloid scars prompted intense nostalgia. The film also reminded me of its revolutionary impact upon release. Unprecedented make-up effects. An original art design including geodesic cages crafted from wooden branches. Sandstone architecture the preceded the similarly dusty, clay homesteads of Tatooine featured in “Star Wars: A New Hope.”
The film’s more outdated moments were charmingly overwrought. Olympia’s legendary feminist movement was no doubt mortified when Charlton Heston explained that a female astronaut aboard his otherwise male-inhabited spaceship was intended to be “a new Eve… with our hot and eager help, of course” (cue salacious chuckle). His shameless chauvinism continues, as he tells a loincloth-garbed, primitive human hottie, “You’re not smart, but you’re the only girl in town.”
Despite its hamminess, however, “Planet of the Apes” deserves respect for its audacity, asking profound questions about faith versus science, and the violent nature of man. The iconic final scene of Heston’s shattered hero, pounding his fists into the ocean surf as the mangled and rusty Statue of Liberty emerges half-buried in sand, still sends chills down my spine.
Stay tuned for more OFF coverage.