An Ode to Film Threat Magazine

I remember my favorite Film Threat magazine moment. It was probably around 1994. I was an angry teenager and tired of their slacker posturing, their derivative, anti-pretentious cynicism, their lowbrow Hong Kong action movie/ Scarface/ Reservoir Dogs crime movie fetish.

I wrote them a long, detailed, spiteful letter ripping apart their phoniness, their crappy frat boy stoner prose, their lame bullshit. The letter must have been at least five pages long. Why did I do that? Because I admired the magazine and thought they were capable of so much more.

They had helped fuel my insatiable movie love, introduced me to cult films and underappreciated foreign movies. I, at the ripe age of 14, started to feel like I was outgrowing them. In terms of movie magazines, Film Threat was like the guy on the couch that was crashing at your apartment and wouldn’t leave.

Film Threat was a slob of a magazine, the type that would drink all the milk, smoked all your cigarettes, and leave his shit all over the place, leaving the stale stench of marijuana behind him. Film Threat was a passionate champion of independent films, started just as a rag newsletter, before “indie film” became just another bloated cliche after it was Miramaxed and Sundanced into oblivion. It could also be a parody of itself with idiotic writing, sloppy editing, and shitty layout.

Anyhow, I didn’t hear back from them for weeks and one day I was looking through the mail and there was a letter addressed to me from the home offices of Film Threat magazine. I opened it up, overjoyed. There was a single page of company stationary and written in huge letters with a Sharpie, not even complying with the ruled paper, “SHUT UP!” That was the moment when I realized that this was the greatest magazine in the world.

This is the magazine that published instructions explaing the best methods to steal the magazine from chain bookstores (they still got paid for every issue that was missing from the stands, they explained. Your theft helped line their pockets). They also declared war on Premiere (“The Movie Magazine”) and dubbed themselves “The Other Movie Magazine.”

They even issued draft cards to join the war against the shitty entertainment reporting of Premiere and provided detailed descriptions of how you could fuck with Premiere (example: take one of their pre-paid post-cards from inside the magazine and mail incredibly heavy things to them. They would have to pay the post office hundreds of dollars for the shipping costs).

Film Threat was run by pranksters, wannabe Tarantinos. They were Ain’t It Cool News before AICN existed. They were film nerds, comic book geeks, Troma freaks, fan boys: in essence, losers like me on the fringes of serious culture. I looked forward to every issue and demanded intelligence from them.

When they couldn’t provide it, I was upset. Film Threat was my Cahiers du Cinema, the local video store and late night cable was my Cinemateque Francais. Chris Gore, the editor of the magazine, was my Henri Langlois. The 1993 cover story dedicated to Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused changed my life. It introduced me to his first film, Slacker that is to this day my favorite movie, the movie that inspired my belief in a cinema of infinite possibilities.

There is a telling photograph from the 1992 Sundance Film Festival of Tarantino signing a Reservoir Dogs poster for the magazine. The inscription reads, “To Film Threat. I made this movie for us.” That “us” has deep and resonant meaning to anyone that has an intense devotion to movies, the kind of love that could fuel a lifelong friendship.

Most academics or intellectuals tend to view the “cinema” as a cultural curiosity, the opportunity for them to misapply lame critical theories to a popular art and then consider themselves the masters of it, those worthy of making judgments. A serious love for film is something that coarses through your veins, that makes you love the bad movies as much as the greats, that makes you actually believe in the movies. It’s like having faith in God or religion.

The art form completes you as an individuals and great directors and critics are like saints or apostles of film. Most film criticism or writing on movies does not have the intense passion, that love. Film Threat, despite its occasional stupidity, had that passion.

One of the things I loved most about Film Threat is that, like MAD Magazine, it was not published on glossy paper. It was cheaply printed and its irreverent, jokey attitude almost felt like you were reading some punk kid’s photocopied zine. Each issue felt like a manifesto, a forum for writers whose tastes were too obscure and bizarre to ever be published anywhere else without being butchered and castrated by a humorless copy editor. It was a truly democratic, ballsy publication and I had so much respect for it.

There was a sad moment in the mid-90s when Film Threat sent out a notice that Flynt Publishing (as in Larry Flynt), the magazine’s distributor had cancelled its distribution contract. No further explanation was given. The magazine was out of print for several months, and most of the staff and writers were let go. It re-appeared later that year, with a new distributor, a new layout, a new attitude, and glossy paper.

The publication didn’t have the soul anymore. It’s like that guy on the couch. Suddenly you see him again and he’s clean-shaven, sober, and has a full time job in an office. You miss the slob that you would get high with and play video games. It was not the same magazine. Despite the fact that it still exists in theory (you can read it online at http://www.filmthreat.com) yet those glory days are over.

Cahiers du Cinema gave birth to a new form of criticism, a new way of seeing movies (a la Andre Bazin), and a new manner of making movies (Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol). Film Threat was a geek’s wet dream of a magazine and its audience flocked to the internet. Now, instead of creating a contemporary equivalent of the French New Wave, Chris Gore got a job hosting a movie trivia quiz show on the Independent Film Channel. Very, very sad.

Everyone wants to sell out nowadays. That’s the new ambition, the true motivation. I miss those days. I have so much nostalgia for the era that I became a fanatical devotee of movies. It was like being initiated into a secret society of movie lovers. You were a part of something greater than yourself.

Thank you, Film Threat . I miss you. All is forgiven.

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