Twenty-five words or less? Ok. RockWiz for film buffs.
If this was called Wes Anderson’s Test Screening then I would expect highly cine-literate entertainers would match wits as they uncover and celebrate the most obscure trivia related to film and TV. This might be held at, say, Cinema Nova with a passionate audience of cinephiles whose knowledge of the seventh art is matched only by the experts on stage.
Equally suitable is Alan Smithee’s Screen Test. This show is a fitting tribute to the famed director of such cinematic masterpieces as ‘Death of a Gunfighter’, ‘Bloodsucking Vampires in Pittsburgh’, and of course the triumphant homage ‘The Birds II: Land’s End’. Alan Smithee is the pseudonym that director’s use when they don’t want to be associated with the film anymore. A director can’t just use this name in a moment of realisation, otherwise Gigli would have been directed by Smithee as well (Martin Brest couldn’t possibly be a fake name), but if a film’s production was dictated by the studio or if something changes in editing then they have a Wright to use the Alan Smithee defence. The show has identified the perfect figurehead as the contestants match the irreverence of a Hitchcock sequel.
The premise: The Movie Show meets a pub quiz. Actually, more like a group of competitive friends going off on tangents about pop culture. There are two teams of three; one is captained by Claire Sullivan and the other by Andy Matthews. The host, Peter C. Hayward, directs proceedings and has an innate sense of timing, not just with the delivery of the jokes (and there are several from everyone) but with the games themselves. A question is asked and then it’s a hilarious free-for-all that could easily spiral into tangents, and indeed it does, but Hayward is able to subtly steer the game and direct the competitors. And sometimes not that subtly but sometimes they need a firmer hand. This is the problem with putting a group of charismatic, funny, and clever people on stage and letting them say whatever comes to their very sharp minds. Hayward is always in control and takes charge with a warmth and mental agility.
Most of the contestants have an exhaustive of pop culture and the competition, when they focus on the actual questions, is driven and engaging. This isn’t to say that the several tangents the discussion takes aren’t entertaining. As everyone on stage and in the audience quickly realised the quiz is really a framing device for the comedians to riff of, just as Tarantino uses the heist as a way to open the film geek conversations. You don’t have to be a movie buff to enjoy the show though, and this is why I say most of the contestants seem to have memorised IMDb, because the captains are the way into the conversation for the audience so instead of the knowledge being intimidating it is tempered by a good natured and seemingly wilful ignorance.
There was an interesting B story with Claire’s team that illustrates my point. Timothy Clark is a member of the team. He knows his stuff and yet he isn’t the captain. Meanwhile, Claire may or may not have been to the cinema in the past two years. How can this be? I hear you ask as if stunned that we live in anything other than a meritocracy, well, dear reader, it gives the audience someone to relate to and, in all honesty, someone to feel superior to. I might not know who the second assistant grip was for The Amazing Spider-man 2, but I know there was such a film so I can have a moment of film snobbery that brings me into the game and makes me sympathetic to the captain.
The whole show was about audience involvement. Right from the moment I entered the theatre I was prompted to become part of the game. I always feel safe at the back of an auditorium but it was suggested that I move towards the front. I’m glad I did because there was a real sense of community that reinforced the ‘friends with friends talking about movies and stuff’ vibe. I found myself offering answers, and noticed that other audience members were doing it too, without being prompted, it just felt natural. I don’t know a thing about the other audience members but it felt like we were at the party together.
The venue for this party is also very clever location scouting. The Screen Test seems to be in an almost symbiotic relationship with the Butterfly Club. For those that haven’t been here, and I can’t understand why you haven’t, in fact there’s probably something on there tonight so go and we’ll continue when you get back. See, how amazing is that? Like a pop culture museum, mixed with a tiki cocktail bar that was created by sexy aliens who have been channel surfing through history to create the perfect environment for the unrelentingly cool. I realise that, if they were creating the perfect human habitat it would be for either slaughter or dissection but, from the vibe of the venue let’s say it was devised as part of a mating program. The staff is friendly and just a little bit eccentric, the decor is a breathtaking collection of things you’ve always thought cool (and a lot of things so no matter who you are there will be cool), and the atmosphere is all about finding your neon zen place. This is the perfect location for the action of the screen test because the show itself is the anthropomorphic presentation of the club, which is a setting that perfectly reflects the culturally aware mindset of the people this game show is for.
I’m unashamedly one of those people. You know those conversations where you are talking about pop culture with your friends, perhaps there’s alcohol involved, and somebody says, possibly under the influence of something, ‘this should be on stage’? Yes, it should be and it is; Alan Smithee’s Screen Test is pop cult conversation without the boring bits.