On Friday, the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring — the same place that shows “Citizen Kane” and “Lawrence of Arabia” — will show a movie called “Intestines From Space,” made in 1978 by a group of filmmakers called the Langley Punks.
You might be thinking: Who are the Langley Punks? Also: Why are the Langley Punks? Perhaps even: Where are the Langley Punks?
These and other questions will be answered at Friday’s event, which will feature a half-dozen films. Here is the short version: The Langley Punks were three (or four; or five; I could never be sure) friends who met at Wheaton’s Good Counsel High School in the early 1970s.
“Back then, most kids our age were into rock-and-roll and wanted to be in a band,” explained original Langley Punk Pat Carroll. “For some reason, I had always been a fan of silent film comedians.”
When Pat got his hands on a Super 8 movie camera and, later, a 16mm camera, the Punks started recording their antics. Their short, soundless, black-and-white movies were an admixture of slapstick, horror and cheap sci-fi, fueled by copious quantities of cheap beer. The movies had such titles as “Curse of the Atomic Greasers” and “Alcoholics Unanimous.” Later, like Al Jolson before them, they moved to talkies and even color film. They attracted a number of collaborators and operated under the moniker Travesty Films.
As a Post critic wrote in the 1970s: “Travesty humor is more than a little sophomoric, in both the endearing and trying senses of that term.”
And they could be endearing. There’s a scene in 1974’s “Attack of the Paramecium Men” where one of the Punks (Pat Carroll, as it happens) is engaged in the time-honored pastime of leaning against a pole while absent-mindedly tossing a coin up in the air. He keeps dropping the coin, so he takes from his pocket a dollar bill, which he crumples up and tosses instead.
Buster Keaton would be proud.
Travesty films were infused with a punk attitude — not punk as in punk rock, but punk in the old connotation: a greasy, jeans-wearing juvenile delinquent. The Punks weren’t really from Langley Park, though they drove through that suburb a lot. One imagines their oeuvre would have been different if they’d been the Chevy Chase Punks. (Or the Langley Beau Brummels.)
For about 10 years, Travesty dabbled in all manner of media. Their movies were shown at the Biograph Theater in Georgetown. They did a one-episode TV show for a local cable channel. They even made an LP: “Teen Comedy Party,” which the New York Times called “a truly funny recording.”
Over the years, Travesty pulled into its orbit people ranging from local musician Root Boy Slim to local film buff Wally Pfister. Today, Root Boy is dead. Wally won last year’s cinematography Oscar for “Inception.”
“We were a launching pad for some wonderful careers, none of which were ours,” said Travesty stalwart Dave Nuttycombe. (Full disclosure: One Punk was Post photographer Bill O’Leary.)
Today, anyone with a smartphone and an Internet connection can shoot a comedy and release it to the world. Travesty and the Langley Punks were at the wrong place at the wrong time: stuck between the worlds of film and video before YouTube. Maybe they could have been big (or bigger), but the pictures, well, they got small.
If the Travesty retrospective doesn’t slake your thirst for local underground cinema, a screening June 17 at the AFI will. It’s the 25th anniversary of “Heavy Metal Parking Lot.”
“HMPL” is a sort of true-life “Spinal Tap,” told from the fans’ point of view. Filmmakers Jeff Krulik and John Heyn simply pointed a video camera at fans in the parking lot of the Capital Centre before a 1986 Judas Priest concert. Seeing it today, one is reminded of how wonderful it was to be young, shirtless and wasted.
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