Melbourne's cinema culture has been thriving with the dogged determination and enthusiasm of movie lovers and cinema-groups alike. Not content with the typical cineplex blockbuster drivel that saturates suburban multiplexes, a handful of committed film societies have been working their guts out to bring classic, retro, subversive and obscure cinema to fans of the alternative. With groups such as The Valhalla Social Cinema, Oz Horror Con and Melbourne Horror Film Society working alongside each other the one clear leader of the pack is CINEMANIACS. With an irrefutable passion for celluloid they have continuously delivered a sincere and tenacious offering of some of the greatest cult cinema of all time. The group's spokesperson is Lee Gambin; a renowned film connoisseur, author and contributor to Fangoria magazine. His insanely energetic personality has helped catapult the CINEMANIACS to become a staple component of the city's ever-changing arts culture... but that's not to say that he has done it alone. In fact the group is made up of a whole not of people, one of which is FAKESHEMP'S own Justine Ryan. This week Justine touched base with Lee and hit him with a series of questions. He was generous to give us his time and his response to the interview is quite revealing.
Please enjoy CINEMANIAC ON CINEMANIAC.
JUSTINE: CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND?
I have done lots of different stuff professionally. The main one would be writing for Fangoria Magazine, which is a big thrill because I used to read it and subscribe to it when I was a kid, so that is fun, that is great. It has been a consistent gig. I have run a bunch of things – theatre companies, have written for different magazines and periodicals etc. I have done a whole bunch of things – bands. I did my own fanzine years ago, which was all horror themed related and there was the one I did which was general movie related –obviously old stuff, I don’t care about new things (Laughs).
WHAT WAS THE FIRST FILM YOU REMEMBER WATCHING AS A CHILD?
God, there’s a lot of them. I can remember distinct ones. I remember one evening on channel 9 they screened a triple feature for some reason of Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Howling (1981) and Sybil (1976), and those three films are very important to me. I don’t think I lasted for all of Sybil, that was the one at the end – it was late, I was tired and only a kid, but I distinctly remember watching those three films in one night, in one go. The Howling really, really resonating with me, and just loving it.
WHAT FILM AFFECTED YOU THE MOST AS A CHILD? GOOD OR BAD.
That is a good question, but then again, there are too many things (Laughs), because you watch so many.
One that affected me bad was, and bad in the way that I was terrified of it was Amityville II: The Possession (1982), and mainly because of the sequence which is an fucking incredible sequence, where Sonny kills his family. I think that is a beautifully staged sequence. It is really scary. It was terrifying for me as a kid. I also remember the first time I saw that, I was so excited about the movie. The TV ads came on. The ad campaign was Sonny walking through the house and sort of being stalked by the entity, and the piping coming apart – that was the campaign, I was so excited. I remember talking to my family – and going – “I am going to watch this, I am going to watch this”.
I remember that evening, there was only me and my sister – mum had gone out for the night, and dad who hated me watching horror films (Laughs), it was hard for him to stop me, but he stormed in at the scene where Jack Magner’s Sonny is in prison, the priest, James Olson, gives him the cross, and he licks it, and my father being a catholic, being angry at the screen. He turned it off and said “GET TO BED!”. So, me and my sister ran to the kitchen, and I was furious - I wasn’t upset, I was just angry – how could you stop me from watching the rest of the film. There was a good half hour to go!. Luckily, the best stuff had already happened, but then there was all that wonderful make-up effects with Caglione Jr’s work, when he comes out of the skin and all that beautiful stuff, which I didn’t see for ages, which pissed me off. Luckily, I found it on video. I used to see the video case all the time, and the picture was blue with Sonny, sort of all twisted up. I remember loving it.
That was also a good experience, that was good and bad.
WAS THERE A FILM YOU DISLIKES AS A CHILD BUT LOVE NOW?
That’s really tricky. Ah, yes, I am going to say Endless Love (1981). I didn’t hate it as a kid, I just got bored. I thought “What the fuck is this?”, but now as an adult, I absolutely appreciate it and love it. But I remember loving the idea of it as a kid, like I got confused, because I loved, even as a kid I was obsessed with those movies of the late 70’s – early 80’s with troubled teen boys, and obviously, I just mentioned Amityville II, but there was a whole cavalcade, there was a whole bunch of them to come out of that period. It was like this weird backlash against feminism. You had boring ones like Ordinary People (1980), and you had fun ones like Christine (1983). But all these fabulous films about these boys that were fucked up, and Endless Love was one of them. Going into my teen years, I just thought Endless Love was just trashy, you know romance crap, but it isn’t. It is really depressing – it is so bleak. So rewatching that one – I just bought a $5.00 copy of it recently and love it. In fact I just wanted to watch it the other day, but I am trying not to because I only want to watch stuff I am writing about at the moment because my brain gets fried.
CAN YOU SHARE WITH US SOME OF YOUR PERSONAL FAVOURITE FILMS?
There are a lot of them. I like all sorts of films. I can tell you what I have been watching now, outside of my research, even though I still try not to watch stuff that isn’t part of what I am doing, because I am writing a book about 70’s movie musicals (We Can Be Who We Are: Movie Musicals from the 70s), therefore, when I need downtime, I won’t put a musical on, but I have been watching a lot of these wonderful films from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s mainly, about animals, animal-centric movies. One of them is Fearless Fagan (1952), starring Carleton Carpenter , who is such a great actor. He didn’t do much in the way of a career, like didn’t have much of a resume as far as film goes, but every time he pops up he is so engaging – there is something so charismatic about him. He’s got this kind of James Stewart type voice, but he’s got this rubbery face and he is lanky. He was in this wonderful film called Two Weeks With Love (1950) – it is one of my favourite musicals with Jane Powell and Debbie Reynolds.
Fearless Fagan is based on a true story, about a lion who goes to the army, and that is all I’m going to say, but there is a great opening with Carleton Carpenter, as a clown, that is hanging out with Fagan, the lion, they work together. Janet Leigh is in it and Keenan Wynn. It is just great. It is directed by Stanley Donen, who did things like Singin’ in the Rain (1952), but it is a fabulous film, and I have been watching a lot of those animal related movies- things like that one, and I just re-watched Doctor Dolittle (1967) with Rex Harrison, Samantha Eggar and Anthony Newly. I watched all the Benji’s recently – but I love those films, they make me feel warm.
FAVOURITE DECADE OF FILMMAKING?
I can tell you the decades I don’t like. That would be the 90’s and 2000’s onwards. There are obviously some exceptions, but for the most part, even the late 80’s, there are slim pickings. There are some good things. Two of my all-time favourite films came from the late 80’s – Fright Night (1985) and Child’s Play (1988), but there are a whole great bunch of movies. The 90’s had some great films that are underrated like Wolf (1994). I love all cinema, but if you are going to ask me my least favourite decade, it would be 90’s and 2000’s.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE FILM COMPOSER?
That varies. Lots of them. Pino Donaggio is someone that means a lot of love and a lot of affection but also someone that is even closer to me because I have spoken to Pino, but I would have to say Charles Bernstein needs to be really respected, loved and admired. His score for Cujo (1983) is just phenomenal. It’s on par with John Williams’ music for Jaws (1975). Easy. He is someone I speak to quite regularly, and he is just a lovely, charming man. Brilliant music. He is someone everyone should listen to. He did Cujo (1983), The Entity (1982) with Barbara Hershey and A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984).
AND FAVOURITE COSTUME DESIGNER?
I love lots of them, but I am going to say Ann Roth. Simply because she gave a fantastic interview regarding Hair (1979) for my musicals book. She was hilarious. She says to me “Lee, listen, I gotta re-watch the movie before I start talking to you.” So she did. She went out and ordered the film. It is so weird these people don’t have copies, but you know, not everyone does. I don’t have a copy of my book I have written, but it is that whole thing. She was a fabulous interview, and she had great stories about working on Hair (1979) with Milos Forman.
SO WHAT ABOUT A FAVOURITE SPECIAL EFFECTS PERSON?
There are so many once again. But I am going to go really old and say Willis O’Brien, because he just pioneered so much, and also the Rankin Bass guys – I think they get, not disregarded but overlooked. I love Rankin Bass. But everyone of a certain age grew up with those films on television. They are fabulous, I love writing about them and giving them the credit they deserve. For this 70’s musical book, I could only write about three of them, but that is three more than a lot of people have talked about them because they kind of get disregarded, and you need to remember that this stop motion stuff is incredible, and without them, you wouldn't have the likes of Tim Burton.
I KNOW YOU ARE EQUALLY PASSIONATE ABOUT WRITING AND MOVIES. CAN YOU SHARE WITH US WHICH WRITERS AND FILMMAKERS INFLUENCES YOU AS A CHILD AND NOW AS AN ADULT?
Let’s talk about film criticism. People who inspired me that I read as a teenager. When I was a teenager, I lived off film criticism. I drank a lot and I did everything. I did everything early for my age, so my comedown, or going back to my cave time when I wasn’t partying and doing everything in excess was reading film criticism. Most of that was horror related. Absolutely, always has been, always was. Not always, not all the time. But yeah, most horror fans, the good ones, are lovers of all film. You will find that most horror movie fans actually love a lot of movies.
I would read film criticism, and some of my favourites who were horror writers but some of them weren’t. When I got older, in my late teens and very much in my twenties, I started to love..love reading up on film history but through critics eye, or through an analytical eye about certain groups of people or types of character or types of film style. So right now on the floor, next to my beautiful dog, is a copy of Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks by Donald Bogle because I just re-watched the two versions of Imitation of Life, and Bogle doesn’t even talk about the remake with Lana Turner (1959), he just talks about the first one with Louise Beavers and Claudette Colbert (1934). I thought that was really weird, but I reread that. So I always go back to those books From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies By Molly Haskell – that woman is a master writer. She is fantastic.
Lately, there has been some fabulous writers. I love all these new up and coming writers, and writers that have sort of been around for the last ten - fifth teen years, like Kier-La Janisse- her book House of Psychotic Women, and Robin Bougie Cinema Sewer series is terrific. Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, did a great book on rape revenge (Rape Revenge: A Critical Study). So there are all these great books and great writers that pop up. Yeah, all those seminal sort of 70’s and 80’s classics. Vito Russo’s The Celluloid Closet – he was a big influence. Even stuff when you read it again outside of being a teenager, you are like ”Ah, you’re wrong” - things like Men, Women and Chainsaws from Carol Clover.
HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU DECIDED TO PURSUE WRITING?
When I was a child I used to write cast lists. I was obsessed with writing lists. Obsessed with it. I would always go “Okay, who was the most important character”, and I would put them on top, and who played them and I just wrote lists, and lists and lists from every film. I would watch the movie and when the film had finished, I would rewrite the cast lists. God knows why, but I was obsessed with it.
Then I started writing seriously about films in year 8, I think. My first piece, that I should really find. It was all about Halloween. It is like why do you breath? I have to write, and yes I do get angry when people think my work is being behind a counter. It’s not. The reason I write also, is to champion films that go unnoticed. It pisses me right off when people think that if you give too much credit to a film that they think shouldn’t have credit – ah, well, no, go fuck yourself. If people don’t talk about The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here (1972), or people aren’t talking about Son of the Blob (aka Beware! The Blob (1972)) or if people aren’t talking about Cannon movies then they are not going to get noticed, and they just disappear, and that is the worst thing that can happen to art.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE FILM GENRES? WHICH DO YOU FEEL CLOSEST TO?
COULD YOU TELL US HOW YOU CAME TO BE INVOLVED WITH FANGORIA MAGAZINE?
I was working at the Melbourne Theatre Company. I loved it and didn’t like it at the same time. I felt like the people that worked there were wankers, they didn’t know anything. I was losing myself and my sense of identity there a little bit, but I also loved it because it was theatre. But the problem with it was everyone was an actor. There was an issue there because “young healthy actors” – not even that hungry, most of them came from rich families, but let’s not go there. Most of these people didn’t even really know films and didn’t even really know theatre – so it was like ugh! So I remember leaving there every day and just being obsessed with movies, obviously always was and always will be. And I thought, you know what? I am confident enough now to write for Fangoria Magazine, or to just ask them.
I started emailing this guy at Fangoria who took submissions, and I said “Look, I would love to write for Fango, bla, bla, bla.” He said “Yeah, just send some samples.” I sent him a bunch of samples and he loved it, which was nice and encouraging. He said “Look, what would you propose to do online? I would like an interview and I would like a retrospective”. I said ”Aw, fabulous, because I don’t want to do anything new. So I will do both, but I will do something old”. He said “For the interview, it would be good if you did something new, just so we know you can do both.” I said “Alright, cool.”
So I interviewed, and it was perfect timing because the Melbourne Theatre Company was doing a play which was like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – similar sort of style, called God of Carnage, and in it was Hugo Weaving. I managed to wrangle fifteen minutes with him while he was doing rehearsals and talked about The Wolfman (2010), which is cool.
I did that, and then I did a piece on Alligator (1980) because it was the anniversary. I thought that would be a beautiful piece. Then with Ki Wone, a good friend of mine, we got together, started doing pieces for Fangoria and we organised The Howling tribute (#307 and #308). Things just spawned off, and ultimately, Chris Alexander stepped up as editor. He and I hit it off beautifully. His first issue as editor, featured my first part interview piece with the kids of Elm Street (#293 and #294), and there started my career.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE INTERVIEW YOU HAVE CONDUCTED FOR FANGO?
There are lots of them. That is tricky. I love them all. To be honest, I really love when I get people who are seasoned – that is not to say one person is better than the other because they are all fabulous. It is nice when you get Ellen Burstyn, or it is nice when you get someone who you wouldn’t think would be in Fangoria, like Ellen Greene for Little Shop Of Horrors (1986) – that is just as important and valid.
That is a hard one.
WHAT INSPIRES AND DRIVES YOU?
What inspires me is passion for things. What drives me… there is nothing, you have to do it.
WHAT TURNS YOU OFF?
Okay, I don’t like pretension and fakeness. This city is riddled with it. There are a lot of wankers giving themselves titles. It’s like “That’s great, but you are also very rude.” There is also this gross sort of middle class snobbery. I am from a working class background. I am from the western suburbs. I am a person who is ultimately a huge fan and lover of films. I am not an academic. I am not someone who loves things from an arms-length. I am a passionate, crazed, rabid dog, who loves movies. You know, it is hard when you go to functions or meetings or events that are so stuffy and stale.
WHICH PASSION COMES FIRST, WRITING OR CINEMA?
They are intertwined, so both.
CAN YOU SHARE A BIT ABOUT CINEMANIACS AND THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF HOW THE GROUP WAS FORMED? CAN YOU SHARE OUR GROUP PHILOSOPHY WITH READERS?
I have spoken about this a bit in interviews before, but it is a group of people who wanted to screen movies.
PEOPLE MAY NOT BE AWARE THAT THERE ARE QUITE A FEW MEMBERS IN CINEMANIACS AND WHAT I THINK IS DISTINCTIVE ABOUT US IS THAT WE'RE ALL FRIENDS AND CO-FOUNDED THE GROUP BECAUSE OF OUR LOVE FOR CINEMA AND THE ARTS. IN A WORD OR TWO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE EACH PERSON?
Natalie: She is in the purest sense of the word, she is an artist. Someone who just eats it up. She loves art. She is an artist. Quintessential.
Steve: Very lovely, loyal man. Great ideas.
Lisa: Very passionate. Talented. She’s got a real sense of history. She knows what she is talking about.
Darren: Just incredibly talented and quick. Really efficient.
Penney: Very good at organising. Got sort of this warmth and diplomatic sense ability.
Nader: Is this lovely, sweet, really good right hand man.
Vanessa: Loyal and keen to get things moving, and involved.
Anthony: Very charismatic and calming, that’s something. That is very tangible for me. He just says “Shut the fuck up, Lee. Come down.” The person in my position doesn't want to be told to calm down.
Lara: Vivacious and the quintessential front of house woman.
Marcus: Very, very proper. Very, very by the book, which is something we all need as well. It is something that works intertwined with the creativity as well, but he is not one but it is all one in the same.
Rob and Kelly are both very, very sweet. Very into it and passionate and also artists as well. They are very creative.
Therese is just beautiful, and just a brilliant, brilliant resourceful, you know nurturing, another one that is really nurturing, and confident.
Camilla: Beautiful, stunning, vivacious, fun, big nerd – which is good. She is gorgeous and smart and very intelligent and cool.
Georgina: Once again, a lot like Marcus. That kind of really good, sort of plotting, planning and devising. Like Penney as well, and Vanessa – those kind of brains that you need.
Daniel and Yasemin are both brilliant.
REGARDLESS OF TICKET SALES OR POPULARITY CAN YOU WHAT FILM ARE YOU ABSOLUTELY DYING TO SCREEN AT A CINEMATICS EVENT?
I would love to screen a nice print of Willard (1971).
AND FINALLY WHAT HAVE BEEN A CAREER HIGH FOR YOU?
The first book (King of Bangor: A One Act Play (2011)).