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SXSW Film Festival Day 4 (Part 2): It Ain't Cool

Faith Korpi

I have nothing but mad respect for Harry Knowles… but, please God, don’t ever make me watch Dragonslayer again.


Director: Matthew Robbins
Cast: Peter MacNicol, Caitlin Clarke and Ralph Richardson
US Release Date: 1981-06-26

Harry Knowles, founder/writer of Ain’t It Cool News is a celebrity in Austin. He is a “movie person” to the n-th degree, and might as well be the mascot for film geeks everywhere. The programming director of SXSW introduced Knowles at the 15th Anniversary of the Ain’t It Cool surprise screening by saying, “this is Harry’s town” the rest of us, including Robert Rodriguez, just live here.

There was an incredible amount of speculation over what the surprise screening would be. (As I’ve said before, speculating seems to be at least half the fun of these things). Most assumed Knowles would use his industry pull to secure a summer blockbuster like Captain America or Thor. On Sunday, both The Hollywood Reporter and Variety “confirmed” that the screening would be Thor. Knowles took to the web to respond: “…you should know that all these folks that claim to know something, know nothing. There's only one person at SXSW that knows the title. One. There's only one person on the staff of AICN that knows the title”.

He went on to say that he would be screening a vintage film that we rarely “get to see big”. The question then was, what vintage film could be awesome enough that people wouldn’t get pissed when the film turned out not to be Thor?

Well... Dragonslayer, a 1981 fantasy flick, a movie I had never seen, nor can I say that I would have wanted to. It is on the same level as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as far as grossness. And the same level as far as how much I didn’t want to be watching it.

There’s a difference between a film geek and a film snob. For instance, I don’t think Roger Ebert (a judge this year at the festival) would have gotten up in front of an audience and admitted a deep love for the film Xanadu. Harry Knowles did, and you know what? He didn’t give a flip. After this, I should not have been surprised when he finally announced we would be watching Dragonslayer.

The last of Knowles’ disclaimers before saying the title was, “If you don’t fucking love this movie, then you don’t fucking love movies”.

It was like finding myself at a nine-year-old boy’s slumber party. Awkward, not only as a 24-year-old female, but also because it meant I had to watch the movie the host had picked. And apparently if I left (like most of the foreigners did) it would mean I didn’t love movies. Ouch.

For those of you who are not familiar with Knowles, it helps to consider that he is best friends with Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy). It takes a very special type of person to fit that bill, one who is eccentric and unabashed to say the least.

del Toro, who was the night’s special guest (it was his film print of Dragonslayer) cited a rule in the arts that says 90% of everything made (music, film, art, novels…) is shit. He felt this rule is too bitter and instead chose to live by the “del Toro rule”: 10% of everything is fucking awesome. Have to agree; I like that rule a whole lot better too.

Even if we are operating under completely different definitions of what “fucking awesome” is, I can respect nostalgia. I can respect a pretty epic looking dragon. I can even see why Knowles chose this movie. In addition to the fact that he loves it, the film was a significant step forward for visual effects in the fantasy genre. And I have nothing but mad respect for Harry Knowles… but, please God, don’t ever make me watch Dragonslayer again.

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