Way before its 1993 closure and subsequent demolition, the Coral Court Motel on Watson Road had it all: great American road-trippers, kidnappings, nostalgia, mob shenanigans, architectural renown, hourly rates, shades-drawn decadence, noontime boss-secretary philandering -- and a secret underground entrance, to boot.
If ever there were an expired edifice 'round these parts that merited its own documentary film, it's this one. And seasoned local filmmaker Bill Boll and Route 66 archivist/producer Shellee Graham have meticulously and brilliantly captured the goods in their engrossing new feature film, Built for Speed: The Coral Court Motel, which opens Cinema St. Louis' Fourth Annual St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase this Sunday evening.
His collaboration with Graham -- financed through a Committee for Access and Local Origination Programming (CALOP) grant from the University City municipal government -- has given Boll, a close friend and frequent collaborator of Mayor of the Sunset Strip director George Hickenlooper, a newfound understanding of Route 66 fanatics.
"Before I got involved in this, I never got it," the 39-year-old Boll says of mother-road enthusiasts. "Now I still think they're out of their minds, but I get it. To understand Route 66 is to understand that the pace of change is going so rapidly that we're not preserving history anymore. History is being paved and painted over before it can be recognized as being history."
Boll spent six years in Hollywood before returning home with his wife to care for his ailing father, who passed away last year. While in California, he spent a great deal of his time scoring and appearing in local-boy-made-good Hickenlooper's films, the most memorable of which was a cameo as a film-opening psychopath in the Hickenlooper-directed short Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade, which later became a critically acclaimed feature for screenwriter and star Billy Bob Thornton.
"I play the insane guy in the beginning," Boll says. "The first thing you see is my naked ass."
Having shelved his Tinseltown dreams (for now), Boll is comfortably resigned to plying his craft in St. Louis.
"I could not make movies in LA the way I can here," he explains. "The St. Louis film community is so small that it's easier to find people to work for you. In LA everybody and their grandmothers are working on an independent feature. Nobody takes you seriously. Out here you can say you're making a movie and marshal a lot of energy and effort around that idea itself."
Another local filmmaker who would second that emotion is Paul Henroid, whose hilarious Hoosiers sequel, Hoosiers: Attack of the Clones, will play as part of the showcase's "Comic Relief" program of shorts (for more on the program, see below). -- Mike Seely
Some terrific laughs can be found within the wildly uneven thirteen selections that make up the "Comic Relief" program. In his fantastic, energetic "Benny Juice (Remix)," Aaron Duffy animates orange-juice cartons to a techno soundtrack, while Matt Krentz uses animation of amusing, conniving fish in his "Why Fish Swim in Schools." Jeremy Corray builds laughter through live action and effects in "Every :30," daringly and successfully riffing on the statistic that a person is hit by a drunk driver every 30 seconds. Characters struggle in "Beaux and Daria," Maryellen Owens' and Christopher Bosen's playful mockumentary of aspiring filmmakers; in "Retirement Rehearsal," Anisha Pattanaik offers a droll take on one man's awkward attempt to adjust to retirement. Humor is so individual that opinions will differ on the thirteen selections in "Comic Relief," but the varied content, attitudes and styles promise some winners for anyone with a sense of humor. Screens at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 14. -- Diane Carson
The "Dramatic Tension" program crackles with imaginative confrontations and edgy treatment. Among the best, Brent Jaimes' mockumentary "Kick" borrows from real-life stories of abuse, recovery and relapse to illuminate individuals at war with their own addictive impulses, the toughest fight of all. The clichéd murder-for-hire scenario takes an unusual turn in Richard Taylor's well-acted and effectively staged "The Contract." Brad Spinsby's "Roadside Diner" also takes a different tack on a familiar setting and gender conflict to throw us off balance with a wild-card element. With equally unexpected results, a vampire and a vampire hunter face off in John Dunlap's "The Light at the End of the Tunnel," while the manipulation to which RD Zurick subjects an otherwise mundane skyline creates its own disorienting effect. These and other works in this program provide ample evidence that the creative mind transforms matter in delightful ways. Screens at 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 13. -- Diane Carson
"48-Hour Film Project -- St. Louis Style"
For those who missed the initial screenings -- or for those who want to revisit an outstanding ten selections -- the "48-Hour Film Project -- St. Louis Style" program presents a diverse potpourri, from musical to mockumentary, from comedy to horror. Among the noteworthy are director Richard Taylor's entertaining "The Article," the first-place winner that now moves to national competition; the captivating "Ice Cream Man," which won the audience award and best director for Doveed Linder; and Bobby Kirk and Dave McCahan's accomplished musical spoof "Gotta Have Pride: The Big Gay Musical." As part of the competition, teams created films for their arbitrarily assigned genre within a 48-hour limit and were required to include a specific character and a precise line of dialogue. Each creative group met this challenge -- and that of writing, shooting and editing within 48 hours -- in exciting ways that testify to the breadth and depth of St. Louis technical and creative talent. Screens at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 15. -- Diane Carson
"Lessons from the Past, Hope for the Future"
This informative program includes two strong documentaries and several short pieces by neophyte filmmakers. In their three-minute works, St. Margaret of Scotland's sixth and eighth graders show their commitment to bringing worthy subjects to life: Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army, integrating art into one's life. The art of churches takes center stage in Michael Knipp's impressive labor of love, "The Historic Churches of Soulard." He packs just over 28 minutes with vivid description of the area's history and architecture, with complementary, evocative music that is appropriate to each church chronicled. In the other serious, well-crafted documentary, "The Locket," Margaret Bilinsky and Jeff Bassinson use archival photographs, film and voiceover narration as well as moving, on-camera commentary to trace fortunate and tragic events experienced by the Bilinsky family beginning in 1930 Nazi Germany. For the more eccentric and for a good laugh, Rosie Koch shows the patience and cunning required to trap naked mole rats in Kenya, illustrating the incredible edges of the documentary genre. Screens at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, July 13. -- Diane Carson
"Marching to Their Own Beat"
Among the best of the programs, "Marching to Their Own Beat" presents four engaging documentaries. Personal voices dominate the two shorter pieces as unrehearsed, unguarded subjects directly address the camera. Producer/director/editor Jackson Styron adroitly juxtaposes comments by independent barbers Curtis York and Ralph Mondello in "Curtis and Ralph," while Hunter Hohlfeld lets geeks and gamers address perceptions and misperceptions in "Geek." Paired with these, two 30-minute works reveal their subjects' appealing personalities. Brent Jaimes' immensely enjoyable "More Than a Game" seamlessly integrates illustrative photographs with several soccer players' recollections of their 1950 men's U.S. World Cup 1-0 defeat of England. Among those depicted in The Game of Their Lives (the feature film shot in St. Louis last summer), Gino Pariani, Frank Borghi, Harry Keough, Walter Bahr and John Souza offer perceptive observations. Similarly, Paul Alpert's "Pushin' Ink" skillfully captures the attitudes of tattoo artists, tattoo lovers, some who want tattoos removed and one sailor who "listened to my father" and never got one at all. These nonfiction selections charm with their authenticity. Screens at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 14. -- Diane Carson
The World's Greatest Fair
Rich with epistolary accounts, myriad scholarly reckonings, and astonishing photos and film clips, this illuminating documentary chronicles the "stepping stone into the next century" that was the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, better known as the St. Louis World's Fair. Moving from its global origins and inspirations to its tireless shepherding by "boy mayor" and Missouri governor David Francis (voiced here by current St. Louis mayor Francis Slay) to seemingly endless pageantry summed up by one deft historian as "the neatest aggregation of things," the project is a remarkable achievement. Co-directed and co-produced by Bob Miano and Scott Huegerich, aided by 150 St. Louisan volunteers, the story overflows with the fair's stunning architectural sights and unlikely (and occasionally disturbing) multicultural juxtapositions -- contemporary racism was not invited to the fair but showed up anyway. Celebrations of burgeoning technology abound, including the earliest model of voicemail, yet obviously nobody here is blathering into a cell phone, opting instead to ride the 2,160-passenger Ferris wheel (itself a bittersweet tale) or visit re-enactments of the Boer War, saucy "ethnic" exhibitions, the Creation of the World itself or anything else that literally came down the pike. There's tragedy (a massive train wreck en route), triumph (African-American horse trainer Tom Bass; pioneering female photographer Jesse Beals) and trickery (a horse answering Bible questions), and it succeeds as both entertainment and sociological study. Personal favorite anecdote involves Geronimo on site selling his autograph -- or even his hat, for $5, after which he would reach into a box and grab another hat. Ain't that America. -- Gregory Weinkauf