This post is dedicated to the cable-less Cinetrix, who I'm sure could wipe the floor with me head-to-head on this show.
Friday night was the premiere of IFC's new game show Ultimate Film Fanatic hosted by Chris Gore of Film Threat. While the show is by no means an exact duplicate of MTV's old Remote Control, it's low-budget look, too-hip-for-you tone and the equivalent of film pop culture questions owe as much to this earlier game show as to the independent film reality it's trying to represent. Who the hell talks about how a game show is shot and edited? I guess I have to with this one. Tilted and black & white frames, cross-fades and fade-outs when contestants are eliminated, and Gore's disembodied voiceovers saying goodbye to those who fail to move on all reek of the show's attempt to say, "It's not TV. It's IFC."
But beyond that, is the game any good? After just one episode, I'm kind of on the fence. I suppose I was expecting something more daunting. Really difficult questions about all kinds of films, especially more indie and obscure ones. I was expecting people who wouldn't just look the part of "film geek," but really embody the meaning of the word "fanatic," as opposed to just "fan." I suppose I was really most disappointed in the format due to the relatively arbitrary way that contestants not only move on from round-to-round but ultimately win each show earning a place in the "national finals."
It seems like the really difficult part to becoming the Ultimate Film Fanatic happens off-screen, before any show-tapings. It's too easy to get kicked off quickly since the first round is a sudden-death trivia contest between three sets of two contestants. The questions supposedly get more difficult as more are asked (to a maximum of 8), but none of them seemed too difficult for anyone who's even moderately into film trivia. In fact, the only question I remember not even being able to venture a guess at was the tiebreaker between a pair that had answered all eight: "In what future year does Jason X take place? The answer was 2455. What's kind of annoying is that they did that closer-without-going-over thing, so the guy who guessed 2200 won while the guy who guessed 2499 lost. That's so wrong … he should totally have gotten it for being closer. But whatever. There sure wasn't anything similar in extreme difficulty to what the contestants on ESPN's Dream Job had to answer to win that show.
OK, really, I'm just jealous. I mean, hell, if I had know the questions would be that easy, I would have actually tried out. For all my own film obsession, I'm actually pretty bad at the instant recall of character names and dialogue. All I can say is, I hope the test they give people trying out is a lot harder than what was on the show.
I'm sure when under the gun, it's easy to make a mistake or not know one question, but that's the problem. One mistake, and you're off the show. It just all seemed a little quick to me.
The second round is a more interesting idea as the three remaining semi-finalists compete in short debates over topics determined in part by answers provided by the contestants in interviews with the producers. For example, in this first episode, two contestants who disagreed on the merits of Kill Bill Vol. 1 argued whether the movie was any good. The winner of the debate is judged by a three-judge panel of guest "stars," in this case Traci Lords, Richard Roundtree and Jason Mewes. The winner moves on to the next round while the loser has to debate again. The loser in this show really never had anything concrete to say for his argument, which is why he also couldn't defend why Woody Allen is a good and still relevant filmmaker.
The third round is the most interesting and troubling however because it's absolutely the most arbitrary. It's basically a big game of film geek show-and-tell with the three-judge panel determining whose items prove that person to be the biggest film fan/fanatic/geek/lunatic. Personally, I think this round is fixed a bit by the producers, and the guy who should have won this time got the shaft. Each contestant shows one item and the judges decide which is better. Best two-out-of-three items is the winner.
The two contestants in this case (Jordan and Edwin) started off with some relatively personal items. Jordan had some little silver stars he had stolen from his sister who had in turn stolen them from the original film set of The Wiz. Edwin had a photograph of himself taken alongside Samual Z. Arkoff, one of Edwin's heroes and the king of exploitation pictures from the 50s through the mid-80s via his American International Pictures. The judges gave that face-off to Jordan. Fine.
The second items I thought started to go a little wrong. Edwin had this series of three pictures of some original Planet of the Apes guys hamming it up on the Fox backlot with some Lost in Space extras. Pretty damn geeklike, sure, especially when it came to the "tell" part of Edwin's demonstration. But Jordan brought out a really great piece of memorabilia. Jordan has this book called "Fun With Woody: The Complete Woody Allen Quiz Book" because at 13 he was apparently obsessed with the man. So Jordan's uncle new a guy who worked on Allen's films, so the guy brought the book to the director and asked him to sign it. When Allen saw the book, he was shocked because he was in the middle of suing the publishers; it was an unauthorized book. Allen went ahead and signed the book for little Jordan anyway: "To Jordan, I hate this book like poison. Best, Woody Allen." But the judges gave that face-off to Edwin. OK, it wasn't a slam-dunk, and as far as geekism goes, maybe the photos were better, but still, it's a bit arbitrary, and I think they just wanted to even things up.
However, with the best-of-three coming down to the final face-off, the judges completely failed. Jordan pulls out a bunch of type-written pages that comprise his diary of 365 films he saw in 2003. He had set a goal to see a different movie every day for the whole year. Sure, that's pretty hardcore, but it's not all that original. In fact, this guy is doing the same thing this year, and in more impressive fashion since each of his films need to be exhibited in a public theater, i.e., no video or cable for him. And I won't say that's not a great example of how dedicated or even obsessed Jordan is with movies. But Edwin pulled out an incredible and rare piece of film memorabilia that only a true film geek could love. Nothing fancy like a Rosebud sled or a nude portrait of Kate Winslet. Not even a Darth Vadar helmet. No, Edwin pulled out a mask (apparently one of only six ever made) for the Phantom from Brian De Palma's camp classic Phantom of the Paradise. You've never heard of this 70s modernization of The Phantom of the Opera? This is a cult film extraordinaire, and anyone who would actually find and buy the main costume/prop piece from that movie trumps another's diary of 365 films in 365 days in my book. I mean, if you're just adding up time in front of a movie screen or television, I may not have 365 movies last year, but I guarantee I've got more than the 700-800 viewing hours he's talking about. By far. (And no, I'm not exactly "proud" of that.)
So Jordan is our representative from the Northeast because of these judges' faulty (in my view) decision. I'll bet another three people would absolutely vote for the Phantom mask over that diary any day. I mean, in some ways, this is more random than the judging of figure skating, and we all know how accurate that often is.
My suggestion for the second season of UFF? Swap the rounds and make the show-and-tell section less important. Maybe fewer contestants per episode so that there can be more trivia and debate. Gore is pretty good as host, although I think he still has a little way to go before giving-off a completely natural on-camera look. I know he's been hosting film festival reports for a few years on Starz Cinema, and there was another show on FX, but in this kind of game show especially, he still puts off a persona that looks more like reporter than quick game show hosts. Everything sounds scripted, even a remark that may have been spontaneous, and he just doesn't appear completely comfortable yet. I don't doubt he can get there, but for now, he's still no Ken Ober.