March 12th, 2013 | ABEL RAISES CAIN | Annapolis, MD
The idea of road-tripping with my parents, my husband, our baby and our dog over two thousand miles together in a minivan for two weeks straight might sound a bit crazy to the outsider. But I must say, the trip itself and having our 5-month old baby, Jalen, along with us has been a pretty incredible experience so far. He may only have a few fleeting memories of the sights and sounds, including those images of his grandparents projected on various screens, as we travel across the mid-Atlantic. But the memory of the tour for us as a whole will be everlasting.
I am instantly attracted to the small quaint historic section of Annapolis that we’re staying in with its teeny tiny walkways, colorful rows of houses and cobble stone streets. The scenes remind me of something my mom might create in miniature form with her dollhouse work. We took a day to relax and enjoy the sights. Arriving at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts the following evening, we were greeted by half a dozen elderly ushers wearing formal black and white attire. There were not many people and not very far to usher, but it was an enthusiastic bunch of volunteers who all chattered simultaneously, “Hello! We’ve been waiting for you!” as we exited the elevator. What a welcome, indeed!
I was a bit nervous about this screening. I barely had any contact with our hosts. Several of the venues so far have undergone a major change in personnel and I wonder if our experience in these towns might have been different had the regulars been on board. Also in Annapolis, I was fearful that the cost to buy tickets was a bit much, especially for a community-friendly establishment catering to the arts. The Capital Gazette apparently ran ads in the paper about our screening. And so I remained hopeful that some folks might actually show up to see an otherwise obscure documentary.
It turned out to be a small but very appreciative group. It would have been great if more people came out, but we met some interesting folks. One woman used to work for a TV network in New York City that my dad occasionally hoaxed, WPIX-TV, which I remember watching as a kid. When I introduced the film, I warned the audience that halfway through the picture there is some brief nudity. The International Sex Bowl, another one of my father’s hoaxes, caused a bit of trouble for us during our tour down south last year. We were censored because of that scene, even though it’s presented in a satirical manner, and one of our screenings got cancelled as a result. Granted, I will admit the scene in question is particularly bawdy and the venue that pulled the plug on us was a church.
It was still painful to watch a mother in the audience hurriedly attempt to cover her young son’s eyes during this section of the film. In a silhouetted pantomime, I could see a bit of a struggle going on. I was worried that the boy might need psychotherapy after seeing our movie. I thought to myself that I would break the tension following the screening by joking with the parents that they should go ahead and just send me the doctor’s bill.
The projection at Maryland Hall was crystal clear and the sound was perfect, thanks to high-end equipment and Ben, the projectionist. It was a pretty screening room with its decoratively trimmed ceiling and arched projection wall. It’s funny and beyond ironic that during the introduction to my father’s faux ban breast-feeding campaign, I find myself in the back of the theatre breast-feeding my son. I also find Euthanasia Cruises and the KKK Symphony Orchestra amusing, no matter how many times I see the film. Both concepts are pretty ‘out there.’ Crossing the line into absurdity, collective laughter from the crowd erupts as soon as the inherent satire in these phony causes is revealed.
Sneaking out of the theatre, I wandered about and peeked into some of the adjacent spaces. It was a ‘Rear Window’ view of the innards of the hall. Between an opera rehearsal complete with an accompanying pit orchestra, ballet classes, pottery wheels spinning, and a distant piano plunking, it was a mish mosh of sounds and a hub of bustling activity. It was a very unusual but interesting space for a screening, to say the least.
The climax of the Q&A happened when a second-grader (the one who learned about the birds and the bees for the first time that night) raised his hand and asked my dad, “How do you do it?” “Do what?” my father retorted. “Everything!” the kid shouted back. My dad evaded the question for an uncomfortably long time and then finally gave up and said, “I don’t know.” I interjected that my dad has to put a lot of planning and effort into many of his stunts. There is a complexity beyond simple practical joking when launching one of his phony satirical crusades. In terms of how he sustains himself through a ‘career’ in hoaxing, I explained that it’s difficult. My parents have sacrificed a tremendous amount for their art, namely financial security.
One of the ushers, an older woman from a small town in Ohio, asked what my dad’s parents thought of his career. This question has never been asked before at any of our screenings and it’s something that I was always curious about. In actuality, my grandparents were proud of my dad. They collected newspaper clippings featuring his pranks over the years and compiled them into giant scrapbooks. However, I’m pretty sure they didn’t have a clue what he really did for a living. The ‘how’ or the ‘why’ of it all was unclear, but they were supportive nonetheless.
The same woman who asked the question about my father’s parents’ reaction bought a copy of my dad’s book afterwards. Jeff watched her hand it to the inquisitive boy who seemed intrigued by everything that he had witnessed this evening. The boy’s father quickly intercepted it and joked out loud that he’d better review the material first before showing it to his son! Not only do we create scenes, the Abels also cause trouble wherever we go. My sincerest apologies to all we’ve offended along the way, particularly those poor parents who have a lot of explaining to do in Annapolis!
Post by OSIP Touring Filmmaker, Jenny Abel