Way too many people are crammed into W.C. Harlan for the semi-frequent Shade live reading series to hear @EricAllenHatch rattle off a series of his absurdist movie review tweets, a brief break from the night’s emboldened but much more heady poetry:
“THE EXORCIST (1973): An old man uses Jesus magic to get a 14-year-old to stop talking like a 16-year-old.”
The director of programming for Maryland Film Festival (and a former City Paper contributor) cuts through some of the literary seriousness of the evening and arguably, some of the solipsism too, when his tweets mock, say, the blind worship of sci-fi nerd sexism which goes mostly unchallenged:
“THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980) Tough times in space for 26 men, 2 robots, a puppet, a cyborg, a Wookiee, 100s of male soldiers, and a woman!”
Hatch started these tweets, which through knowing summary say as much about a film as a proper review, at the beginning of 2014. The first review was of “They Live,” John Carpenter’s Slavoj Zizek-approved Reagan critique best known for the one-liner “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass and I’m all out of bubble gum,” which Hatch describes like this: “A brawl ensues when a sunglass-happy man exhausts his gum supply, but he & his foe find common ground razing a tv studio.”
The start of every year, Hatch explains, is dominated by Maryland Film Festival work (“eight hours of office work and eight to 12 hours of movie watching”), so in winter of 2014 he was looking “for a burst of distraction and humor amidst the process,” but also couldn’t get his “mind to think of things beyond the world of film.” Tweeting about film made sense.
Many of the early tweets were knowing summaries—“PRETTY WOMAN (1990) Hollywood brings the beloved Roy Orbison hit to life as hostile takeovers fund a shopping spree that fellatio could not”—or challenges to the Hollywood system—“COCKTAIL (1988): Tom Cruise makes some drinks and has sex or something? We could both be reading Ulysses right now”—and its toxic politics—“RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II (1985): A one-man army exacts bloody revenge on the Vietnamese people for the things his government did to them.”
Increasingly though, they’ve become more high-concept. Recently, Hatch has reviewed movies using only emojis (the review of “E.T.” used the poop emoji as a stand-in for the beloved extraterrestrial) and some of his most popular tweets are meme-based riffs on famous movie quotes that mock the film buff hashtag #OnePerfectShot (in which film fans post striking stills from their favorites) and lead to mazes of misattribution: an image of Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight crossing the street in “Midnight Cowboy” (the moment where Hoffman’s Rizzo character yells “Hey, I’m walkin’ here!” to a car that nearly hits him), with the quote “Say hello to my little friend!” (from “Scarface”) attributed to Robert DeNiro (who didn’t play Scarface, that was Al Pacino), that says it’s from the movie “Chinatown” (which starred Jack Nicholson).
Hatch, whose Twitter avatar is currently an image from “Touki Bouki,” a touching, fatalistic Senegalese movie from 1973 that more people should know about, is frustrated with how limited internet film culture remains. “Twitter can lead people to other places,” Hatch says, “But so much film discussion on Twitter revolves around the canon that appeals to twentysomethings where [they’re] celebrating the already celebrated [and] preaching to the converted.”
The movie quote images reduce the rote American film canon to absurdity: An iconic still from “Titanic” has the catchphrase “I see dead people!” from “The Sixth Sense” stamped on it, credits it to Matt Damon, and says it comes from the movie “Waterworld.”
Other tweets play with voice, incorporating internet speak and slang: “CASABLANCA (1942) When a SWM’s exgf arrives w/ TMI during WW2, he turns down TLC to help her GTFO w/o even a TTYL--but FWIW makes a new BFF”; “AVATAR (2009): Some big blue smurfs get they fuck on in space.” And in a series of hacky, wordplay-packed ones, the voice of moustachioed middlebrow critic Gene Shalit. “Antichrist,” Lars von Trier’s harrowing examining of guilt that begins with the devastating death of a couple’s child, is reviewed like this: “When proud papa’s baba drop-a, mama goes Dahmer sans pajamas and drills Willem Dafoe until filled to the gills with woes!”
And here’s one that just inserts the plot from “Christiane F.,” a grimy West German cult film from 1981 about a teenaged heroin addict, into a review of last year’s “Heaven Is For Real,” a heaping helping of pop-Christian nonsense based on the supposedly true story of Colton Burpo, a child who claimed he went to heaven and returned:
“HEAVEN IS FOR REAL (2014): A teen obsessed with David Bowie and her addict boyfriend Detlef become part of Berlin’s seedy Bahnhof Zoo scene.”
Last fall, when it seemed as though cops were killing unarmed black men at an alarming rate and it seemed very strange to use Twitter for much of anything besides disseminating information and organizing protests—certainly complaints about having a bad day or live-tweeting some TV show seemed grotesque—Hatch’s tweets were hilarious and poignant. A sour, sardonic tweet about the 1967’s “In The Heat of the Night” (“A white cop begrudgingly regards a more intelligent, cultured, strong, and handsome black cop as his equal”) or one about Abel Ferrara’s crack-smoking, corrupt cop flick “Bad Lieutenant” (“With the benefit of hindsight, a relatively good lieutenant”) felt cathartic.
And when a GoFundMe account raised over half a million dollars for Darren Wilson, the officer that shot and killed the unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Hatch imagined a ridiculous sequel to Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” that turned the historical drama into a Tea Party-tinged, wacky ’80s comedy: “LINCOLN (2015) A nation divided as a GoFundMe campaign to replace the White House w/ a John Wilkes Booth memorial ice luge gains momentum.”
“Twitter is a great place for jokes and for seriousness,” Hatch says.