Spree! All the way to Portland.
Local filmmaker Bob Moricz and his wife, visual artist Irina Beffa, are moving to Portland in a matter of days. I’ll be missing two dear friends, Sacramento will be losing two great artists, and I don’t know which of us to feel sorrier for.
I knew I had to be at HQ last Saturday for the farewell screening of Moricz’s new short, Spree! All the Way to Mexico, but last Friday night, the thought of saying goodbye was too sad. I decided to drown my sorrows, in venom, at a friend’s costumed cocktail party for the opening of the much-anticipated Snakes on a Plane.
I dressed in the closest thing to a flight-attendant uniform my closet allowed: a straight skirt, a white blouse, modest pumps and a scarf around my neck. Other women were similarly attired, while a few men sported the white shirt, navy slacks and smart cap of a pilot. One wore a walkie-talkie, through which he continually broadcast his discontent with “these motherfuckin’ snakes on this motherfuckin’ plane” as we sipped mudslides and stepped over a remote-controlled serpent crawling through the kitchen. Somebody dumped a bag full of rubber snakes on the couch, and everyone adorned themselves with the slithery critters. I stuffed a few into my flight bag, and we were off.
After the air of giddy anticipation at the party, our initial reception at the Century Downtown Plaza was a rapid descent. Several people in the lobby asked why were dressed as a flight crew covered in snakes, to which a friend replied, “We’re here to see World Trade Center.” (Perhaps not the smartest joke from someone in a pilot costume.) We felt better when we entered the theater and people applauded. “Hey, ladies, where are the exits?” a man yelled. We stewardesses promptly stood and gestured to the back and side doors.
The gory, campy film was perfect escapist entertainment, especially when accompanied by audience commentary like “Ouch! Snakes on a wang!” and “What does Marsellus Wallace look like?” (shouted whenever Samuel L. Jackson interrogated anyone). There’s nothing like watching a poisonous snake bite someone on the tongue to minimize my problems.
But the next day, I woke with a plastic asp in my hair and remembered my friends were still leaving. There was nothing to do but go to HQ and say goodbye.
When I arrived, there were only a few seats left inside the small art space. Dozens of people stood outside, sat on the floor or watched through the windows.
Like me, many of the attendees had appeared in Moricz’s cinematic endeavors. In fact, when Moricz asked who had acted in his epic soap opera Palace of Stains, more than half the crowd raised its hands. Everyone he knew wound up in his work, often doing things they’d never thought they would. Though I had no acting experience when Moricz asked me to be in his feature The Midnight of My Life in 2002, I soon found myself running barefoot in pajamas on the American River bike trail for his vision. I let someone chase me down R Street with an ax. I swallowed my superstitions, and I pretended to die.
As I watched Moricz’s films last weekend, I realized he’s helped me embrace Sacramento’s dark side—its run-down houses, its serial-killer history and that glaring depression that periodically seizes its residents and tells them real success is only possible elsewhere. Moricz channeled this dark energy into his own morbidly hopeful sagas, fraught with death and violence, underscored by a search for lost innocence. He saw the town, and humanity, at its worst, and he loved it anyway. That kind of heart is rare, and Sacramento will feel the loss.
The last feature, the 20-minute Spree!, interspersed classic Moricz imagery of a couple on a criminal rampage with sweet scenes of a little girl releasing a single red balloon and with poignant subtitles written in Moricz’s own handwriting.
“Letting go is fun … and good,” read the last frames of the film. I’ll try to remember that.
Good luck in Portland, Bob and Irina. The Great Northwest will be greater for your arrival.