A Lost Ed Wood Movie Premiered Over the Weekend to New Controversy
Austin’s Fantastic Fest is currently in full swing, with movie lovers from far and wide converging on the Texan oasis of hipsterism for a weekend of unreleased new works and old-school oddities alike. But recent events have cast a pall over the festival, namely the revelation that the Alamo Drafthouse (the chain of boutique movie theaters responsible for putting on Fantasic Fest every year) had covertly kept writer Devin Faraci on the payroll after making a show of publicly ousting him last year when accusations of sexual harassment came to light. Add to that further accusations of sexual impropriety levied against Ain‘t It Cool News head and Fantastic Fest cofounder Harry Knowles, and a dark pattern begins to emerge. Some critics and attendees boycotted the festival in protest, and Fox Searchlight pulled Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (a film into which violent sexual assault figures fairly prominently) from its scheduled Fantastic Fest screenings. And then came the secret screening.
Fantastic Fest does this every year, treating audiences to at least one selection in complete secrecy, to the extent that the crowd has no idea what they’re seeing until the reels begin to roll. This year’s secret screening was Edward D. Wood Jr.’s 1970 skin flick Take It Out In Trade. Despite Wood’s cult reputation as one of the greatest worst directors who ever lived, Take It Out in Trade has never been released on home video, and has almost never been seen in any form for decades. Some viewers were elated to get an eyeful of this extremely rare print, and even celebrated Wood’s freewheeling attitudes towards gender and sexuality.
Others were not quite as impressed with the legendarily incompetent director’s work on the film.
The screening also generated a new online debate, following a Facebook update from Todd Brown, a former Fantastic Fest programmer who quit the festival in response to the recent controversies. Brown, who isn’t attending Fantastic Fest this year, reacted with frustration that a film festival currently under fire for mishandling sexual violence would then subject their patrons to something like Take It Out in Trade without any warning. On the one hand, good on Fantastic Fest for keeping this rare film alive, and doing their bit to support preservationist efforts. On the other, this might not have been the year to suddenly spring this film on people.