ASCII by Jason Scott

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Computer Beach Party … PART ONE —

I like to think that when people funded my sabbatical, this was the sort of thing they wanted.

During ROFLcon, there was a showing at the local movie theater of a rather rare, rather bizarre little computer film.  I’d have thought I’d seen most films with computers in them.  Or, at least, heard of them. Not so with this little gem; a film called Computer Beach Party, released in 1987.  Presented by the Found Footage Festival, the audience was subjected to this horrible computer-and-sex romp as well as being highly entertained by the commentary, skits, trivia, and all-around show by the members of the FFF.  I’ve internally debated about the use of a commercial product in a commercial tour, and all I can say is that they cut the movie up into sections, have enormous amounts of additional material they add to the showing, conduct audience prizes, and constantly add MST3K-quality commentary throughout. (This isn’t entirely surprising when you find out one of the cast worked on MST3K, and they’ve also worked for The Onion and Late Night With David Letterman.) All taken into consideration, it really is a whole new show with the movie mixed into a goulash.

But the moral debate aside, something about this movie just fascinated me.  As a person with film production experience, as well as computer history experience, I was in a rather odd position to take the movie into more of a full context than most. I know how south things can go with a film production, and I also can appreciate using computers in a film in the mid 1980s and the unique approaches everyone was taking back then.

That said, I must make clear: this movie is awful.  Not just awful like “missed the mark” awful, or awful like “didn’t feel very well made” awful. I mean that it’s functionally broken, full of inconsistencies, utilizes a plot that wouldn’t have worked even if filmed to perfection, and wastes your time. It actually wastes your time. The fact it has computers in it, for me, meant that there were periods of dim interest, like finding out the person who kidnapped and is beating you went to the same college as you did. Interesting, yet besides the point. It is absolutely terrible. Don’t see it, unless you’re attending the aforementioned Found Footage Festival, at which point you will have a great time, because you will be watching a show that’s funny and well-done, which contains this awful thing at the core of it to power the we’re-all-in-this-together feeling with other members of the audience.

The plot is not particularly challenging or hard to recount, although it sounds as stupid as it was. In Galveston, Texas, two sail-buggy buddies who love to use the local beach for racing discover that the mayor wants to close the beach and chase everyone out so he can dig for long-lost treasure. Serving as the mayor’s muscle are two incompetent henchmen, one of whom is dating the mayor’s daughter.  Our heroes utilize computer technology, friends, and lots of partying to best these enemies and, in the case of one of them, win the heart of the mayor’s daughter. Along the way, there’s partying, random sex, and dancing.

There’s a sub-plot involving the local sheriff being waylaid by a taunting chicken car, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves – the film starts to sound like it’s competent.

It’s not – the scenes don’t always end predictably, there are missing sequences (as in, there are sequences they really should have added but never filmed, so they do their best to get by), and an awful lot of the movie seems like it was shot in a single take.

Two things make this movie stand out: the dubbing and the computers.

In the case of the dubbing, this movie’s sound construction is absolutely beyond belief. People are dubbed with new voices all the time, in some cases being delivered by voice actors who are intentionally sounding cartoonish. Sometimes the dubbing of the voices doesn’t sync with the video. In one case, they dub the sound of a dog, and make the dog talk. That’s pretty crazy, and it’s absolutely jarring. Any time you might start to watch the film for being a film, the dubbing comes back to ruin it for you. Much of it sounds, literally, like people are screwing around with the footage by recording hammy voices over them. Not exactly the best cinematic experience.

And then there’s the computers. Throughout this film, computers are used to forward the plot – but in weird surreal ways that don’t make logical or dramatic sense. In the beginning, they want to have a party, so they utilize the computer to get together a party. If you flip through the footage (and I have, more than I should have), you can see the computer is sort of doing an instant message or groupware invitation system so that you indicate how many people you want to attend and what type, but it’s instantaneous and hugely illogical (you can request the sex and age of your attendees). It’s not even explained how they do this, or where they get this ability or access – they just do it. In fact, almost none of the characters have a backstory, so they’re completely flat – they’re just words delivered by meat.

Computers are everywhere in this movie, hence “Computer Beach Party”.

Seriously, computers are everywhere in this flick. They’re in the background while the main couple get to know each other. They provide horoscopes, they link to that mysterious party database I mentioned, and they affect the performance of vehicles. Yes, that’s right, there’s a sequence where a computer in a glove compartment makes a car go faster.

No, I don’t get it either. The Found Footage guys indicate that the writer seems to consider the computer a “magic black box”, filling plot holes or logic jumps by just being a computer. This is the sort of thing that can work in a fantasy setting; the movie Weird Science comes to mind, and that John Hughes film is considered a sort of classic, or at least a fun touchstone. Not so here. They’re just stuck in everywhere, and are sort of meaningless.  Also, if you sit back and consider the film’s plot (and I do not suggest this), then you realize all they do with the computer is cheat. They use it to win races, for example, races that have no particular bearing on the main plot. They just win the race, either making a car run faster or, in one case, making a windpower-based vehicle (a sail buggy) move better. With a computer.

An awful lot of the film has appearances by a band called “Panther”. All told, they contribute a couple dozen songs to this film. And they look, for all that, like a perfect 80s hair metal band:

They regard the camera directly, as do a lot of other people during the party scenes.  The party scenes appear to have all been shot at once, because the lighting and performances are similar. But there I go, trying to apply cinematic rigor in analysis to this film. What a waste!

When the film was over, a few of us die-hard folks wanted to know more, anything, everything, about how this film came to be. How did the organizers find it? How was this thing ever paid for? Where did it come from? What were they trying to accomplish with this thing? The festival guys said they’d only seen two tapes of this movie in 15 years of going through piles of VHS discards. They said they’d reached the lead actress, and she’d become a fitness and exercise guru, and wanted money for an interview. They said they’d never found out who owned it now, who the other people were, or the story behind this movie.

I said that, given the movie’s content, I could find out everything one would want to know about the film in a week.

I was wrong.

It took 2 hours.

Before I tell you absolutely everything about this movie, let me say that Annalee Newitz reviewed this movie for Wired, it has an IMDB entry, and I’m not the first person to write long ranty speculation about the film.  So while a lot of what I’m about to say may be new to the Internet at large and I may (shudder) become the go-to weblog entry about this film and the reasons behind it, there are plenty of people who have discussed this film and thrown around images and speculation and insights and all the other wonders of online writing.  I’m coming very late to the computer beach party on this one, but I hope I brought some good pizza for you.

Research is what I do.  Cold calling is also what I do. I did both.

The initial thought I had on this movie was it must have functioned as a drug laundering scam.  Do production on a film, make it cost too much, lose the money in the right amount of ways, token release it, and then consider the money properly dispensed.  I was being unkind – all indications are that this film was an honest attempt to do an actual movie, with real actors and a real plot, with the usual nods to low-budget filmmaking and a gratuitous amount of nudity and crude humor to get to the summer audience.

The director, editor and writer of Computer Beach Party, Gary Troy, is pretty easy to find.  Here’s his resume page, including his official headshot:

Just a glance over his resume page shows some of the ways one can have a full life as an entertainer without it all appearing on IMDB.  Band player, news editor, casting director… you name it, Gary’s been a part of it.

Obviously, though, we care about the films, and the theme when you look at the films directed by Gary is that they tend to be low budget and they tend to be pretty, well, schlocky. His directing debut (as far as IMDB goes) is wonder called Teenage Bride, whose description reads “Buxom nudist mistress Marie wants her lover to hire a private detective to tape the lover’s wife with the lover’s college dropout stepbrother. But while the men’s secretaries seduce them, Marie seduces the stepbrother by herself.” This is not high art, here.  Well, maybe to be fair, let me give you another promotional blurb of this film, from a different source:

“Young Cyndee Summers is married to a beefy old loser, so she gets her kicks with her hubby’s younger step brother, Dennis. It turns out that everyone is making whoopie! Even Cyndee’s boring husband is bopping her best friend, and his personal secretary, just to name a few. And Dennis, a horny little bugger himself, starts having hot, steamy affairs with all of Cyndee’s friends and foes. A genuinely erotic movie that will tease you and keep your hand over your remote control to press the slo-mo button over and over again.”

…oh well.

I began doing research on the names in the credits list of the movie. In case you’re wondering, the credits list looks like this:

A good place to start, it turned out, was the ADR/Re-Recording director, who would have been responsible for the crazy dubbing and top-flight craziness in the soundscape of the film. He was listed as “Rusty Smith”, who I nailed as R. Russell Smith. A top-flight ADR guy, he’s done work for so many films it’s ludicrous, not to mention his work with television series such as The Simpsons, Deadwood, Big Love, Northern Exposure, and The Practice. In other words, Rusty is the friggin’ man when it comes to sound work. The movie was shot, according to other sources, around 1985, but was released on video in 1987/1988, via Vestron Video. This indicates to me that the movie drops into Rusty’s lap at the beginning of his career, when he’s having a certain amount of good time with playing around with stuff. (Like everyone else I tracked down, I submitted this auspicious credit to Rusty’s IMDB entry.)

It’s not hard to speculate that the movie, in whatever shape it was in, was handed over to Vestron, who then utilized Rusty’s studio to clean things up.  The process of doing this was wild and wooly enough that the ADR guys felt no gumption or guilt about giving people odd voices, or in one case imitating a dog talking. The seven (seven!) “re-recording artists” in the credits also point to quite a bit of post-production work. How much Gary Troy was involved in this, is not currently clear.

So, in my opinion, there’s two groups involved here: the primary, production-on-the-ground film crew, and then the secondary, post-production crew. While it’s easy to point fingers in one direction or another, credit must be given to both crews – the primary created a somewhat incomplete film, and the secondary really screwed around to have fun fixing up the resulting film. Between them, what could have been merely dull becomes a sort of bizzaro-world movie experience. But incomprehensible to normal moviegoers.

To be honest, I’m much more interested in the process that led to the film than the process that resulted in crazy-0verdubs and weird editing. I want to know what got this Computer Beach Party started.

I tracked down the creator of the computer graphics in the film, Larry Fly, who is now a website developer. Here’s his answers to the questions I asked him about the project and his part in it:

“I hope that if you are documenting this that it pertains to how “not” to do a movie.  I don’t think is was done very well nor did it go anywhere to my knowledge. I was contacted via a friend of someone who knew the Production company – I believe it was Southwest Motion Pictures. I was writing graphics applications for the IBM PC at the time. The movie was shot in 1983-84 timeframe. Galveston, Texas. I did only the computer graphics (on screen), no movie titles or post production stuff. I did these screens and graphics based on drawings given to me by the production team – at their specific direction.  They shot the graphics directly off the computer screen. By the way, I was supposed to get paid for this but never received any money.  A terrible learning experience for me. I used a computer they provided – I believe it was a IBM XT, 256kb, 10mb HD, with 4 Color (CGA) graphics, Joystick for drawing (Mouse did not exist).  I wrote Pascal and IBM Basic programs to accomplish drawing the graphics, performing animations, and screen transitions and overlays, etc. I did get a VHS copy of the movie from an online source about five years ago.  I do not recall it being shown in a theater anywhere. I thought I read somewhere it went to video only.”

Already, things become more obvious. The production company did ask for stuff and plan things – but they had issues with followthrough. The computers were meant to play a good part in things, and certain scenes definitely were planned, as they asked him for items like the car graphics and love graphics, although they used them very weirdly. This didn’t sound like drug laundering at all! Someone was trying to make a movie!

The crew of the festival indicated they had already contacted the female lead, Stacey Nemour – and it’s not that hard to find her. After all, she’s a black belt in Karate and has an entire website for promotion and videos.  The crew said they’d tried to talk to her but she wanted to be paid to be interviewed. She did indicate that production was about two weeks and the script was mostly improvised. They decided not to pay for the interview.

I decided that being the second internet moron facility to contact Ms. Nemour would be a bit much and needlessly harassing, so I have not contacted her.

Update: Stacey Nemour has shown up to indicate that in fact she was asked to attend a midnight screening of the movie, and do a Q&A, not simply answer questions over the phone. Sorry to imply any other situation – this is how it was described at the show.

I did, however, track down the male lead, specifically the computer programming nerd. In the movie, he’s called Hank Amico, but a little investigation reveals his real name to be Hank Amigo. He’s now a drama teacher in Woodland Hills, California. I’ve left a message for him, but haven’t talked to him yet. Here’s what he looks like these days:

I was able to find citations in Google Books to Computer Beach Party, especially pre-production press by Gary Troy, in which he promises he will be creating a “high-tech teen romp”. Again, an indication the film was meant to go somewhere. A production company was set up, was doing the work, hired actors, and so on.

My last big breakthrough came by looking up the production manager for the movie, Sanford Hampton.  Mr. Hampton has had a long and varied career, and through some luck and rustling around, I got his cell phone number.

Do you know how strange it is to call someone who has had a nice career, and essentially ask him, out of the blue and over the phone, what he remembers about a terrible sex and computer comedy from 25 years ago?

He was unbelievably kind, all things considered. And amazingly, he could recall details about the production off the top of his head. His memory told him the budget for this film was about $100,000.  Production was about three weeks. He believes the lead actress was dating the director. And the band, “Panther”, was headed up by the actresses’ brother.

(I have found Roger Nemour’s Myspace page, which includes photos from Computer Beach Party. Nemour calls it a “shitty film”. His career seems to have been long and varied and full of many good works as well.)

Hampton recalls it as “a great party that allowed us to make a film on the side”. He said he’d never known the film actually got released in any form, and my phone call was the first he’d heard of it since he’d wrapped production. He had nothing but great things to say about Gary Troy, and that he was a wonderful and warm guy.  No specific memories of hard times or unpleasantness came up on initial looking back. He also thought Galveston was a great place to spend time in.

That the final work had missing scenes, problematic sound, and a really ludicrous plot was ancillary to the experience for Hampton. I don’t know how the movie was for others involved in the production, of course, but in all, it sounds like a film that got made and just didn’t quite have all the chips together when it was finished. I’ve seen movies like these before – they just don’t tend to have computers play such a big part.

Finally, the ownership question. Vestron Video, who bought out the movie and put it on VHS and in video stores, itself went out of business and had its film library purchased by Lion’s Gate Entertainment. Lion’s Gate, without a question, renewed the copyright on this film in 2005, along with the copyright of over 3,400 movies it had acquired from 20-30 now-defunct film companies. For what it’s worth, Computer Beach Party had its copyright renewed in the same document (V3521 D236-256 P1-116) as The Blair Witch Project, Pi, and Candyman 3: Day of the Dead. Nothing specific or personal, in other words… just a perfunctory legal move done by a company protecting its acquired library of works, at least one of which is really really awful and has a talking dog.

So now we know the story of Computer Beach Party, or at least, as much as the average person could ever want to know for the rest of their lives. For everyone who gave me contributions for my sabbatical, I’ll bet the dividends are just blowing you away, aren’t they?

So why “Part One”? Well, I have a few calls/e-mails out to a number of other parties associated with this film, and if what they bring me warrants another entry, I’ll do it. Otherwise, like many low-budget films, I’ll leave the entry at Part One, with a sequel never forthcoming, and anyone looking over Part One knowing exactly why.

Update: And now, Part Two.


Categorised as: computer history

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10 Comments

  1. Shannon Harris says:

    Nice work. Just curious if this movie came after Electric Dreams. The On-Screen graphic shots reminded me of Edgar from that movie. Maybe that movie inspired this ‘lower budget’ attempt ?

    • Jason Scott says:

      Regarding the place of “Computer Beach Party” in the realm of computer movies and time, there’s a whole range of movies coming out at the time that are in thematic similarity to this one – Weird Science, Revenge of the Nerds, Real Genius, and so on. Electric Dreams is in there too, this two/three-year period when computers are exciting cinematic devices and can do most anything. I am sure it took inspiration from a lot of places.

  2. robohara says:

    “… there’s a sequence where a computer in a glove compartment makes a car go faster.”

    In 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious”, Brian O’Conner (played by Paul Walker) does exactly the same thing with a laptop. If nothing else, I’d say this film was visionary!

    My only other comment is, if it had really been that easy in the 80s to see naked girls by sending a few commands on an old 8 bit computer, we wouldn’t have needed the Internet. Again, visionary.

  3. I wish I could have listened in on those phone conversations you had. That had to be a bit surreal at times :)

  4. This site is hilarious! You got it very wrong! I was not asked to simply answer questions on the phone. They wanted to fly me to N.Y. to appear at a midnight screening of C.B.P. and do a Q & A.

    • Jason Scott says:

      No offense meant, Ms. Nemour – this is how it was described during the screening I attended. I’ve edited the entry to reflect this and your input.

  5. We actually raised $800.000.00 to do the film. One of the reasons the film makes absolutely no sense at all, is that hurricane season was about to start in Galveston so, we had to move the shoot date way up. So the script was actually being written while we were shooting!

    The looping was done for the beach scenes because of the wind. Most the actors had left town after we wrapped so they were so wacky creative voice-over talent performing the freaky voices :-)

  6. all Romeo says:

    Maybe the movie really isnt that bad….think about it..
    You watched it and it was so bad it propelled you to investigate.
    How many movies have had that kind of power?
    Is it possible the disgust you had for the movie turned to love? lol

  7. Jason Scott says:

    I think a single person out of hundreds (thousands) who have suffered at the movie, making an effort to figure out what the hell happened, does not make the movie less bad.

    If after receiving a beating, you stumble away and wonder how many people have gotten beaten in that alley, it doesn’t make it any less of a beating.

  8. CBP4evr says:

    Every lid has it’s pot as they say (or something like that). I saw Computer Beach Party when I was sick and depressed, and had a right good time at it. I had no expectations- and I think life is often better this way. It’s a fun movie- even more fun because it’s dumb, silly, ridiculous, and way outside the norm- which for some people is perfect. And as it ages the charm will grow. Hey, how many movies have a giant chicken art car?? I rest my case.