Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Cinema Splash

By Harry Jay Knowles

July 14, 1997:  Ahhhhh. The gentle lap of water against skin provides cool comfort on this hot, summer night. But the calm is not to last. I'm being watched. Carefully, I turn around.... Out of the dark veil of night emerges a crowd of hundreds of kids floating in the water, bobbing up and down, all wearing tell-tale cardboard glasses. As my eyes recover from the shock, even more terrifying oddities come into focus: A six foot red lobster! A pink and black shark! A steel belted tire! A girl with flamingo wings! A seven-foot alligator! And a three-foot alligator wrapped around an innocent child! All wearing cardboard glasses!! While watching a 3-D presentation of Revenge of the Creature at the Austin Parks & Recreation's Summer Splash Party Movie Night, I couldn't help but think about that infamous photograph from the Fifties depicting an audience of moviegoers all wearing identical red-and-blue 3-D glasses.

Screams of hundreds of young children pierced the night air. Red-and-blue eyed lenses were all intently focused on the action taking place on the screen. Looming over us all, the "Gillman" -- the Creature -- was back from his lagoon for second helpings.

Surreal doesn't even begin to cover it.

Austin prides itself on its wide array of movie viewing options and fabulous swimming holes. But who in his or her right mind would bring these two seemingly unlikely elements together?

It took Jim Maloy of Feature Film Service, Austin's only16mm film rental firm, to marry the two favorite summer pasttimes. Maloy began renting movies back in 1950.

Some of my earliest film memories came from the times my parents rented 16mm films like Hoppity Goes to Town from Maloy's company. Later, Maloy's film series at Zilker Park brought us Close Encounters of the Third Kind under the starlit sky. The series began in 1977 and lasted through one move (to Northwest Park) until 1994. That year, Austin's Parks & Recreation Aquatics office called Maloy to propose a new approach to summer film. Now, he brings us the wettest theatres in town, and it isn't from spilled drinks.

photograph by MInh

Splash Party Movie Nights move from pool to pool. When I first went to them, they were scarcely attended. Then, as all good things do, they found an audience.

Last year's presentation of Creature From the Black Lagoon was a unique treat. The very concept of seeing that particular film while submerged in water brought a grin from ear to ear, but when I heard it was in 3-D -- Wow! Somehow the concept works. Things that would normally be distractions to movie watching only add to the Splash experience.

Let me set this up. You know how movie theatres are quiet places for movie worship? The respectfully quiet audience (if you're lucky) watches a gigantic screen and listens in awe to the acoustic wonders of a Digital THX auditorium. Well, you will not find a more fidgety group of noise-makers at a screening of a film anywhere than at a Splash bash. At last year's Creature showing, you could barely hear the film; there was a constant barrage of shrill screams, splashes of water, and... it was incredible. Here was a 40-year-old film that had found its audience again. So, the mean age was about 13, but who cares?

The energy level was contagious. The kids were genuinely terrified, as if William Castle were buzzing each and every one of them. It takes a master of concentration to follow the film in normal circumstances, but this enthusiastic audience was thrilled every minute.

At previous Splashes, I've seen Jaws, Pocahontas, and The Lion King. This year we have the joy of seeing Revenge of the Creature, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Freaky Friday, The Goofy Movie, and Captain Ron. Personally, the bonus of seeing a water-themed film really heightens the experience. Perhaps future Spashes might bring more water classics like Piranha, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Abyss, Hitchcock's Lifeboat, A Night to Remember, or Treasure Island.

If you haven't seen a film from the vantage point of a local swimming pool, then you are depriving yourself of one of the most unique film experiences you will ever have. Put your head back in the water and enjoy the haunting echo of the movie's sound combined with the giddy squeals of the splashing audience. It's one fluid film experience.

Harry Jay Knowles is a self-proclaimed film geek and collector, who runs the Ain't It Cool website (http://www.aint-it-cool-news.com).

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