Thursday, February 17, 2005

the beginnings of Hell

Everybody go download BRING ME THE HEAD OF CHARLIE BROWN, first off, and know ye that Jim Reardon, who created it, now works for THE SIMPSONS and has won Emmys.

But people ask me sometimes how Anime Hell got started. Actually they don't, but I'm bored at work, so I'm going to tell you anyway.

Way back in the 1980s there were no anime conventions, and there was barely any anime programming at the SF conventions. Because SF convention organizers regarded Japanese cartoons as lame and juvenile. Also because SF convention organizers had their heads lodged far up their asses - these days SF convention audiences are vanishing while anime con audiences are growing. Anyway...

I used to go to various local SF cons, and in order to promote our Atlanta anime club, we'd throw a party in our hotel room. We'd put out flyers to advertise these parties, and I don't know why, but I started advertising these parties as "Japanese Animation Hell". We'd show different anime shows and drink soda and eat chips and usually I'd show the SubGenius movie ARISE and the Pinesalad DIRTY PAIR dubs and the Corn Pone Flicks STAR DIPWADS and whatever new stuff I had that was goofy and fun. We're talking 1987-1989 here. The conventions were places like CHATTACON in Chattanooga and MOC in Greenville and even a few A-KONs in Dallas.

In the early 1990s there were two big SF conventions in Atlanta; Dragoncon and the Atlanta Fantasy Fair. Since you've heard of Dragoncon and have never heard of the Atlanta Fantasy Fair, it's safe to assume which one survived and which one didn't. I was running the anime room at the AFF and my anime club cohort Lloyd Carter was running the anime room at Dragoncon. As the Atlanta Fantasy Fair died a slow convention death, I found myself wanting to be more active in the anime room thing, so I suggested to Lloyd that I just take the Saturday night shift from midnight to whenever and I'd show parody films and comedy anime and whatever crazy stuff I could find, and I'd call that Japanese Anime Hell.

The early Hells at Dragoncon were advertised with crazy cut-and-paste flyers. They ran six hours -from midnight until 6:00am - and I ran the Pinesalad DIRTY PAIRs, the DYNAMAN dubs, whatever new CORN PONE FLICKS stuff had just been finished (this would include DIPWADS, X-23, GRANDIZER VS GREAT MAZINGER, etc), and I'd also run anime titles like PREFECTURAL EARTH DEFENSE FORCE, BLAZING TRANSFER STUDENT, and lots of anime music videos.

Every year the playlist would involve more short comedy pieces - Lenny Bruce's THANK YOU MASK MAN, HARDWARE WARS, the Corn Pone Flicks version of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, movie trailers - and fewer long pieces.

By 1995 the Atlanta Fantasy Fair was on its last legs and we'd started Anime Weekend Atlanta. Hell was continuing at Dragoncon, but several things were beginning to piss me off about the screenings there: Dragon kept shunting the anime room to a smaller and smaller room each year, the audiences were annoying, the Dragon attendees were smelly and annoying, etc. At AWA 2 I made up a tape of Hell material and let it run in a video room in an event called "Trailer Park". It was stupidly popular, and finally I realized that I could do Anime Hell at my own convention.

So at AWA 3 in 1997 what I like to think of as the first "real" Japanese Anime Hell was born; Friday night in the main events room, a four-hour set of Hell that was again, stupidly popular. After a few years of AWA Hell being awesome and Dragoncon Hell being lame and annoying, I quit doing Hell at Dragoncon. I believe my first out-of-town Hell was in 1998 at Animazement, or whenever the first Animazement was.

I would like to point out at this point that crazy clip shows have always been a part of entertainment; the film IT CAME FROM HOLLYWOOD is but one example of the way bizarre and out-of-context clips can be used for entertainment purposes. Joe Dante has spoken of how he used to splice together 16mm reels of old commercials, newsreels, educational films, and TV shows to entertain college audiences. For my part, the culture of anime tape trading led directly to HELL; swapping tapes with lots of different people means you're going to get lots of different clips of lots of different things, and having an anime club meant I had a captive audience to "test" material out on.

Also, credit must be given to the convention AV technicians that make Hell possible; Gordon Waters and Patrick McCullough worked with Hell in its early Dragoncon incarnations, and Gordon's audio ingenuity set the standards that Hell has used ever since.

I believe Hell is popular at anime cons because anime cons are full of people who are, in one way or another, video junkies. They are couch potatoes of a high order, and they appreciate offbeat video and juxtaposed imagery and the kind of late-night insanity that comes with being a fan in a medium that involves VCRs and DVD players and spending a weekend watching an entire TV series in one run. Part of the fun of an anime convention is getting to enjoy anime in a crowd, instead of at home by yourself, and that goes double for Hell, where enjoying the clips along with the crowd is what makes it fun for us and the audience.


Scot said...

Thanks a million for posting the "Charlie Brown" clip.... I have been wanting to watch that one for ages.

Make sure to forget the "Hanna-Barbera Music Videos" when coming to ACEN 2005 ^_^

Tohoscope said...

Have you found any Cons up in Canada that are willing to endure the HELL experience?

Daryl Surat said...

Aw shucks. And here I was, hoping that the first "real" Anime Hell was at the first convention I went to, which was AWA 4 with the debut of Heino.

Actually, was Heino from AWA 4? I don't remember. They all start bleeding together eventually, and you forget dates in favor of just remembering clips. Was that the same year Carl had that crazy paper cutout animated version of Jack Chick's "Somebody Goofed" to go along with the live-action version of Jack Chick's "Angels?" that was also shown? All I remember is that one weekend was the only time I've ever seen those, and it's the only proof I have of them even existing.

I'm amazed that Dave remembers this stuff from so many years ago in such detail. I can't even remember the name of that one anime Dave would show every year, the one with the creepy guy in the balloon who'd torture little kids. I'd even write down the name every time to make sure I wouldn't forget it, only to lose the paper I wrote it on.

gavv said...

hm, Dave, didn't you do a Hell or a quasi-Hell of some sort at A-kon in '96 (must have been '97?), Only thing i can remember is premiering The Metal Years, and first time i'd seen SuperThunderStingCar.

davehellmerrill said...

Well, we did premiere THE METAL YEARS there, but it wasn't so much of a Hell as it was we got Meri to give us a room, and we showed stuff and had snacks and stuff. It was more like one of the Hell parties than an actual Hell. A-Kon was at that time being overrun with LARP gamers and Klingons and vampires, so that may have been the last time we attempted to do anything more that just show up and hang out.

Matt? said...

It wasn't so much Hell as just plain hell. After pointlessly working ourselves to the breaking point to finish Metal Years, we arrived to find that they'd cancelled the fan film stuff even though there were a large number of unused blocks in all the panel rooms. We did finagle one which we attempted to advertise via copius flyers, just to experience the joy of some jerkoff pulling the fire alarm right in the middle of the premiere. That was my last A-kon, last and final.

davehellmerrill said...

Oh, and as far as Hell up here goes, I don't wanna make any announcements until things are finalized, but it's looking pretty positive for a Hell.

And I have no idea what the anime is with the guy in the balloon who tortures children. Drawing a total blank on that one.

Tohoscope said...

I'm hoping to talk to the person in charge of this years Akon schedule this weekend. I'm hopeing everything is already worked out and I can finally relax....

David F Smith said...

I just did a google search for "anime balloon torture." Don't ever, ever do that.

I forget whether I saw the Animazement '98 Hell. I forget most everything having to do with that con, and indeed most of that year, which is probably all for the best. I think I remember the '99 one, it had the Danzig Emeraldas video and some other stuff that sticks in my head.

It was either AZ 2000 or AZ 2001 where Phil wound up running it on its own and conscripting me and Greg Spahr and company to be his grunts. I don't remember anything about that one, either, except for amusing the audience with an electronic dancing Ape Escape monkey.

What I remember about the AZ 2003 Hell is that it pretty much sucked. It was the AV equipment's fault, honest.

AZ 2004 was good, though. "Sapp Time" blew the roof off the joint.


davehellmerrill said...

What is this "Sapp Time"? I've never heard of it.

David F Smith said...

Bob "The Beast" Sapp you might have heard of. He washed out of the NFL in the mid-'90s (finally being cut from NFL Europe, which is when you definitely know it's over), and then kicked around doing random stuff for a while, trained as a pro wrestler at the WCW Power Plant and also fought a Toughman exhibition with Refrigerator Perry. For that fight he was trained by Sam Greco, who hooked him up with the K-1 kickboxing promotion in Japan.

K-1 promoter Kazuyoshi Ishii looked at Sapp and saw money to be made. He sucked as a fighter back then (still does, in fact), but he was something like 6'7" and well over 300 pounds of scary black gaijin muscle. After a few grotesquely mismatched fights in K-1 and the PRIDE MMA promotion, Sapp was whatchacall big in Japan. Helped sell out the Tokyo Dome and pop a huge TV rating for K-1's 2002 year-end show.

So what do you do when you're big in Japan? Cut a godawful pop single, naturally. Hence "Sapp Time," a sort of rap/jazz/pop/a capella fusion.

I bought the DVD of the music video in Japan a while back, because it features Sapp boogieing down in a three-piece red satin suit with some disturbingly-made-up showgirls, plus random selections of cute kids and hip teenagers, and a four-man singing combo that does the melodic heavy lifting while Sapp delivers lines like "Gotta love Bob Sapp, gotta love Bob Sapp / Keepin' energy high with my Beast Power Rap."

So anyway, the kids dug it.


gavv said...

i'd heard the sapp time single audio but never have seen the video (needs to get a copy for the northern hell archives :D)

Tohoscope said...

Get a taste of Sapp here:

David F Smith said...

Oh, yeah, just about any of his promo appearances are worth checking out. There's also this unbelievably homoerotic Shick ad with Vanderlei Silva and Mark Coleman that I keep trying to get my hands on, without success.

Gavv, shoot me your address at dsmith at femc dot net and I'll send you a copy.


Daryl Surat said...

Sapp Time blew the roof off the place? I showed that a few times on the idea that people needn't know who Bob Sapp is, and people didn't really seem to laugh. I have much greater success using the footage where Bob Sapp has to compete against Morning Musume in a series of challenges. If I end up doing a panel at Anime Express next month, I'll try Sapp Time again if the Florida crowds dig Fish Fight.

I have only heard about the Silva/Coleman commercial. Doesn't it somehow incorporate bullet time for no reason?

Anyway, the reason Dave can't remember what I'm describing is because I screwed up the description. The thing I'm talking about looks very much like Rocky and Bullwinkle (might not be anime) and features this guy that looks like a magician who goes around in a balloon and steals toys from children for no real reason. This is actually more Totally Lame Anime material than Hell.

What brand of pen was it being advertised during those commercials shown at Hell last year? You had them on DVD.

David F Smith said...

Yeah, the Silva/Coleman commercial sort of involves "aftershave-time." As it turns out, it's on one of Mike Naimark's DVDVR Shootcomps, so I'll try and grab that one of these days.


davehellmerrill said...

More information about the Atlanta Fantasy Fair can be found here: