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"Lost" exploitation masterpiece comes to town!

When I was a senior in high school I went to a revival screening of Lucio Fulci's The Beyond at Atlanta's AMC Phipps Plaza Theatre. The print played with some vintage trailers attached, including a violent (to the point of absurdity) trailer for Duke Mitchell's Massacre Mafia Style. I knew I had to see that movie. If that was the trailer, who knows what hidden treasures were to be found in the actual feature?! Unfortunately, I was unable to find the video, and it wasn't until I moved to Seattle five years later that I was able to rent the Video Gems VHS release (under the title The Executioner and in a beautiful big box). Of course the movie could not live up to the trailer, but it still showed (aside from a desire to remake The Godfather with no budget) a sense of individuality and purpose that distinguish it from so many other low-budget gangster movies. Writer, director Duke Mitchell really makes sure that this movie says exactly what he wants to say. And then he literally says it, because he is also the lead actor. It's pretty easy to get lost in the convoluted plot points, but if you pay attention, the dialogue is pretty stylized, and there are enough unique touches that feel like they're coming from a more sincere place than a desire to make a profit on a cheap, violent movie. When I read that Duke Mitchell had started, but not finished, a feature about the kidnapping of the Pope, I thought for sure it would be one of those Day the Clown Cried or London After Midnight type movies that I would never get to see. Even after Grindhouse Releasing put out a trailer for it, I didn't believe I would ever see the feature. Then, earlier this month, the unthinkable happened, and a reconstructed print of the previously "lost" Gone With the Pope premiered in Los Angeles. Actually, reconstructed is the wrong word. Bob Murawski (Hollywood film editor and one of the heads of Grindhouse Releasing) has spent the past 15 years constructing this movie in its entirety for the first time. In this interview, Murawski discusses the details of going from rough workprint, back to the original negative, through digital restoration, and years of toil and dedication to arrive at a distributable feature film product. What Murawski and his collaborators have done is heroic. It's a loving tribute to a largely unknown filmmaker, as well as a massive contribution to film history. It's no wonder that Murawski, who recently won the Academy Award for film editing for his work on The Hurt Locker, said, "Of all the films I have been involved with, the one that I am most proud of is Gone With the Pope." Now Seattle audiences will have a chance to see this source of pride in 35mm at The Grand Illusion Cinema. Playing tonight and next Friday and Saturday night at 11pm, Seattle is only the second city (aside from Los Angeles) to screen this rare gem of a picture. I went to last night's screening, and it's a doozy. It has all the vision and grandiose speeches of Massacre Mafia Style (not to mention the violence and "racist" dialogue), but with a surreal quality that stems from (seemingly intentional) jarring shifts in story and tone. The strangeness is amplified by just how damn good the picture and sound quality are. I'm not used to seeing movies from this period or of this budget look and sound so good. It wouldn't be hard to pass the movie off as a new feature made to look "retro," like Black Dynamite or House of the Devil, to an audience who didn't know better. Having sat through a million low-budget 70's movies, I feel I can say with some authority that the editing is way tighter, faster, and... well, better... than it probably would have been if the film had been completed in the late 70's. The end result is a lot of fun, and guaranteed to be one of the most unique features you will see on any screen this year. Thanks Grindhouse Releasing and Grand Illusion Cinema! Here's the decidedly R-rated trailer: For more information check out the official Gone With the Pope website.

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