The Stanley Film Festival is a great place to see horror movies - the crowd is enthusiastic and respectful and the programming is a strong selection of global indie chillers, a nice mix of under-the-radar goodies and film fest favorites.
But the real reason to go to the Stanley Film Festival is the experience. Seeing movies is just a part of that; staying at the famously haunted Stanley is another part, as is the gorgeous scenery and the wonderful town of Estes Park. More than all of that, though, the geniuses behind Stanley go all out to make the festival live on beyond the theater, bringing in great music, featuring the latest in terror technology, and holding a weekend-long immersive interactive mystery game. I'll be reviewing a couple of movies out of Stanley, but what I really want to sell you on is the experience. I want to explain to you why Stanley is a fest worth the flight and 90 minute shuttle ride up a mountain. I want to explain to you why Stanley Film Festival is maybe the most fun film festival in the world.
Let's start with Itchy-O. On Friday night we sponsored a part at Stanley, a party whose purpose was to serve as a coming out bash for the new site you see before you, BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH. It would have been a fun part no matter what, but the Stanley staff saw fit to book a special band for the event, a band that turned what would have been a cool hour of drinking into an orgy of chaos and percussion. They booked Itchy-O.
Itchy-O is a 32 piece marching band from Denver, and they are beyond description. With a pounding drum line that includes taiko drummers and gongs, they lay down a primal beat that is somewhere between football halftime and Amazonian jungle ritual. Instead of a brass section they have electronics, including theremins, vocoders, synths and other sorts of weird, jurry-rigged devices (including some sort of mobile DJ booth mounted on a bicycle). Described as primal-futuristic, their sound is enhanced by the fact that the band has erased the line between the performer and the audience - band members stand in the crowd, crawl through the crowd, come through the crowd and grab you and make you dance. A Chinese dragon appears and winds through the audience. Fog explodes around you. Dancers in flowing black burkas undulate, while the percussionists in sombreros keep the furious beat. Provocatuers in post-apocalyptic motorcycle helmets make their way through the crowd, creating light shows with flashlights and tin foil. The style and sound represent the crashing together of all human cultures into one ecstatic body of sweaty experience and noise, all but forcing the audience into a manic St Vitus Dance of epic proportions.
The members of the band are all masked, leaving behind their identities to create a hive mind of rhythm. This sounds pretentious, but the lack of identity makes it exactly the opposite. The band's insistence on your participation destroys any modern concept of hipster irony or distance, and at the party I saw everyone from teens to old ladies swept up in the choas, dancing and smiling and dripping sweat.
Itchy-O returns music to ritual, and their performance is like a worship service - but one of those worship services where everybody speaks tongues and allows themselves to get bitten by snakes. It's insane and it's dangerous but it's right and it's real. At the end of the performance the band marched through the lobby of the Stanley Hotel to thunderous applause, a parade of black-clad weirdos with squawk boxes on their backs and elaborate drum set-ups strapped to their chest, halting reality for a too-brief moment to bring everybody to another level, to give everybody an all-encompassing experience of joy.
Last year Stanley had the incredible dark bluegrass band Munly and the Lupercalians play, and I couldn't imagine how they could top that experience... and then I saw Itchy-O. How much did I like Itchy-O? As soon as the show ended I bought one of their shirts with a gorgeous magickal design and immediately put it on.
Itchy-O has an album out on Alternative Tentacles, Burn the Navigator. I'll be buying that - this is just perfect writing music - but I'll also be keeping an eye on their tour schedule. This is a band you must see live. This is a band you must experience.
And that's the key to the Stanley Film Festival: the experience.