On opening night of the Coney Island Film Festival, the first film up was Charles Ludlam’s silent horror short “The Museum of Wax,” shot in the late 1970s in Coney’s World in Wax Musee. It is a little gem, but seeing Lillie Santangelo’s long-vanished museum was eerie and sad, especially now that the Henderson Building, where it was located for more than 60 years until closing in 1984, is being demolished to make way for Thor Equities’ strip mall.
Equally eerie and sad was seeing the late and much-missed Charles Ludlam‘s brilliance on the silent screen. Ludlam’s over-the-top performances in campy melodramas like “The Mystery of Irma Vep” at his Ridiculous Theatrical Company in Sheridan Square were a must-see for us in the 1980s.
Unfinished at the time of Ludlam’s death from AIDs in 1987, this rarely seen 16 MM film was remastered by Queer/Art/Film as part of the Outfest Legacy Project for LGBT Film Preservation and the UCLA Film & Television Archive. OutfestLA has also made the 20-minute film available in three parts on their YouTube channel.
At Friday’s screening, Coney Island USA founder and artistic director Dick Zigun referred to the film as “a work of film genius” and noted that it was last screened in Coney Island on Halloween in 1981. The occasion was a day-long theatrical extravaganza called “Tricks or Treats,” which Zigun curated at the Wax Musee. The film was shot in a few days after Zigun introduced Ludlam to Lillie Santangelo, the elderly proprietress of the wax museum. “It was a 100 percent found location,” says Zigun, who had discovered fifty wax heads, which appear in the film, in the museum’s storage area.
“Not much was planned. It was just go for it,” recalled actor Everett Quinton, who was Ludlam’s partner and muse. Quinton, who appears as the second convict in the film, compared it to “the unfinished Michelangelo sculptures that lead up to the David. It is unfinished.” According to Outfest’s website, until the recent digital re-mastering and the addition of a new score by original composer Peter Golub, “Museum of Wax” had not been seen in over 20 years.
In an act of programming genius by Coney Island Film Festival director Rob Leddy, “The Wax Museum” shared the opening night bill with “Shape of the Shapeless,” a new documentary exploring the gender bending life and performance art of Jon Cory aka Rose Wood, and the effervescent “Dirty Martini and the New Burlesque,” which won best documentary feature.
Related posts on ATZ…
September 20, 2010: Movie Monday: Teaser Trailers from the Coney Island Film Festival
September 12, 2010: Video: Coney Island’s Faber’s Fascination by Charles Denson
August 28, 2010: Video: Grand Prize Winner of Luna Park Coney Island’s Film Contest!
March 30, 2010: Super 8 Movie: I Had A Dream I Went To Coney Island