DOCUMENTING THE DEVIANTS: A Celebration of Filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz

From the very beginning of my association with Peaches, one thing we’ve always come together on is our need to celebrate our heroes.

However, this commonality isn’t shared solely by the boss lady and myself, but rather is a thread that runs through the veins of each member of the Midnight Mass family. We all have this compulsive yearning to worship at the altar of those who shaped us into the children of the popcorn we are today. You can see this love and passion in every single one of Peaches’ stage shows, and hopefully it’s also reflected in my columns here on the site. As dyed-in-the-wool monster kids, we consider it our duty to carry the banner ever forward into the night, shouting of love and schlock to all who will listen.

Because of this continued commitment to spreading the word, we always like to recognize a kindred spirit when one crosses our path. In recent years, one such individual has proven to be a cut above many of his peers, celebrating his idols with a level of style and class that few can match.

The man in question is documentary filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz, and for his continued effort to make sure future generations know the names of his idols, we wanted to take a moment to make sure you knew him.

Although some of you may not be instantly familiar with Jeffrey’s name, I can almost guarantee you’ve seen his work. Jeffrey and his team at Automat Pictures have created the special features and electronic press kit material for literally hundreds of Hollywood’s biggest titles. If you’ve ever watched a behind-the-scenes documentary or enjoyed a particularly slick “making of,” there’s a good chance Jeffrey and his crew had a hand in its creation. With contributions to the DVD and Blu-Ray releases of titles as diverse as Goodfellas, The Princess Bride, and Footloose, Jeffrey is definitely a man who is connected to the world of movies.

Yet for his hundreds of contributions to the legacy of preexisting films, it is Schwarz’s work on original documentaries celebrating avant-garde and cinematic luminaries that excites us the most. His breakout work on 2007’s Spine Tinger! The William Castle Story made horror and documentary aficionados alike sit up and take notice. All about the life of William Castle, one of cult cinema’s very founders, Spine Tingler! served as a celebratory love letter to an era of horror that helped shape Schwarz and a whole generation of fright fans.

Spine Tingler! screened around the world, allowing a whole new generation of genre enthusiasts to see iconic interview subjects like John Waters, Joe Dante, and Roger Corman express how they were influenced by Castle. By showing peoples’ heroes celebrate a hero of their own, Schwarz became an essential cog in the enduring legacy of William Castle.

…but, Jeffrey Schwarz’s hero worship didn’t stop with Castle. In 2008, the filmmaker unleashed a documentary about an all-together different type of cinematic renegade, Jack Wrangler. With Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon, Schwarz shared the shocking and exciting history of one of gay (and later straight) porn’s most notorious icons. Injecting humanity into the sexual revolution, Schwarz provided a stimulating and relatable story of a man destined for sexual greatness.

More recently, Jeffrey’s hard-hitting documentary about legendary activist and author of The Celluloid Closet, Vito Russo (titled Vito), was part of this past summer’s HBO documentary series. An unflinching portrait of a man who quite literally gave his life to gay rights and his love of film, Vito is a masterstroke of filmmaking that deserves every ounce of praise it garnered.

Yet, for those of us who know Jeffrey’s work, we are aware that Vito was just another example of Jeffrey doing what he does best: Opening the doors to allow someone’s story to be told. Vito is successful in the same way Spine Tingler! And Wrangler are, in that Jeffrey has a unique understanding of the fact that all stories, no matter how outrageous, are still relatable if told through the lens of humanity.

I once interviewed Jeffrey for Phantom of the Movies’s Videoscope, and when I asked him about the commonalities shared by some of his subjects, he told me that they all had a mutual feeling of being outsiders. “Because of this,” he said, “they were able to cultivate larger-than-life personalities and get people to worship them. In the creation of the characters, it masked any insecurities they might have had, and that’s something with which we all can identify.”

…and though I can’t speak for all cult movie fans, I know many of us found our way to these movies because we were the outsiders. Thanks to Jeffrey’s continued work, audiences get the opportunity to discover that their heroes may have once felt the same.

Currently, Jeffrey and the Automat Pictures team show no signs of stopping. With a documentary on Tab Hunter slated for sometime in 2014, Schwarz and co. are continuing their celebration of some of the silver screens greatest outlaws.

However, it is likely Jeffrey’s most recent project that will be of most interest to Peaches Christ fans. Titled I Am Divine, Schwarz’s latest documentary is a celebration of Baltimore’s filthiest daughter. Chronicling Divine’s years with John Waters, the Cockettes, and everything in-between, Schwarz’s documentary is an exhaustive look at the drag queen to whom all other drag queens owe a debt of honor. Featuring interviews with Waters himself and many of Divine’s contemporaries (including Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pearce, Beverly Bonner, and more), the film seeks to serve as a quintessential portrait of one of cult cinema’s most beloved icons. Considering the track-record of Schwarz’s previous oeuvre, we have no doubt that this film will be the celebratory masterpiece that our Lady Divine deserves.

…oh, and did we mention that Peaches’ alter-ego, the suave Joshua Grannell, also is interviewed for the film? He always has interesting, albeit less sassy, things to say. So, check that out.

So, as Jeffery puts the final touches on his celebration of all things filthy and beautiful (he’s raising final funds via  kickstarter, see the link below), we here at Peaches Christ HQ just wanted to take the time to raise a glass to this remarkable man and filmmaker.

Anyone can claim to love their heroes, but few go to the lengths that Jeffrey Schwarz does to prove it to us. A friend and inspiration to midnight moviegoers everywhere, Jeffrey Schwarz is someone with whom all children of the popcorn should acquaint themselves, because it’s his work that makes our worshipping all the easier.

Here’s to you, Jeffrey…we sure hope you get those cha-cha heels for Christmas.

For more on Jeffrey Schwarz, please visit http://www.automatpictures.com

If you’re interested in being part of I Am Divine, please visit http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/iamdivine/i-am-divine-wants-money

(I hear tickets to a Midnight Mass event are one of the contributor perks…and who doesn’t want that?)

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