Aug. 5, 2008: The Big Premiere
|I arrived in São Paulo on Sunday, Aug. 3. As I
walked the same streets I had walked in 2006, it felt like only a few
weeks had passed since my first visit.
Instead of a fish out of water, I felt like a captive fish that had just returned to the sea.
Encarnação do Demônio opened in theaters Friday, Aug. 8 (08/08/08, as the advertisements read), but the premiere was Tuesday, Aug. 5 – an invitation-only screening at the Cinemark Shopping Villa Lobos theater.
Dennison took me for lunch Tuesday at Gopala Prasada, a vegetarian restaurant run by Hare Krishnas. I ate there during my previous trip. It’s one of Dennison’s favorite places.
Afterward, he took me to some of the theaters where Encarnação do Demônio would be playing. He showed me the elaborate lobby display pieces used to promote the film. There was a giant cardboard hand with Coffin Joe’s trademark long fingernails.
Even more fun was a floor decal of Coffin Joe lying in a coffin, his face visible through a window in the coffin lid. It was as if Coffin Joe were buried beneath the theater floor.
I asked Dennison what he thought I should wear to the premiere. He said he was planning on dressing casually. It would not be a black tie affair. I could dress however I wanted.
Dennison returned me to the hotel, the Tulip Inn. A few hours later, I received a call from one of the production staff. Mojica wanted me to arrive at the premiere dressed in my Coffin Joe costume.
I asked if Mojica also would be in costume. Yes, he would.
Finally, it was time for the big event.
Dennison and his wife picked me up at the hotel. I greeted them dressed in full Coffin Joe regalia – top hat, cape, medallion, long nails, the whole shebang.
“Tonight, I am the chauffeur for Coffin Joe,” Dennison said.
As we drove to the theater, Dennison said he was nervous. His entire career was riding on what happened that night. It made him feel strange inside. He tried to describe the tremulous feeling in his gut.
“You have butterflies in your stomach,” I said.
Dennison had never heard that phrase before. He asked me to explain. I told him it was an American expression. When you are nervous, you get this shaky, queasy sensation in the pit of your stomach, as if butterflies were fluttering around inside you.
“Yes!” Dennison said. “That is exactly how I feel. I have butterflies in my stomach!”
We arrived in the parking garage adjacent to the theater.
The plan was for Mojica to enter with me and the seven actresses that play Coffin Joe’s “brides” in the film. The brides would be decked out in Goth outfits, similar to what they wear in the movie.
We stood outside an elevator in the parking garage, waiting for the word to proceed up to the theater. The actresses arrived one by one. Many of them recognized me and gave me a hug. It was strange seeing them again after so many months. I felt like I was back on the set, as if no time had passed.
I heard several of them say, "legal." I asked Dennison what that meant.
"Legal means cool," he said.
As pedestrians stepped out of the elevator, they greeted us with bewildered stares. They must have wondered what in the world was going on.
Finally, we received the word to go up. Mojica would arrive later.
We boarded the elevator. Anticipation grew as we ascended. The elevator doors opened.
I could hear the muffled roar of pandemonium brewing just beyond visual range. We stepped out of the elevator and rounded a corner.
Boom! Hundreds of people! Cameras flashing! Organized chaos!
A bustling crowd packed the theater lobby, held back by velvet ropes and ushers wearing black foam top hats.
“Just stay close to me and you’ll be fine,” Dennison said.
As soon as the words left his mouth, studio people grabbed me and whisked me away.
They escorted into a roped-off area where the actors and filmmakers were supposed to talk to the press and pose for pictures. Behind me was a giant wall poster for Encarnação do Demônio. In front of me was a swarm of journalists and photographers.
A man in a suit introduced himself as a 20th Century Fox representative. (20th Century Fox distributed the film in South America and Latin America.) The man said he would translate for me.
The photographers wanted me to strike Coffin Joe poses, so I obliged. I spent about 15 minutes hamming it up for their cameras. I was starting to run out of gas. Finally, they nodded to tell me they got what they needed.
Then I did a videotaped interview with MTV Brasil. The Fox guy relayed the reporter’s Portuguese questions to me in English. Next was a magazine interview while another TV crew filmed me.
I felt kind of trapped in that press area, roped in with no escape!
Someone sneaked up behind me and grabbed me. I yelped and swung around. It was actor Rubens Mello and Mojica’s daughter, Mariliz Marins (aka Liz Vamp). Rubens kissed my hand and gave me a very warm greeting. Mariliz jokingly called me “dad.”
I said hello to Bruna Marcatto, the production assistant that had made a strong impression on me during my last visit. I chatted with various crew members and met author and documentarian Andre Barcinski, Mojica’s biographer.
Finally, Mojica arrived.
What an entrance. He strode into the theater, his seven brides marching behind him. The crowd parted like the Red Sea. Cameras flashed. It was an exciting moment.
Mojica hugged me.
“Legal?” he asked, giving me the thumbs up.
“Legal!” I said, sticking up my thumb.
A hundred cameras shot us as Mojica, the brides and I posed as a group. Mojica would count down, then yell “Raaaggghh!” We all roared in synch, extending our groping hands toward the cameras.
The brides stepped away, then Mojica and I posed for shots as a duo.
“This is what I looked like 30 years ago,” Mojica told the journalists in Portuguese.
Then the producers ushered me to the side so the photographers could get shots of Mojica alone.
Mojica did several TV interviews, including one where he blew up at a reporter. Apparently, the reporter tried to prank Mojica or said something disrespectful. Dennison and I watched in bewilderment.
I asked Dennison, was Mojica just pretending to be mad?
“No, he is mad,” Dennison said.
(Later that week, Mojica and the reporter met again and patched things up on television.)
I was getting a big kick out of all the attention. But Dennison still had butterflies in his stomach. The crowd was full of movie industry decision makers that could make or break his career.
An announcement came. The screening was about to start. Dennison’s eyes widened.
“Let’s go see the movie!” he said.
The studio had reserved seven screens. We walked into the biggest auditorium, where Mojica would introduce the film to a VIP audience.
The cast and crew lined up in front of the movie screen, facing the seats. Mojica stood in front, addressing the crowd. The audience interrupted his speech several times with applause.
Mojica talked about the obstacles he encountered trying to get the film made. He paid tribute to actor Jece Valadão, who died during the production.
He discussed the Brazilian film industry, singling out famed Brazilian director Anselmo Duarte, who was a special guest at the premiere. The 88-year-old Duarte stood to take a bow. The audience stood to applaud him.
Mojica concluded his speech and we took our seats. The movie started.
It was a thrill to see the 20th Century Fox searchlights and hear that fanfare at the start of a Coffin Joe movie. A NEW Coffin Joe movie. A new Coffin Joe movie with ME in it! Wow!
The movie is a wild, phantasmagorical funhouse ride. It has surreal, dreamlike visuals reminiscent of AWAKENING OF THE BEAST, but wrapped around a strong narrative plot set in the “real” world of AT MIDNIGHT and THIS NIGHT.
It incorporates elements from THE STRANGE WORLD OF COFFIN JOE and BLACK EXORCISM, namely the idea that Coffin Joe has minions to help him carry out his plans, and the inclusion of graphic torture scenes.
When I say “graphic,” I’m not kidding. This is one bloody, intense movie. I found myself squirming and flinching many times.
On a personal level, the most exciting part of the film was obviously seeing myself on the big screen! What a weird feeling. My spine was trembling. I think Dennison’s butterflies had migrated to my stomach.
There I was, rising from the swamp. Man, where did they find that guy? He’s scary!
Dennison, who was sitting behind me, reached forward and fluffed my hair.
I was relieved when the scene was over. Now I could relax and enjoy the rest of the film without being self-conscious.
When the end credits rolled, the audience applauded. I felt happy for Mojica and the entire team. But I also felt kind of sad. It was like a long journey had come to an end.
As I got up from my seat, I was greeted by Nilcemar Marins-Hayshita, Mojica’s younger daughter. As her sister had done, she hugged me and called me “dad.”
A cocktail reception followed the screening. I received a lot of compliments. Mojica told a reporter I was “perfeito.” People asked me to pose for pictures with them.
Finally, Dennison and I left the theater and went to a cast/crew party at a nightclub.
While other people danced, we gazed at the many fabulous movie posters that adorned the club’s walls.
Liz Vamp and Rubens chatted with me for a while. Rubens and I talked about the short films we had made and promised to exchange DVDs.
Dennison was driving, so he could not touch alcohol. Brazil had just enacted a new “zero tolerance” law in July making it illegal for anyone to drive with any measurable blood-alcohol level. In other words, if you are going to drive in Brazil, you cannot have so much as one sip of alcohol.
“This law would never pass in America,” I said.
“We still cannot believe it passed here,” Dennison said.
After a couple hours, we decided to call it a night. Dennison drove me back to the hotel.
What a night!
I thought nothing could top it. I was wrong. Later that week, I experienced something even more surreal when I joined Mojica as a guest on one of the biggest TV shows in Brazil.
Do you want to hear about it?