Why We Watch: A Lost in the Miso Exclusive (Part 3) – Chatting with S.C.U.M. Cinema’s Monkey Fist, Topo Sanchez and Mountain Monkey

The Why We Watch interviews conclude with a chat with Monkey Fist, Topo Sanchez and Mountain Monkey – the creators of the blog and film society S.C.U.M. Cinema.

Editor’s Note: I conducted my interview with these three men via email. Some questions were answered individually and some answered as a whole. “S.C.U.M. (all)” denotes that the answer was given by all three interviewees.

First conceived in 2007 by Monkey Fist as simply S.C.U.M., S.C.U.M.’s main objective was to hold “regular public screenings of non-mainstream films for like-minded folks in Singapore.” Due to issues with “obtaining screening rights from copyright holders,” S.C.U.M. would collapse but would eventually resurface as S.C.U.M. Cinema and this time, Monkey Fist had his friends Mountain Monkey and Topo Sanchez by his side. Together, these three men have created a blog where they review cult films from around the world, new and old, and continue to work towards their ultimate goal of holding film screenings in Singapore.

I talked to them about why we watch films that are, as they say, “weird and the bizarre.” The answers they gave are interesting and quite humorous. They are undoubtedly extremely knowledgeable in cult film and I walked away from the interview with at least ten movies I’ve never heard of before that  I need to get copies of and watch!

Lost in the Miso: When was S.C.U.M. Cinema created? Could you give a brief history of your film society?

S.C.U.M (all): S.C.U.M was first conceived by Monkey Fist in 2007.

Monkey Fist’s main objective at the time was holding regular public screenings of non-mainstream films for like-minded folks in Singapore. The intent was not about making a profit but rather sharing a passion for cult films with fellow movie buffs. Monkey Fist faced challenges in obtaining screening rights from copyright holders – as most distributors did not respond to Monkey Fist’s requests, the initiative died a natural death after several screenings.

Though S.C.U.M. became dormant in 2008, Monkey Fist’s passion never waned. He was good buddies with Mountain Monkey and Topo Sanchez and they’d been holding film screenings at each other’s homes for years. Early in 2013, Topo Sanchez threw up the idea of reviving S.C.U.M. and ‘re-branding’ it as ‘S.C.U.M Cinema‘, and that’s how we have the current incarnation.

In its current form, we’ve decided to expand the scope of S.C.U.M. and include a blog to review new ‘cult’ films as well as older ones we’ve watched over the decades – we of course want to maintain the key mission of S.C.U.M., which is to hold film screenings in Singapore, and we’re working hard towards this objective.

LITM: You’re a film society focusing on “the bizarre and weird” in film. Why is there such an attraction to these types of films? I as well love these types of films and was wondering if you could give your thoughts onto why they are so appealing to people like us? Most people are turned off by “the bizarre and weird” and yet, here we are, blogging about those very things with a certain fanaticism.

Monkey Fist: I believe a lot of it has to do with my upbringing in Singapore. As for myself, I grew up in an environment where movies were very much a part of my life. It helped that my brother and mother enjoyed a broad spectrum of genres (mainly from the US and Hong Kong) — from horror to drama to kung-fu. Since I was a kid, I’ve always had a deep fascination for monsters and it was only natural that I started delving into the horror genre since I was about five. With time, this expanded to cover other genres such as science fiction, tokusatsu and anime. And of course, having a rental video store around the corner helped the cause!

Topo Sanchez: These alternative films are interesting to us, because they seem to explore the ‘forgotten’ areas of the human nature/psyche. Like mirrors to our imagination, we daydream and ask curious “what if?” questions in our heads, these films simply translate our questions onto celluloid. So the itch that you can’t seem to scratch, is now given a form and put in your hands. I guess people who love these bizarre movies are usually the curious ones who love to stretch their mental and visual vocabulary. Or maybe we are just sick hahahaha…

LITM: It’s probably a little bit of both haha.

For you, personally, what movies did you see growing up that exposed you to “the bizarre and weird”? Can you look back and say, “Yeah, that movie is why I got so deep into this stuff later on. It opened the floodgates?”

Monkey Fist: Yes, definitely. An American Werewolf In London, Lifeforce, Without Warning, Sinbad and The Eye of The Tiger, Critters, City of The Living Dead. These a just some of the flicks that have spurred me deeper into film.

Mountain Monkey: I grew up in the UK and Singapore during the ’70s and ’80s, so I was exposed to a mix of Western and Asian films: Alien, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Thunderbirds and the UFO TV series, Shogun Assasin, ‘Wuxia’ pictures like Drunken Master and Shaolin Temple, as well as quirky Hong Kong movies from the 80s, including Aces Go Places and Mr Vampire.

Topo Sanchez: Being the youngest of three sick brothers, I had the luxury of being exposed to all sorts of film and music genres at a tender age of eight. I couldnt understand porn, but I had a good laugh watching Toxic Avenger. At that time, it was the era of VHS tapes, and the holy grail were Akira and Clockwork Orange. I think I was exposed to Clockwork Orange at the age of 10 or 12. From then on, it was movies like Tetsuo: Iron Man, Nekromantik, Fist of the North Star that satisfied my curiosity. But I must say, El Topo had a profound effect on me. I remember having my lunch when I was watching that, and the movie shocked/confused me so much that I couldnt decide to breathe or to eat.

LITM: How do you usually view the films you review or watch for pleasure? One of the problems I’ve encountered in trying to review off-beat films, foreign films in particular, is that, at times, it’s very hard to even obtain a copy of the film I want to watch. Do you attend film festivals, purchase films on Amazon or Netflix, or have you found a good underground community that shares films back and forth with each other?

S.C.U.M. (all): We’ve obtained these films through online retailers like Poker Industries and HK Flix. Unfortunately, they have since closed and we get our stuff mainly from Amazon. During the early days, we collected these films via different formats (e.g. VHS, laser-disc and VCD). Staying in Singapore does help in terms of our proximity to other Asian countries like Hong Kong. The video shops back in the ’70s and ’80s carried a lot of films from Hong Kong.

We do also attend film festivals. The most common one all of us attended regularly was the Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF), which started back in the 1980s. The SIFF used to screen an excellent selection of classic and contemporary cinema from all over the world, but unfortunately became more commercial through the years, and went into hiatus last year. It remains to be seen what will happen to the SIFF. In the meantime, there are mini-film festivals (for example, the French and Japanese Film Festival), which are held in conjunction with the embassies interested in showcasing movies from their countries.

LITM: What’s the greatest length you’ve gone to see a movie you just had to see? I spoke to one blogger and they rode a train for several hours to get to a film festival. I have paid over a hundred dollars to get a hotel room in Boston a couple of times so I could see midnight showings of films that I could have seen alone, but I wanted to see them with fellow fans. For example, I had seen Oldboy many times but really wanted to experience the film with a crowd.

Monkey Fist: I guess the dynamics differ from country-to-country. Over in the US, I believe the market is a lot bigger and therefore there can be more film festivals that cater to different niche markets. It is different in Singapore. Cinema operators tend to stick to films that can sell versus putting something totally off-beat out there but bombs at the box-office. Therefore, the festivals held here do have that run-of-the-mill feel to it and seriously, nothing really to die for.

This is one of the main reasons why S.C.U.M Cinema has been revived. To basically showcase weird and off-beat gems from past till present!

LITM: Final question: What have you found works best for your site? Is it news items, features or reviews? What generates the most viewership for your site? What is personally the most fulfilling (reviews or news)?

S.C.U.M. (all): Well, the website was launched on March 25, 2013, and we’ve been tweaking it a little here and there, so it’s still early days yet. At this juncture, it seems that movie reviews tend to have higher viewership. The site was set up with two clear objectives in mind: To review films that we’ve seen and to showcase some of these gems via screenings in Singapore. We’re also looking into expanding the site to include features such as interviews with local directors, and also soundtracks, which will come mainly from Mountain Monkey, who is an avid soundtrack collector.

Since all of us at S.C.U.M. have day jobs and families to take care of, maintaining the site and getting the screenings underway will be a challenge, but we’re all determined to make this latest incarnation of S.C.U.M. last.
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I want to thank Monkey Fist, Topo Sanchez and Mountain Monkey from S.C.U.M. Cinema once again for taking the time to coordinate this interview. Much appreciated and I, Michael from Lost in the Miso, wish these three the best in one day of holding their very own film festival in Singapore!

Tune in for Part 4 (the conclusion) of the Lost in the Miso exclusive: Why We Watch. I’ll be posting a podcast where I’ll answer the very questions I’ve asked other film bloggers!

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