deadCENTER Thursday Review

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deadCENTER Film Festival: Thursday Night

Films seen:

  • Best of Enemies
  • GrappleHabit: Oklahoma City’s Addiction to B.L.O.W.
  • The Real Enemy

This is my first deadCENTER in any capacity more than “supportive friend of a lowly production assistant”, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I – like most of you – am used to seeing a movie, maybe chatting with my friends about it (outside, on the way home, at the local burger joint), and then going home.

The movie is the climax of the evening, around which the preparation and denouement revolve. At film festivals, especially deadCENTER, that doesn’t really apply. You can flow from movie to movie to party to movie. Dozens of options, parties, and venues give you the opportunity to play fast and loose with your cinematic schedule. Miss a screening? There’s likely another in the next three days.

This, unfortunately, is not true of the first film I saw, which is why I took special precautions (I wrote it down!) not to miss it.

Best of Enemies (directed by Robert Gordon and Oscar winner Moran Neville) explores two intellectually suspicious commentators and the seething hatred between them that spawned modern punditry.

Conservative William F. Buckley, who is a twitching, sneering combination of Hugh Grant and Richard Dawson, and liberal Gore Vidal, the condescending snobbish college junior that you can’t help but loathe, aired debates during the 1968 Presidential Conventions that would better fit in with gladiatorial matches than modern politics.

A driving, jazzy score and stylish editing keeps our introduction to these two towering intellects far from beige History Channel specials. Rather than choose sides or glorify both, the film paints its subjects as despicable, often pathetic, petty geniuses, but with enough humanity that you begin to care deeply for them.

Contextualization through news footage that keeps normally-cut bookending outtakes (the anchors preparing for or reacting to what was said) imbues the 1968 social climate with the gravity necessary to understand the cyclical protests and revolts shaking our country. The USA’s depressing, wheel-spinning approach to social justice dampens the humor of the film, especially considering that these two great thinkers contributed to the fall of modern political discourse.

All it took was one of the most respected men in America threatening to “sock [another] in his goddamned face” on air to sensationalize politics. Gorgeous, enlightening, and riveting.

After the highs of that great documentary and exiting the theater into the daylight, which is always a strange experience, I thought it was best to check out the festival’s other draws – namely, the Museum of Art’s rooftop.

I made friends, was mistaken for an apparently very good-looking local director, and found out that someone had been impersonating me at the Wednesday night opening party. A woman in an elevator stopped me, looked at my badge, and asked, “are you really Jacob Oller?” As you might imagine, having a three-drink buzz on an elevator isn’t a situation conducive to proving your identity to a stranger. But now the weekend has been given an element of mystery to solve as well.

Covering a film festival is complicated.

My second film experience of the evening, at the Bricktown Harkins, was a double-header of local weirdness: GrappleHabit: Oklahoma City’s Addiction to B.L.O.W. and The Real Enemy.

GrappleHabit, though supported by an enthusiastic and entertaining crowd of female wrestlers (of the Macho Man Randy Savage rather than Olympic variety), is a glorified promotional video for Balthazar’s Ladies of Wrestling. Sound quality of a middle school project and repetitious grating narration make the scenes of actual wrestling footage rare nuggets of excitement.

These women all have interesting characters cooked up and are a campy blast when they slam each other onto the floor of the ring in various violent ways. I only wish the short gave them more time rather than flip-flopping between a tepid history of the community and barebones introductions of the ladies.

The Real Enemy gives the opposite approach. A film documenting the Black Mass held by a Satanist sect at the Oklahoma City Civic Center, it films everything that may be of interest and throws it at you. The amorphous footage would lose us instantly if its subject matter wasn’t so captivating.

Of the many reasons behind our morbid interest in car accidents, one is that the closeness to death makes us appreciate our lives. In The Real Enemy, the closeness to goofy Satanic rituals and demon-fighting Catholics makes us appreciate our sanity. In the plethora of interviews captured by the directorial team (Tate James & Daniel Giles Helm), nobody comes out looking particularly good except the First Amendment-protecting director of the Civic Center.

Yet, it’s not without sympathy. An Oklahoma City biker in charge of a more Unitarian sect of Satanism seems like a relatively rational person following a moral code like any other religion. At first, the demonic Satanists, if nothing else, seem to just want to rile up the crotchety Catholics that are bothered by this sort of thing. But then you realize they have members that really believe they’ve seen demons. You quickly realize why the biker’s cut ties with this portion of the community. At the same time, they’re juxtaposed with the exorcising Catholics on the other side of the magical monotheistic coin.

With a few thousand dollars and some more time, this could be shaped into a really fascinating documentary.

However, the most interesting part of the evening came after the screening.

Remember that biker? He was there. Remember those other Satanists? They were there too. Nothing is more surreal than seeing two rival factions of Satan duke it out next to the Bricktown Fuzzy’s. Faces were punched, security was called, and everyone got a little more than we expected.

If that’s not enough to convince you to come out to deadCENTER this weekend, I don’t know what will.

Jacob Oller is an Oklahoma City film critic and writer. Find more of his work at or

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