I first encountered a zine called The Eclectic Screening Room and its creator, Greg Woods, in September 2004. Greg had a booth at Word on the Street, an annual outdoor book and magazine festival in Toronto, and on the table were copies of a dozen-or-so of his xeroxed issues. I was struck instantly by one called “The Weird and Wonderful World of Educational Films” – a 45-page behemoth with capsule reviews of over 50 kitschy educational shorts from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. I flipped to a random page and found What About Juvenile Delinquency? (1955), which I had seen riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000. “I love What About Juvenile Delinquency?” said Greg. With my meagre savings, I bought every issue he had. The Eclectic Screening Room (or simply “ESR” to fans) was active as a print publication from 2001 to 2012 – long after the ‘80s-era zine golden age and mostly before the form’s current-day, Etsy-fuelled renaissance. I’m not sure I even knew what a “zine” was.
Of interest to me at age 15 were the articles on films that I knew from MST3K: Eegah! (1962), a baffling caveman-in-Hollywood epic starring Arch Hall Jr., a not-especially-charismatic would-be teen heartthrob pushed into a movie career by his dad; The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961), one of several nearly unendurable patience-testers by the Antonioni of Bronson Canyon, Coleman Francis; and The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? (1964), an indescribable monster musical by backyard auteur Ray Dennis Steckler. I realized Greg was that rare and exotic thing: a man who preferred these movies without the robot commentary. ESR would perhaps be easier to sell if it were strictly about Z-movies and trash, but what makes it interesting is its broadness. A typical issue might contain articles on film noir, experimental cinema, Laurel & Hardy, late-period Otto Preminger, the 1970s New American Cinema, Aki Kaurismaki, the Kuchar Brothers, rock-and-roll movies, and more. The theme of ESR is: “Things that Greg Woods is interested in.”Continue reading “The Eclectic Screening Room: Canada’s Greatest Movie Zine”