Jori Sackin is fresh from his virgin tour of the Strand. It's September 20, a little less than two weeks before the October 1, one-night-only premiere of Space Thang, Sackin and Pat Vamos' first film collaboration. The old porn house at 3544 Troost, he knows now, is just the right place for the project.
"The whole thing was energizing," Sackin announces to Vamos.
Sackin reports that the Strand is "going all out" for their movie. The employees are cleaning and fixing the theater's 97 seats, replacing bulbs in the projectors, painting the floor and replacing the speaker wires.
"I hope they don't clean it too much," Vamos jokes.
The Strand, Kansas City's oldest theater, is only a few blocks from Sackin's Hyde Park home. On this September night, Sackin and Vamos are previewing the first 12 minutes of Space Thang for a Pitch reporter. This is just a taste of their sexploitation film — a story stitched together through found footage, original footage and Sackin's animation — that will eventually run about an hour. Sackin and Vamos are quick to explain that their film isn't porn (though no one under 18 will be allowed into the Strand to see it), but it does incorporate some story elements from 1970s sci-fi porn flicks.
"We made the whole movie thinking of the Strand," Sackin says.
"We're exploiting the Strand more than anything," Vamos adds.
The idea to show a film here sprang from a drunken conversation on Sackin's birthday this past March. Found-footage montages are Vamos' specialty. He has been making them for about five years and has shown them pretty much anywhere that would let him — the Brick, Tivoli Cinemas, Screenland Theatre — but never at the Strand.
Sackin knew the theater's owner, Dick Snow, socially and thought he could make it happen. While some ideas fade in the hangover of drunken nights, this one stuck. The next morning, he woke up convinced that it was a plan worth pursuing.
So Sackin and Vamos began making Space Thang. At press time, they were still scrambling to complete it, but neither man showed signs of stress.
"It kind of makes itself, if you let it," Sackin says. He compares putting a film together like this with piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, but he admits that finding the right pieces hasn't been easy. He says he fast-forwarded through 30 action movies looking for a car explosion but couldn't find what he wanted.
Vamos has been equally busy scouring old footage. "My eyes are, like, permanently strained from looking at the screen," he says.
What they had assembled by mid-September was intriguingly suggestive, with an opening in tune with the Strand's history: a man in a trench coat slinking into a seedy XXX theater. Then a woman seductively drinks from a garden hose, horny teenagers freak out in a movie theater, and Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" plays in the background (Oh, baby, I like it raw).
A robot narrator bounces from philosopher to sex-ed teacher. (Sackin and Vamos found a lot of sex-ed films from the '70s — the ones with stiff guys in lab coats sitting behind desks in wood-paneled rooms). And there's nudity: topless women and a guy extolling the pain and pleasure of a penis pump. Woven through these flashes is Sackin's animation, featuring a cigar-smoking chicken that ends up abducted by a UFO, where it sexes up a space vixen.
"You cut out the girl with the rocking horse?" Sackin asks Vamos midway through the screening.
"Be patient," Vamos says. "It's there."
Seconds later, there's a naked woman wrapped around a rocking horse.
The footage is fascinating, funny and bizarre, and Vamos and Sackin's plans go beyond the movie. Sackin's band, Mary Fortune, plays the premiere. The bill also includes, as its intermission reel, Kansas City animation studio MK12's twisted Follow the Sun.
Five dollars — cash only — gets you in. And if you're skeeved out at the thought of going to the Strand, Sackin and Vamos say not to worry. Their film plays after the theater's normal hours.
"Nobody will be there for the wrong reasons," Sackin promises.